On my walk this Saturday morning I listened to a Terry Gross interview of Martin Bayne on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air.
Mr. Bayne, a former journalist and monk was forced to move to an assisted living facility as age 52 due to young onset Parkinson’s disease. He was a generation younger than most other residents and on a different plane cognitively. So, he has been able to report on life in such a facility in a more articulate way than most residents. He calls himself an “observer-advocate.”
Mr. Bayne says residents suffer from what he calls “ambient despair. ” The despair results from the loneliness and isolation, and burying feelings and emotions that come from being surrounded by dementia, disability, and frequent death.
In related articles published in Health Affairs and The Washington Post, Mr. Bayne notes that residents "arrive in this, our new society, suddenly disconnected from our past life, possibly ill, often without the comfort and support of a spouse we’d been married to for decades. We eat meals in a dining room filled with strangers and, for perhaps the first time in a half-century, sleep alone in an unfamiliar bed."
In addition to the high levels of disability, depression, dementia and frequency of death, residents experience a profound loss of control and identity. There is a tremendous loss of humanity as residents become what Mr. Bayne calls “elder-zombies.” Death is handled very poorly and hidden away.
Mr. Bayne does not have much love for the owners and management of most assisted living facilities. But he does appreciate the "staff members — the personal care assistants, the certified nursing assistants and so on — are the heroes for those of us living in a facility. Underpaid, overworked and highly susceptible to work-related injuries, they are the glue that holds together most of this country’s facilities for the aging."
Mr. Bayne also talks about his philosophy of the importance of turning your stream of compassion within – the love and affection you have for other people is only as much as you can afford for yourself.
If you are interested, the Terry Gross interview is 20 minutes long. I thought it was special. Here is a link: http://tinyurl.com/8ghxv5c
Here is a link to the related article in the Washington Post: