I guess one really does not learn a great deal about senior care facitilites from brochures and quick tours of the facility. At least not compared to the knowledge gleaned from working for them. It is from my experience of having worked for one of the finest and also one of the most deplorable that an insight has been gained.
The Good

There are many factors which are good about senior care facitilities. Most facilities have brochures, websites, and often extensive advertising in specialty magazines. Many denominations have facilities for members of their churches.

There is an all out effort to create a facility that is attractive in the same way a posh resort is attractive. Environment is important psychologically. The interior public areas are well decorated, the exterior yards and gardens are a delight and well maintained.

Staffing is done with the utmost of care. Some of the departments are: housekeeping, security, residency, general office, maintenance, beauticians and barbers, pharmacy, transportation, nursing, management and some times there is a chaplain or a member of the clergy on staff. Each area has its own special function, with the utlimate goal of all departments to be of service to the resident. In an ideal situation this does work and works well.

The facility offers the resident secure apartments, medical assistance, housekeeping, meals, social activities, entertainment, events, religious services, recreation (such as swimming and outdoor games), outdoor areas to enjoy like terraces or patios, and gardens with easy walkways to wander down.

The opportunity to meet new friends and interesting people. In such an environment some will thrive and others will shrivel and their spirits will die. Why is this so?

The Bad

Sadly a senior care facility is often not the right choice for some people. Some people will not adjust to this type of living arrangement. If a person is quiet, restrained, withdrawn, shy they may find it difficult to make friends. And the attempts made by the staff of social services to get this person involved in activities may be resented.

More than once I saw this type of person moved into an apartment in the senior care facility by a family member against their will. Often the elderly member didn’t express their true feelings to the family member because they wanted to do what was easiest for their son, daughter, niece, grandson or whoever had the responsibility of finding a senior facility and helping them get moved.

Such a person would wander the hallways as if searching for someone to pass some time talking. Not finding anyone their countenance showed the evidence of the extreme loneliness they were feeling. Often if they did attend a program or event sponsored by social services, they were still alone. Some people just can not mix easily into a group.

The importance of pets can not be stressed too strongly. More than once I witnessed the heart break of an elderly person who had to part with a long time pal – a dog or cat – in order to move into a senior care facility. There is a definite bond between a person and their pet. While many senior care facilities do allow a small to medium dog, or a cat, the fee is often prohibitive. An example: the senior care facility I was employed by, charged one thousand dollars for a dog (one time charge, due with the move-in payment) and five hundred dollars for a cat or a caged bird.

To complicate the pet problem, many facilities do not have the means (or more like, the desire) for assisting a senior with their pet’s care, should they become unable to take the pet to the vet for needed vaccinations, licensing, or health care. This has a simple solution; the staff in residency needs to make contact with local veterinarians to determine if any would be willing to come once a month to assist seniors with their pet’s needs and care.

Sometimes a facility will restrict the number and also the size of the pet. It is not unusual for a senior care facility to limit a resident to one small to medium size dog. Or, one cat. Or one, bird. But not a small dog, cat and a bird, even if the senior or their family has the finances to pay for all three. Very few facilities allow large dogs. I suppose the rational is that big dogs are more destructive. Those of us who have been around dogs, know the error in this thinking. Many large dogs are very well behaved, and I have witnessed the utter destruction a small dog can do, if not well trained.

The Ugly

There are situations and circumstances which often make a senior care facility nothing but a dumping ground for the elderly. This is a shameful thing to say, and what is worse, it is the awful truth.

From my experience I have seen cases where a person moves his/her mom or dad into a senior facility feeling that this meets his/her obligation of care for the rest of mom or dad’s life. Emotionally, mentally, physically and yes, even spiritually this is devastating for the elderly person, left to try to find friends in a place that is not familiar to them. Often they become recluses, living in heartbreak behind closed doors. Such was the case of a dear lady, I will call Emily. Emily’s son moved her into an upstairs aparatment. The unit had a nice balcony and was spacious enough for one person to live comfortably.

I noticed Emily standing on her balcony every evening at five o’clock as I was leaving from work. I began to wonder if her son came each evening to have dinner with her. And I made it a point to ask her the next time I had an opportunity. She fought back tears as she told me she hadn’t seen her son since the day he moved her in, over two years ago. I thought this strange as he lived only thirty minutes from the senior facility.
When I called him his first comment was, “My mom has died?” I assured him that she was alive, but lonely and would like to see him again. Rudely he informed me he had done all he needed to do for his mom. He put her in our facility so that he would not have to be bothered with any of her needs or cares. That is what he was paying us to do. Needless to say, I corrected him on this assumption. Despite my efforts to try to persuade him it would mean a great deal to his mom if he would just call and talk to her for a few minutes, if a visit was not possible, he refused. He never made contact with his mom or us, until the day we called to inform him of her death.

Many seniors do not want to move into a senior care facility, they would rather stay in their own homes. Yet, too often against their will they are moved into a facility. It isn’t necessary to go through the stress or to put your elderly loved one through a lot of needless stress, when there are alternatives:

* Temporary Elder Care – caring individuals who can be hired on an hourly rate, to do light housekeeping, assist with personal care, cook meals, run errands, or provide pet care.

* Companions – devoted individuals who can be hired as a companion for your elderly family member, taking them on errands, out for entertainment, assist with paying bills, correspondence, pet care, personal care, housekeeping. A companion can be hired to live-in with your family member, or they may live-out (in their own residence)but arrive each day for as long as they are needed.

* Family members are perhaps the best way to care for an elderly family member. The care can be distributed among several family members, or it can be one family member with the support of the others financially and emotionally.

* Church Affiliation – often members of the senior’s church may be willing to help with the needs like cooking, housekeeping, errands, transportation, lawn care, pet care, or just visiting and companionship.

The next example of a truly ugly situation with a senior care facility, thank goodness is more of the exception rather than the rule. Still since I encountered it, as an employee, I feel it is important to mention it, to make all aware there are some really unethical facilities in operation.

In the early 1970’s I was employed by a senior care facility which referred to it’s establishment as a “senior convalescent care home”. Many of the residents were in need of personal care and medical treatmnet. I was hired as a certified nurse’s aide.

I didn’t retain this employment long as what I witnessed, clashed badly with my value system. Based on what I witnessed, I made myself a promise to never permit any of my family members to be placed in this kind of a care facility.

What was so unethical about this place? I heard sharp and angry voice tones from staff members when administering care to elderly residents. If a senior had the spunk to verbally and sometimes physically resist this kind of treatment, they could be slapped. Or even more deplorable tied into a chair and left for hours, without being near a call button to summons help if they needed assistance.

I saw call lights that were not answered promptly. Many I answered dispite not being assigned to the resident (which netted reprimands from my superior). I witnessed physical abuse in the form of shoving and slapping if a resident resisted or couldn’t move as fast as the attendant in charge wanted them to move. Similarly, residents who needed asssistance with eating their meal, due to a phyiscal handicap or just being too weak to manage eating utensils, I saw no one to assist them until the meal was cold.

Often an elderly resident was placed in a wheel chair and taken out to the patio, then forgotten, with no consideration of the changes in the weather becoming too hot, too cold or extremely windy.

And I saw too many seniors weeping from the lack of the least amount of human kindness extended to them.

Shortly after I terminated, this facility had a law suit levied against it by one of the family’s of a disable gentleman. The gentleman was badly bruised by a licenced vocational nurse slapping him, when he complained to her about the long waited he had after he pressed his call button to summons her to help him to the bathroom.

In selecting care for your elderly loved one, the best rule is to keep their best interest front-and-center. There are many factors to consider besides finances. Consider the facility for it’s reputation. By all means visit it, talk to the staff, talk to the residents. Plan to eat a meal in the dining room, even if you have to pay for it. Many facilities will give you hospitality passes for you and your elderly family member to enjoy one or two free meals. It might be beneficial to observe or join one of the social acitivities (be sure to ask if this would be permissible).

Understand the legality involved when you decide on a senior care apartment. Your senior family member should sign the move-in papers within twenty-four hours of moving in to the apartment. Also due at this time, is usually the first and sometimes the last month rent payments, plus any payment for a dog or cat.

The Good Lord told us to take care of our family members in 1 Timothy, chapter 5 verses 4, 7 and 8. The fifth commandment of The Ten Commandments admonishes us to honor our parents. Taking care of them seems to figure in on honoroing them. Whether God’s Word hold any significance for you or not, the fact it is God’s Word, and this is His commandment for all His human creation makes it important to obey. Why? Some day we will each individually have to answer how we cared for our parents and elderly family member to the Almighty. I hope you can say, “I cared for them, because I loved them.” I believe God will answer, “well done!”