Old age ain’t for sissies

Posted on October 19, 2010


“Old Age Ain’t for Sissies”[1]

Isn’t that sweet – they’ve found true love right here in a retirement home.”

“Sweet? I think it’s disgusting. She threw herself at him … he didn’t have a chance.”

“But Mamie he seems to like her, they’re always together.”

“They’re together because she won’t let him out of her sight. I hear her knocking at his door before breakfast and sneaking out at all hours. “

“Oh my!”

“Furthermore she’s a lush. She reeks of booze.”

“ But he seems happy. He’s always smiling.”

“Beatrice, that’s not a smile. He’s had a stroke and it’s affected his facial muscles.”

“Oh my… Well at least she’s got male company. They’re aren’t many men in the place.”

“You got that right. Furthermore, they’re either married or over the hill.”

“But aren’t we all over the hill?”

“Speak for yourself, I’ve still got some bounce left in me!”

“If you say so Mamie … but I can hear you rattle when you walk.”

Retirement centers are popping up like dandelions.  Unlike nursing homes they’re designed for folks who can look after themselves – more or less. They’re for seniors whose kids worry about them living alone and with the best of intentions deposit them in ‘a safe place.’

The degrees of disability among the residents range from obvious to minor. Some get asked: “Why are you here?” The answers include: “The kids worried about me being by myself, and I was lonely;” “I started forgetting to take my medications;” “ I’d get lost the odd time – nothing serious mind you, but it worried my son;” or, “ My husband has had a couple of minor strokes so we decided to sell the condo and move here. Furthermore, I was sick and tired of cooking. ”

Some residents still drive. At lunch an eighty-eight year old gentleman preparing to take his driving test is being grilled by two friends: “How many demerit points for failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing? How many for failing to wear a seat belt? How many for….?”

In addition to the drivers and more or less independent residents there are those with cognitive or physical disabilities who need more care, but not enough to move into a nursing home. Old timers grill new arrivals: “Where did you live? How many kids?  What about grandchildren?….;What did you do before you retired?”  To which one new arrival pleaded: “Give me a break, they say I’m getting Alzheimer’s I can’t remember all that stuff.”

These senior havens range from modest to luxurious, including those where you can rent or buy your accommodation – like a condo. Spaces vary from a studio up to large two bedroom suites with kitchenettes. Like luxury hotels those at the high end provide first class dinning rooms, fitness facilities and training, hairdressers, movies, computer rooms, swimming pools, even room service.

Most offer two levels of  service: ‘independent living’ and also‘assisted living’ for those who may need help with their medications, bathing, eating or getting around. Those receiving assisted living may reside on a separate floor and have their own dinning room, nevertheless they still have access to all the services and facilities noted above such as hairdresser, movies, pool, etc.

Trained PSW’s (personal service workers) assist the residents, and there’s on site nursing care and a visiting physician.

A Place for Forgetting

A mother asks her visiting daughter to make an appointment for her with the resident hairdresser. The exasperated daughter replies: “Mother, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times you already have an appointment next Tuesday morning at 10.30. Give it a rest will you?” To which her mother replies: “But isn’t this a place for forgetting, isn’t that why you put me here?”

If we’re honest the answer must be yes. We place our seniors in retirement centers not only because they’ve fallen or had a minor stroke, not only because they forget to turn off the stove or take their medication, but also because their loved ones reach the stage where they can’t stand the uncertainty – they need to move the parent into a place where they can forget about them … at least for a day, a week or a month. Not forget about them in a cold or thoughtless way, but rather in a way that helps them unload the anxiety and frustration associated with caring for forgetful, fragile parents or mates.

But when visiting them the anxiety and frustration returns. A mother complains that her daughter never visits her: “But mother we were here last Saturday for your birthday, with Lindsay and Brendon your grandchildren, we had a party – don’t you remember?”

“Dad it wasn’t me who took away your driving license it was your Doctor – he said your medication makes you drowsy … you have to take it, it’s for your heart.”

“Mother please eat a bit more of your fish… you’re just skin and bones…!”  Mother pokes at the fish. Pushes bits of it around her plate. “MOTHER!  YOU’RE JUST PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD LIKE A CHILD!”

There’s a crusty guy who asks everyone the same question: “How’s your liver? Mine’s shot to hell. Can’t drink anything but milk… just like a baby.” And whenever it snows he loudly proclaims, “ Notice how the first road they plough is the one between here and the funeral parlor?”  His son shakes his head:  “Dad, that’s not funny.”

On visits kids and mates understandably try to be caregivers. They come burdened with ingrained and obsolete expectations about their parents, unconsciously attempting to transform them back into what they were…. forgetting that they’d already failed, forgetting that was the reason why they delegated that task to the retirement centre. In contrast, the on-site professional caregivers are working with your mum and dad as they are now, not with who they were. That’s why the PSW’s don’t burn out, at least not as fast, as kin do when burdened with the constant care of a frail seniior.

Yes, retirement homes are places for forgetting, the residents forget and so mercifully can their children – at least until their next visit.

To be continued…

This Medication in Short Supply.

[1] Attributed to Bette Davis

Posted in: Sciencing