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Silver Threads: The ups and downs of assisted living

bettyepic3When my mother was a widow in her mid-70s, a series of small strokes made it necessary for her to go into an assisted-living facility in a town two hours north of where she and Daddy had lived for 25 years and my siblings and I had grown up.

I made a habit of visiting at least every month, spending the night in her big room after we came in from visiting her friends and having dinner out. On one particular night at her place, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up in the wee hours and took a book to the dining room, where some of the night aides were sitting and talking. Suddenly there was a ruckus down the hall and one of them got up to see what was going on.

One of the male residents — there were four of them and 16 ladies — had wandered into a woman’s room, waking her when he opened the door. Nothing had happened, but she was startled and upset, and the aide quickly walked him out and told him to go back to his room while she calmed the woman down.

I was sitting with my elbow on the railing that edged the dining room, and the elderly man stopped as he saw me. “I don’t suppose you’d want to give it a go, would you?” he asked mournfully.

I almost laughed, but choked it back and said politely, “I don’t think so, sir.”

“That’s all right then,” he said as he walked back to his room. “I probably couldn’t do anything anyway.”

You really couldn’t make up this kind of stuff.

The beautiful little mother of a friend of mine found that love can be lovely the second time around when she married a fellow resident of their retirement community. We had a celebratory brunch for the happy couple, neither of whom could have imagined being wed for a second time past the age of 80.

I got to thinking about this the other day, when the 10th person replied by phone to my husband’s on-line query about possible places to live after your car has been taken away by the kids. This happened to a former editor of mine after he turned 88, and believe me he never entirely forgave them, grousing about it every time I picked him up for lunch or for a party.

Mother had no physical disabilities when she went to live at Hartford Place, but her short-term memory was deteriorating; she couldn’t have driven her car because she wouldn’t have remembered where she was going and, if she did manage to get there, why. (And I noticed that she no longer read novels and guessed it was because if she put down a book for awhile, she probably forgot the plot.)

Anyhow, my husband — and, yes, he was a Boy Scout — certainly believes in being prepared. He worked on his Social Security and Medicare signups a year before he turned 65 and he wants to know — now — what’s out there for seniors if they need it.

We were invited to a party at one of the retirement places he checked, and they had food, music and lots of nice people. Like many of these places, they offer three square meals a day, prepared by a chef of whom they’re proud, but the downside in this particular plan is that kitchens in the apartments consist of a microwave oven, a sink, and a refrigerator the size of a mini-bar in a hotel.

“Just think, if you lived here you wouldn’t have to cook,” enthused the lady who was showing us around.

Well, I don’t cook now, but my spouse does, and he’d sorely miss it — as would I, because we eat gourmet fare. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t miss loading the dishwasher, though, and scrubbing those pots too big to put in it..

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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