I had the opportunity, in visiting with my mother during the holidays, to really observe life in a care home.
It all seemed more real to me as I was introduced to people just 10 to 15 years older than I am. There were some older, but they were in my mother’s generation, which always feels more detached.
However, many were not a full generation ahead of me; it gave me considerable pause for thought.
The home is a private independent living centre. The residents are supposed to be able to look after themselves for the most part, although some assistance is provided for dressing or bathing for those who need it. Some have individual rooms and some are paired in rooms.
The days tend to revolve around meals, both for the staff and residents. Getting down to the dining hall is the first activity of the day, followed by breakfast, then getting back to the room. A number of the residents need help with walkers and wheelchairs, so the staff help get everyone to the dining room, help serve their meals, then get them all back. It’s about a two-hour process, round-trip.
I’d venture to say that while not everyone naps after breakfast, the majority do. There is a quiet time of a couple of hours when the staff do some house-cleaning or medication disbursement, then the cycle begins again for the lunch meal, two hours of transport, eating and return transport.
Once again, with lunch eaten, many residents return to their rooms for reading and napping and the staff return to housekeeping duties. Three hours later it’s time for the dinner cycle to begin.
A few residents might gather in the common room at various times during the day, but it’s a small proportion of the full population. The television is occasionally on, although there’s little agreement about what to watch, so it’s generally more background noise than anything else. A recreational director, whose job responsibilities extend beyond simply planning activities, sets up the occasional exercise class, or game activity that might last 30 minutes or so during one of the between-meal periods. Usually, during holiday breaks, she is on holidays herself so there’s not much happening when she’s gone.
Once dinner is over, most residents will retire to their rooms to watch the news and a few other television programs and it gets pretty quiet, pretty early as bedtime routines set in.
If I had to summarize the atmosphere in a couple of words, I would pick “quiet” and “sedentary.” Meals are excellent, mostly home-style cooking; staff is very friendly and accommodating; residents are looked after and checked up on numerous times a day – it’s a safe and secure setting to be sure.
My mother seems content, rarely naps, reads a lot, works on word puzzles, and walks about. Although she is 89 years old, she’s in better shape, physically and mentally, than 95 per cent of the resident population.
I couldn’t imagine myself being in a home with that much time on my hands, not at this point in my life.
But the time may come when I will need both the quiet and the simple routines that such a lifestyle offers. I would consider myself lucky to be in a home such as my mom is in, although I hope it will be more than a few years from now.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare.