Assisted Living: Sign Up Early, Visit Often!
Summary:A personal story about a family member who is happy and thriving in an assisted living facility after years of mental illness and physical decline.
I have an assisted living success story that I would like to share, and it is my hope that this story can offer a positive take on an industry that, at times, can lend itself to less-than-favorable headlines and stories (think “assisted living resident disappears and is found wandering in the cold miles away…” as an example).
No, this story is positive, but doesn’t really start out that way. It’s about my aunt Anna, who recently moved into a lovely assisted living facility, and is thriving and happy (finally).
My first memories of my aunt are from when she moved to our town from back east in the mid 1980’s. Anna essentially showed up on our doorstep with her two young boys (my cousins), wanting to start a new life….or to run from the life she previously had, which was very unpleasant and filled with unfortunate drama and heartbreak. I was happy with their arrival, since my cousins were about my age. However, I did not realize the significant circumstances of the move at the time, and how, in my hindsight view, it further aggravated my aunt’s already embedded and obvious mental and physical health issues.
Anna’s side of our family has had a history of mental disorders, which include depression, and dementia. Unfortunately, aunt Anna was dealt this genetic hand, and had struggled with depression and mental/emotional instability since she was very young. I remember her often times being in tears, for no apparent reason, and had little capacity for confrontation, stress, or anything less-than-favorable that life might have presented her. It seemed as if she was always recovering from a mental tailspin, or entering into one.
Early on, after she moved to our town with her boys, I remember that Anna was often at the doctors office, and, as I later learned, seeing several psychiatrists and mental health professionals. I also remember that she was taking a lot of different and heavy-duty medications, in addition to self-medicating with constant smoking, among other things. Anna didn’t look her age – her chronological age did not seem to want to keep up with her physical appearance, which seemed to advance at an exponential rate.
Her boys were both very high-maintenance and rambunctious, which added to her health issues and exhaustion.
In the late 1990’s, my parents moved to a different town about a 1 hour away, and naturally, soon after that, Anna followed and moved to the same town as well. However, within this small town, I remember she moved around about a dozen times over the course of the next several years – never happy where she was. Again, moving seemed to be the solution to her problems in her mind.
The area that my parents and Anna were all living in is a very “woo-woo” area, as I like to call it. Holistic, or new-age describes it well too. Traditional medicine can take a back seat to alternative treatments – which, often times can be practiced and prescribed by people who are not necessarily qualified to do so. Anna started seeking out some of these “healers” in the area, who essentially advised her to stop taking her prescribed medication in favor of a diet overhaul, herbs, and new age therapies.
It is my feeling that these types of things can help, if done right – but it can be very dangerous to strictly adhere to them without balancing them with tried-and-true medications and Western medicine – especially with a case like Anna – who is not just mildly depressed or demented – but rather full-blown with episodes of quite scary tailspins into the mental, spiritual, and emotional abyss.
This is exactly what happened – Anna continued to get mentally worse, progressively more unhealthy, and skinny to the point of alarm. The “healer” she was seeing advised her to eat only a few things that, if I remember right, was limited to nuts, avocados, and rice, and nothing else. Anna eventually looked as if a slight breeze would blow her away. Her kidneys started failing, and she looked about 30 years older than she actually was.
I think ‘rock bottom’ in her life happened around 2006, when her 34 year old son (my cousin) passed away unexpectedly. At that point, Anna had become so unmanageable with her mental illness and health that we all expected her to follow suit soon thereafter. My mom assumed the role of caregiver to her as much as she could – which started taking a toll on her health as well. There always seemed to be an emergency or crisis happening – all resulting by the bad decisions Anna was making in her life. We all knew that she was incapable of making many good decisions, but that did not make it easier on her extended family, and unfortunately, I think a distance started growing between Anna and just about everyone else on the planet. She lived alone, and rarely went outside. She slept most of the day, and didn’t eat much. She was, for all intents and purposes – not living….and very much dying. I don’t think there was anything else anyone could do to help her – aside from herself.
In life, I have witnessed some things that I consider to be amazing, or just short of miraculous. Just as a plant can start growing in a forest that has been recently destroyed by fire – humans can wake up and blossom from the most dire of circumstances. Anna did exactly that – with a little help from an assisted living environment.
Around 2010 or so, Anna made the decision to give life one last push to see if she could find some happiness, comfort, and support. With some encouragement from her other living son, she decided to uproot from “woo-woo” land, and move north to live near her son and daughter-in-law. It was decided that the best place for her to be would be in an assisted living facility in the area that was highly regarded – and close by.
Anna’s spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional transformation started happening almost immediately once she moved into the facility. It was nothing short of amazing.
Anna began to look physically better – there was a newfound spark, or glow with her that we all noticed. Instead of being the reclusive, 20 hour-a-day sleeper that she was in the few years and months prior, Anna now had a fully booked schedule of activities, group meetings, and lunches with friends she had met in the facility. Anna started working on her appearance again….getting her hair done, wearing stylish clothes (she has great taste when she is feeling good), and eating (in her son’s words) like a horse. Anna put on several pounds of good weight, and was enjoying things like hamburgers, quiche, lasagna, pie, and other delicacies that were ‘forbidden’ by her previous ‘healers’. Anna’s medication was being managed by a knowledgeable, highly trained professional nurse at the facility, and most importantly, I believe – Anna was no longer isolated. Anna had plenty of friends and neighbors living within a half-mile radius of her – many of whom shared similar circumstances and health issues that they could share with her and commiserate on.
She now looks and acts like an entirely different person. For the first time since anyone in our family can remember, she is laughing, smiling, joking around, and having fun. She even went to a rock concert with her son and daughter-and-law, and had a terrific time.
A funny side story: My mother went to visit Anna at this assisted living facility recently, and one of the older residents “Huck” rushed up to my mother as she walked in and asked my mom how old she was. I think my mom replied that she was in her early 70’s. “Huck” replied to the effect “Woooo Weee! A youngster! Wanna get married?”
He was serious – but also a wonderfully funny, animated gentleman who added a lot of fun and humor to the atmosphere of the facility.
Anna continues to live at this assisted living facility, even after being there for about 2 years now – the longest stay that she has had anywhere in recent memory – so that is a great sign. Anna continues to enjoy a full schedule, with the help of the facility’s activities coordinator and transportation services. The food is abundant, and healthy (most of the time…with the occasional ‘sinful’ dessert or french fries..which is quite all right!), and the friends made and support gained have all but saved Anna’s life…which is a miraculous and wonderful thing since she is expecting her first grandchildren (twins) to enter the world a few months from now. Thanks to a wonderful assisted living program and facility, these newborns will know their grandmother as a happy, healthy, radiant soul with plenty of years, life – and grandmothering left in her!
Do you have an assisted living success story? We’d love to hear about it!
– Article by the staff at Assisted Living Directory