When I went to help my parents after mom broke her hip, I had the unique experience of living in the same facility that they did.
The Gardens Living Center housed assisted living rooms in the main building along with the two dining rooms, the meeting rooms and the nurses’ stations. In addition, there were about 100 independent housing units spread out across the campus in units of about 6 independent units each. Independent units could be studio apartments or one or two bedroom apartments. All had small kitchens as well. Sometimes families rented one of these independent units for up to 3 months in order to visit their loved ones who were living in either the assisted living or independent units.
I had already reserved one of the independent units for January through March 2011 to vacation and visit mom and dad when mom fell in November and I had to immediately fly south. Members of the staff at the Gardens were very helpful in immediately finding me a unit to rent for a few weeks until I could get mom into a rehab facility. As I mentioned in earlier posts, mom did not recover as we had expected and instead she passed away after 3 weeks.
Dad was grief-stricken and I did not want to leave him alone after mom had passed away. Instead I asked to extend my stay right through March. This request required an exception to their rule of renting 3 months or less without a lease, but they granted my request. I went home for a few days to get enough clothing to last 4 months and returned to stay near dad.
Each day while mom was hospitalized, I sat with dad in the assisted living dining room (in mom’s assigned chair) while he had breakfast and dinner. In between I spent my time at the hospital. Transportation to and from the hospital was provided by the Gardens. While I was with mom, she said I should participate in the activities while I was there. I told her I would “later, after you’re in rehab”.
After mom passed away, I participated in many activities. I tried to convince dad to be more active as well. Dad was willing to go to entertainment and drinks on Friday afternoons. This was one of the most popular activities each week. Outside entertainers would come each week and sing or play music, mostly from the 1940’s but also some other eras as well. Some of the residents danced to the music. The staff served snacks and drinks, including alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer or cocktails. Dad liked to have his Scotch on Fridays. Other than that, he didn’t participate in many activities.
A calendar was posted monthly listing all of the activities for the month. These included trips to the grocery store twice a week, trips to Target or other stores, to Thrift Stores, to local Malls (not always the same mall), to the Farmers’ Market, etc. They also scheduled weekly trips out for either lunch or supper at local restaurants. I participated in many of these trips including the grocery store, the malls, the market and dinners out. Residents from both the assisted living and the independent living units were able to participate in all activities.
The facility had several transportation buses, vans and cars. They used some exclusively as transportation to and from medical appointments. Others were used for the outings and trips to the grocery store.
In addition to the trips, they had in-house activities such as trivia and ice cream one day a week; coffee and donuts and conversation some mornings; a craft group, bingo games, shuffle board, card games, etc.
By participating in the activities and trips, I got to know many of the active residents of both independent and assisted living units. I heard their praises of the aspects they liked and their gripes about the parts they didn’t like. For the most part, residents of both sections were glad to there rather than in their previous homes. They appreciated the fact they didn’t have to do any housekeeping, maintenance on their units, etc. Residents of the assisted living section also appreciated the fact that they didn’t have to cook.
Assisted living residents had assigned seats in their dining room. This is pretty standard from what I have seen and assures that they can track whether all residents have eaten or not. At meals, residents completed a fill-in-the-blanks menu of their choices for main dish, sides, dessert, etc. If residents were unable to do this independently, the wait staff would help them complete their orders. One thing I didn’t like was that the process was very slow. It usually took well over an hour from being seated to finishing dinner. Meals were prepared to order. Dad didn’t mind waiting, but I usually had a hundred things I also wanted to do afterwards.
Residents of the independent units could eat in their separate dining room in the main building or could cook their own meals in their units. Most took some meals in the dining room and most meals in their units. Some assisted living residents had started out in the independent units and moved to the assisted living building after they or their spouses could no longer live independently due to serious illness and/or dementia. The residents of the assisted living section could have their medications dispensed by the nursing staff and get other medical assistance. Residents of the independent units did not have regular access to the nurses, though they may have had it on occasion.
In addition to the nursing staff, assisted living residents had aides who came to their rooms to help them get up, dressed, bathed, etc. each morning. The aides would also come to their rooms and help them to get to the dining room if they needed reminders or assistance. There were many assisted living residents who depended upon wheelchairs or walkers. The aides might have to help them, especially those in wheelchairs.
I mentioned earlier that dad had early Alzheimer’s. This did not cause him any difficulties in the assisted living center. They did have to remind him to come to the nurses’ station for his medications, etc. and they didn’t require that he take part in activities that didn’t interest him. The staff knew mom and were aware that dad was lost without her. They gave him lots of special attention and worked well with him to assure that he showered and shaved and dressed properly each day. I was very impressed with several of the women in particular and loved how they drew dad out in conversations while they were getting him ready in the morning.
I felt that dad adjusted very well to assisted living right from the start, and I credited the well-trained staff for much of that. I was very thankful that dad was already in an assisted living facility when mom fell. I don’t know how I would have taken care of his needs while simultaneously tending to mom’s needs and all the medical decisions that came along with her steep decline. Even mom repeatedly stated how glad she was that dad was taken care of. “God was watching over us”, she said.
When it was time to return north, I was extremely nervous about taking him home by air, through security, etc. by myself. Instead, I arranged to contract with one of the staff members to accompany dad and me to the airport, through security and to the airplane. I had to make advance arrangements with the airline to do this (and to obtain a wheelchair for use at the airport as he couldn’t do all the necessary walking and waiting in the lines even though he didn’t usually use a walker or wheelchair). Dad was familiar with his aide, and this helped make the easier for him.