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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
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