I had the unique opportunity
recently to be invited to tour an assisted living facility near
where I live. Actually, this particular facility is intended
for Alzheimer's or memory care patients, and most of the residents
have some sort of memory decline or dementia.
I have been wanting
to reach out to facilities, to interview their administrators
to start learning about, and
sharing with my visitors what it is like to operate, and to
live in an assisted living environment. This opportunity offered
a good chance to do both. However, I was not fully prepared
for what I was going to experience. This visit, for me, was
incredibly profound, and moving as a result of an interaction
I had with one of the residents - I will call her Martha.
The visit to the facility
was to happen on a Thursday, and as I was driving up for my
appointment, I was playing scenarios in my mind of what the
visit might be like. I, like many people, have a few different
images of Alzheimer's facilities - of which, one is based on
the old stereotype of a very stale, depressing, and institutional-like
setting. Fortunately, I do know, and remind myself that this
stereotype is becoming a thing of the past. Nowadays, one is
more likely to experience a setting where, although the residents
are not of full mental or physical capacity, they are treated
with loving kindness, and they are engaged in activities, and
they are still treated like human beings. I was hoping for,
and expecting the latter scenario.
that is what I was met with.
The facility was great.
As soon as I walked in, I could see many of the residents sitting
in the 'fireplace room' trading stories, and talking about a
variety of things - sending the occasional chuckle down the
hallway. Some of the other residents were in various other common
rooms of the house - reading, sitting or napping.
I did not witness one
resident spending time in their own room (most all of the room
doors were open, and most of them were labeled with the resident's
name to help them to remember which one is theirs.)
I asked to take some
photos, and video of the facility, including, if possible, some
of the private rooms. I received permission to use Martha's
room. Her door was also open, although at the moment, she was
I noticed on the wall
that she had quite a few photographs of her husband - many of
them were displayed with various mementos from his service in
the military. I didn't think much of it other that it was quite
a tribute to her spouse.
I was photographing the room, Martha wandered down the hall
to say hello to us. I found her to be immediately delightful,
and she had a smile that seemed to stretch across the hallway.
I thanked her for allowing us to use her room, and she seemed
excited and happy to have us there. She entered her room, and
sat down on her bed - smile still intact. A moment later, she
glanced at her wall, and the tribute to her husband, and she
immediately broke down crying. The look and expression on her
face at that moment is one I will never forget. Within the snap
of a finger, she went from near giddiness to profound grief,
and loneliness. There could have been 100 people in her room,
but after seeing the photos on her wall - she and the memory
of her husband were the only ones she had any awareness of.
The facility administrator
quietly explained what was obvious - her husband had passed
This experience, for
me, was overwhelming indeed - being a stranger in this 'home'
and witnessing such raw emotions. I was taken too by the immediate
compassion and assistance offered by the administrator (I'll
call her Jen). She took Martha's hand, stood her up, and started
walking back down the hallway with her arm around Martha - towards
the rest of the group in the 'fireplace room.' By the time Martha
rejoined the group, the smile had returned, and the loneliness,
for the time being, was shelved.
When I left the facility later that day, I had so much to think
about, and mostly, I was thinking about my experience
with Martha - and how quickly and efficiently the facility,
the administrator Jen, and the staff quietly and compassionately
dealt with a grieving resident.
Jen had explained to
me a few of the strategies that they have learned in regards
to managing loneliness, grief, sadness, as well as memory disorders
and dementia at their facility. They are:
1) For most of the waking
hours of the day, they try to encourage all of their residents
to spend time in the common areas of the facilities. Even if
they want to be 'alone' - just being around other residents
can help them from becoming isolated, antisocial - and lonely.
2) They try to have
frequent group activities throughout the day - from games, to
discussing what is on television, to simply chatting in a circle
about anything and everything.
3) This facility allows
and encourages their residents to help out with the day-to-day
chores at the facility, such as folding towels to doing dishes.
Jen stressed that they never *make* their residents do
chores, but she has found that many of them enjoy doing it,
which gives them a sense of purpose and ownership in their home/facility.
Doing simple chores also keeps them busy, and their minds off
of things that may be upsetting to them.
4) This facility also
allows and encourages co-habitation - meaning they encourage
residents to live in the same room with their spouse, or another
'roommate.' The bathrooms are "Jack and Jill" (or
shared). Having a roommate, or a spouse with you will obviously
help to minimize isolation issues.
5) They encourages families
to visit, and stay at the facility with their loved one if needed
during difficult times
6) Encouraging staff
to bring pets or grandchildren to visit the facility. There's
nothing quite as effective as a lively 5 year old to brighten
the mood at a facility.
I was amazed at how
willing most of the residents were to stay in the main areas
for most of the day. Jen explained that this is entirely by
choice with the majority of her residents. She explained that
families will often tell her that "our mother will never
go out of her room" if she moves into her facility. However,
within a short period of time, those 'stubborn' residents come
out on their own, and spend most of the day in the company of
Of course, different
facilities may employ different strategies to deal with grief
and loneliness, however, what I witnessed with Martha and her
facility administrators and staff seemed to be an effective
set of efforts that I think would work well in most any assisted
living or long-term care environment: Keeping your residents
engaged, feeling useful, and connected with those they live
with and love.
Come to think of it,
this sounds like a strategy for happiness that most anyone can
incorporate into their lives - regardless of age or health!
- by the staff at
Assisted Living Directory