As people age, many find they can no longer live independently. That can result in moving in with family members or possibly to a nursing home. But there are other alternatives. Rachel Otwell with the WUIS Health Desk takes us to one, a house shared by elderly people in rural Girard.
96 year old Marcella Talley and her late husband lived and worked on a farm for over 30 years. She also worked in a nursing home in her younger days, though she says back then; she never considered the fact that she may have to live in one herself someday.
But even though Talley has a heart stent and requires extra help to get around and perform daily tasks, she’s not in a nursing home. Her residence appears much like the others dotted across the countryside in rural Girard. And she lives there with three other elderly people. They have various care-givers, and one is at the home 24/7. Talley says she gets to do the same things here she did when she was living alone:
TALLEY: “Read and listen to TV and radio, and I have kind of a piano thing, and write letters, and get letters. And I have a nice room, real nice.”
Talley briefly stayed in a conventional nursing home, but says it was hard to get around. Here, she says, it’s easier:
TALLEY: “I don’t have far to walk, it’s not far to the bathroom, it’s not far to do my laundry, I do my laundry when I want to. It’s just ideal.”
Jan Cain, is the woman behind this home on 5 acres, called Pleasant Dale Place, named after the road that runs in front. She’s sitting on the porch with her 89 year old mother Virgina Gies. Gies’ brain has been affected by a stroke and two blood clots. It’s a bright sunny day, and the porch is surrounded by plants, flowers, and hummingbirds that buzz around a feeder. Wind-chimes hang from a tree in the front yard and blow in the wind. A cat drinks and eats from a couple of bowls on the porch. Cain says it became clear that her mother was not happy after moving from her own home in California to live with Cain and her husband. She was lonely when the two went to work during the day. So, her mother was placed in a nursing home. And while there were activities to take part in and plenty of company, Cain says that wasn’t a good fit either. Some of the major issues Cain says, was the food that was being served, and when:
CAIN: “There was this pattern of breakfast being served very early, some people just weren’t hungry that early in the morning. Mid-morning there would be cakes and pies from local community organizations that they would have with coffee. Then you’d have lunch, ‘course no body’s hungry because they’ve already had the cakes and pies. Then in the afternoon before dinner there would be another round of snacks, cakes and pies, ice-cream social what-not, so you’d have all that. And then, evening meal, ‘Well we’re not that hungry we just ate all the cakes and pies.’ Then before you go to bed, well, ‘I think we better have a snack.’”
Cain reasons that it is practices like these that can lead to common problems for the elderly, like diabetes and, in her mother’s case – incontinence. Cain, who’s an early childhood instructor at SIU Edwardsville says here, diet is a major concern, and it makes a huge difference in the well-being of the residents.
CAIN: “That’s one of the things we do here is try to have sugar-free (food). You’d be surprised at the delicious array of things you can have when you have that intention to start with. And then you also have the orchard, fresh fruits available through a large garden, and home-grown things.”
Cain lives just down the road where she raises chicken and grows fruit and vegetables. It makes it easy to come here and check on her mom. Residents eat lunch as she shows me around:
CAIN: “This bedroom has the windows that look out. We have two residents that wanted to share the same room, they don’t like to be alone at night so they each have each other to talk to …”
OTWELL: “Is this a couple then, or?”
CAIN: “No my mom and her friend Theresa, that’s my girlfriend’s mom, they wanted to be in together. You’ll hear my mom sometimes at night she’ll say, ‘Theresa are you there?’ Theresa will say, ‘Yeah are you okay?’ And she’ll say, ‘Yeah we’re okay…”
So, if this is such a great alternative to institutionalized care – like nursing homes, why aren’t more people doing it? Cain says she’s one of only seven small assisted living situations like this in the state. Funding does not come through Medicare or Medicaid, though some residents here get assistance through state agencies. Pleasant Dale Place must follow similar regulations to a nursing home.
Nancy Nelson is with the Illinois chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons. She says there are numerous alternatives to nursing homes available throughout the state; everything from adult day care, to in-home care, to assisted living facilities, to retirement communities. But families must consider factors like cost and the amount of assistance needed to perform daily activities when choosing the right fit. Eventually for some, the best option becomes institutionalized care, says Nelson:
NELSON: “You know, it might be the health problems, it might be memory and thinking problems … usually it’s 5 or 6 things that come together when the family get together and say, ‘We can’t do this any longer,’ and a lot of times that decision’s made in a hospital, when there’s been a health incident.”
As Nelson points out, for the elderly, there’s a host of considerations that must be weighed when deciding on living situations. But she admits, she doesn’t know why more elderly people aren’t choosing to live together in ways similar to the set-up here at Pleasant Dale Place.
NELSON: “It really hasn’t picked up … Sometimes you’ll have people who – neighbors that might move in together after one of the spouse(s) dies, a lot of times you’ll have siblings living together, you know you’ll have those naturally occurring situations. But it’s just not something where people open their homes and take in two or three people.”
Longer life expectancies and an aging population mean families are having to make tough decisions on caring for the elderly. More facilities are being built to handle an increase in residents and offer various levels of care. For Jan Cain, being able to provide this place for her mother after her stroke is bitter-sweet.
CAIN: “Prior to that, her lifestyle was riding her bike to the ocean, seven miles every day, she had a little convertible sports car, she zoomed around the city of San Diego with no problems, and it was really a blessing to her family and all of her friends because of her energy and functionality at her age – really amazing. So this came quite a blow to us, that her life had changed so drastically.”
But rather than dwell on that, Cain says she has made the most of the situation, and she’s helping others along the way.