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May 17, 2006

God's Waiting Room

I have been spending several days with my father in his retirement community. He’s been in need of some new medical interventions and I wanted to be here in person to get him situated. He lives in a retirement community in a large metro area in Texas. The complex offers a very wide range of services for folks whose needs vary tremendously.

There are different levels of care. He is in the independent living section – where people live in apartments, duplexes, or luxury homes. Many of these folks are quite active – driving; playing golf; being active in their churches; shopping; spending time with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc. There is also an assisted living section for folks who need more attention or supervision. Residents there live in a different building and eat with folks from their own unit rather than friends they made in the independent living area. There is also a health unit (aka nursing home care) and a separate building for Alzheimer’s patients. The latter two are rarely talked about.

Dinner is taken in a community dining hall, and there is always time for socializing beforehand. Some residents maintain a rather droll sense of humor about their situation. While waiting in line for food one evening, a woman turned to me and asked, “Do you know what we call this place? … … God’s Waiting Room�. Hmmm… what do you say to that??

Teaching lifespan development has given me new perspective on this age group. The textbook I used divided late adulthood into 3 groups: the “young-old� (ages 55-70), the “old-old� (ages 70-85), and the “oldest-old� (ages 85+). Of course, any such age groupings are arbitrary and approximate, but there are some interesting points of comparison to the living situations at my father’s community. (BTW, my father would not be pleased to be told he is now in the “oldest old� category, and I have no intention of sharing that news with him!)

The majority of people who move here are in the young-old group. They have recently retired and sold their family homes, and they’re looking for relief from the demands of home ownership and upkeep while still being able to enjoy recreational and social activities. You have to pass a physical in order to get into the independent living section. (My mother, whose health was poor for many years before she died, was terribly afraid her health would prevent them from getting in -- thankfully, she was over the threshold and they got in.) Many in this group are married when they enter, but experience the death of a spouse along the way. Then the health problems begin to intrude, and so we see the canes, the walkers, the electric scooters, and other adaptive devices come out. Folks in this generation (the Great Depression and WWII-shaped “Great Generation�) are fiercely independent and proud. The thought of having to move into assisted living is anathema. This topic came up at dinner a few nights ago, when one woman commented – “Joan (not her real name) is deathly afraid she’ll have a fall and they will throw her into assisted living.� (The implication is that once you’re “thrown in,� you’ll never come out.) My sense is that the decision to go into assisted living is rarely voluntary.

A few ironies:
**Although most residents have special dietary needs of one type or another, many of the foods served on the steam table are highly processed and high in sodium – not good for folks who need to watch salt intake.
**The administration building has recently been remodeled and has wonderful facilities – including an exercise room with fitness equipment, a computer lab, and a wood shop. But I’ve never seen anyone using these facilities. They look great in the brochures, however. (In all fairness, however, I haven’t been up there at many different times of day.)
**The folks in assisted living eat separately from those in the independent living units – and so the relationships they have fostered over dinner in their community over the course of several years may be abruptly terminated… or at least made more difficult to maintain. I could go on…

Despite these ironies, many of which are now becoming more clear to me, this has been a place where my dad has made new friends and has experienced a safe living environment free of the demands of home maintenance. I cannot envision myself, or most folks in my age cohort and demographic, living in a place like this. (Maybe it’s just that I don’t like to dress up for Sunday dinner!) I can’t really envision what kind of living situation I’d like to be in when I’m “old old.� But the bookending experiences of welcoming a new granddaughter into the world and spending a week in God’s Waiting Room have given me pause.

Posted by hgroteva at May 17, 2006 6:18 AM | Life | Texas

Comments

Diet is important at this stage of your life. I would start with a GI Diet of something similiar....

Posted by: fitness equipment at April 22, 2007 5:52 PM