I had an interesting occurrence a week ago while on the way to see my mom at the retirement community in Loganville, Georgia. As I was driving down the road that runs in front of the retirement complex, I saw an oncoming car swerve suddenly. Of course I was ready for whatever I needed to do - and as the car passed me, I saw an elderly man attempting to cross the road in his motorized wheelchair. He looked unaware that he had caused any commotion at all. He wasn't even driving his chair fast, he looked like he was out of it. Then I recognized the man as Charles, a resident of the Independent Living area of the community.
Nobody there is a captive - they have the right to go where they want to, but I think he really needs to be in Assisted Living now...but back to my story.
The next oncoming car pulled over as I pulled over on the side of the road and put my hazard lights on. Charles (not his real name) drove his wheelchair up onto the grass, and instead of turning on to the wide sidewalk like I expected, he continued going straight across the sidewalk and into a weedy area with some small trees. I got out and called to him and he brought his wheelchair back toward the sidewalk. I asked him if he remembered me (I had told him who I was, he knows my mom and I had told him again that I'm her daughter), yet he didn't remember.
The man who stopped out of concern was very nice - he asked Charles a few things in a friendly manner, and Charles cracked me up when he exclaimed, "They built the damn sidewalk on the wrong side of the road!" I had to admit, Charles was right. There was no sidewalk on the side of the road of the retirement community.
The other driver was just great with Charles, he let Charles keep his pride, and said we were concerned about him because we saw a car swerve and nearly hit him. Charles was unconvinced. He was still unaware. He proclaimed he was totally fine and does this all the time.
The concerned driver told Charles that people are just crazy drivers these days, and although he may have crossed the road before, he shouldn't anymore, because people are just speeding like crazy through there - "... that driver must've been going 80!" and the man winked at me above his sunglasses where Charles couldn't see the signal. We both knew the driver hadn't been speeding, it was just unsafe for Charles to be crossing that road without any help.
I called the office of the retirement community - I was so glad I was there, because I knew who he was and I had the front desk phone number right there in my phone. The worker from the front desk came to us immediately. She was nice to Charles, but when he acted obstinate, she threatened to call his son. I hated to see the look in Charles' eyes, like he was afraid of her calling his son. The father had become a child, scared of being in trouble. That puts tears in my eyes right now.
I urged him to come on over, that I was visiting my mom in the large building, and he could come and visit too, we'd have some snacks, play some billiards if he wanted. He didn't want to, but he agreed to go back. I asked him if he remembered me, he said sorry he didn't. I teased him, "Yesterday I gave you a hug! And you don't remember me?!? I guess you have so many women around here in your harem, you can't keep track, huh?" He laughed.
I told my mom about the situation that had unfolded, and she said "Oh, Charles has a LOT of people looking out for him around here - Especially the elderly women residents!" She had told me at another time that the single ladies all over the community think Charles is hot stuff. It must be the motorized wheelchair. Go figure.
I'm joking a bit there. Charles was a WW2 Veteran and has written a book about his experiences - that makes him sort of a celebrity at the retirement home. I've shaken his hand and thanked him for his service. He had tears in his eyes when I did that about a year ago, but now I don't know if he remembers. I need to thank him every time I see him.
But mom says that a good friend of his in the community who was his neighbor in the Independent living area died about a week or two ago. That may account for his changes, he is probably depressed. Wouldn't we all be, if our best friend had died?
Yesterday when I saw Charles again, he was driving his chair around the Assisted Living building, even though he lives in Independent Building, but it gives him something to do and it is air conditioned. He complained to me that they had taken the pet birds out of the large living room area at the front. He enjoyed telling me the gossip about one person moving there and complaining about the birds being there, so the company removed the birds. Then, said Charles, the person who complained only stayed there two weeks! Well, I said, Isn't that how it is these days...
I asked him if he has been staying out of trouble - has he been staying in safe places? He said mostly. I asked him about driving across the road and the way he just drives his chair all over the community - and he just shrugged. I said, "You're bored out of your mind, aren't you?" He nodded and looked sad.
I shared with Charles that I wanted to suggest to the management that they get some more hobby type things in there, like maybe electric trains....did he like electric trains? He looked delighted but motioned about how tall he was the last time he played with trains. I told him that people of all ages like model trains, and they aren't all really small, either, there are large scale trains, and maybe he could start a train club there.(So if anyone has any large scale train stuff, I'll take it!) He had an embarrassed look on his face, but I could see he was kind of excited about the prospect of something new to do. (But now I realize that they may not be able to have electric trains because the generator could be a hazard to people with pacemakers, so I'll need to check into that.)
Most of the people who live in the community are women. There is a billiards table but I don't see people use it. I plan to, when I get the work done for my mom that I need to. But the men are really bored....so, anybody have any ideas for activities and stuff that both men and women would like? They do card games an bingo. I was even thinking Duplo (large Lego), because it is something to do/build that even a shaky person can do and it helps dexterity.
The large plastic canvases or yarn threading toys that children have might also be good for ladies who can't see well anymore but liked sewing.
I'm just really bothered to see people living day after day on repeat.. The people who work at the place are doing their jobs, but that isn't enough for the residents to get all that they truly need. All people need to feel liked and valued, and not just by people who get paid to help them and be nice to them. I think a lot of them feel like they're in a holding pattern, and that the world doesn't care about them anymore.
Many are probably depressed. I ate lunch there yesterday next to a lady who cannot speak. I don't know if she took in anything I said to her, but I tried to be helpful for her without treating her like a baby, and I talked to her. The lady on my right could speak, but she can't speak very loudly and my mom can't hear her, so they're an interesting lunch table match (they all have assigned seats because of dietary needs). I asked the lady where her family lived, and all I could figure out was that they are not anywhere nearby, and she had tears in her eyes. So I changed the subject and found out that she grew up in Texas but raised her family in Montgomery Alabama. I asked her if she was there during the Civil Rights events. She said they were, and that "We were LIVING history!"
It has been a interesting time, getting to know these folks. I definitely need to talk to their new director about seeing if we can get some stuff to help them be less bored. Jigsaw puzzles and bingo only go so far.
Being bored is bad for the human brain.