Story and photo by IAN SMITH
Picture yourself as an elder, and you know your time on this earth is decreasing. You know you can no longer take care of yourself. You need assistance. To everyone else, it may be time for a nursing home.
You pack up your stuff. Where did the time go, you keep asking yourself? How did life flash that fast and how has it come to this? You set off in the car that takes you to the home. As you pull up your first impression is that it could work for you. But you still have many questions and not that many answers.
“No one wants to go into a nursing home,” said Anne Palmer Peterson, executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging. The Utah Legislature created the commission in 2005 to address issues related to the fast-growing aging population in the state. Peterson said it is a young state, but it also is the “sixth-fastest aging state in the nation.” Among other things, the commission has studied housing options for older adults. The findings were published in New Trends in Housing for Utah’s Aging Population.
“We want people to be thinking proactively about their futures,” she said.
Even so, it can be difficult to leave all of your memories behind you.
The idea of a “nursing home” isn’t too appealing to many people, though.
Brian Culliton, the executive director at Emeritus Salt Lake at 76 South and 500 East, said people have very different opinions of nursing homes.
Every facility is different, whether it’s a nursing home or assisted living center. Some facilities, like Emeritus, offer help for certain issues residents might be dealing with. Dementia, for example, is taken very seriously at the assisted living facility.
“We provide a family orientation with a caretaker,” Culliton said in a phone interview. “We have a well rounded understanding of what that resident’s day looks like. We want to keep it routine. We have other care providers that will come and talk to give a better understanding of the disease.”
Culliton said the staff and volunteers who work at Emeritus Salt Lake are passionate about the work they do and want nothing more than to help the people they are caring for.
“I’m really passionate about attracting the right [residents],” he said. “It’s that feeling of leaving home if anyone has dementia, you’re leaving your familiar space. You’ve been there for 50-plus years and now you’re going to a new space. It goes back to that care.”
Culliton knows that some older adults are afraid to be alone. But, sometimes that fear prevents people from seeking help.
He said Emeritus Salt Lake aims to offer more than just the borderline help. Staff go above and beyond to help the new residents by developing a personal relationship with them as soon as they walk in the door. Residents are given an orientation and shown around the building.
“With assisted living, every department head goes and introduces themselves and gives them the care that they expect,” Culliton said. “We look at it as kind of like a marriage. Know each other right up front. If we look at the process at the point when somebody applies, we go to their house or hospital and get to know the family immediately and when they move in, we talk about what is best and how to care for the seniors.”
Markel Martinez, a resident assistant at Emeritus Salt Lake, knows how important it is to build relationships. He has had residents find friends at the facility and even fall in love.
“I would want the resident to know that I’m there to help them,” Martinez said. “To be their friend that they can trust and talk to.”