Living: Assisted

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Wed, 10/31/2007 - 00:05

What to do when a person or couple is no longer able to maintain a household independently? Assisted living is one option for those who can afford it. It is one way to live with age.

Life at the Pines

I was privileged to visit an assisted living facility, the Pines of Tewksbury. Shadowed by tall pine trees, the rambling one-story structures comprise single- and double-occupancy rooms, activity and shared living areas, a dining hall, and a separate section for people with various forms of dementia. Landscaped lawns and benches surround the buildings. Individuals read; groups of friends sit and pass the time talking; a woman walks around and around for exercise to lose weight; people play bingo and do arts and crafts; staff provide personal care; people attend presentations or watch TV together. A couple of friends hold hands for support.

On Memorial Day, a group is driven to the town center to participate in the parade. What a difference--instead of watching the parade as an ordinary resident of the town, to ride in it! On another day, friends and families join the residents on the back lawn for a barbecue cookout. A child shares her cookie with her grandfather.

On one poignant day, I see the goodbye embrace between two close friends; the gentleman is being relocated to another state to be closer to his family, the lady is remaining. This may be their last moment together.

The Pines is ordinary daily life, marked by a variety of lifestyles, and sharing around the inevitable changes that affect individuals. Thus, it is much like a small village.

It is life, life in an assisted living facility.

Photographs provide glimpses of this life. See:

Assisted Living

The failure of any one of several essential elements of independence can loom as a catastrophe. If people cannot drive, they will become dependent on others for transport to shop, for personal care, health care, and social relations. If people cannot cook or manage their own health care, they become dependent on the services of others. It may not be possible to live with a younger family member, or the demands may be incompatible with the other responsibilities of the family. And various forms of dementia can make a person at risk, unable to live safely in the community.

A few generations ago, people lived in multi-generational families and communities. Farmers, herdsmen, craftsmen and others counted on support from their children and the community when the infirmities of age kept them from working. Economic, social,and cultural patterns have changed dramatically and continue to evolve. In the 1950s and 1960s, as I observed in person, state-run institutions warehoused "mentally ill" people in massive stone structures and housed elderly people in more comfortable, nursing-home style institutions. Later, mental health care was shifted to the community--depending on pharmaceutical treatment. A framework was needed for elders who needed some help, but did not require the intensive services of a nursing home. As a result, people living with age face new kinds of transitions, and a number of creative solutions have emerged.

Assisted living is one answer to providing a safe, dignified living environment for the elderly person who seeks to maintain an independent life style. Assisted living is a growing industry, highly competitive, with local and national organizations striving to compete with a variety of offerings. An assisted living facility is not a nursing home, the people who live in assisted living are residents, not patients.

Assisted living typically provides a place to live, meals, assistance with activities of daily living, and a swift and appropriate response to deal with illness or accident. Residents and their families seek more than these basics: ideally, the resident hopes to maintain or regain dignity and to find friendship, support, and a new community, while retaining privacy. Ideally, they find a new home and a new "family." And they want to maintain ties to their old communities as well as their families. Good food served attractively, a variety of activities and outings, expressions of concern and support by other residents as well as staff--are all contributors to a sense of well-being. The quality of life for residents depends on many factors, not least the skill of the staff and the leadership of the managers. Creating a sense of security and well-being, fostering the development of community, and respecting the dignity of residents requires skill, enthusiasm, and dedication.

All Essays and Photos on Living with Age

Living with Age:
All "Elderly"