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Waiting: The End of the Road and Assisted Living

It’s a cold spring day. Cloudy, dreary, the kind of day that radiates a feeling of fatigue. On the third floor of Wardwell’s assisted living complex sits an elderly woman. Her apartment is small, consisting of a kitchenette, a living room, a small bedroom, and bath. A large window behind where she is sitting, overlooks the parking lot, and reflects the dreariness of the day. Yvette Loranger, 98, sits in her chair like she does on most days. It’s nine in the morning.

Until April 4th, 2018, she lived in her on home. As she adjusts herself in her chair she remembered her previous freedom with overwhelming nostalgia. “I was in my house doing what I wanted to do on that day. I drove to the gas station and I had my tank filled up. From the gas station I moved to Shaw’s for grocery shopping, and then I went to the bank to withdraw some money. Then I went home and everything was perfect.”

However, there was a silent enemy lurking. At around four in the morning on the following day, April 5th, she was struck with a vicious attack of vertigo. Vertigo is a sensation of spinning dizziness and it is usually caused by problems in the inner ear or brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, vertigo most often occurs in people over the age of 50.

“I was lucky that I had LifeLine. I pressed the button and asked for some help, the ambulance came and took me to the hospital and I was there for 3 days,” she said.

After those three days Loranger was sent home. Then another attack occurred. She went back to the hospital, was released, only to return again the following day. She said that her son began to look around for an assisted living facility because “enough is enough.”

Loranger said that the switch from living alone in her own home to assisted living was a shock.

“I was really scared, and wondered, ‘what am I going to do? Do I know anyone? Are those people friendly?’ So I came in and I was surprised, I liked it, but it was such a change in my life, such a big change.”

Across town, at Seal Rock’s assisted living facility sits Fleurette Lizotte, 92. She sits in a smaller apartment, and the blinds are closed.

She is legally blind due to macular degeneration, and even with hearing aids, must ask visitors to speak up, almost yell, so that she can understand. Lizotte mostly keeps to herself. She would rather be at home.

“There will never be a place like home.  Oh, this is nice, but it is not home.”

Like Loranger, Lizotte didn’t choose to leave home and transition into assisted living.  Due to her sensory losses, compounded by crippling arthritis, she could no longer live alone.

“If I could have managed at home, I would not have chosen assisted living,” she said.

According to the US Census Bureau, seniors like Lizotte and Loranger, make up 13.3 percent of the US population. By 2060 their population will account for at least 20 percent. However, unlike younger individuals who enter the workforce, many elderly retire only to eventually move into nursing, or assisted living facilities to live out the rest of their lives. Loranger and Lizotte both rely on the staff of their respective facilities.

As they continue to age, they realize they are approaching their 100th year. Loranger at 98 says, “I am wondering what I am doing on this Earth. I’m useless. I can’t help anyone anymore. Here I am, walking around with my cane, still very alert.”

To pass the time, she said that she does a lot of reading, and a lot of watching TV.  

“What else? We have nothing to do. The staff does the laundry, cleans the apartment, changes the bed, and assists with showering twice a week. What am I going to do? I’m sitting here doing nothing. I call myself the ‘Queen of Sheba.’ Everybody waits on me. They even give us the pills that we need on schedule.”

Lizotte at 92 says, “I don’t know. It’s kind of sad. You can’t do anything that you used to do. You are limited in what you can do. A lot of things that I would like to do, I can’t do anymore.  It’s lonely. I miss being with my family, but it is what it is. It could always be worse.”

Lizotte and Loranger both believe that their only purpose now is to visit with their loved ones. Their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Diane Loranger, Lizotte’s daughter and Loranger’s daughter-in-law, believes that assisted living gives family members “a feeling of safety for them.”

Before entering their respective assisted living facilities, Loranger said she was afraid of getting sick, and Lizotte related that her forgetfulness, in regards to taking her medication, had resulted in numerous falls and broken bones.

Although Diane, Lizotte’s daughter and Loranger’s daughter-in-law, feels better knowing that they are both in safe places, both elderly women long for their former independent lifestyles.

Diane, who visits both women multiple times per week, believes assisted living facilities give off a depressing vibe. She said that, “Day to day the residents look older and more tired with little to energize them.”

This lack of energy underscores that both elderly women are on their final journey. The finality of death causes most people to think of their regrets. A simple Google search reveals such a fact. In .51 seconds, 290,000,000 search results appear. Clearly a lot of people die with regrets, but for these two women, this is not the case.

According to Loranger, “They say that your life is all programmed when you are born. I was a very hard worker.  I worked so hard in my life, so hard.” She said that her lack of regrets is devoted to her work ethic. She dropped out of high school after two years, and worked in the shoe industry up until she retired at the age of 63.

Lizotte shares the same sentiment. She said that she has no regrets because she lived the life she wanted to live.

“Life was tough, but good.”

For both of these women, there are few regrets, and they are content with the long lives they lived. They both believe their journey is coming to an end, and agree that, overall, theirs were lives well lived.

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