Sad realities of old folks homes

I’m feeling sad and anxious right now. I’m saddened by what I’ve witnessed at my mom’s assisted living community in the last 24 hours – let’s start there.

I dropped by to spend some time with her yesterday and joined her in the dining room for the evening meal. They have, as I’ve previously mentioned, assigned seating in the dining room. Last night one of the male residents wanted to sit at a different table, since everyone at his table had their heads behind newspapers and he wanted some companionship. There was an empty seat at the table beside us and the two ladies sitting at that table were amenable to him joining them. The server, a young man who often times seems abrupt and impatient, kept insisting that the old man return to his assigned seat. His tone was imperious and condescending at best. He did not say “please”. The old man became querulous and other diners became upset; some were scolding the man to return to his seat and stop causing problems, while others were imploring the server to let him sit where he chose. The server refused to bring him dinner until he returned to his assigned place, which he eventually did… under duress.

I was dismayed by the utter lack of respect and dignity afforded to that gentleman. From where I sat if the server had simply taken two minutes to listen to this resident and speak to him kindly instead of ordering him around the whole scene might have been avoided. I made up my mind to voice my concerns to the administrator at the earliest opportunity.

Today I again joined my mom for a meal. And today the administrator was on hand, helping to serve the Sunday brunch. The resident who had disrupted dinner last night was a few places ahead of me in line, and I heard the administrator admonish him. “You have to be respectful in the dining room. I got five complaints about last night.” The old man tried to make his case and it fell on deaf ears. The administrator is not unkind and he used a gentler tone than the server had last night, but it was crystal clear that his priority is keeping the facility running like a well-oiled machine and not the concerns or preferences of individual residents. I understand why that HAS to be his priority, but it hurts my heart to see any elderly person talked down to and bossed around. It’s evident that this gentleman gets confused and easily agitated, but that’s part of the reality of working with an elderly population. Doesn’t he deserve to be treated with as much dignity and respect as any other human being? Would a little compassion and kindness have been that much extra effort?

At my mom’s previous community in Arizona, while I had some issues with the management I was unfailingly impressed by the attitudes of the caregivers, servers and housekeepers – always smiling, friendly and patient with the residents. They behaved like they CARED, not like people who were punching the clock at a barely above minimum wage job. Maybe it’s harder to find people to do these jobs in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s just a less friendly environment at any assisted living here. I toured several and I know that my mom is in the best one we can afford in my immediate area. But I find myself wishing today that I could win the lottery and move her into a better place, something top of the line, the very best in accommodations and care. Not because she needs or even desires luxury, but because I love her so much and I want to have 100% confidence that she’s being treated with kindness, compassion and dignity when I’m not there.

That’s another thing that is making me sad today: how few family members I’ve seen visiting. I’ve been there 2-3 times a week since she moved in and have eaten several meals with my mom, and to date I’ve observed only two other family members in the dining room. During lunch today a woman at a nearby table told the administrator that her TV isn’t working, and he told her to have her family call Time Warner Cable. “But I don’t see my family!” she exclaimed, sounding distressed. He assured her that he will have staff call the family and she seemed mollified. Meanwhile I sat there beside my mom, eating mediocre cafeteria style food just to be with her, and had to blink back tears. “But I don’t see my family”… Is there anything sadder?

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3 thoughts on “Sad realities of old folks homes

  1. I empathize with you on this. We looked around for my father-in-law and most of the places made me very sad. It is heart breaking to see people when they are not being engaged. In some places the people seemed to almost melt into their chairs, so alone and without anyone who seemed to care. We were lucky enough to find a place that felt more caring, but it is very expensive. My father-in-law had enough put away to afford it (for now), but we aren’t sure about long term. Hopefully, we won’t be relocating him right when he really needs it due to the cost.

    • Unfortunately, my mom has no assets and very little in savings… so unless/until I get rich, her social security and my dad’s VA pension income has to cover all her expenses. That limits us a lot in this area! The new facility has a lot of good points and she’s getting engaged in activities, so I think it will work out at least for a while. But I can’t imagine anyone just sticking their parents in a place like this and leaving them there…

  2. That is sad Lira and unfortunately is a classic example of institutionalism – where the convenience of the institution and its staff comes ahead of the people it was created for. My husband worked in community care for many years and said there were only a few resthomes he would feel comfortable recommending. Generally it seemed to come down to the matron or whoever was in charge and their attitude from what I can gather. He also said the best thing is to ensure your family member is in a home close to your work or home, so you can drop in there for short visits more frequently. So know that you have definitely done the right thing for your mom, having her so much closer.

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