Opinion Piece on Assisted Living
It’s time for a different type of assisted living facility
Written by Jan Sykes
Wednesday, 14 January 2009 08:00
Why are the activity directors at assisted living centers often young women? How would they know what retired, outdoor-loving widowers enjoy doing?
When I called an assisted living center in rural Nebraska for my 90-year-old father, I said, “Tell me about your activities, but don’t tell me about bingo.”
So she told me about Wednesday morning coffee time.
Where were the outings to rodeos, to the derby car races, to the sale barns, to the shooting ranges, to hot air balloon rides? Where was mention of an outbuilding for tinkering on their sons’ tractors or their grandsons’ derby cars? Where was the fleet of four-wheelers to drive around some dirt paths? Where was the wood working room, welding room, taxidermy room or even the tool box?
I realize men who live in assisted living centers aren’t able to climb windmills to repair them anymore, and maybe they can’t canoe down a rapid stream, either; but they shouldn’t be reduced to making moccasins in the indoor, library-looking “activities” room.
Surely some staffers can take the men to a creek and paddle for them or let them fish off a pontoon boat. They could help them clean any fish they caught and then help them build a bonfire to fry the fish. Most men would be glad to breathe fresh air regardless of the results of the outing.
All the men I know prefer to be useful, to fix things, to problem solve. Stitching doilies or stringing popcorn garlands for Christmas trees just doesn’t fill that bill. Even shooting pool on the one available pool table or playing cards with each other day after day can get monotonous.
No wonder many men die shortly after losing their wives. There are few options matching their interests for them. Not all outdoor men want to take up golf or tennis. If only men could easily replace their deceased wives and continue their former lives. But wives are often irreplaceable.
One friend of my dad sits alone in his assisted living room watching the news on his TV most of his day. He was once a high school superintendent. Inactive, his health is going down fast.
My dad called assisted living centers “glorified prisons” after a tour of several. When a staffer of an urban assisted center told him they took a bus to Wal-Mart once a week, he muttered he had already been there.
I’m certain the best medicine for an aging man is to serve a cause bigger than himself. It is the best medicine for any of us. But a chapel on the premises where local pastors take turns preaching on Sunday afternoons does not a bigger-than-self cause make.
Why isn’t there space behind the facilities for rehabilitating animals? Or trips to jails for the retired men to teach the incarcerated men their former trades? Or how about turning that activities room into the real library it appears to be by filling it with reading-challenged children who are tutored by former school superintendents who have empty hours to invest?
Instead we warehouse our elderly outdoor men, thinking a few trinkets and beads will amuse them. It is dignity robbing and demeaning. Stretching exercises at 10 a.m., bingo at 2 p.m.
And it just gets worse. When they leave assisted living, they are moved to a nursing home. There, they are left to lie in bed in a double room, except for the times someone wheels them to an exciting meal of macaroni and cheese or to the church group singing in the lobby.
Who will open a new assisted living center with the above suggestions? I’ll help.