Sunday, July 19, 2009

Putting to rest fear of `a home'

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Read about the Top Ten Nursing Home Niceties

Many seniors can live out their days in enriched environment

Judy Steed
Special to the Star

It's a fact that most of us dread "ending up" in a nursing home.

It's a fear I overcame recently when Irene Borins Ash and her husband Irv took me to see three "good" nursing homes in the Toronto area. (They could have shown me 20, but I didn't have the time.)

They introduced me to three elders who live in long-term care: Earl Albrecht, 74, a retired Lutheran minister who has multiple sclerosis and gets around in a wheelchair at a Leisureworld nursing home; Maureen Hutchinson, 89, a retired librarian living at West Park Extendicare, where she is president of the Residents' Council for everyone living in long-term care in Ontario; and Bob Ransom, 85, the president of the Residents' Council at the Westbury, a Chartwell Seniors Housing facility.

Irene targeted me after my Atkinson Fellowship articles, the original Boomer Tsunami series, appeared in the Star. She noticed my admiration for the lively life in Swedish and Danish nursing homes, where the focus is on what you can do, and she wanted me to know that my concern about the "dead-head" existence of seniors in Ontario long-term care was not helping aging boomers already apprehensive about their future.

"People shouldn't be terrified of nursing homes," she says.

But they are.

"Shoot me in the head first, just don't put me in a nursing home," one of Irv's colleagues told him.

But there's another side to the story, and that's the focus of Borins Ash's book, Aging Is Living: Myth-Breaking Stories From Long-Term Care (Dundurn Press). Albrecht, Hutchinson and Ransom are featured in the book.

"I hate this place, I want to go home," Sandy Albrecht recalls her husband saying when he moved into Leisureworld, on Ellesmere Ave. near Kennedy Rd., in 2003. But she was unable to care for him at their beloved country house.

"Earl couldn't be moved by the PSW (personal support worker) – we would have had to get a power lift – and I couldn't shovel the driveway for the PSW to get in," Sandy says.

She moved to the city, to live with their daughter, to help look after her two grandchildren. Earl adjusted to Leisureworld, "and I'm still adjusting," he says. "Adapting to a new environment can be stimulating."

Initially, Earl led church services and did pastoral visits when residents were dying. Now he writes on his computer and gets involved with committees.

The hard part is making – and losing – friends. The average length of stay for people in long-term care is read all of Putting to rest fear of a nursing home

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