Recently, a friend called. Her elderly widowed mother-in-law had a recent fall. After a hospital stay and skilled nursing rehab, the family (a couple sons and daughters, all with families of their own) disagreed about the next steps. Mom lived alone, no family or friends nearby, the house had too many stairs, she seldom ate well and when family visited they often found her sitting by herself in front of a silent television. Even before the fall, there were indications of physical and mental decline, but no one wanted to talk about it.
My friend was interested in assisted living. She knew my mom had lived at ‘The Retreat’ in Hartford (www.retreatassistedliving.org/) for a few years. “Did she like it? Were they nice to her? Did she make some friends?”
As one example, ‘The Retreat’ is federally subsidized, meaning residents must be low-income/asset eligible to apply for residency. Country-wide, there are plenty of privately-paid assisted living centers to choose from as well (Medicare does not pay for assisted living). In the Hartford, CT area, there are 2 subsidized locations I am aware of – ‘The Retreat’ and ‘The Herbert T. Clark House’ in Glastonbury (http://www.glastha.org/programs4.htm). Both locations are worth the visit.
My friend had suggested her family investigate assisted living, but everyone declined saying, “We’ll never send our mother to a nursing home.”
Assisted living is NOT a nursing home, though many people use the terms interchangeably. Off the top of my head, there are 3 main differences:
Level of care provided – Nursing home patients generally require 24/7 nursing supervision and help with most daily tasks. Assisted living residents are able to get through the day with limited support (though assistance is available). Independence and self-sufficiency are expected.
Accommodations – Nursing homes offer limited privacy and rooms are shared. Assisted living offers individual apartments. Meals are communal, though a small refrigerator and microwave may come with the apartment (my mother became quite creative with her microwave until they removed it for ‘repairs’ after she’d blown it up 3 times). Light housekeeping and laundry services are typically available.
Community – Social interaction is a focus at most assisted living facilities. ‘The Retreat’ hosted daily group activities, bus trips, an on-site café, a well-stocked library with computer access, a community garden, a beautifully tended outdoor sitting area. The place was always seasonally decorated, cozy and clean. My husband used to joke it reminded him of a 4-star hotel. Residents could choose to interact or not.
I suggested my friend do some research of her own. ‘A Place for Mom’ at www.aplaceformom.com might help her get started, but anyone should do their own homework and ask questions. I googled ‘evaluating assisted living’ and just the first page of hits gave most of what you’d need to know. AARP’s website at www.aarp.org has an excellent ‘check-off’ list you could use when visiting locations.
Bottom line though, Mom or Dad must want to be there or it won’t work!
(excerpt from my book)
Mom’s first night in assisted living was probably more difficult for me than for her. My brothers had borrowed a truck and moved some of her furniture into the new place, though she’d purchased a few new pieces since this apartment was basically a one-room efficiency (albeit, with a large bathroom). The full-size bed she’d shared with my father for as long as I could remember would not fit, so she bought a narrow, single bed. This one item spoke more about the changes in her life than anything else. More than once that moving day, I sat on it and cried.
Granted, she had not slept with my father in months, but at least she’d still lived in the apartment they had shared, along with his clothes and personal items. Now, she would go to sleep in her new home alone. I spent the first day and evening with her, eating lunch and dinner, meeting the staff and some of the residents, then finally drinking coffee at the small kitchen table she’d brought with her.
We cracked open the window and city smells mingled with the aroma of coffee. The new clock on the wall loudly sounded each second. Her apartment was near the elevator and I could hear residents exiting. Vicki had purchased a beautiful quilted comforter and matching curtains and at that moment with the August sun setting, the apartment felt cozy and welcome.
Still, part of me wanted to repack her bags and bring her home to my house. There were several reasons this would not work out, the least being too many stairs and probably the biggest reason – I would treat her like a child. Without meaning to, I would probably treat her as the staff at the nursing home had. It would not be healthy for either of us and I couldn’t bear it if when she died, she were angry or disappointed with me.
She looked around the room, shaking her head, “How the hell did I get here?”
“Do you want me to stay with you tonight?” I’d been told it wasn’t a good idea to stay. They said it was better if she got used to her new ‘life’ from the beginning. “Why don’t I sleep on the couch?”
She stirred what was left of her coffee and took a final sip. Not looking at me she said, “You go home where you belong. Don’t worry about me.” She glanced around again and this time, nodded once. “I need to put on my pajamas and find a good story on TV. Lock the door on your way out.”
Not for the first time, I wished I had known her as a young girl. I’ve seen photos of her and like to think we would have been good friends. A “tough cookie” my aunt used to say, and beautiful. Now, stooped over her walker, she was trying to figure out her new TV remote. “Good night, Mom!”