The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
My father and I were both born in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ypsi - as locals call it - is a mid-sized town in southeastern Michigan that was once a booming factory town. Today, the town has fallen on hard times. Unemployment rates are high, house values have plummeted, and the city is hard pressed to maintain city services. Still, for my mom and dad, it is a great place to live. With the exception of a 20 year hiatus in a near-by small town, my father has never lived anywhere else. He grew up a few blocks from Prospect Park (above). The streets and houses and people of his home town have worn grooves in his brain and will probably be some of the last things he remembers. My mother has lived in Ypsi off-and-on since she was 17. She, too, thinks of it as home.
My dad not only enjoys driving by places from his past, he never gets lost as long as he sticks to his tried and true routes. Every evening as we return from visiting Mom at the rehab center we drive through Depot Town, a charming heritage area of Ypsi, past the high school that Dad graduated from in 1951, and past streets where he said, "I used to know everyone who lived on this street." This sense of rootedness provides many benefits to elderly people who are experiencing cognitive decline. Driving through his home town, my dad is oriented and in control of his life. (Photo at left: Depot Town, Ypsilanti, WikiCommons)
Even more important than the sense of spatial orientation, however, is the fact that my dad's paths cross those of old friends on a regular basis. Just last week, for example, he got together with six guys he graduated from high school with at a local diner for breakfast. When he got back, I asked what they talked about. "Normal talk," he said, which I took to mean "guy talk." Whatever they talked about, he had a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. He can use something to smile about these days, as he deals with worries about money, my mom's health, and his own health changes.
My parents aren't alone in wanting to stay in their home. A recent AARP survey showed that 95% of seniors over the age of 75, want to stay in their own home. New initiatives have been launched to help seniors "age in place" in communities across the country. That's not to say that staying in one's home is always possible. Aging people might need to move out of "senior unfriendly houses" into more senior friendly housing. Unfortunately, this is not likely for my parents because the price of houses has fallen in the Ypsi area and it would be difficult for them to sell their house and move into either assisted living or a condo. So, for now, they are "aging in place," and that is a good thing.
The Alzheimer's Society recommends that seniors with Alzheimer's - and I think this holds true for any sort of cognitive decline - are better off at home. I agree. The rehab center where my mom is right now has wonderful staff, adequate food, and a physically-deprived environment. The rooms are basic and, if you don't enjoy watching television, there really isn't much to do. My mom is normally a reader, but either because of continued cognitive decline, pain, too many pain meds or all of the above, she isn't reading as much these days. She loves it when I read her poetry and enjoys watching movies, especially those with music in them. She has occupational therapy for about an hour in the morning and physical therapy for about an hour in the afternoon. Much of the rest of the day, is spent in bed, being bored. (Couple walking, photo: Guillaume, flickr)
And then there's the "wheelchair brigade" as I call them. This is the row of people in wheelchairs who stay by the front desk at the rehab center. "Hep', could someone hep' me please," an old gentleman from the South repeats over and over. "Can't someone get me something to eat," an old woman asks every time I go by. Others say nothing. This is nowhere my siblings and I ever want to see our parents.
Meanwhile, my dad is going about his day-to-day life and enjoys seeing the people and places he loves. He goes to church every Sunday in the beautiful 150+ year old church he has attended for the past 20 years. The mailman knows his name, the pharmacist knows his name, he goes to the local library regularly, and knows many of the people who work at the grocery stores he shops in. For now, he's still at home.
More next time on the challenges of elderly people staying in their own home.
(First Presbyterian Church, Ypsilanti, photo: WikiCommons)