Assisted Living

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!”

 

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About hereisakiss

Daughter Writer Art's Educator
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7 Responses to Assisted Living

  1. joan says:

    I can feel the love that you clearly have for your mother and I experience a tinge of envy. My relationship with my mother is not so simple. I have a very selfish mother, one for whom the expression “all roads lead to Doris” is perfect. I am wondering if you feel that there is a place on this blog for this discussion, for people like myself who have got negative feelings about the parent we parent. I need to talk about it. Can I be alone?

    • hereisakiss says:

      Joan…My hope is this blog will be a place for all conversation ‘eldercare’, both positive and negative. It all needs to be said. And yes, I do love my mother, but believe me when I say the relationship is complicated. As well, she no longer has any social filter (not that she had much of one to begin with) and can be quite rude and abrupt. Her gerontologist says it is due to ‘vascular dementia’, though I believe it goes much deeper. She will tell it like it is (or at least how she thinks it is), with no thought to the feelings of others. As immediate family, we try to let it go (it doesn’t seem to do much good to call her on it), but she has made me cry more times than I thought possible. And to the uninitiated………all I can say is “Ouch!”

  2. Elizabeth wanted me to let everyone know that my dad has been happily living at The MacAuley, an assisted living place in West Hartford on Steele Road. I have nothing but good things to say about it. He has his own apartment, many friends, and though he is now declining into dementia, (he is 98), he has had a great run there. The socialization aspect has been particularly exceptional. My mother still lives alone at 93 in O’Meara Farms in Farmington and loves that too (an over-55 community with no assistance). My sister does most of the caretaking and it is a really hard job, particularly when neither parent is particularly appreciative. Kudos to all of you who do this very hard job.

  3. Laura D. Bellmay says:

    My Dad moved back to CT in September of this year. He lived in Michigan for 7 years with my Mom who passed away in July of 2009. My parents had been married for 58 years. I am the primary caretaker of my Dad. It is a full time job for me. Dad fell last week and he did not want to “bother anyone” by pressing his LifeLine alert button to get help. Oh, and also he didn’t call me or my husband (who live exactly one mile down the street from him), so I was unaware of the severity of my Dad’s wounds until the next day.

    Now I feel quite stupid sharing this but because my Dad had bandaged his own arm and the wound on his forehead didn’t look “too bad”, I thought he was okay. Several days later I attended a Caregivers Support Group through the VNA of the Farmington Valley and the women in the group (all caregivers), told me I should take my Dad to the ER or a walk-in clinic for fear that sepsis might occur. I didn’t even know what sepsis was!

    I did take my Dad to both the walk-in clinic and called the VNA for services. Dad is doing better and the social worker looks in on him today to evaluate him further. Howeveer, I take this as a “wake up call” for me. Dad’s (an my) denial about his increasing fraility has hopefully stopped for today. I joke with my husband that Dad didn’t come from Michigan with directions for this phase of his life. I am learning as we are learning how to navigate the sometimes murky waters of elder care. Thank you Elizabeth for writing this blog.

    • hereisakiss says:

      I had no idea what sepsis was either and had to look it up – Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection. Sepsis is often life threatening, especially in people with a weakened immune system or with a chronic illness. Symptoms can include chills, confusion, dizziness. And this might be a good place to mention urinary tract infections (UTI) and the elderly. From one day to the next a person’s mental capacity can hugely deteriorate, particularly with the elderly. Urinary tract infections are caused by germs, usually bacteria that enter the urethra and then the bladder. Generally, they are easily detected and treated with antibiotics.

  4. dreamingchange says:

    There is another subsidized assisted living place in Connecticut–Juniper Hill Village in Storrs. I can’t say enough about it. It gave me a modicum of my life back. My mother has been there two years and although she’ll never be happy anywhere, this is probably as good as it gets. The staff is caring, the programming varied, and the residents are interesting and of all ages. They take younger disabled people as well as seniors. They allow small pets and have trips to theater, musical performances, and lovely one bedroom apartments. Thanks Elizabeth for your blog. I will someday write my “Mom” chronicles. I love the idea of co-housing for seniors (though my mother would hate it).

    • hereisakiss says:

      Hadn’t realized Juniper Hill was subsidized (and quality). Thanks for sharing. And “she’ll never be happy anywhere” reminds me of my mom. I think part of it might be because wherever they are now…isn’t where (or who) they used to be…back when they were young and strong and happier than they are now. It must be sad to do the comparisons. At 53, I look back on my high school years and think how great they were (though at the time I wouldn’t have said that), but at 53, I also know (hope) I have a lot more wondrous memories to make. Hang in there……….

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