Senior Housing – Exile or ticket home?

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Sylvia wanted to take over and move Mabel to Marin, but I argued with her.  “That’s a bad idea,” I told her. “Studies show that committing an elder to a nursing facility against their will is almost certain to kill them within a year.”

Sylvia was frustrated to the point of tears. “Well, I can’t just leave her in that house,” she said.  “She’s miserable; she’s not safe. One day I’ll find out she’s been lying on the floor for three days with a broken hip.”

She sighed. “This is where I really wish my brother or somebody could help me out. But he’s having a great time in France and only communicates on special occasions. And my kids are too busy.”

“One thing that improves their odds,” I told her, “is if the elder has some choice of where to go. Even if it’s a choice between two run-down nursing homes, having some say in their destination cuts the death rate in half. Let’s see if we can give her some choices.”

Mabel didn’t want to see the places we had found, but we billed the trips as sight-seeing opportunities. “It won’t hurt to see what’s out there, will it Mom?”

These assisted living facilities weren’t run-down, and they didn’t smell like hospitals.  They were communities with trained activities directors, choice of menus, and attractive gardens.  Most of the workers seemed to be Filipino or Mexican, many had nursing backgrounds and most spoke English.

Sylvia and I took Mabel to each one in turn, and by the third one, she had started to see that these places weren’t hell on earth, and they might not be a death sentence.  She still preferred to stay in her own house, but she started to consider other possibilities.

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13 Responses to Senior Housing – Exile or ticket home?

  1. A provocative cliffhanger that begs the question: do the aged (but lucid) have the right to choose a life of isolation, melancholy, and even unhealthiness, as younger people do?

    (Ideally, I think, people of all ages should have people in their lives to intervene if they develop such tendencies. But freedom seems important, too.)

    • admin says:

      Good point, Maureen. I do think sometimes elders get moved against their will, and it’s usually not good for them. This time it worked out. I just want people to consider the possibility that making a change, even at very advanced age, is not necessarily the end and can lead to some good things. That’s why I posted Mabel’s story.

  2. Nice story. It even feels like a thriller sometimes…. what will happen?

  3. What a wonderful story. Looking at situations through someone else’s experience helps us imagine what we would or could do if that happened to us.

    You must be a wonderful nurse to many people. It takes understanding, patience and an ability to communicate in order to help people who don’t know they need help.

  4. linn says:

    Wonderful David. Older people really relish that kind of listening and allowing them to have choices in the decision process. I know my mother would have ignored us if we didn’t respond to her thoughts about what she wanted. And it’s a gift if there’s someone sweet and patient in an aging life to help them reflect on the possibilities ahead. Thanks for your strength and perceptive accounting of Sylvia and Mabel.

  5. At 62, with renal failure, and continuing declining health, I face the prospect of needing assisted living. It’s scarey, even when one reads such wonderful stories as this. Each new person you meet will not know your history, and telling it it may sound like a windbag bragging, when it is only personal history and a minor story of surviving. The best reason to tell it is that it becomes an affecting story like yours, David. How wonderfully sensative you are.

  6. Karen Rae Ferreira says:

    David, this is so important and you have managed to tell it like it is, with compassion and heart. Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place!

  7. Esther Roberts says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story as you have David. You write with such awareness and empathy that I feel I am “standing inside” your story and I am the silent listener. This is touching and inspiring! Thank you!

  8. Pat Gray says:

    This article is very meaningful and timely for me. My sister sounds just like the elderly mother in this story. She has her home full of memories and will not discuss the possibility that she needs more help. I tend to be bossy and tell her what I think she ought to do……! Lot of good that does! Thank you for carefully pointing out some positive ways to help my sister deal with her declining ability to care for herself.

  9. Toni Gilbert says:

    Will have to keep this story in mind if my time comes to go to an assisted care home. Truly. Toni

  10. David, this couldn’t possibly be more timely. We’re putting a deposit on an assisted living apartment this week for my mom. The last time she moved was 9o years ago, when she was 11 months old! I look forward to reading this and sharing it with my family.

  11. Ruth Goldston says:

    Thanks, David, this is a wonderful story. I work with older community dwelling adults in my practice, and talk about this kind of problem with them all the time. People of all ages, but especially older ones, do poorly when they’re so isolated, and I wish there were more and better housing options for those who may not need assisted living, but do need more other human beings in their lives on a daily basis. So much to think about…

  12. Cousin Ira's friend, Susie says:

    Your article on Senior Housing was incredibly sensitive and pertinent. Currently, I have an elderly mother who is in need of more consistent care and increased human contact. By emphatic choice she remains at home. Thank you for sharing your insights on this very relevant subject.

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