CaregiversFamily Members

Making Modifications to Keep a Loved One at Home

When his 91-year-old mother-in-law needed full-time care after her colon cancer diagnosis, Mark Ryan made some adjustments in the family home to ensure her comfort and well-being.
June 2020 Vol 6 No 3
Mark Ryan, RN
Lake City VA Medical Center
Tallahassee, Florida

When entertaining company, one should anticipate disruptions in the everyday routine. Visitors often need special accommodations.

With my wife, Anabel, and her monther, Norka.

Norka Perez, my wife’s 91-year-old mother, requires more than the usual number of home modifications, but we are not complaining. She is taking her colon cancer diagnosis in stride. A bowel obstruction necessitated surgery that resulted in a permanent colostomy. Her condition is not operable.


Our typical household TV-viewing—which normally consists of action cable movies, game shows, and sports—has given way to a lot of Spanish programs. Norka, who is originally from Cuba, especially likes a Telemundo news station. The volume needs to be adjusted high, because she is hard of hearing, as is often the case at her age.

Soups and soft foods have been featured at meals more frequently than would normally be the case, because of her difficulties with swallowing. In fact, we have become regulars at the local Publix Deli, because she loves this supermarket chain’s soups. The broccoli and Vermont white cheddar option is her favorite.

We have rearranged the living room furniture to create a wider path for her travels in the house. She gets around well with a rollator walker, but she has had trouble with pivoting movements.

We have moved her to the bedroom that has a lower bed than the higher bed in our master bedroom. She can now independently negotiate transfers to and from the lower bed, and the bedside commode.

Norka is also completely independent with taking her routine medications and—except for an occasional low dose of oxycodone—is not taking anything stronger than Tylenol for pain.

She takes temazepam as a sleep aid on some nights. She had been taking hydroxyzine to help with sleep, but Niharika Suchak, MBBS, MHS, FACP, of Big Bend Hospice in Tallahassee, Florida, recommended temazepam instead. Dr. Suchak pointed out that hydroxyzine was more likely to cause unwanted side effects in seniors than temazepam.

Norka requires some assistance with bathing and colostomy care, but she rarely needs oxygen for shortness of breath.

Comfort at Home Is Preferred

Like millions of the nation’s other family caregivers, my wife Anabel (Perez Ryan) and I are ensuring she has the comfort and care measures she needs.

Washington Post writer Tracy Grant referred to her caregiving experience as “transcendent, a gift,” in her article titled “I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was the best seven months of my life.”1

The writer expresses well our own experience caring for Norka. Below is an excerpt from that story.

“For me, there were no bad days. I discovered that the petty day-in, day-out grievances of an irksome co-worker, a child with the sniffles or a flat tire pale in comparison to the beauty of spontaneous laughter, the night sky, the smells of a bakery,”1 Ms. Grant wrote.

She added, “Some days were more difficult than others, but there were moments of joy, laughter, tenderness in every day—if I was willing to look hard enough. I found I could train myself to see more beauty than bother, to set my internal barometer to be more compassionate than callous. But I also discovered that with each day, my heart and soul grew more open to seeing the beauty than at any other time in my life.”1

For now, hospice is mostly on a standby for us. We are prioritizing comfort in the home for Norka rather than in a facility.


1. Grant T. I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was the best seven months of my life. The Washington Post. August 30, 2016.

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Last modified: August 11, 2020

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