Posts Tagged 'Assisted living'

Continuity Across A Life: Sexuality

IMG_0019Yes I said it. Sexual elder. What’s the big deal?

Why do we judge elders who are sexual beings, when we know that continuity across the life course can be a lifeline?

Talking with the producers of an upcoming public television series on aging, I got the distinct sense that aging and sexuality wouldn’t be a topic of focus for their five-part program. And yet, they agreed that this topic was real, and important. And often forgotten. They pointed out that once an audience can get over the discomfort/controversy, they may begin to appreciate intimacy at any age.

I told them about the book editor who said I was “taking a risk” opening my book with Lillian’s story. (Lillian was a romantic, and she swore that sexuality was central to her quality of life at any age.) And then Glenn jumped in and told them about how his cleaning lady was “casting aspersions on his manhood” so he found a slip at a thrift shop and put it out on his rumpled bed next to his pajamas. After finishing his story (so well told!) Glenn offered to loan them a three-part book series he enjoyed, called Fifty Shades of Gray.

Everyone laughed, but there was discomfort too. Think of the stereotypes. Dirty old man. Cute little old lady. (See my post on Betty White taking on the latter stereotype.) Take age out of the equation and you get an everyday person who isn’t harming anyone, who deserves our respect.

This week, Paula Span of New York times, tells us how hard it can be for those in assisted living, to gain some semblance of privacy.

Glenn and Lillian are living in their homes, mostly independently. But not so for their peers in assisted living. I cannot forget Joseph and Myra, a married couple living in a nursing home, who had to go to the chapel to hold hands.

Happy 2013!… Am I living in the right place?

The happy new year message (via email) from Seymour in Florida, age 95, looked a lot like those he had sent before, in response to my birthday notes and on other occasions. (For AOW or regular blog readers, Seymour is the technogenarian who recently purchased an iphone.) By sentence two, he had launched into “our problems coping with increasing old age.” Sy wanted advice again, and I was having a hard time doling it out.

For years Sy and his partner have tried to figure out where to live. Their back-and-forth snowbird days were getting harder and harder, so the decision remained: Florida (“inside all summer with A/C”) OR (“cooped up all winter”) Upstate NY?  They wondered – are resources for elders better in either place? If so, they were prepared to choose one and stay there.

“Seymour wrote, “One thing is certain, at this point we definitely would like to continue to live at home. I have seen some of the assistive living places down here and even the good ones are simply human warehouses.”

Now let’s pause for a moment and reflect on this. Here we have a 95-year-old wanting to plan for his future, and thinking about his care. This is notable because we tend to hear about eldercare dilemmas from the children of elders or their caretakers. But many nonagenarians DO weigh and consider options, hire and fire, and accomplish self-care. And Seymour, who is on record as someone who “never buys green bananas,” is skilled at living in the moment AND thinking ahead.

My response to Seymour was a bit of a mishmash. I asked about specific needs and living environments. (How age-friendly are the two apartments?) I waxed on about the importance of proximity to family or close friends (people you wouldn’t mind asking for help), and then gave some examples of other resources. (A recent piece in the NYTimes, entitled “Staying Independent In Old Age with a Little Help,” gives similar examples of new-ish resources for meeting personal care needs; services like Home Instead, local non-profits dedicated to transportation services, Meals on Wheels, etc.) Then I took a risk (not wanting to offend a healthy friend) and asked which area hospital and doctors he and his partner preferred, pointing out that for better or for worse, as we age, we tend to spend more and more time at hospitals and doctors offices.

I think I ended on a theme of personal comfort, but I probably should have mentioned the fun of board games (on iphone!) like Scrabble (for all of those shut-in weather days).

I haven’t heard back from Seymour; I’m taking that to mean that he’s considering the options.

The thing is, it is difficult to plan ahead, at any age.  I don’t know where I want to live either!  But considering living environment, close connections, and care resources might help me figure it out someday.

What about you? What would it look like to be comfortable and cared for? And what would you do if you had to be indoors all winter in Upstate NY?

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Meika Loe

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