The quality of retirement establishments varies greatly. Some insist that difference depends on whether or not a company is non-profit or for-profit. Years ago, my mother moved into a retirement center run by the Catholic Church. Later it was sold to a for-profit organization. Either way, the staffing has been kind and the food healthy but unimaginative. The difference lies in the daily programs meant to keep the elderly alert and interested in daily life. On that score, the institution’s efforts have plummeted. The fitness and entertainment directors, all poorly paid, have miniscule budgets and turn over in their positions like flapjacks. The facility flies on what Roger Anunsen, an expert on brain aging, calls the three Bs: the Bible, birthdays and Bingo — none of which put a financial burden on the bottom line or do anything positive for the brain. (“Brain Health,” by Maggi White, Boomer & Senior News, May 2015 pgs. 6-7.)
The aging brain is little different from younger brains, except the cogs turn slower, says Anunsen. The old paradigm had us believe brain functions peaked at 40 then fell into steady decline. What we’ve learned about brain plasticity since is encouraging. Throughout its life, the brain continues to produces new cells and rewire itself as it encounters new experiences. How we live and what challenges we face are as important to brain vitality as are exercise and proper nourishment. The good news is that if we are careful stewards of ourselves as we age, our experience helps us make fewer mistakes than our juniors. (Ibid pg. 7.)
The formula for a healthy brain is the same as for a healthy heart, Anunsen tells us. Unfortunately, too many retirement centers skimp on programs and the 3 Bs aren’t enough. That’s why the states should adopt a higher standard for licensing facilities, one that includes stimulating activities. In the meantime, individuals looking for long term care for themselves or loved ones should evaluate the enrichment programs of each facility. Otherwise, aging narrows options. Life gets boring and we compensate with longer and longer naps as we wait for death.
If I had supernatural powers, I’d create an special ring in Dante’s Inferno for administrators of aging services who betray their trust to their clients. Let them be condemned for all eternity to an never-ending game of Bingo.