Assisted Living: There Is No Place Like Home
Assisted Living: The Reality
Days pass slowly here. Not all of them, but most of them. It is the last place I will live, I think. Oh I suppose I could end up in a nursing home one day but more than likely, this is where I will die. They call it assisted living but it’s really just a place old people go to live when they can’t manage the day-to-day living I their own house anymore. The sad reality is that this is where most of us will die.
Assisted Living: The Costs
Most of the residents here share a room with someone. They do it to save money. The ad in the paper calls it an apartment but it’s really only a room and a bath. There are various levels of assistance available but the more help you need, the more you have to pay. I try not to ask for much. If I don’t get sick and have to move to a nursing home, I can stay here until I die or, until my money runs out. Since this place doesn’t accept insurance so I’m trying to stretch our savings so that I never have to move again. We never really planned for this expense so the future is a bit frightening.
Assisted Living: Separation
My husband of 64 years lives here too but he lives in a different building. We moved here together but when my husband started wandering, he had to move into a secure building with locking doors. He as Alzheimer’s disease and the staff said he was a liability.
Making the decision to move him was hard and although it has been a while now, I still haven’t gotten use to it. We were together for so long and I miss him, especially at night when we watched television together and talked about the programs. I visit him a lot but he rarely knows me now. Yesterday he thought I was his mother. I cried.
The staff tells me that I am grieving. They say it’s just like the grief one feels when a loved one dies. They are right; that’s exactly how it feels. I’ve lost my husband, the man I have loved since I was 20 years old. I will soon be 84. When I visit, he looks like my husband and it’s hard to accept that he has forgotten the wonderful years we spent together. He was such a good husband and father to our children. Everyone tells me that my grief is normal but none of this feels very normal to me.
Assisted Living: Loneliness
Our children picked this place for us. They liked it because it was clean, the staff was friendly, and it was located close to where we had always lived. They thought it would be convenient for our old friends and neighbors to visit. They were right but these days, no one has time to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I do get visitors but not often. Some ladies from our church come to bring us a church bulletin and to provide us with communion and one neighbor comes monthly to play the piano for us. I get a few visits from relatives from time to time but no one stays very long. I understand it. If I were visiting, I wouldn’t either. Sometimes it’s just plain loud here and conversation is difficult at best. Other days are so quiet you can hear a pin drop and private conversation seems impossible. If all that wasn’t enough, let’s face it. This place is a reality check for anyone. It represents the future for so many and few want to stare it in the face. I remind myself that things could always be worse.
Assisted Living: Change is Constant
If I’ve learned anything in the time I’ve been here, it’s that change is constant. The faces of familiar staff members disappear every few months. The pay isn’t great and the pastures always look greener somewhere else. Some return and others do not. I have my favorites. The ones who make me feel special and treat me as if they really love me. I love them too and it’s hard to keep saying goodbye. It’s bad enough to watch the residents die off but that’s what this place is all about. It’s a place where old people go to die. I know this and yet I hate watching it happen.
Some things are just plain hard for me. I don’t like to complain because I don’t want it to affect the care and attention I get. I need these folks so I don’t want them angry at me. My children tell me that these people work for me and I am paying them well to take care of me. I know how much it costs but I also know that the care givers aren’t getting that money. Most are making minimum wage and working long hours to make ends meet. I feel for them and try to let them know that I appreciate what they do.
Assisted Living: Boredom and Homesickness
Things are not bad here during the week. There is a lot of activity around this place. There are games to play, van rides several days a week, lunch outings, and exercise and devotions every day. It would be more fun with a buddy to share it with but most of the residents are in worse shape than me. I get around pretty good and considering my age, my mind is still pretty sharp. Most of the residents have dementia or Alzheimer’s and many of them are confined to a wheelchair. Real conversation is limited to staff and visitors. It’s good that I enjoy reading and working puzzles because I spend a lot of time doing that now.
Weekends are bad. There is no other way to put it. There is almost no organized activity on the weekend and the staff shortage limits the amount of time they can spend with me. The clock ticks slowly and I have too much time to think. I visit my husband but our time together makes me sad. I cry a lot afterwards and retreat to my room. There’s no place like home.
Read more about our journey
- About Alzheimers - The Decision, Fear, And Grief
Alzheimer's Disease will eventually affect you or someone you love. With the help of friends and family, you can make the hard decisions, face the fear, and deal with the grief.
- Alzheimer's Disease: Making "End of Life" Decisions
Alzheimer's Disease forces families to make many difficult decisions.
Assisted Living: The Benefit
I know these sounds like a lonely only woman complaining. I don’t mean it to sound that way. I’m really grateful to have this place. I no longer worry about storms taking out the power or struggle with keeping track of my medications. I sleep good knowing that if I get sick during the night, there is someone here to take care of me. Someone takes care of my laundry and the housekeeping. They don’t do it like I would but they do okay. I get three hot meals a day and several snacks. Some meals are better than others so I keep a secret stash of snacks in my closet or refrigerator. Cooking is what I miss the most. My dishes were always prepared with love and I loved trying new recipes. Here, it’s the same thing over and over again and I reminded again that there is no place like home.
Assisted Living: It Could Be More Like Home
My children love me. I know this and I understand why they had to move me here instead of into their home. Times are different now and even if I had moved in with them, I would have been alone most of the day. They made the right decision and I am trying to make the best of it. I just wish that I could tell people how lonely it gets. I wish that people had more time for the elderly. We have lived our life and given the best we had to our children and communities. We have stories to tell and memories to share. We just need a hand to hold and someone to listen. Life in assisted living isn’t bad but there is no place like home. It could be though, if it weren’t so lonely. Do you have a few minutes? Will you sit with me and let me remember? I may not have much time left and it would mean a lot to me.
A Note From the Author
It's been a year since we moved my parents into an assisted living facility. It's far from perfect but there are many things you can do to make it more like home. Because of space limitations, we had to buy new furniture for my parents but we could have rented it. My parents were excited about getting new things after all these years.
A key to making a room feel like home is to create spaces where memories can be displayed. We installed shelving for keepsakes, utilized shadow boxes for the delicate things, and added color with personal paintings, pillows, and framed jigsaw puzzles my mother had completed. We removed the institutional shower curtain and added one that my mom would have chosen. Coordinating towels added color and warmth. A compact refrigerator with a small freezer was added so that Mom and Dad could enjoy their ritual of sharing a bowl of ice cream in the evening.
The most important thing we have done is to stagger our visits so that one of their children or grandchildren visit daily. It means a lot to my Mom and it helps to keep the staff on their toes. As good as they are, it still helps to let them know we are watching.
It's never easy making these life changing decisions but for many of us, it is the only choice. Do it with love and you can continue making memories to cherish later on.
© 2014 Linda Crist