He’s a concerned family member who witnessed firsthand the deep impact of osteoporosis-related fractures in the lives of loved ones, and though it has been six years since his stepmother passed away and nine since he lost his father, Robert still vividly recalls how the fractures they both experienced affected them deeply.
He also shares a keen understanding of the importance of supporting loved ones in the recovery after a fracture; if long-term care is the necessary option, strong family support can contribute greatly to quality osteoporosis care and a life of purpose and meaning.
Robert’s father, Edward, married a lovely English woman named Joan late in life – his second marriage – and they enjoyed nearly 20 years together, eventually even sharing the same long-term care home in Hamilton, Ontario until Edward passed away in 2006 at 93. Joan followed in 2009.
Until 2001, Edward and Joan lived together in their own home. Edward cared for Joan who’d begun to experience the early effects of dementia creeping into memories and actions.
One day, Joan tripped on a mat as she was getting out of bed and fractured her hip.
“The anesthesia that they provided at the hospital seemed to exacerbate her dementia and she was never able to go back to her own home,” Robert recalls.
Her hip healed rather well, in fact, but the progression of dementia and memory loss continued. She had to seek the support of a long-term care home, for Edward could no longer provide her all she needed. Still, he visited her every day, often twice a day, until he fell and fractured his hip. His first hip operation was textbook perfect. He recovered in fair form and by using a walker at home he was able to remain independent, visiting Joan daily as if the break had never happened.
However after Edward fell twice more – breaking a second hip, then later re-breaking the first hip – the independence that kept him strong was no longer there.
Edward moved into the same long-term care home as Joan after leaving the hospital, and there they lived the last of their days together.
“For the last three years of his life he was in a long-term care home along with my stepmother,” Robert says. “The long-term care home said that they were really quite a cute couple.” “Initially when he moved in she could still walk and she would use his wheelchair as a way of stabilizing things.” Joan’s dementia continued to worsen, however, and eventually walking was no longer an option as she, like so many residents with dementia, was a high risk for falls and fractures.
“They would jokingly go to the dinner with him pushing her chair from his chair because she didn’t know where she was going, but he could give her a shove and then scuttle up and push on her chair again.”
They loved each other deeply and they were together, yet living without their independence was a constant challenge. This is where Robert says he’s thankful that he was able to be there for his father and stepmother, supporting them as they adjusted to their new reality. Thankfully, Edward’s mind remained as sharp as ever and he could advocate for himself and his wife. Robert was simply there as additional support. It made no difference that his father was fully capable of taking care of his own affairs, however, for there is always an important role for family members to play in promoting quality osteoporosis care for their loved ones.
“He had lost some of his independence,” Robert says, “but it wasn’t a life where he had given up, by any means”
“He had deliberately said that he was pleased to be going to spend the last few years of his life with his second bride.”
That they were able to spend those last years together in a home that truly honoured the residents it served made the most out of a tough situation. Indeed, Robert says that the staff at the home impacted their lives so positively that after his parents passed, he and his wife chose to continue supporting the home through Family Council.
“For us, it was the staff at the long-term care home that made such a difference and that’s why I’ve stayed involved,” Robert explains.
“My wife and I were interested in giving back to that long-term care home in response to what they had done for both my father and my stepmother and so we’ve stayed on with their Family Council.” In fact, through Family Councils of Ontario, they are able to share their osteoporosis experiences with other long-term care families and support them as they advocate for their loved ones.
The reality is, many older adults are unable to realize the recoveries Edward and Joan experienced after their osteoporosis-related fractures resulting from falls, but with the right supports, including osteoporosis care and fracture prevention, everyone can live a life of purpose in long-term care. Though their independence may have been compromised, Robert’s parents had each other and a dedicated family to support them in long-term care, and that made all the difference in their final years.
Watch Robert talk about supporting loved ones with osteoporosis.