If you are looking for some “real deal” writing by a person who lives in assisted living and knows how it FEELS to live there, check out Martin Bayne. I’ve known Martin for a bunch of years and he always has a thought provoking perspective on issues related to age, aging and care.
People my age—I’m now sixty-two—might go to an assisted living facility every now and then to visit an older family member. Facilitated aging is a way of life for a growing number of Americans, more than one million of whom now live in roughly 40,000 such facilities across the country.
But few people in my age group actually live in an assisted living facility. I do.
Eight years ago, while still in my fifties, in a wheelchair and after nearly a decade of living at home with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, I decided to move into an assisted living facility. I knew what my decision meant. I’d be moving into a place where the average resident was thirty-two years older than I was, and the average levels of disability, depression, dementia, and death were dramatically higher than those in the general population.
What I hadn’t calculated, however, was what it’s like to watch a friend—someone you’ve eaten breakfast with every morning for several years—waste away and die. And just as you’re recovering from that friend’s death, another friend begins to waste away. I can say with certainty that the prospect of watching dozens (at my young age, perhaps hundreds), of my friends and neighbors in assisted living die is a sadness beyond words.
He is also an advocate for those without voices.
But the real problem isn’t operational or structural. It’s emotional.
Most residents in assisted living facilities, by necessity, live secret lives. On the outside, there might be a calm, even peaceful veneer. But beneath the surface, all of us are susceptible to the ambient despair that is a permanent component of life in this type of facility.
This despair is as real as the landscaping or the food—only more deeply and widely prevalent. It’s the result of months or years of loneliness and isolation and of a lack of true social interaction among residents. It’s also the result of burying our feelings and emotions about the exceptionally high numbers of demented and disabled neighbors around us and being surrounded by frequent death.
The story I’m telling here isn’t just mine. It’s one that will resonate with anyone living in an assisted living facility. Were my experience unique, I wouldn’t be motivated to write this essay or to pursue the other few, difficult avenues available to those of us working to improve the lives of residents in assistant living facilities.
We are Martin and Martin is Us.