The sky was grey and gloomy, and despite weeks of gorgeous weather, Charlie and Hazel found themselves moving in cushions from the patio set they had on their balcony, to get it out from the imminent rain. “It doesn’t look like we’ll be enjoying dinner out here tonight,” Charlie thought aloud to Hazel. “Such a shame, I’ve been enjoying watching the kids get picked up from daycare while eating supper,” Hazel said with a sigh.
The couple decided, instead, to head down to the dining area for dinner. Salmon was on the menu, and it was one of Charlie’s favourites. The chefs did it just right, with a light maple glaze and a hint of lemon and herbs. Millie was down for dinner as well and decided to join them at their table. They could see out the window that gusts of winds were bending the trees outside and rain was heavily pouring down.
“I hope the plants will be ok,” Millie said, taking a bite of pie. She always started her dinner with dessert first. As she put it, she was far enough along in her life to be able to make those kinds of decisions for herself, and far be it for anyone to challenge her on it. Hazel looked out over the flower beds with a hint of worry. “I hope so too. Though the flower beds are sheltered under the second floor balconies quite well…they should be fine.”
SMASH! The three of them thought it was thunder at first, but had turned around to see a shattered plate and glass on the floor across the room. Looking up from the floor, they saw a male resident, irate and ranting incoherently, waving his hands in the air and causing quite a commotion. “Walter!” One of the dining staff members rushed over to offer help, but was nearly struck by the gentleman as he shouted profanities and threatened to throw more things.
“What is he going on about?,” Millie asked. Residents were moving their chairs away from the situation, and a few got up and quickly left the area. “I’m not really sure,” Hazel answered. “Is he drunk, maybe?”
Charlie huffed, “The man is clearly not of sound mind. I didn’t know THOSE types of people were allowed in here!” Hazel quickly shot her husband a disapproving look. “What do you mean, THOSE people?,” she asked unimpressed. “Crazies!” Charlie retorted back without any hesitation. “I mean, getting a little senile in our old age is one thing, but when you get like that…well, you don’t belong in a place like this anymore.” Hazel stared in disbelief. She couldn’t believe the outright audacity of her husband. “What a horrible thing to say Charlie! Show some understanding. You are the last person to be judging anyone…you’ve been known to have a bit of a temper yourself!” A few staff members had gathered around the man, who appeared to be calming down. Nobody was really sure what exactly had happened, other than the fact that the man was obviously frustrated about something. Most of the residents had already returned to their dinners.
“I’ll say it again though, Hazel. That sort of behavior is unacceptable. I’m not living in a place where they allow people with mental problems to wander about freely. They are a threat to everyone else’s safety. I can’t even enjoy my dinner in peace!” Charlie had said the last part very audibly as he threw his napkin onto the table. He glared at the man and then made his way back to the elevators. Hazel just sat there, completely speechless.
“I’m sorry Millie, I don’t even know what to say right now,” Hazel said as her face grew red with embarrassment. “Who is he to think he is better than anyone else here? Perhaps that poor gentleman is off his medication. Maybe he is confused or forgetting where he is. There are numerous reasons why that poor man had an outburst, and I would bet it is more serious than simply having his dinner ruined!” Hazel took a sip of tea in an attempt to calm herself down.
“Well, you know, Charlie does have a bit of a point,” Millie said hesitantly. Hazel nearly choked on her tea. “Pardon me?” “Well,” Millie began slowly, “that sort of thing is rather frightening. I know I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be at his table. And now, if I see him in the hallways or in any of the common rooms when I am alone, I’m going to be worried that he could hurt me.” Hazel rolled her eyes, “Really? Look at him. It took the staff members less than five minutes to calm him down. He is no cause for concern. “
The two ladies sat for the rest of the meal in silence, Millie glancing occasionally in the direction of the man and Hazel doing her best not to judge her friend for doing so.
Congregate living settings bring people together from all walks of life, and create unique social dynamics. While community living reduces isolation and has very positive effects on a person’s wellbeing, it also brings more private things into the public eye, including a person’s physical and mental health status.
Outbursts such as the one described above can happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual is a threat to the community, rather, it could be a situation where medications were changed, cognition is impaired, or a result of other factors influencing a person’s behavior. While it is true that individuals should seek out the best environments to have their accommodation and care needs met, just like Hazel’s broken ribs, the health concern could be temporary and easily managed through some form of intervention or support.
Mental health concerns in seniors communities are a concern, and the issue doesn’t always get the attention it needs. Memory care is but one piece of the bigger picture. Depression, anxiety, addiction, personality disorders and chronic mental health conditions are just as prevalent in the seniors demographic as in other segments of the population – perhaps even more so in some instances.
What has been your experience with seniors’ mental health issues? What are the challenges faced in your community? What stigmas still exist? Share your thoughts with us below.