She needs to go into assisted living
I had seen her a few times on the bus ride home from work: late 20s, window seat, cell phone pressed to ear. She looked the same every day, and like with most familiar-yet-strange faces, I never took notice. That is, until I sat next to her earlier in the week and heard this:
Well then she needs to go into assisted living!
While I’m typically indifferent toward phone conversations made public, this particular dialogue was much too relevant to my interests to ignore. After a couple brutal quips made about the functional and cognitive capabilities of whichever person was being discussed—clearly an elder, perhaps her grandmother—the call ended abruptly. She unscrewed the cap on her half-empty water bottle and enjoyed a long, angry swig—you know, the kind of drink where your head remains stationary while the bottle tilts up, held on by pursed lips and a crushing grip.
And she sighed. Then out came the phone again with rapid dialing fingers.
Oh … Hi, Grandma….
Her face morphed from one showing frustration to that of surprise and feigned compassion. Grandma was not intended to answer this call.
Can you put Aunt Lynn on the phone?
From there I learned some interesting and not too uncommon characteristics about Grandma: she was unhappy, alone, and decided to stop eating in the effort to end her life. Aunt Lynn and my fellow passenger battled it out over the phone about Grandma’s right to not eat, and the longer they spoke, the more inflamed the young woman grew. Once more, She needs to go into assisted living today!
People quite often grapple with the need to control the behaviors of older relatives. I can remember the quiet family meetings held to decide when my grandfather should be told not to drive anymore. The discussions were had out of love and concern, to keep him and other drivers safe, yet were always inspired by frustrating circumstances, and he was rarely, if ever, part of the conversations that would potentially dictate his freedom.
Regardless of my fellow rider’s situation, she too made her complaints in secrecy. After all, Grandma was on the phone right there—the opportunity to tell her how she feels presented itself. Instead, the older adult was circumvented, and with each family member the young woman consulted, the argument was made for Grandma’s fate to be something Grandma may not wish for.
It’s truly strange: when family is making its greatest stand out of love, it appears to be an unstoppable force pushing the elder into an unmovable long-term care situation. And you, the industry professionals, must deal with the effects of those collisions each day.
It’s a sad reality, but what can you do?
Kevin Kolus wrote for I Advance Senior Care / Long-Term Living when he was an editor. He left the brand in 2012. He is now senior communications manager at Cleveland Clinic.