I was reminiscing the other day about some of the incredible people I have had the pleasure of knowing since my tenure at Argent Court. While I was the administrator in Seguin, I had the pleasure of knowing a resident named Polly Moore. Polly had been a nursing home administrator and we shared a lot of time together talking about her experiences. One day she gave me a two page article she had written and I’ve kept it all these years. Even though it references nursing home, the same things could be said about any long term care facility. Her thoughts are extremely profound and it was great to hear from someone who was so wise. Enjoy the read!
From the Desk of Polly Moore
Life in a nursing home is still life and should be lived to the fullest.
Though the body may be less active here due to physical ailments
and the mind involved with the suffering, there is probably still a great deal
of mental alertness that could and should be channeled. We who are so
bound to the work ethic must find a purpose for our activity – what better
purpose than mental health? One lady who had started a course in
conversational Spanish and had grown discouraged with the progress
exclaimed to the teacher, “Bert, just think, in two years by the time I learn
enough to converse at all, I’ll be 63!” To which he replied “How old will
you be if you don’t learn any?”
Again and again we are told that most people can learn virtually as
well at 70 as at 20. Much research has been done on this and many
examples are cited. The major problem seems to be motivation. Even the
most devoted teacher, scientist or doctor often owes a greater share of
motivation to economic pressure than he realizes. Robert Frost, the
venerable New England poet, is credited with the story in which in answer
to the question, “Why does grandmother read the Bible so much?” A child
pipes up with “She’s probably cramming for her final exam!” This anecdote
epitomizes the high purpose of man’s final years.
When all the poets and the gerontologist have had their say, the
crucial truth about the later years is that they give us an invaluable chance to
get our spiritual house in order, to let go more and more of the natural man
and to put on the supernatural one. it is the privileged time, after the toil
and sweat of the occupational years to get ourselves ready to enter the
kingdom of heaven – our Father’s house of “many mansions”.
If we truly felt that this life is 4a preparation for the next – if we truly
believed the teachings of our youth and believed in the bliss of heaven, we
would welcome growing old rather than fear it. If this were the case, we
would not dread old age any more than the college student dreads his senior
While it seems that America is in the midst of youth worship today, it
is not a phenomenon of modern times only. Emerson wrote “Nature abhors
the old”. We read that Charles Dickens so dreaded old age he dyed his hair
& beard, replaced aging friends with younger men and called himself elder
brother to his children rather than their father. There are many quotations
attributed to famous men to support the dread of old age. However, we can
find much in literature to give hope and anticipation for aging. The most
optimistic and best known and yet spiritually true is Browning’s “Grow old
along with me! The best is yet to be! The last of life, for which the first
On his 77 th birthday, Winston Churchill commented, “we are happier —
in many ways when we are old than when we are young.” There are many
references used daily to remind us of the value of aging in various ways –
old friends, old wine, the mellow tone of an old violin, old books.
Upon reaching her 50 th birthday, Lady Bird was asked her views on
aging. She quipped “I much prefer old age to the alternative.” Old age
should be embraced rather than dreaded. Should old age bring sorrow,
sickness and pain? God’s purpose is still there and we can still feel it’s
Christian blessedness. Physical infirmity and painful illness are endurable,
as countless saints have shown, if we can be resigned to them and accept
them as God’s will for our spiritual good.
As we reach the later years, we perhaps do have fewer mountain top
experiences and more aches and pains come our way. But pleasures are not
the substance of happiness. If we keep in touch with our Lord and pray
sincerely, “Not my will, but Thine be done” we can assure ourselves of a
successful old age – and probably a happy one. Old age makes real sense
only if recognized as a spiritual ripening. The later years give the human
personality the opportunity to develop spiritual potentialities to the fullest.
The later years put less emphasis on “the world and the flesh” and upgrade
the spirit. In the natural man, old age can only be a time of shriveling and
infirmity – to the spiritual man it is the last lap of an exciting race. The
Scripture promises “He will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on
Thee” This is still true in our day, but keeping “the mind stayed on Thee” is
our response to the promise.
At Argent Court, we are constantly looking for new and meaningful activities to engage residents. We play bingo and exercise but we also engage the residents in meaningful activities that make a difference. One such example in one of our communities, we have partnered with a local Lutheran Church to help make quilt tops that get sent all over the world through Lutheran World Relief. Here’s a link to the website: http://lwr.org/quilts. We recently took a group a residents to church for the quilt dedication and it was great to see their reaction. They walked around picking out the quilts they had made.
No matter how old a person is, they want to know they have made a difference. Keeping our residents involved in meaningful activities is just another way to help not only the community but the residents. It’s a win win!
Most recently I have begun to notice a trend. Families are taking their loved ones home to live with them. Economic realities are behind some of these decisions and some believe it is in the best interest of the residents. My experience has shown me that it is not always prudent to have a family member living with extended family. People underestimate what it takes to care for a loved one. It is a 24 hour a day job.
The national center for victims of crime reports – of alleged perpetrators of elder abuse, 33% were adult children, 22% were other other family members; 16% were strangers, and 11% were spouses/intimate partners (Teaster, National Center on Elder Abuse, 2006). Because of the stress of taking care of a family member, so often we see elders abused by the very people charged to take care of them. Older women (67%) are far more likely than men (32%) to suffer from abuse and slightly more than half of the alleged perpetrators of elder abuse were female (53%). (National Center on Elder Abuse Study, 2004).
Some advantages of living in an assisted living community are socialization. So often when a family chooses to keep a loved one at home, they don’t think about the isolation this arrangement will cause especially if the family member works outside the home. The elderly person is left on their own all day. Socialization is one of the only things that helps dementia.
I had a lady who brought her mom to live here at Argent Court because it had become too much for the lady to continue to take care of her. Her mom had lived with her over 10 years. The woman’s husband had recently retired and she wanted to travel with him but couldn’t because of caring for her mom. When she brought her mom here, she was overwhelmed with guilt. I explained to her that her mom would be fine and probably would blossom as a result of the interaction with other residents. Additionally, I told her that it would change the relationship between her and her mom. She could return to being her daughter rather than her caregiver. Her mom lived here for several years and LOVED it. She had blossomed – just as I predicted.
At her funeral, the daughter came to me and said that bringing her mom here was the best decision she had made. She said the past several years had been enhanced because she returned to being her daughter and they had lots of great times together as a result. Gone was the guilt and the sense that she was somehow failing her mom by not allowing her to stay in her home.
While caring for a loved one in your home seems like a noble thing, it can change the relationship and in some cases lead to abuse. Remember, caring for someone in your own home is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job.
Having worked in assisted living for 16 years, I have had the privilege of saying goodbye to a lot of residents. I remember one gentleman in particular, Marvin. Marvin was our very first resident and took a lot of pride in our company because he had been the first resident. He monitored the construction of the building, picked out his room early on and always felt pretty special with his status as the very first resident of Argent Court. We even cast him in a commercial and in his own special words at the end of the commercial he said the best part of living here was, “You don’t have to do a cotton picking thing.”
To say I loved Marvin was an understatement. I grew quite fond of him and when I took the position of regional director, he became a frequent rider when I made the rounds to our other facilities. One day on one of our trips, he and I were discussing a resident who had recently passed away in the community. I asked him what his thoughts were when a resident passed away in the building. He told me something that I will never forget. He said, “We all want to die here. This is our home. This is where we find comfort and we are surrounded by our loved ones and friends each and every day.”
That conversation had a profound effect on me personally. I started to view death differently.
I had another lady who had been a lifelong smoker and had been in the hospital where she had received a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. When I visited her at the hospital she said, “Well I guess you heard I have lung cancer and I’m opting to not have treatment.” She said, “I guess this means I’m going to have to move.” I responded to her, “Why do you say that?” She replied, “I’m dying and I guess I will have to move to a nursing home.” I asked, “Do you want to move to a nursing home?” She replied, “No but don’t I have to?” I told her that if she wanted to die in our community and she was willing to provide sitters around the clock, we could accommodate her wishes. I can’t tell you how relieved she was. She wanted to die in what had become her home. She got to die with dignity because it was on her terms in her own home.
I have adopted a much more pragmatic view of death. The fact is the day we are born we literally start dying. I have no problem talking to residents any longer about death. I think it is a conversation we as providers need to encourage family members to have with their loved ones. I am so profoundly honored to have shared in the lives of so many wonderful folks.
In every family, there are traditions and Argent Court is no exception. Every year since our inception, we always host a family Thanksgiving event on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. We move furniture around and set up the building like a restaurant of sorts. Each family has their own table and we serve the traditional turkey and dressing and all the trimmings. I am proud of the fact that we have volunteers from the community but more importantly, we have staff who volunteeer their time to make certain the residents have a great time hosting their families. We have a local piano player who serenades the residents and their guests during their meal. We pull out all the stops with linen tablecloths and wonderful decorations. This is the most important day of the year for our residents because they get to host their families in their home and show off their children and grandchildren to their fellow residents. It is a wonderful event!!!
This year, one of our staff in the kitchen commented that it is so much work to cook all the turkeys and the preparation in general but the look on the faces of the residents interacting with their families make the effort so worth it. This attitude is indicative of people who have the heart of a servant which is what we typically look for in our staff. I am so proud of the traditions we have built here at Argent Court and I look forward to many more years and traditions to come.
The other day I saw a webinar on getting people past, “I’m not ready to move into an assisted living.” One of the reasons they cited people put off the decision is because they cannot handle the thought of having to sort through all their years of stuff. A lady I used to work with now has her own company called, Sort It Out. They actually come in and help folks go through their stuff and help with the transition from their home to a long term care facility. Some of the services they provide are packing, unpacking, locate screen and organize movers, but most importantly they help with downsizing from a regular house to an assisted living apartment.
This service is a dream come true to family members who are either too busy or live out-of-town. It frees up family members from having to use vacation time to devote to the rigors of sorting and moving. I am so excited this type service exists! Not only does it take away yet another excuse for people who want to move but it keeps the family from having to do it.
If you want more information go to their website: sortitoutsa.com.
I get people all the time who come in because a family member is being exploited and they want to look at putting them into one of our communities. Unfortunately, in most cases by the time they get here the elder has already fallen victim to some form of financial exploitation.
People too often ASSUME it is more financially feasible to hire someone to come into the home but the reality is it is far more expensive and it leaves a person vunerable to exploitation.
We’ve all heard cases where an older man is victimized by a much younger lady to the dismay of the family. She comes into his life usually after the death of a spouse, says all the right things and quickly gains access to his bank accounts, etc. There are people who do this for a living and unfortunately are very good at it.
At Argent Court, we are small enough to be able to monitor these types of things. If we see something we feel is not appropriate, we will contact the family and discuss it.
I recently saw a documentary starring Andy Rooney entitled, “Last Will and Embezzlement.” I would encourage all people to view it. One thing they point out in the film as a way to avoid having your loved ones fall victim to financial exploitation is to stay connected. I would suggest if you cannot stay connected yourself, have someone you trust check in on your elders often and make certain you know who they are communicating with. Make certain you have a good line of communication about money. It is sometimes a good idea to have a family member as another signer on the bank account so they can have access and monitor it regularly.
It is also a good idea in some cases to intercept a person’s mail. We’ve had several residents over the years fall victim to mail scams and also get caught up in donating money to questionable charities. This is yet another reason to stay connected.
The prevailing theme in preventing exploitation is staying connected with your elders. Know their routines, know their friends and have some idea about their finances. Exploitation can be prevented.
Recently my parents moved out of their home which they had occupied for 22 years. They have entered into another chapter in their lives. They are downsizing and moving into an apartment. I was happy they made the move as I was starting to see what a struggle taking care of the home had become for them. I was thankful it was their choice and that my siblings and I were not going to have to make that decision for them.
I have become aware of how my own parents have started to age and that we are starting down the road of quickly becoming the caretakers. My parents are relatively young 77 and 79 (by my standards) but quickly embarking on their golden years. I have begun to have mixed emotions about the role I am getting into shortly and have begun the conversation with my parents about what they want to do in the event they become incapacitated in some way. It was reassuring to me that my parents have done a good job of planning for their retirement and money will not be as much of an obstacle as in so many of my friend’s lives.
We discussed assisted living, and nursing home options and my mother reassured me that if she gets to the point she cannot be alone and cannot care for herself, she wanted me to know that she wanted me to do what I felt was in her best interest. I am both flattered that she has that type of confidence in me and scared to have to make those decisions. I know first hand it is much easier to offer this type of advice to my resident family members, but a much different situation when having to do it myself. I’m certain I will be faced with much of the same emotions my family members face. I had to deal with a lot of the same emotions when dealing with my in-laws when we moved them here to assisted living.
All of these encounters got me to thinking how lucky I am to be able to have these conversations with my parents and how important it is to do it BEFORE it becomes an issue. I see daily the struggles family members face when having to place a family member because somewhere in the past they promised them they would never place them in a long term care facility. The lesson for all of us children of aging parents is to have these conversations early and often. When the time comes, you can lessen the guilt and anxiety that comes with making these types of decisions on behalf of your parents.