What’s the opposite of Assisted Living? Unassisted Death

I don’t know about you, but I have no intention whatsoever of going to live at an “assisted living” facility, no less a nursing home. If it gets to the point that I need to reside in either, I am doing myself in. Clean and simple. Alzheimer’s scares me more than cancer, and more than death, so once I see I’m fading, I am not going to wait until I have completely lost my mind.

Joan Boice did not have a pretty end to her life

As if I needed anything to cement my convictions, I still watched a Frontline documentary on PBS last night, called Life and Death in Assisted Living. Focused on Emeritus, the leader in the behemoth $18.6 billion unregulated industry, this was one of the most disturbing hours I’ve spent in a long time. In a nutshell, Emeritus has been responsible for the deaths of a number of its residents due, in large part, to insufficient or untrained staffs. Often accepting people who need far more supervision and medical care than it could provide, Emeritus let finances trump patient care. “We were constantly told we had to make our numbers,” said a former saleswoman, so they admitted people who should have gone to live in skilled nursing home facilities, not in assisted living environments.

The documentary tells the story of Joan Boice, who, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, went to live at Emerald City, one of the Emeritus communities in California. Her grown children bought the company’s sales pitch, and because Emerald City was close to their homes, it seemed the best choice for mom. Left alone, and with the ability to move about freely, Joan fell days after moving in, although no one seemed to know what caused the accident. After a hospital stay, she went back to Emerald City, where she was again neglected.

Severe bed sores developed, which the staff literally covered up with blankets, and because Joan’s children didn’t think to ask their mom to look at her body, the sores festered. Joan died. The family sued. Emeritus tried to make the case go away by offering $3 million and asking the family for all of its files. The family refused. The case went to trial. The family was recently awarded $22 million in punitive damages.

Another resident fell out a window. A renowned college football coach, Darrell Royal, died because he wandered into a kitchen at an assisted living facility and accidentally drank industrial strength cleaning liquid. “He looked like a monster,” his daughter recalled, and she prayed his Alzheimer’s would prevent him from knowing what had happened.

If any of my FOFriends is considering moving a parent into an assisted living environment, please, please do your homework. At least you know which one you can cross off your list.

*photo credit: www.propublica.org

12 Responses to “What’s the opposite of Assisted Living? Unassisted Death”

  1. Kathy Terry says:

    As an Ombudsman in California, there is no way we’d just flippantly answer a family’s concerns with, “well, this is one the better facilities.” We’d work with them to improve conditions, or report the facility to the appropriate licensing agency. It is important for family members to stay involved. Don’t assume that an expensive, pretty facility gives optimal care. These facilities are profit driven. I’ve worked in them, and now I advocate solely for the seniors, and dependent adults in them. If you’ve got a loved one in a facility get to know their Ombudsman Program. If you’re dissatisfied with the oversight your loved one is getting from their Ombudsman, contact their State Ombudsman.

    I had all my volunteers watch the Frontline program. It’s not the worst of it.

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    • Geri says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Thank you greatly for your advice.

      Geri

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  2. Althea Paulson says:

    My mom is in an expensive assisted living place that is in the process of spending the money she and my dad carefully saved to have something to leave behind. It’s pretty good…I don’t worry that she will die of bedsores, but nothing replaces the care and concern of family, no matter what the facility is like. I have no idea how people with no family visiting regularly get by—who makes their doctors appointments, checks the bills, makes sure they’re eating enough, that their bowels are working, knows when they’re getting sick even if they don’t say anything. Not to mention the emotional aspect—even with dementia, people have fears and sorrows and emotions. My mom has spent many an anxious hour crying to me about losing her mind, or complaining about children in her room that are hallucinations, and praying to die and wondering why God doesn’t answer.

    This is HARD. And there’s not much you can do….people embrace hope and more life until their minds are so cloudy they can’t make decisions for themselves. My mother always worried about becoming a burden. She’s now completely dependent on others. On the other hand, our dependent loved ones teach us so much about compassion, patience and kindness, if we are willing to learn. That matters. It is the gift I will always be grateful for, even though right now I sometimes feel like she’s pushing me beyond my limits.

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  3. Amy Blitchok says:

    Trusting others to take care of you loved ones can be a very unsettling experience. If it is something that you want to avoid for as long as possible, I would suggest reading up on aging in place and aging in place technology. There are a variety of tools out there, including monitoring systems that will alert you if your loved one hasn’t taken their pills that day, might help you avoid putting your love one in a facility. While these tools will require an investment on your part, it can be much cheaper than monthly assisted living payments.

    If you are worried about your own health and mobility, it is never too early to start planning for aging in place and making small adjustments to your home.

    As you can tell, I am a big proponent of staying in your home as you age. I think it can help prevent isolation and depression and lead to a better quality of life. The benefits are too numerous to list here and can be a viable alternative.

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  4. Gail says:

    Sorry I missed this show. My mom has been in a LT care facility for over a year now at 91.She has RA, and weighs only 83 pounds.You have to do your homework. I thought I did and I’m back where I was. Bruising, inconsistency of staff, short handed on weekends, etc. I think every place has a problem. I’m there sometimes twice a day to make sure she is okay. No one reads the “care plan” in my eyes. I find that if you get a good aid, you never can keep them. You have meetings and meetings, yes we’ll fix this or that. Maybe good for a week, then a part timer comes in and ruins it by trying to put a shirt on that doesn’t fit and bruises the hand by squeezing it in. The supervisor said she would look into it, and said “she is so fragile she should be in bubble wrap”. Then you have the “ombudsman”, they are suppose to go to the management and find out why issues aren’t being resolved. Well, all I get from them, is “oh this is one of the better places”. All I can add is try to get referrals from friends that have had love ones at places that worked for them. Not everyone needs are the same. I’m just waiting now for my father in law to make the next move at 95 living at home now!

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  5. Linda Johnson says:

    Well, if you can afford assisted living. It’s quite expensive. I had moved my parents to two differnet ones and never encountered the horrors you are sharing. Actually scaring boomers. What is the alternative? Who’s going to bathe me when I can’t take care of myself, even adminster a pill? Have a useful suggestion for us seniors who don’t have someone to take care of them???? Please share one, I’m very interested.

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    • Geri says:

      Hi janice,

      The story of what happened to this woman, and many others, IS SCARY. I was just recounting the facts.

      I never expect to get to the point where i couldn’t bathe myself or give myself a pill. As i mentioned in the blog, i would end my own life if i saw that was the direction my life was heading.

      I understand that many would consider this is an extreme reaction, but I would not be interested in living a life like that whatsoever. If I didn’t have anyone to take care of me, but I wanted to go on living (dependent on others giving me pills and bathing me), I guess I’d have to go into a nursing home.

      Geri

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  6. Janice says:

    Well I am with you. As an RN I have seen the “quality” of care offered at most facilities and NO THANK YOU. If you have unlimited resources that will never run out you can find a decent care facility but that is not the case with most people. But this all addresses a much larger issue of life and death. People used to just get old and die. Now with new technology people can be kept alive using all sorts of extraordinary measures. But should they be? The entire industry needs a direct move away from a For Profit Model. I encourage everyone to have a living will and medical power of attorney. It is not the ultimate solution but a step in the right direction.

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  7. deb says:

    Let’s be fair. Most of us can’t care for our aging parent, yet we expect someone else to do
    the job. Most families want to blame the nursing homes. I have been there with my mother

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    • Geri says:

      this was about an assisted living facility, rather than a nursing home, that took a woman who they should not have admitted in the first place. And they charged about $3,000 a month. Then they neglected the woman, covered up her sores and she died.

      The family was awarded $22 million by a jury. Who else should we blame?

      geri brin

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  8. Jan Vega says:

    After reading your very horrific blog, my husband, sister and I have learned that by being there – and involved – at the facility of our loved ones (Mom and Dad), the experiences you referred to may not necessarily have taken place. Being there means taking plenty of your time, and is not always pleasant, but does let the staff know that you care and are watching! Most facilities (finally) now have many safe guards in place to protect the residents from these terrible and senseless tragedies.

    Going on 6 years now, we as a family are doing the best we can to help give them the dignity and respect they deserve.

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  9. ellen says:

    saw the PBS Frontline special regarding assisted living . Not all are like the ones administered by EMERTIUS ! It was truly horrible to see the lack of care. These people belonged in nursing homes . I know of a few people who live in them and like them, but none are in Calif. The ones I know of are in New Jersey, Florida and Conn. Hopefully this show has raised awareness on choosing a assisted living facility carefully.

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