by: Martin Bayne – Journalist, Buddhist monk, MIT graduate, and well-known advocate for the aging; cofounder & CEO of New York Long-Term Care Brokers, one of the nation’s largest LTC insurance brokers, Martin developed Parkinsons disease at the height of his career and has spent more than a decade energetically advocating from a wheelchair while personally experiencing life in LTC facilities. He knows whereof he speaks.
Imagine if we went into the community and chose 90 people between the ages of 50 and 100. Not just any people, but the most fragile and broken souls we could find: Those whose spouse has just died, or who had suffered a disabling stroke, those ignored and abandoned by their children, and the vast legions with ravaged brains who lost their minds to dementia.
Now take this group of sick, disabled, incontinent, depressed, demented and despairing people and put them all together in one building.
Also – and this is critical – make sure there’s no formal structure in place – If they choose, they can spend the entire day and evening in the common room, sleeping, or in their own rooms, watching television. They have no responsibilities or expectations, and thus, in many cases, no purpose. As a resident recently described it to me – “We eat, sleep and wait for death.”
Question: What would you pay to rent one of the 300 square-foot apartments in this building?
Would it surprise you to learn the building I’m describing is an assisted living facility and I pay $6,500 a month for my room?
And yet, I can assure you, money is not the issue.
The issue is zombies. And not Night of the Living Dead Zombies,
Real zombies. Like my mother or your father. Good people who fought in World War II, raised families, published newspapers, harvested acres of corn, and would have died at home in their own beds, naturally, with their family at their bedside . . .
If we had let them.
But we didn’t.
Aging and dying are messy and represent a great inconvenience to someone with a busy and sophisticated lifestyle. So, (with a good heart and the best of intentions), we ship them off like cattle, to warehouses for the elderly.
Institutions with catchy names like Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Adult Congregate Living Facilities, Assisted Living Facilities, and Sub-Acute Care Centers.
Then – perhaps a week, month, or year later – They become zombies. You know the ones I’m talking about: They’re often the first residents you spot when you enter the facility — slumped and listing to one side in their wheelchairs, staring off into space, a long string of drool hanging from their mouths.
We ask ourselves, how did this happen? But the answer is a bitter pill to swallow. All the years we’ve encouraged residents to “be themselves” and “always look out for number one” has backfired and created a generation of elders whose lexicon no longer contains “community” or “benevolence.” They’re isolated, spend most of their life in their rooms and refuse to participate in community activities. In a word . . .zombies.
And during this screening of pain, loneliness and ambient despair — as the whole drama plays out before us — we sit back with a bowl of buttered popcorn, and wait for the cue to take the stage for our audition.