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ASSISTED-LIVING CENTERS MAKE LIFE ENJOYABLE AGAIN

Adult children caring for elderly parents need all the options they can get. Without the guilt.

"But I promised mother I would never put her into a nursing home," too many children say to themselves. And when did you promise mother? When she was 70 and still meeting friends to play pinochle, walking around the block each morning for exercise, taking trips to see her son across the country?

Now, at 85, she has arthritis in her knees, doesn't sleep well, forgets to take her medicine, lives alone and is dreadfully lonely. Does she tell you all of this? Of course not.

Many elderly don't need a nursing home because they don't need skilled nursing. What they could use - and thrive in - is an assisted-living residence, a comfortable, safe environment where a health care professional reminds them to take their medication, assists them with baths and offers meal substitutions if they aren't eating.

Their weight will be monitored monthly, they'll be reminded if their hair needs combing and will be encouraged to attend activities. They will discover people their own age, people who have lived through the Depression and two world wars and can sing the same songs they sang when they were young. Or not. If the residents don't want to take a trip to the newest restaurant or go out to Erie Basin Marina for an ice cream cone, they don't have to. It's their call, just like when they were 70.

Seniors are living in their own homes longer now with services such as Meals on Wheels and visiting nurses. So they are coming into assisted-living facilities older. Twenty years ago, the average age might have been 77. Today it is more like 87, with many of them using walkers or canes. Most of the residents are women.

My mother lived in the community far longer than she should have. She was fiercely independent and proud. While walking up the stairs to her apartment house, in a show of youthful vigor to her neighbors, she would straighten her bent shoulders as best she could, quicken her step (painfully) and admonish herself in a low but determined voice to, "Walk like a soldier. Walk as straight as you can."

But at 84, she was popping her medication indiscriminately and not attending to her personal-care needs. When it got to the point where she forgot to eat and was losing weight at an alarming rate, I persuaded her to try an assisted-living residence for just two weeks.

"It will be like a vacation," I said. "You don't have to shop in this winter weather, dust the furniture or do your laundry in the sink." (She was afraid to use the community laundry room.)

She stayed 11 years and had a quality of life neither one of us could have dreamed of. There was a beautician right in the building, and within one month, I hardly recognized the mother I had brought in. Her hair was done, she was wearing earrings again and she was telling me about the staff and her tablemates. She was the mom I had grown up with. It was like she was 70 again.

So don't forget about a level of care your father, mother, aunt or uncle might just thrive in. Elders do not just have the choice of living on their own or entering a nursing home. Assisted living offers what we used to call a retirement home but with extra services seniors need today.

Guilt? I don't know the meaning of the word. My mom's last years were golden.

LOIS VIDAVER lives in Tonawanda.

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