When I worked with older adults I visited clients at many levels of care – in their own homes, at senior residences that were just for independent living, or those that started with independent living and could move you to assisted living when the need arose; also at assisted living, board and care, and nursing homes. My task was usually to asses the adequacy of the arrangement. Often I had to suggest that the client be moved to a higher level of care – a step to less independence. Ideally, I would also be able to recommend that someone be moved to a less restricted level of care, but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember that ever happening. At best, I could sometimes recommend changes that allowed someone to remain at their current level – a caregiver in the home, a wheelchair, counseling and education, and sometimes a change of medication.
I don’t know how much has changed. The multi-level place where my former roommate is staying is, to outward appearances at least, much the same as when I was working in the field of aging. One of my friends lives in a senior residence that I first saw when I went there to visit my grandmother more than forty years ago. The model of independent living embraced by that facility was leading-edge when my grandmother moved in. The multi-level places were thought forward-looking when I was in the field. I know that designers of these places often put their hearts and their best thinking into their design, both in architecturally and programatically, and still there is room for improvement.
Late last month, my roommate fell down the stairs leading to his rooms and had to be moved to a “senior residence” by his children. I promised to visit, and on Saturday I brought him his mail at his new home. As I checked in at the desk and walked down the peachy-beige, bland hallways, I realized that this was not at all the first of my friends that I have visited at a senior residence. I don’t mean older friends. I’m talking contemporaries.
I used to work with “Older Adults” for a living. The bland hallways bravely personalized at each doorway with a picture of a kitten, an orchid plant, a basket of artificial flowers, is very familiar to me. I would visit elders, assess their needs, make recommendations. But these are my friends! People my age.
My former roommate is a bit older than I. It was such a jolt that he suddenly had to leave the house. It would seem appropriate if I were navigating these halls for the first time. However, several friends have preceded him; whether due to financial necessity, illness, or simply good judgement.
I was once a “specialist” on aging. I always knew my turn would come, but it looks very different when it’s staring you in the face. Of course, I’m not all that old, and anyone my age or older would want me to point out that they are not that old, either. I was born in 1946, the first baby boomer year. Many come after me, and it is for you boomers-in-passage that I am writing this blog. The rubber will hit the road for you at some point, and I have this wonderful, excruciating combination of knowledge and experience to share. With you.