What Interested Me About Senior Living?

040111.01TearoffSheetI have written this brief essay in response to a fund-raising effort for the cure of Alzheimer’s disease. Several of us were asked by Symbria colleague, Dr. Lori Stevic-Rust, to respond to the question, how did you become interested in the senior living industry?

The Symbria Advisory Services team is sponsoring Lori’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds to fight Alzheimer’s disease. Please click on the pic above to join us in sponsoring her efforts!

What Interested Me About Senior Living?

Candidly like many people, I’m not sure it was my interest that got me started.

I was a young man with a young family and just trying to make a living. What interested me most at that time was a steady paycheck and the hopeful ability to grow into a career – whatever that meant. What caused me to stay in senior living for the past 25 years – now that I think might be worth sharing.

To me, one of the greatest advantages of being a management consultant in the senior living industry is performing site visits. Being able to travel around the country and tour different communities in different geographies; seeing the good, the bad and the regrettable. Being reminded of the work direct caregivers do every day and that mine, at best, is a supporting role backstage.

On one such occasion I found myself in New Jersey at a senior living community near to the Atlantic Ocean. It was late afternoon on a clear winter’s day, and shadows from the trees outside were inching their way across the lobby floor. I sat there admiring the beauty of a crisp, amber sky, satisfied I had completed a good day’s work. I only needed to touch base with one more staff person, and I would be on my way – back to the hotel to write up my notes and then off to explore the local area.

As I was waiting there a couple was approaching from down a long hallway toward me. They were of an age where I surmised they could be (likely were) residents of this assisted living community. Maybe they were heading out to do some exploring too. I felt happy that I had some small part in this image – part of an industry that provided a secure, caring and loving environment for this couple. That they could enjoy the fullness that life had to offer together in the twilight of their lives.

They were holding hands as they came down the hall, and as they grew closer I noticed the woman had a somewhat distant expression – a mix of forlorn and bewilderment. Her partner’s expression seemed to be one of melancholy and concern, yet stoic determination. His shoulders were a bit slouched, and I don’t know why but I did not think it owing simply to an aging posture.

There were clearly some emotional undertones here that made me quickly challenge my exploration hypothesis. Then as they neared the door it dawned on me the woman wasn’t dressed near appropriately enough to be going outside on this frigid afternoon in mid-February.

That’s because she wasn’t. And then what followed was a scene that has yet to be eclipsed in my mind by any other for its sheer heartbreaking sadness and poignancy. I can still hear their words as if they were spoken only yesterday.

“Bill, take me home . . . take me home, Bill . . . Bill, this isn’t my home . . . I want to go home, Bill . . . please, Bill! Why won’t you take me home?”

“It’ll be okay, Alice . . . it’ll be okay . . . you’re going to be fine . . . I will see you tomorrow, I promise.”

The elderly gentlemen tried earnestly, with the calmest and most serene expression as tears were welling up in his eyes to explain why this was her home now. This was, “where she needed to be.” He was unable to leave without the assistance of an aide having to gently redirect his wife. I glanced over at the receptionist who, like me, had sat silently taking this all in – wondering whether she could see I was fighting back tears. Her own only made my efforts more impossible.

The separation we had witnessed was like what one might observe at a daycare or preschool between child and parent. I would guess the relative emotions might be quite similar too: fear, anger, regret, sadness. But when a parent or guardian shows up in the afternoon, the reunion is a joy to see: an emotional reversal, all secure in the knowledge the family will be reunited at home that evening.

Bill’s wife was not going home. She had Alzheimer’s disease, and though Bill had tried to care for her at home he was unable to do so without risking injury to her or himself. She was, “where she needed to be.” Quite obviously, she was not where anyone wanted her to be.

I once had a colleague who owned several assisted living properties share with me something he regularly explained to his sales staff. He would tell them, “never forget, that even on your most successful sale it is most likely your customer will not be getting what they want.” They want to stay home. Alice wanted to stay at home.

There are some five million individuals in the United States like Alice. This is a tough industry to work in when you take to heart the challenges these individuals, their families and caregivers face every day in the communities I am lucky enough to assist. And the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease are right up there at the top.

I could never do the work of the caregivers that labor tirelessly to ease whatever burden they can of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and their families. So I do what I am able: try and help ensure their working environment is as unencumbered, encouraging and helpful as it might be. If I can do that, then I feel like I am contributing what I can – and that is why I have stayed in the senior living industry for the past 25 years.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

I Will Never Forget

I_Will_Never_Forget_CoverLast week I shared with Pub patrons the amazing night at the 2014 LeadingAge annual meeting featuring the premier of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. As a follow up to that and to contribute further toward the education and awareness of the challenges associated with caring for individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia I wanted to share with you Elaine Pereir’a book, I Will Never Forget.

Elaine tells the story of her mother’s battle with dementia and how it turned a brilliant woman into someone confused, compromised and agitated in its wake. It is a tribute to her mother’s journey – and it was written for everyone facing a similar journey.

Elaine is a retired school occupational therapist who has worked with special needs children. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Wayne State University and later completed her master’s degree. She can be reached at
elainep@IWillNeverForgetBook.com

Cheers,
  Sparky

A Choice to Live

147391Participants at this year’s LeadingAge Annual Meeting in Nashville were treated on Sunday evening to the premier showing of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. A documentary of the legendary country artist’s life with Alzheimer’s disease, the venue and audience chosen for the premier could not have been more perfectly selected.

The film artistically yet with faithful realism explores the many emotions that Alzheimer’s disease evokes – in the individual afflicted, as well as those who share life with that person. It chronicles what began as a 3-week goodbye tour turned into a 151-show theatrical phenomenon that became much more about celebrating life in whatever form it humanly manifests than succumbing to the sadness and regret of disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is unique in its ability to impact loved ones of the individual having the disease while stealing away that person’s ability to understand or empathize with those feelings. Glen Campbell and his family determined in 2011 that they would use their shared experiences to help build greater awareness and understanding of the disease.

Nationwide screenings of the film are set to launch this weekend. Grab yourself a box of tissues and go see it.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

LTC Mainly About Dementia Care

Today is World Alzheimer’s Action Day. And this past week Alzheimer’s Disease International issued, World Alzheimer Report 2013 ~ Journey of Caring: An Analysis of Long-term care for Dementia. As noted there, “ Long-term care for older people is, mainly, about care for people with dementia. Dementia and cognitive impairment are by far the most important contributors, among chronic diseases, to disability, dependence, and, in high income countries, transition into residential and nursing home care.”

Recognizing how integral dementia care is to developing public policy that address the needs of seniors in need, I thought this was a good opportunity to make available again the webinar my Artower colleague Dr. Lori Stevic-Rust did a little over a year ago.

Organizations that are interested in getting out ahead of the curve on developing care programs for individuals with Alzheimer’s/dementia that bring high value to integrated care delivery models under Healthcare Reform will benefit from watching this presentation.

Enjoy,
  
Sparky

                                            
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