Senior Resident for a Day: An Eye-Opening Experience

by Bruce Hentges | Vice President

I recently had the unique chance to participate in an HKS Architects-led Sleepover experience at Elevate Senior Living in Clearwater, Florida. Along with ten other “temporary” residents, I spent 24 hours blending in with four assisted living residents at this newly opened community.

For the day, I became an 86-year-old dealing with memory, mobility, and vision challenges. To get into character, I wore ankle weights, an elbow brace, glaucoma glasses, taped fingers, and used a walker.

Right from check-in, I felt uneasy. Waiting for a caregiver to give me the initial rundown of my new home was nerve-wracking. My mind struggled to adjust to this new environment and the reality of living with strangers. The physical challenges were frustrating. Opening doors with a walker was very difficult, and time seemed to drag on forever. I felt confused and realized how vital clear communication is. The loneliness hit hard, too—the quiet was eerie, and building noises were distracting. Outdoor activities became a welcome escape, and the garden views during meals were instantly calming. The caregivers’ patience was incredible. Any visitor could instantly lift my spirits. Sleeping with my door unlocked felt unsettling.

A dementia simulation experience left a huge impression on how difficult it is to focus on simple tasks.  The simulation utilized loud noises, visually impaired glasses, gloves and instructions to complete 5 simple tasks in a disruptive environment in 5-minutes.  I completed 2 tasks and was left frustrated by the physical challenges and at my inability to focus.

This whole experience brought back memories of moving my mom into a memory care community in 2018. After a grocery store manager in my hometown called to tell me she had two black eyes while shopping, I knew it was time for action. We never found out what happened, but she clearly needed more support. We moved her from Iowa to a senior community near me in St. Louis, Missouri. She called me every night at 6:00, asking to go home.

Spending 24 hours at Elevate Senior Living opened my eyes to what seniors go through when transitioning to assisted living. Family members often don’t fully understand the physical and emotional challenges their loved ones face, but they need to. Even after working in the senior living industry for over 25 years, I had been blind to the personal experiences of each senior resident. This sleepover made me realize how much more understanding and empathetic I could have been. Now, I genuinely understand why my mom’s eyes lit up whenever I visited.

This experience taught me valuable lessons.  Aging is a tough journey, and those of us in the industry and family members need to approach it with more empathy and understanding.  I wish I had known all of this before my mom passed away four years ago.

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Physical Challenges:
    • Opening doors with a walker
    • Slow and difficult moving around
    • Time dragging on
  • Emotional Challenges:
    • Confusion
    • Loneliness
    • Eerily quiet & distracting noises
  • Positive Experiences:
    • Calming garden views during meals
    • Uplifting presence of visitors
    • Extraordinary patience of caregivers
    • Outdoor activities

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