Assisted Loneliness

 

aging in place

When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.

~ George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

 

Aging in Place

I continue to try to dissuade folks of the idea that aging in place somehow equates to independence. We in the West have long adopted the rugged individualist motif—the Lone Ranger who is dependent on no one and bravely pulls themselves up from their own bootstraps to Great things. Cultural Success stories are weighted down by this false narrative—THE GREAT MAN theory, is one very hard to purge from our collective psyche in America. This trickles down to damn near every aspect of our lives, including aging in place.

In reality, the lone hero had lots of help along the way that is either overlooked or ignored like a driver speeding through a crosswalk you are entering, and “doesn’t see you.” To be human is to be interdependent.

The inability to maintain living at home (aging in place “independence”) should not be viewed as a failure somehow. Like you’ve given up and are now floating downstream in assisted living. This is not a healthy viewpoint and taken on by some entering facilities.

I do worry however, that individuals think assisted living is somehow going to solve the loneliness problem. I can recall working as an undergraduate in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and seeing individuals who failed to socialize. They would take on a sense of failure being there and give up amid being surrounded by other residents.

They would come down to breakfast, head back to sequester in the isolation of their room—only to repeat the process with lunch and dinner. Over and over for years, assisted living provided no sense of community by their own choosing. Many were once happier at home in so-called “isolation” but living without the sense of surrendering to institutional surroundings and being labeled a “resident.”

Of course this is not everyone, many thrive in assisted living (because they need the assistance) after leaving the isolation of aging in place. My point is this, the isolation of aging-in-place so often touted by assisted living advocates is very real, but there is no guarantee they have the solution to it. We know each individual responds differently and requires custom plans for optimal living into old age. For some that’s aging in place, for others it’s living in long-term care scenarios.

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