Harriet Ludwig: An answer to lonely single years

Published: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 21, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.

Journalist Tom Brokaw named my elderly age group "the Greatest Generation" in his book about the social struggles we overcame: the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s plus the historic Great Depression of the same period, then life-changing World War II problems.

Now a report in the April 21 Gainesville Sun says the challenges continue for many elderly as they face old age alone. But a good look at that group today finds new answers to this problem, too.

Growing numbers of the new singles now share lives in both former neighborhood homes and larger corporation complexes. In time, new friends help overcome lost relationships. Members share assets and help each other with both problems and entertainment.

Lucky people with strong family support (like me) find really good company and care in a new corporate complex. I have my own apartment, small but comfortable.

Our census now is 145 residents of a possible 150. We share meals in a pleasant dining room, served by all staff from the new director to nurse's aides and maintenance workers.

I was happy to learn the director is another coffee drinker who has made that beverage the first item on the morning menu. And he is now the official coffee server who is fast learning who wants regular coffee and who drinks decaf.

Since health problems are already my chief old-age concern, my family chose a corporate assisted living home for me. As we hear often, "This is your home, not a hospital."

That's the basic philosophy of today's old folks centers. Staff sets the tone and their friendly attitude is contagious.

We are "residents," not "patients." As we make our ways from our new "homes" to the pleasant dining room where we share meals at tables of four, we exchange friendly greetings. The four residents at each table quickly learn each other's history, health conditions and favorite activities.

Frequent seating lines the halls and if I stop at one, every passerby stops to ask if I need help. It's a typical sign of the friendly atmosphere. En route to meals, we all greet each other and ask about any health problems of those returning after a recent illness.

Falling is the fear of both oldsters and staff. An immediate inspection by a nurse follows a fall. If anyone does fall, protocol says stay in that position until a medical staff member checks you for any injury. If you are hurt or if you hit your head in the fall, you are sent to a hospital for an X-ray or MRI. If needed, you stay for treatment.

Or you may be one of the fortunate ones who comes home the same day. I have made both trips numerous times and have acquired great respect for the accomplishments of both physical and occupational therapists. With expert teachers, the body can be taught to do a great deal of healing itself.

All rooms have cords on the walls to signal for help. But I also wear a personal alarm device if a signal cord is not near. I highly recommend it for all elderly people.

Some doctors make weekly visits to patients here; the bus takes others to their physician's office. Nurses keep detailed records for each resident for the doctors and call them if necessary.

As survivors of past injuries, many of us in our health-based facility use walkers. Mine is a four-wheeler with a seat if a leg gets limp. This support allows outdoor trips for lunch with friends or attending long meetings of civic action groups.

A very effective activities director keeps us as busy as we choose to be. There are in-house games, arts and crafts, and weekly musical happy hours. The invited guests so far have been singers, pianists, flute and harmonica players. Snacks add to the hour.

So a friendly atmosphere prevails, close ties develop, and the evening meal ends with many "Good nights, see you in the morning, Lord willing and the creek don't rise!"

Harriet Ludwig lives in Gainesville.

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