I watched Life and Death in Assisted Living on PBS’s Frontline program earlier this week, and I highly recommend this for all family members with parents with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in assisted living facilities with “memory care” units or who are considering placing their loved ones in this kind of facility.
Let me say at the outset that they’re not all awful. However, let me also say that they will never take care of our loved ones as well as we can and would. I understand that some people, because of distance or a myriad of other reasons, believe they have no other option. If that’s the case, it is our responsibility to be (or designate a family member who is there to be) all over that facility and our loved ones 24/7.
Sadly, the mistreatment, the mistakes, the lack of care shown in this series are more likely to occur. Again, I’m not trying to make generalizations here, but I’ve seen some of this firsthand with people whose family members were absent most of the time or couldn’t be bothered even when serious matters arise.
These elderly people tend to get treated differently – worse – by some staff members when family and loved ones are not involved. My first-hand observation of this – and my Mom’s when she was an ombudsman at a facility in northeast Tennessee after my dad’s death – made me (and my mom) want to lower the hammer, rescue the elders, and shake some sense, compassion, and love into their families and loved ones.
We have a responsibility to our parents and our elderly folks to ensure that they have the best care possible as they end life. We cannot do that if we’re not involved day in and day out, even if we can’t care for them at home, with assisted living or nursing home care.
The more we are present – and I mean every day, different times of the day, for chunks of time each day – the less likely our loved ones and parents will suffer the mistakes, negligence, and deaths because of lack of care or failure to do the job that this series talks about.
Mom was in an assisted living facility with a memory care unit until I knew she was as stabilized mentally as she could be. It was not the first choice she and I had made, but the first choice turned out to be a “let’s-get-you-in-bind, put-the-screws-to-you, then-make-you-hand-every-bit-of-cash-you-(or-your-children)-have-over-to-us-up-front.”
And that’s not uncommon, based on what I’ve found in my research since then. I can’t think of too many times in my life when I’ve been angrier than I was when this materialized, but I discovered that this company was fairly representative of how assisted living and nursing home facilities, especially those that offer memory care, work.
As appalled as I was to discover this, I was even more appalled to discover that this is business as usual for most of these places.
Fortunately, the place that I found for Mom wasn’t like this, but it had its own unique set of issues. The reality is that nobody else is ever going to, or in fact can, care for our parents and loved ones the way we will and are able to.
The bottom line for us is whether we’re willing (and able, because some people are not) to make the sacrifice to do for our parents and our loved ones what they were willing to do for us when we were babies, helpless, and completely dependent on them.
For the last several weeks she was her assisted living facility, I was living there because she’d fallen and had a bad ankle sprain and I needed to be there. Within a short time,we made the decision that she would move back in with me and we’d be together at home until the end.
And I’m grateful we had that time together, although I know at times it was hard for my mom and at times it was hard for me. In the end, that didn’t matter, because I knew…and Mom knew…that we were both doing the best we could and there was unconditional love and care behind that.