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Monday, 13 February 2012

Carrying High School Prejudices into Old Age

Undoubtedly, you remember cliques in high school where students divided themselves into the jocks, brains, rich, preppies, druggies, etc. and the most privileged groups tended to be mean. If you were among the excluded, it could be painful.

It is expected that we outgrow these arbitrary divisions and certainly so by the time we reach our 60s and older. But last week in The New Old Age blog at The New York Times, this turned up:

”...last spring, managers declared the River Terrace and two other dining facilities at the community off limits to anyone but independent living residents. Assisted living residents were told to use their own small dining room; nursing residents were restricted to theirs.”

To get our terminology straight, River Terrace is a “gracious” dining room in a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) called Harbor’s Edge in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. It is, as is the definition of CCRCs, divided into the three sections mentioned in that quote. Residents move among independent, assisted and nursing care living through the years depending on the requirements of their health and needed care.

As you can imagine, many residents object to the new dining policy not only because it is discriminatory in general but for a lot of other good reasons:

”...longtime friends — and several married couples — who lived in separate parts of the facility could no longer share meals in the main dining room. Those in assisted living or nursing care also were also barred from community events like the Fourth of July celebration...

"The Hodgeses had been eating together nightly, though he lived in the nursing unit and she was in independent living. Lindsay Bilisoly sometimes escorted his 90-year-old father, Frank, to dinner with his wife, Indie, 85, who remained in the independent living unit they’d originally moved into together.”

Other residents support the segregation:

“Martha Haycox, 80, past president of the Resident Advisory Council...took pains to point out that three independent living residents with health problems are also excluded from the dining room, while many who do use it require wheelchairs or walkers.

“'It happened to me twice in one week that somebody at the next table threw up,' requiring hasty clean-up by the maintenance staff, she said. Another time, she said, someone’s wheelchair got tangled in a tablecloth at Sunday brunch and nearly pulled all the food off the buffet table...

“'It’s a very upscale community,' said Mr. Volder. 'When someone comes in wearing a coat and tie, with guests, they want an ambience of fine dining.'”

In other words, we don't want no crips sullying our lovely upscale meals.

Vomiting at the dinner table is hardly pleasant, but hey – shit happens and more than most places, it should be expected sometimes in a retirement community. It's hardly a big deal – you clean up and move on. I seem to recall such an event with a president of the United States at a state dinner in Japan.

Let us not forget too that, healthy or sick, residents at Harbor's Edge pay dearly to live there. The grown son of one resident:

“'Ninety-five percent of the time he’s perfectly capable of eating dinner,' Mr. Bilisoly said. 'I can take him to any restaurant in Norfolk or in the state of Virginia, except the one in the building he paid $600,000 to move into.'”

In high school, students who considered themselves better than everyone else prevented lesser beings from eating lunch at certain cafeteria tables. Fifty and 60 years later, nothing has changed.

Sometimes I am deeply embarrassed by my contemporaries. The full Times story is here and it's worth reading some of the comments.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today: I.S. Kipp: Trinkets and Treasures


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

OMG! I'm speechless & angry. Why does no one want to face aging! And $600K! Over half a million to eat in ambience. Puleeeeeze! I'm embarrassed too, Ronni, but I'm also damned mad! Dee

We age as we live?

Wouldn't it be great if the residents of Harbor's Edge were all growing younger every day ala Benjamin Button?

I can see it now,the reunion of the class of 2012 and they are all 18 years old.

Martha Haycox wants to be Queen of the Prom but the others remember when she got so upset when someone had the misfortune of throwing up at the table. So, no votes for you,Martha. Give the tiara back.

And Mr. Volder, who would have loved everyone in the dining room to be the picture of sartorial splendor is getting his Brooks Brothers suit "messed up" a little by
the crips and the J.C.Penney crowd.

May I suggest Judy Schapiro, The Bilisoly Family,The Hodges and The Evanses team up and go to the Principal's office and demand the return of their millions of dollars.

Then stand back and watch how fast the dining room becomes open to ALL residents again...

It seems to me this is more about human nature and our unwillingess to be presented with anything uncomfortable than high school or if high school then it's where it shows up as it's a community that allows it. The handicapped face this same avoidance or those who have been horribly scarred. People don't ant them in a restaurant or where they might have to face reality isn't always beautiful or easy.

I remember once seeing a man who had been horribly burned at a cafeteria in one of the Yellowstone parks. It made me think how seldom we ever see that kind of injury at any restaurant and yet it is life and such could happen to any of us. People with such differences should not feel they have to hide from the rest of us, but I've heard complaints when someone went to a nice restaurant that they do not want a handicapped person eating next to them. It's the ugly side of humans.

I would hope that by the time one becomes an elder they had learned compassion and would have shed the cruelty of the teenage years, but it is not always so. I am not sure that some elders change one bit from what they were when they were young. They just get older and carry their attitudes and prejudices with them. How else to explain that most of the Republican vote comes from elders?

Rank (substitute wealth) has its privileges. And isn't it disgusting?

Let me play devil's advocate, knowing I will face disapproval here for doing so. I have been in a nursing home at mealtime and it is often an extremely unappetizing experience. Frankly, I would rather eat alone in my room than face that. The policy may have been implemented clumsily, but I don't really blame these people.

Thrilled you flagged this one, Ronni. I saw the article and nearly puked... yes. Thanks for standing up for innocent people tormented by elitists, snobs, ignoramuses, and fearful, petty people.

Did they ban guests such as children who might also barf at the table?...My mother-in-law recently moved into an assisted living facility and insists everyone is 'funny' - except her. Too many of us are quick to judge, stereotype and not associate with those not meeting our 'standards'. it is so sad.

Cheri's comment reminds me of my mother's experience of landing in the nursing home wing of her continuing care place (where she had an independent living apartment) after a hospitalization in 1997.

Mother needed some help & supervision with her insulin, heart and other meds for a while but there weren't any rooms available in the assisted living wing (someone would have had to die) and her place's administrators wouldn't allow live-in help in the apartments. I was working full-time and couldn't be there all the time she needed help, nor could the community nursing staffers who visited five days a week.

So Mother ended up in a nursing home taking all of her meals in her tiny room because the people in the nursing home wing were mostly Alzheimer's sufferers and she became terrified of developing dementia herself. It wasn't about their eating habits, it was something more primal. She knew AD wasn't literally catching but she sometimes felt she was losing her mind in that environment. The woman down the hall who screamed like a hurt cat day and night particularly freaked her out.

Mother's nursing home experience and her increasingly debilitating but not fatal illnesses shortened her life because she plunged into a deep depression and never came out of it. She gave up living and died rather suddenly in that nursing home room. She was only 73. She was not an elitist snob, ignoramus or petty but quite the opposite — generous, kind, loving, forgiving. She was fearful of losing her independence and agency because she was sick. She saw all around her how that could become reality so — right or wrong, go ahead, you all decide — she avoided the company of the wounded people as a self-protective mechanism.

And frankly, having spent some time among frail elderly people with Alzheimer's at day centers and at mealtimes in nursing homes, I'm afraid of becoming demented, too. A survey released fairly recently found that boomers fear dementia second only to cancer as they age, so that fear's not a rare thing. It's not at all uncommon for fear to morph into aversion. Yes, our better selves ought to fight that, but would we always be perfectly saintly?

Ms. Haycox may be a terrible person or she may just have been clumsy when she spoke. I do think the reporter employed a rhetorical trick by following Haycox's quote with Volder's, which I suspect wouldn't be quite as unfeeling as it sounds if we could hear the entire context. I despise prejudice but still don't feel as judgmental of Haycox and Volder as some who have commented here.

Am I the sole Elderblogger who lives in a CCRC? Two years ago, I'd post about making the decision to go from an apartment in NYC to independent living in a retirement community near Portland, OR.

The idea of living this way seemed a third rail on my blog, one that had to do with fears of aging, being surrounded only by other elders. I know about this, have had to make a number of adjustments to a kind of bifurcated life between my home and the outside community.

Rain's comment reminded me of one of recent experiences at public meetings about transit in Portland. I was impressed with the clarity of purpose from the group representing people with disabilities; they seem to focus on what they have in common rather than differences.

Do you suppose fear is the basis for removing a daily reminder that, "...but for the grace of God, there go I." I have to feel pity rather than admiration or anger for the unfeeling persons in our lives at all ages. How sad....

This has really sparked a great discussion & I believe everyone who responded has valid points. But when all is said & done, no one promised elders rose gardens. Stuff happens & we just have to do the best we can. And with luck on our side, we'll meet others who understand & who care. Dee

Not all the high school bullies are running homes in Va. Many are running for office.

My husband's uncle refused to eat with the three women who were in the care home where he was, so he had his meals served separately to him. He didn't like to listen to the frivolous conversation of women.
He was used to getting his way, a typical characteristic of men of his generation. (He died last year at the age of 104.)

My mom just moved into independent living. Her dining room just changed rules to allow people from each area to eat together if they can get there without nursing help. Since I stayed with mom for three weeks , I witnessed meal times. It seemed that the people who chose "fine dining" ate later - after six. It seemed to be self segregated. People who needed help from family ate earlier. To me not much different than telling people that children are not welcome to live in adult communities. People choose to live where they do....

I agree with several responders that both sides of this issue have valid points. The overriding thought for me is the fervent desire to live out my life in my own home. (I'm reluctant to contemplate the alternatives available to those of us who don't have $600K sitting around! I'm sure that upscale CCRC charges a hefty monthly maintenance fee as well.)

If I had surrendered $600K to buy into "gracious retirement living", I'm not sure how I'd react if subjected to decidedly UNgracious conditions. I hope I'd be open-minded and reasonably non-judgmental. If I couldn't handle barfing at the table, I would hope to have the choice of eating in my apartment/room.

Loss of independence, identity, autonomy, dignity and choice are what concern me about getting really old. At 75 I'm already two years older than Lee's mom was when she died, but I can relate to how she must have felt--and it has very little to do with dining arrangements!

A continuation of my post above. . .on top of all the frightening incidents and indignities Lee's mother likely experienced while in that nursing home, she no longer had any control over her life short of deciding, consciously or not, to opt out (die) while she still had her sanity. Lee did all she could. What happened isn't Lee's fault, and all her mom did "wrong" was to need temporary post-hospitalization assistance.

It's just that America has a truly crappy (and insanely expensive!) system of caring for its older citizens who need a continuum of assistance. Unless we're very, very wealthy and can afford the best round-the-clock in-home care, we're pretty much SOL. So, what's Plan B??

You'd think that most of the residents would be understanding of the aging process. We all grow old and with it comes certain unwanted difficulties but we must learn to accept them and work together to get through them. It's too bad some people never made it out of high school.

Rock and a hard place. I can understand how the "exclusionists" might feel at having to share a dining room with some people who might always be ideal dining companions and I can also understand how the excluded might feel.
The answer has to be some kind of compromise but in our radically polarized society, that probably won't happen.

I would have to know much more about the actual conditions at the CCRC. For instance: Does everyone in the three sections pay the same amount for food services? (If I'm paying for Micky D's I don't expect a spinach & shrimp salad ala Applebees nor the atmosphere of a Hilton dining room.)
In addition, many of us are or come close to being germaphobes. Having seen my own sister die from diseases (measles and scarlet fever - with pneumonia as a complication) that, in our small community, were likely spread through use of the community cup at the well, I won't (as a matter of course) drink after my own husband. Nor will I accept pieces of paper that someone has "sorted" by liking their fingers.
Having been an ombudsmen at a nursing home, and having had relatives and friends live in them, I have eaten in their common dining areas. It is not a pleasant experience. Were it not bad manners, I would have sat without eating. I'll leave it at that.

Sorry! I don't object to a person's "liking" their fingers. What I do object to is their "licking" their fingers in sorting money or paper that they then attempt to foist off onto me!

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