In his important new book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, M.D. recounts the origins of assisted living facilities and the efforts to make residences for the frail elderly more like home.
Six issues of this blog have explored what home means to different people in different places around the world. Dr. Gawande’s book looks at what home means to people of different ages: the elderly who can no longer take care of themselves and whose families cannot take care of them.
Keren Brown Wilson was a Ph.D. student in geronotology in Portland, Oregon, When she told her elderly mother she was studying aging. Jessie, her mother, who had lived in a series of nursing homes, asked, “Why don’t you do something to help people like me?”
Here’s what Wilson said her mother requested:
“She wanted a small place with a little kitchen and a bathroom. It would have her favorite things in it, including her cat, her unfinished projects, her Vicks VapoRub, a coffeepot, and cigarettes. There would be people to help her with the things she couldn’t do without help. In the imaginary place, she would be able to lock her door, control her heat, and have her own furniture. No one would make her get up, turn off her favorite soaps, or ruin her clothes. Nor could anyone throw out her “collection” of back issues of magazines and Goodwill treasures because they were a safety hazard. She could have privacy whenever she wanted, and no one could make her get dressed, take her medicine, or go to activities she did not like. She would be Jessie again, a person living in an apartment instead of a patient in a bed.”
This got me thinking about what I consider essential to making a place feel like home. Some were the same as Jessie’s: my cat(s), books, unfinished projects and the equipment necessary to finish them and my favorite furniture. Oh, and a coffee pot. Absolutely a coffee pot. And a small kitchen. Of course, I would want to be able to lock my door and set my own schedule. I would also like a place to grow things. Last week, I was planting Paperwhites in glass vases and thinking how much I love this annual task.
It isn’t fun to think about the inevitabilities of old age, but with the leading edge of the Baby Boomers approaching 65, and many of us in that group dealing with the health problems of our aging parents, we need to make difficult choices whether we want to or not.
Reader Response, Please
What, if anything, would make you feel at home if you resided at an Assisted Living place? Have you faced this situation yet with your parents? Let me know and I’ll put your response in a future blog.