Judson was a manager and shareholder for an assisted living facility.
Assisted Living: A Community of Peers for Seniors
people found Judson's experience helpful.
When my family decided to open a senior care facility, I was excited to learn and be a part of building something from the ground up. I was responsible for helping to check occupants in and ensure that their everyday lives were being looked after in the most thorough way and that they were as comfortable as possible to the standards that they or their families had outlined in the initial agreements.
The "initial agreements" sound easy enough, and early on, I realized that the word "agreement" might not have been the best term to describe the initial processes. A senior care facility or an assisted living establishment is tooled to be just that — assisted. I began to realize that there wasn't much agreement within the families who were urging senior family members to join our community. And that's exactly how I saw it, as a community. I was pumped to see the newly built recreation, dining, and evening meeting area full of happy, engaging people. And although over time, things got easier, I felt a frustration that I began to share with those potential occupants who were hesitant in their "agreement" to join our community. The facility was huge and beautiful, and I was happy my job was such that even I had to live on the grounds for days at a time. Almost every time I welcomed a new family to our community, I cried along with them as I help their loved, aging family member transition to their new, foreign life. Immense feelings of guilt, confusion, last minute indecision, and excitement were all rolled into one nervous blanket that seemed to cover everything in our welcoming lobby.
Whenever we had a visiting family, things usually went smoothly as I led them through the newly painted halls and rooms to boast about our heated pools, top-of-the-line kitchen and cooks, and living quarters that always seemed to have a little sunlight peeking in somewhere. I became unsure about who to comfort during the initial welcoming. Was I to stay with the family and keep encouraging them that they had made the right decision and that they weren't "abandoning" their loved one? Was I to constantly point out all the benefits of our new community to lessen the blow that their loved one was in fact not, whether they made it known or didn't, in agreement with the decision to be here? After a while, I realized that it was my job to help both parties. While the underlying fact is that facilities like ours are medically sound and expected to perform duties that the families might have found frustrating or difficult to perform, it is also imperative to remember that our facility, and places like it, is a community. People of like mind and body come together to coexist in a place where some of their frustrations can be alleviated.
I noticed very few regrets during my tenure at our community, but still, some remained. I saw a family distraught after they encouraged the grandfather, the patriarch of the family, to join our community. He seemed happy enough and spent most of his time in the garden sitting in the early morning sun. However, some of his ailments weren't clear to his physician, or his family, at the time, and his mind quickly (after being with us for only a week) began to deteriorate. He passed away by his own hand, and his surviving family nearly collapsed. I saw them grieve as they regretted not enduring his care for just a while longer so that they might experience him in his last days. I knew they would never recover from the transgression they felt they had committed. While I felt total sadness in the wake of this particular instance, I also realized that most people might have done one thing differently as I spoke with countless families. As loved ones age, families try until they are spent to do all they can to meet the family member's needs. So much so that by the time they brought them to our community, frustration abounds. Our community, and facilities like it, are for senior members to have their own community outside of the frustrations of the world around them and outside of their families, who trying so desperately to juggle their own needs and the needs of the senior family member.
While the first step is always to research facilities to find the best fit, the other advice I can offer is that sometimes, senior family members become tired and frustrated of living with their families as well. Early on, they should have the opportunity to live in a community of people who are their peers. The fact is that the families are responsible for the financial aspects as well as the decision-based criteria inside facilities, so they are not just dropping them off. They are still caring for their family.