An Insightful Lob by Bob: My First Year in Assisted Living

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Written by Bob Kleinfelder, Birches Assisted Living resident and senior editor emeritus of The Lions Club’s LION Magazine

“Bob, you’ll be going to an assisted living residence in two weeks. Please select the one you like best.” Assisted what? I asked myself. This was the directive from the rehab location where I stayed for over two months after my fall. I received excellent treatment there, and I am most appreciative of it. But now I’m going on to where?

At the time, I was wheelchair-bound, so my son and his wife explored a number of assisted living communities in Chicago’s southwest suburbs and selected one they considered best. I was immediately given a tour and was certain they had made the right choice. On January 31, 2016, I dutifully moved into The Birches in Clarendon Hills and quickly discovered just what “assisted living” really means.

I have never regretted it!  I should clarify that I wasn’t completely wheelchair-bound, because I was able to navigate perhaps 200-300 feet with a walker, thanks to the therapy I received at my previous facility.  But that was it.

As soon as I arrived at The Birches, I began a strict regimen of intensive physical and occupational therapy and exercise on the walker, progressing a bit each day.  Why the progress?  Because group exercise and fitness sessions are also held throughout the week. In addition, I, along with other residents, work with a personal trainer twice a week. This, I can assure you, is “assisted living.”

When I tell people where I am, some may remark, and I’m sure it has happened to you, “Oh, that’s kinda like a nursing home, isn’t it?”  To which I may reply, perhaps in words not too gentlemanly, “No, assisted living is not like a nursing home!”

Now, please believe me, I have the greatest respect and admiration for those dedicated professional men and women operating nursing homes where they attend to those individuals most in need of intensive care.  Assisted living, however, is not in that category.  Many residents here at The Birches do need some assistance in mobility, personal care, perhaps in decision making and other matters. But, understand, assistance is not dependence.

If residents are able, they are free to walk about, climb stairs and even go shopping.  Once or twice a month, we’ll have outings to local restaurants for lunch and to attractions such as the Brookfield Zoo, the Morton Arboretum and other destinations. We’re even provided transportation to church service on Sundays. Thus, not only do we gain confidence in our ability to do things, we also build self-respect and, of equal importance, the respect of others.

An ongoing theme here is to “keep moving.” Don’t just sit around watching TV or fretting over times past. Feeling sorry for ourselves is self-destructive. By all means, do not forget about loved ones who are no longer with us; their memories will warm us always. But the best way to honor them is to get involved in activities and “keep movin’.”

Here at The Birches we have no problem doing just that. The professional staff has developed an array of programs to keep us mentally and physically active, interested in self-improvement and, indeed, “movin’.” Sing-a-longs, Bingo, visits from Girl and Boy Scouts, Scrabble, various musical performers and impersonators (we met “Cleopatra”) and dancing — that’s right, dancing.  Our charming guest dance leader encourages and helps residents stand, leave their walkers behind and swing along with Sammy Kaye or get in the mood with Glenn Miller, do a graceful Strauss waltz or stomp along to a polka.  It’s all fun and terrific exercise.  I saw residents who shuffled in on a walker get up and look like they were teenagers again (well, almost).

Did I mention food?  We have three meals a day and, as an expert on dining, I can assure you that all the meals are delicious. Not only is the everyday fare a gastronomical delight, we have also enjoyed cuisine which was superbly ethnic in flavor.  We’ve had meals featuring Italian, Japanese, German, Mexican and even Egyptian delicacies (yes, Egyptian! King Farouk would have loved it).  All titillated our taste buds.

The Birches’ memory care neighborhood Encore assists men and women who live with mild to severe forms of dementia. Nurses are available and CNA’s are staffed around the clock to make them comfortable and involved in their surroundings to the extent they are capable. “Our goal in Encore,” says its director Katie Schaff Fagan, “is to enable them to do as much for themselves for as long as they can. When this is no longer possible, our team will offer them a life of comfort, caring support and dignity.”

Neighbors living in Encore attend many events here, especially those involving music, and “comfort dogs” visit Encore to give them further pleasure. They are not isolated and they are treated with friendly smiles by all residents. Indeed, they are a cherished part of The Birches.

This is assisted living. I could go on and on about the services offered here, and I would not be exaggerating in the least. I’m glad to be aboard, and I’m certain all those who have the privilege of living here would agree. Can the residents look at themselves and believe they are more physically mobile and mentally prepared to meet life’s challenges?  I need only look in the mirror.

“An Insightful Lob by Bob” is a monthly column written by Birches resident Bob Kleinfelder. Each month Bob will offer an inside perspective on life at The Birches and answer your most pressing questions about assisted living. Stay tuned for more insightful assisted living advice from Bob!