Ruth greeted late middle age by traveling the globe. Not
satisfied with simply seeing the sites, the spirited woman would
devise a mission to her travels.
"My mother-in-law loved to learn languages, so traveling offered
a natural extension," Judy Kimmerer remembers. "She spoke seven
languages fluently at one point."
Described as "fiercely independent," Ruth raised four children
while working as an administrative assistant for the Department of
Pharmacology at the University of Rochester (her husband died when
her eldest child was 15).
But as Ruth aged, it became clear to her children, who had all
left Rochester for points west, that her living situation required
change. Her doctor cited early onset Alzheimer's as the reason Ruth
should relocate closer to one of her children. Her son Rob (Judy's
husband) was the natural choice.
Changes in Personality
"We began noticing small changes in Ruth's demeanor," Judy
recalls. "Once while visiting, we returned from the store having
purchased hamburger for dinner. Ruth looked at the meat just a few
minutes later and declared we should throw it away because she'd
had it for a couple of weeks. At first these incidents were quirky,
then-as she started missing doctor's appointments-worrisome."
"The winter that same year was very harsh," Rob remembers, "and
my mother spent long hours cooped up in her house with few visitors
or conversations. Her doctor noticed a real difference in her
mental abilities that spring. I don't know if her isolation played
a role or not."
Still, convincing Ruth to move across the continent was a
"It's hard to comprehend how independent Ruth was," Judy
observes. "Since her husband's death, self-preservation served as
hermodus operandi. So it was critical that she felt the relocation
was completely her decision. Leaving her friends, limited as they
had become, was also a significant obstacle.
"We reminded Ruth of how harsh the upstate New York winters can
be, presented the prospect of seeing her grandchildren regularly,
and advertised Seattle like a new travel adventure. Finally, she
announced she was ready."
Rob and Judy, along with Rob's siblings, now faced the challenge
of determining the proper living situation for Ruth. They
considered having her live with them or renting her an apartment,
but they worried one situation would prove too cramped, the other
Higher Quality of Life
Then a friend mentioned Ida Culver House, an elderly
assisted living community, which made a great impression upon
them when they visited. They liked the size, the garden, and the
respect that the residents were given.
"I had yet to begin my career as an elder health care
professional," Judy says, "So this was all new to me. Like so many
people, I thought Ruth was too self-directed for assisted living. I
have since learned many times over that assisted living actually
"Having a community increases the quality of one's lifestyle
immensely. If you are living alone, how comfortable are you asking
your neighbor to run out to the store for you? But when you are
part of a community, asking your friend in the room next door to
pick up some mayonnaise when she's running errands is easy.
"I think freedom comes from self-confidence and personal
security, and assisted living supports this."
Even though the children thought Ida Culver would be perfect for
Ruth, convincing Ruth of such a significant change required more
strategizing. Ruth perceived she was coming to Seattle to live
independently near family, not to move into an elderly assisted
"We decided that Ruth's first visit to Ida Culver would be our
'first visit' also," Judy recalls. "We even asked the manager to
act as if we hadn't met previously, a persona he had clearly
assumed before. We presented Ida Culver as an apartment where you
don't have to fix your meals. Whether she just played along with
our little ruse or not remains a mystery."
Ruth, who felt increasingly frustrated with her forgetfulness,
clearly appreciated knowing assistance was right around the corner.
Always forthright and standing six feet tall, she galvanized her
new elderly assisted living community to be more physically active.
Even the geography turned out to be perfect.
"My mother was a former tennis pro who walked absolutely
everywhere; in fact, she never learned to drive!" Rob says with a
laugh. "In Seattle, she was able to leave her apartment, follow
[the sidewalk], circle the lake, and return home without ever
needing to turn. So she could get her exercise without any anxiety
of getting lost.
"She was also a very musical person, so she really liked the
concerts. And, like all of her kids, she loves to eat, so she
thought the variety of meals was great also. Forming an intimate
friendship with Joe, another resident, was an additional bonus. She
really sparkled there!"
Ruth remained at Ida Culver until, with the onset of second
stage dementia, she required a more care-intensive situation. After
visiting over fifty facilities, Rob relocated his mother to a small
memory care facility in Kenmore, Washington, with a beautiful view
of Lake Washington, where he visits her every Sunday.
Today the 84 year-old former globetrotter lives with several
other elderly women, often surrounded by the 23 grandchildren of
her caregivers on the staff at the facility.
"She spends much of her day in her recliner looking not like a
patient but like just another older woman relaxing," Rob says.
"We are fortunate, because we were able to
move my mom into another situation that is full of life, with
lots of people around which I believe, even though she is nonverbal
now, she really likes because she smiles all the time."