September 28th, 2007

And the difference between prison and assisted living is…

Today’s a traveling day, so this will be quick. I’m driving down to NY to see my family and especially my elderly mother.

Last night I called her at around 8:15 to see how she was doing. She sounded a bit tired when she answered the phone, so I asked whether my call had woken her up. My mother used to be somewhat of a nightowl, but when she got into her eighties and now, her mid-90s, she understandably started fading a lot earlier in the evening.

But she said no, she hadn’t been asleep. As a matter of fact, she’d just gotten back to her room. Why? Because, she said, “This place is getting like a prison.”

Oh oh, doesn’t sound too good.

I asked her to elaborate, and she said “They have a new rule. We go down to dinner at five, you know (oh yes, I know; it’s the highlight of the day) and we’re not allowed back into our rooms till eight.”

I pointed out that this was actually more the opposite of a prison. After all, in prisons, they take you back to your room and lock you in, not out. Actually, it reminded me of summer camp—although a great deal less fun—with compulsory evening activities, everything in groups, and no solitude allowed.

Could she be allowed back to her room if she pled tiredness? Wanted to watch a good TV show? Read a book? Entertain a visitor? She hasn’t a clue, but I imagine I’ll find out a lot more about this new edict over the weekend.

My mother’s assisted living facility is one of the nicest possible, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve always joked about the residents being “inmates” (one of the faculties my mother most definitely has not lost is her sense of humor). But this sort of effort at control and forced socialization is ridiculous. I understand it’s not good for residents to isolate themselves, but the loss of freedom and autonomy is already profound there, simply by dint of being in such a setting. No need to add to it unnecessarily.

12 Responses to “And the difference between prison and assisted living is…”

  1. Ale Says:

    I used to work in one of these assisted living facilities during college, and can’t begin to tell you how sad their lives are. Now I find they have placed my own grandmother in one, something unthinkable based on the values we grew up with.

    My heart does out to your mother. I hope these facilities miraculously become more humane places by the time its our turn.

  2. Dan Says:

    Only for a few years in my twenties could I stay up as late as I wanted and do whatever I wanted. I was in my own house and could do whatever I wanted.

    I was completely miserable.

    I’m not drawing any conclusions from this, it’s really just an anecdotal thing really. But yeah, it must be a bit hard going from free person to being babysitted in an old folks home.

    Thinking back on my grandmother’s life… I’m glad now she was able to maintain her independence until the end.

  3. Teresa Says:

    Having worked in several nursing homes when I was younger (not assisted living but nursing homes) the one thing I always hated was the way fully grown, mature people were treated like 3 year olds.

    I know if I was your mother I’d be sitting down with the Nursing Supervisor and reminding her that although I am elderly, I am not incompetent, and that I pay THEM, they don’t pay me to stay there. This means I can do whatever the hell I want.

    Yeah, they’d kick me out really fast. Heh.

  4. Synova Says:

    Unfortunately Neo will be able to do more, visiting, than an old person living there can do. The whole point is that they *don’t* have autonomy.

    This must be closer to a nursing home than the assisted living my grandmothers were/are in, though, because I can’t even imagine them not *letting* people do what they wanted to do.

    Makes me think of the “donut revolt” that was in the news and blogs a couple days ago.

  5. snowonpine Says:

    I’ve only visited one retirement home so far, where my wife’s grandfather, in his mid-90’s, lived for three years before he passed. This facility, run by the Seventh Day Adventists, was spacious, light and airy, had good food and was, apparently, very well run, wth staff that really did care about the people in their charge. From what I have read, this place was a very large exception to the rule. The cost was apparently relatively high but,worth it. I believe the fact that this facility was “faith-based” made all the difference. Ironically, my wife’s grandfather was Jewish, the only Jew in the facility, and I doubt he ever really realized that he was in a facility run by a Christian denomination..

    I regard the possibility of eventually having to go to a “retirement home” or “assisted living facility” with horror. Unfortunately, now that multi-generational, extended families who live in close proximity to one another and routinely care for aging relatives is a thing of the past, the very unsatisfactory warehousing approach has emerged as an alternative. The idea of alternately being herded around or confined and neglected, eating lousy food and being at the mercy of minimum wage caretakers does not seem like the “golden years” to me.

  6. Trimegistus Says:

    I watched my grandmother die in a nursing home. Just being in one turns people into vegetables. When she went in she was alert and perfectly compos mentis, just physically impaired. After just a few months she didn’t speak or recognize anyone. Her body lived on another year. We visited daily, but an hour or two per day wasn’t enough.

    And all around were vegetables or dementia cases, the staff treated the inmates like valuable furniture, and there was nothing to do but watch television or listen to the person screaming down the hall. Each ward had a big signboard: “Today is MONDAY the 15th of OCTOBER, 2004. Yesterday was SUNDAY. Tomorrow is TUESDAY. It is FALL. The next holiday is HALLOWEEN. It is SUNNY today.”
    Because otherwise each day is exactly like the others.

    When I reach the point of not being able to live unassisted, I hope to God those Japanese elder-care robots are available. I’d rather have a machine taking care of me than live in a nursing home. If that’s not an option, I hope I can kill myself.

  7. strcpy Says:

    My great Aunt lived in an assisted living facility for quite a few years and enjyed up until she died (at 92)

    Note that, at least around here, assisted living is *not* a nursing home. Nursing homes are for people who are incapable of taking care of them selves or can not afford assisted living. Assisted living facilities require that you mostly take care of yourself – they only assist in minor things and when you are sick (such as a cold or something like that – nothing major, you go into a nursing home for major stuff) and provide facilities for general living (such as a cafeteria, gym, games room) along with activities.

    There are good ones out there, heck there are even some good nursing homes. I can’t say what percentage are decent, but they are out there.

  8. sergey Says:

    The whole idea to place a parent in some institution for elderly people while his offsprings are alive and able seems extremly odd in Russia. Such institutions here are reserved only for those without close relatives to care for them. And we have also social workers, who visit lonely pensioners, buy food and medicines, can do some home cleaning or other services. A standard Russian family has 3 generations living in one household, so rarely there is a need to use retirement homes at all.

  9. Synova Says:

    And now, to get *really* depressing… people cared for by their family at home don’t always do much better. My grandmother has been in an assisted living situation for nearly a decade. She chose it. Two of her sisters and nearly all of her friends are there.

    Grandpa, on the other hand, would have never gone to a home, ever, and while he lived Grandma *was* strong enough to take care of him in their home. She *wasn’t* strong enough to lift him off the floor if he fell. If he fell, he laid there until my father or one of his sisters who lived nearby could come to pick him up. She hated having to call and wouldn’t call until a “decent time” no matter how often her children got after her about it.

    Even loving family doesn’t always provide care as well as they should. Keeping an elderly person at home isn’t always better for them.

  10. mary Says:

    My aunt made a point of living near her mother (my grandmother) so she could take care of her. She even got a job in a senior housing project so she could ‘watch’ grandma if she ever had to give up her apartment.

    Unfortunately, Grandma wasn’t able to get around by herself and she needed someone home all day. Since my aunt and uncle have to work, Grandma is in a nursing home that offers a lot of freedom of movement and friendly care.

    Still, she doesn’t like it. Her roommate is spends too much time putting on makeup in front of the mirror and the people at her table in the cafeteria talk about the same things all the time. And they want the shades open when she wants them closed. Her complaints (and the complaints of other residents) sometimes sound like dorm life, with no beer.

  11. R. Shwartz Says:

    I am apauled at the way all of us treat the elderly here in America. In this most powerful, rich (in both the earth and the the mighty dollar), we have failed to nurture our elderly in their supposedly golden years. It’s a travesty. How many countries throughout the world house 2 or 3 generations under one roof and have been doing so for centuries. There is no question raised about where to send grandma or grandpa or a sick aunt. It’s done and that’s it. So the quarters are cramped and there’s no room for privacy. How did America get like this? We are basically a very young society and a fairly new country. Is this uncaring attitude inherited? Is it in our genes? In our culture? I know that even when my grandpa was in his 80′s and could not care for himself, he was taken (well at least he was driven by car and not sent on a bus with a satchel) to a nursing home. I never heard my parents or my aunts and uncles discuss him living with any of them. Now my dad is turning 93 and although he is energetic, lucid, kind, and basically a great dad….I see him becoming complacement and will soon be unable to manage the many medications he has to take daily. He is also dealing with hemodialysis 3 times a week. He was living on his own until he took a fall backwards one morning and now is in hospital fighting gastrointestinal flu and bronchitis and I’m afraid will never regain his independence again. What do we do? Well, my excuse is I live 110 miles south, up 21 stairs and he could never manage that daily. My brother’s excuse is that well…two excuses….they didn’t take in my sister-in-law’s mom when she wasn’t well and they don’t have a full bathroom downstairs in their home. So, now we are wondering where to place dad…Do we hire a caregiver during the day to help him out; does he go to assisted living where we have to pay extra for every little aid and assistance he needs…do we go to a board and care where most residents have dementia or are on hospice? I am as guilty as the next person….and it bothers me every minute of every day.

  12. PH Paper %0A Says:

    assisted living is nice if you got some people and a home that cares very much to its occupants `’~

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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