I am often asked why I began working in the senior care industry. It all began about 30 years ago while attending Bible school. I worked in a nursing home to help pay the bills. It was there that I discovered how much I enjoyed seniors. I was drawn to their wisdom, their stories, and their sense of humor, their dignity, and often their quiet suffering. It was the suffering that really affected me, and that was something I tried to alleviate when I could.
Later after graduation, I got married and began raising a family. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I again experienced another life event that nudged me toward senior care. I saw and experienced in my own family what happens to seniors when they are moved against their will into assisted living.
My grandparents were getting up in age, and Grandma began accidentally leaving the stove on. Both Grandma and Grandpa were having trouble remembering to take medications. They were slowing down; the children began worrying about them because they were becoming a bit frail due to perhaps not eating right. It was decided that Grandma and Grandpa should be moved to a retirement center where meals would be served and they would be around others their own age.
Many seniors decide to make this move on their own, and retirement centers and assisted living facilities are a blessing for that very reason. They meet the needs of those who make the choice, and seniors who choose to move to these facilities are, by and large, very happy with the choice they make. However, for those who do not wish to move, but are coerced into it by worried grown children and extended family members, the results are often devastatingly the opposite.
My Grandpa, when introduced to the new apartment in the facility chosen for them, walked around admiring it. Their belongings had been downsized and the remainder had been moved in to the tiny apartment to help give it that “home” feeling. However, after a short while, he said, “Well, this is nice, but I’d like to go home now.” My Grandpa was a “putterer” in the purest sense of the word. He loved being busy, working on various projects, being outside and taking care of his property. Moving him into a place with nowhere to putter was like taking a fish out of water. He began to quickly deteriorate – mentally and physically. He started experiencing mini-strokes, sometimes barely noticeable. His health declined to the point where both he and Grandma were moved to a nursing home to live out the rest of their days.
In my childhood memories, Grandpa was a vibrant, happy and personable man. He transformed almost overnight from walking, talking and laughing, to a wheelchair, then became bedridden, and finally lost his ability to communicate. He no longer recognized anyone or knew where he was.
I remember the last time I ever saw him. He was a skeleton of his former self. Grandpa was very hard of hearing, so during my last visit, I got very close to his face, and I spoke to him, telling him who I was. Suddenly, recognition flooded his face. It was as if the lights went on inside. His recognition of me caused a profusion of tears to roll down his face. I, too, began to cry. We had made that one last connection close to the end of his life. It is a precious memory I will carry with me forever.
That was a pivotal point in my life. At the time my grandparents needed help, in-home care was almost unheard of. It wasn’t even a consideration. Now, however, in-home care is a popular alternative in assisted living options. Seniors now have the choice of “aging in place” if they so choose. Children of aging parents owe it to their folks to investigate the option of in-home senior care if seniors don’t want to move. Seniors must be given the respect and courtesy of making their own decisions, and not be pressured into making an unwanted move. Grown children don’t always know what is best for mom and dad. Of paramount importance is respecting the senior’s choice. The time may come when there is no alternative other than a 24-hour skilled nursing facility. Until that time comes, seniors must be treated with dignity, and their wishes should be respected. Their happiness and quality of life depend on it.