If you picked up this book, you are probably a baby boomer who finds yourself having to learn more about the mysterious world of long-term care for mom, dad, a loved one or even yourself.
Before you flip to the back of the book for information on the how-to, let’s back up a second and find out what you know or think you know already.
What are your preconceived notions about long-term care? In the broadest sense, I define long-term care as anything ranging from continuing care retirement communities to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“What do my perceptions have to do with anything?,” you might ask. Well, everything. Most people have negative and false perceptions of these places. So going in, you may be approaching an important decision with a bad attitude.
See, most people think of these places as institutions. What you need to know is that they are regarded by those who live in them as home, every bit as much as the house or apartment you live in now.
The book is written to shed light on the reality of life in long-term care. I know. I have spent years inside these homes as an entertainer and singer.
“Your music is such a blessing to our residents. They truly enjoy getting to hear music that originates from the time when they were growing up. Your humor brings joy to all. They smile and laugh at your jokes. They act 10 years younger every time that you come to entertain.”
That is an excerpt of just one of many letters I receive from activity directors in long-term care facilities. And to think I picked up the guitar when I was 11 with the thought of being a rock and roll king. Now I feel like a king being able to entertain these wonderful people.
And it is these wonderful people that I want to tell you about. Come inside with me as I illustrate through vignettes, the way life is really lived and loved. Through tender and sometimes hilarious moments I have shared with these people, I have come to realize that most of the prevalent ideas about long-term care are not realistic.
In these places live thousands of older adults who take joy in the simple things that life has to offer, like singing a song. So here I was in 1995 finding myself drawn to entertain for them.
You will find greatness in this book, meeting people who have led wonderful lives, out of the limelight. These are people who never asked for anything to be handed to them. They took what life brought them, worked hard, and rarely complained about the bad times.
These are the quiet heroes. They may not be heroes in the way our veterans, armed forces, firefighters and police are considered. They may not be the stuff of myth or legend. And their achievements may not be well known. But they nonetheless possess noble qualities and show great courage – part of the literal definition of hero in the dictionary.
These are people like eighty-nine year-old Milton Bainbridge who stood by his wife’s side every day for six years as she lie in a nursing home battling the effects of a stroke. Then, after her passing, he continued to volunteer in the same nursing home. Would we do the same?
And look at 73 year old Ruth Ann Whitley, frail, suffering from a laundry list of health problems – stroke, heart attack and a nervous breakdown all in succession plus six different types of arthritis. Ruth Ann felt blessed every single day to be alive and to be living in a nursing facility. She truly considered it home. How would we react if it were us?
This collection of stories is my attempt to replace the common perceptions with the reality. This is not a how-to book about locating the best long-term care facility or a step by step approach to health insurance options, although information is available in the book to get you started in your research.
Rather, this is a glimpse inside the real world of long-term care. Along the way, you will find a few humorous anecdotes and inspirational stories about able-bodied older adults who are full swing into enjoying their golden years. After all, with an eighty-two year old mother who dates, in-laws in their seventies and a host of retirement communities that I perform for, I have no shortage of material! I’ll conclude with some comments about how our culture deals with growing older too. We have a long way to go.
But let’s get started. Come with me on the first step in a journey that will educate, amuse, enlighten and inspire. It is my hope that after reading this, you will feel more confident about any decisions you might need to make in the future.