Sharon Hood sat in the living room of Scott-Farrar’s Memory Care wing, leafing through a National Geographic magazine with interest. Other residents sat on couches nearby, reading, holding up cups of coffee long gone cold, playing UNO with a nurse, Top 40 hits of yesteryear piping over unseen speakers.
“She’s only nine years old,” Sharon said, pointing at the magazine cover story.
On the radio, The Archies gave way to the Supremes.
Through the mirror of my mind
Time after time
I see reflections of you and me
The way life used to be
The love you took from me
Oh, I’m all alone now
No love to shield me
Trapped in a world
That’s a distorted reality
Happiness you took from me
And left me alone
With only memories.
Sharon, having read through the National Geographic, flips back to the beginning.
“Here’s a new one,” she said. “She’s only nine years old.”
Hood has only been a resident of Scott-Farrar for a few weeks. It wasn’t an easy decision for her family to make, said her daughter, Stephanie Hood of Peterborough. Especially knowing that neither of her parents wanted to spend their twilight years in a nursing home.
The family had already been trying to come to terms with the fact that Hood’s father, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago, would likely have to move into a facility at some point.
Her mother’s quick decline into dementia — that was a surprise.
“We were shocked,” said Stephanie, of her mother’s diagnosis, almost a year ago now. “She has always been the caretaker. She raised her siblings. She used to be head nurse at Heywood Hospital in Gardner. She was the one who was taking care of Dad the most!”
It started with the small things, said Stephanie. Her mom wouldn’t show up for doctor appointments, or would show up on the wrong day or at the wrong time. She started to be late on bills. Things highly uncharacteristic for her, said Stephanie.
Eventually, it was clear. Sharon had dementia. And where her father’s decline had been slow — he is still able to stay at home with assistance from caregivers — it became inevitable that Sharon wasn’t going to be able to live alone safely.
First, the family moved Sharon to a separate house to live with her son. But a month in, the realization: That was not going to be enough.
And three months after that, even with help from additional private caregivers, the same realization. No matter how thinly her children stretched themselves, it was still not going to be enough.
“My brother would be in the shower, and she would just get it into her head that she wanted her hair done, and walk out the door,” said Stephanie. “It just got to the point where it wasn’t safe for her, and we just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Physically and mentally exhausted, they began the search.
It immediately became clear that financials were going to be an issue. Stephanie had already quit her job as a teacher and assistant principal for a job waitressing so that she could be there more often for her parents – her brother, too had made sacrifices in his career. Her parents had planned to live out their lives in their own home, and their savings reflected that.
“We were looking at places anywhere from $7,500 a month to $11,000 per month. And that was with shared rooms,” said Stephanie.
So, despite the fact that the family had been hoping to keep Sharon in Massachusetts, where most of her connections were, Stephanie encouraged her brother to look at the newly re-opened retirement community only a few minutes from her — Scott-Farrar, which had opened up its memory care apartments only a few weeks before, after gaining enough staff to support it.
Scott-Farrar has 18 memory care apartments – both shared or single suites, said Debra Boyden, director of Scott-Farrar’s Memory Care Garden, which they are in the process of filling after officially opening that wing on Jan. 5, a few months after accepting their first residents into the independent and assistant living spaces.
For the low end of what the Hoods had been looking at elsewhere — about $7,500 — their mom would have her own bedroom and bathroom, where other places she would have to share for the same price. And Stephanie, who had previously worked at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, knew some of the nurses that worked there, and trusted them. Overall, she said, it was the best choice for the family’s already difficult decision.
Now, a few weeks into her residency there, Sharon seems comfortable in her room, with pictures of her grandchildren on the table, and a row of her collected Beanie Baby teddy bears on the window sill to greet her in the morning.
Her nails are neatly painted a pale pink — she thinks it’s a lovely color. And her hair was recently done — she’s less sure about how that turned out, she tells her daughter.
She’d like to go somewhere else next time.
“But you like the food?” asks Stephanie.
“Oh, yes,” Sharon nods.
“And the people taking care of you? They’re good?”
“Yes, they’re good,” Sharon says. “Very good.”
“So, you like it here at Scott-Farrar?”
She’s not so sure about that one. He’s handsome, but she’s still not sure about how he cut her hair — she sometimes thinks that Scott-Farrar is a person, not a place.
But Stephanie’s biggest reassurance is when the visit is winding up, and Stephanie has delivered the rundown of what the family is up to — a new baby, the basketball exploits of a grandchild — and Sharon gently shoos her out in the way that’s common amongst mothers with a big social calendar.
“Well, I’ll let you go do what you have to do, so that I can get to what I have to do,” she tells Stephanie.
That thing is just a card game with a nurse and fellow resident of the memory care wing, but seeing her mother settle in at the table makes Stephanie emotional.
“It shows she’s comfortable here. She’s confident. She’s never moved me along like that before,” said Stephanie.
“It’s a huge relief. It’s like a huge weight lifted.”
Editor Ben Conant contributed to this report.