Making it Better for Parents in Assisted Living

 Is “assisted living” a euphemism for warehousing aging parents in an attractive place where we think they’ll be well taken care of? The PBS documentary “Life and Death in Assisted Living” is, I certainly hope, not the norm. What is the norm (and not the fault or responsibility of the assisted living facility’s administrators) may be the inattentiveness on the part of adult children once their parents are in assisted living.

Is it purposeful? Do children’s caring instincts become numb when many daily-living responsibilities are handed over to others (the facility in this instance)? On my yearly summer trips west, I have the advantage of seeing people (young and old) whom I haven’t seen in a year. My mind’s eye and my mental makeup record people as they were a year ago. Then there’s the present. In some instances it was heartening; at other times, downright depressing. Assisted living accounted for the latter.

As young parents, it’s easier to get on with our lives when our children are put in daycare with a responsible person, and then preschool etc. etc. But of course at the end of the day children come home and demand a certain amount of interaction and normalcy prevails. Is it a stretch to say that an unknown number of adult children get on with their lives when their still mentally capable parents are in assisted living? And they forget the importance of daily normalcy–whether in assisted living or not.

No doubt every family has members who are tone deaf to this. Hopefully every family also has others who find it easy to contribute normalcy or could contribute but only know how to pay a visit.

Diane Ackerman , poet, essayist wrote “I don’t want to be a passenger in my own life.”

Unless parents are resourceful and take advantage of the many activities that fill a page on the weekly assisted living calendar, they can easily become a passenger in their own life. That becomes depressing.

Trying to get along within the confines of their assisted living space, with but a fragment of their old furniture and their old life, can be depressing.  And anti-depressants (which I’m guessing many take), don’t change the institutional setting, different routine, lack of interactions with family and long-time friends–the lack of normal  (as they knew it) life.

5  Family Must do’s When Elders are in Assisted Living

1. Friends or family interaction (in person) on a daily basis can alleviate some of the isolated, lonely feeling. and bring moments of normalcy. Assign people to visit each day; possibly offer suggestions to those who may lack the creativity to go it alone.  Those suggestions could include:
Talking Points: Years ago a good friend of my husband’s always brought a list of “talking points” when they’d meet. It sparks conversations and is a reminder of what’s important to share.

2. Visiting and acting like a visitor may not provide real interaction.
–What about bringing a deck of card, a game (Scrabble?), or a crossword puzzle to work together to stimulate the mind and add some normal fun? Leave the cards, games, puzzles there for the next visit.

3. Taking assisted-living residents out of the facility as often as possible each week so they are still in touch with “normal.”  Suggestions: A meal; sitting somewhere and people watching; watching a movie in a movie theater; visiting a friend; attending a grandchild’s sporting event or play or concert; or walking through a garden center or a park; or going shopping with those who have decent mobility

4.  Sometime family visitors busy themselves taking care of things (making the bed, straightening up) instead of interacting with person they’ve come to visit. It may not be appreciated. Taking dirty laundry home (if you are good at at laundry) is appreciated, but busying yourself while coming to visit?—no. If you’re compulsive about doing something work-related, asking when/if convenient is respectful.

5. Understand medications and their side-effects. Nix the antidepressants if they’re not absolutely necessary. (Isn’t it legitimate to be depressed when surrounded by elder, needy people day in, day out in assisted living?) Understanding the degree of depression is key. Knowing an anti-despressent’s side-effects is just plain smart. Talk with the doctor if in doubt about the necessity of an anti-depressent (if your parent is taking one) and about side effects of all current medications.

When living at home jeopardizes life and limb and honest, competent home care givers aren’t possible, assisted living is the fallback. But–also–check out the aging in place information below.

Technololgy to help parents remain in their homes

PBS News Hour Video August 8, 2013–There’s No Place Like Home: Seniors Hold on to Urban Independence Into Old Age

More about Beacon Hill

Note: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


Will This Video Game Help Aging Parents to Drive Safer Longer?

We’re reading more about research studies leading to “games” involving “Brain Training.” We see and hear the advertisements for ways to improve memory, alertness etc.  Is that a reason we find more and more older people hoping to keep their minds sharp by playing bridge, doing crossword puzzles and even signing up to learn a new language?

One of the latest games to come out of the research is a video game, Road Tour. I can’t recommend–or not recommend–it; but it’s an interesting addition to games for older people. Its focus is worth knowing about. It involves vision, specifically expanding one’s field of vision, which evidently tends to shrink as we age. A positive outcome of this game is that it could keep older people driving safely longer. Wouldn’t that contribute to independence and happiness and thus–by deduction– help parents age well?

A professor of public health at the University of Iowa, Fredric Wolinsky, and his team tested the mental benefits of playing Road Tour for people 50 years or older, compared to the benefits from solving computerized crossword puzzles. They divided participants into four groups, separating them into sets of people 50-64 and people over 65. Three groups used the Road Tour game repeatedly. The fourth group was given computerized crossword puzzles.

It’s reported that mental and perceptual benefits began to show up after only 10 hours of play.  A year later those who had done crossword puzzles showed a decline in their useful field of view, while those who had played Road Tour for 10 hours were protected against this decline, actually showing a slight increase in their field of vision.

The effects of Road Tour were the same for both age groups: those 50-64 and for those over 65. Other measure of cognitive abilities such as concentration, the ability to shift from one mental task to another, and the speed at which new information is processed suggest that Road Tour players were protected from 1.5 to over six years of decline.

For those wanting to read more about Road Tour, click this link from the UK Daily Mail on-line version (note: the video demo at the end of the article doesn’t seem to work).

Continuing with the subject of “brain training:” While learning a new language was never touted to improve field of vision, interestingly a recent report suggests that speaking a second language later in life–in other words, learning to speak another language when older, doesn’t offer the same benefits to brain functioning that early bilingualism does. “The brain changes were really seen in the older group who had been bilingual for most of their lives,” according to the article (see link above).

We never know what new research will produce; we do know sometimes there’s a significantly helpful result.