Social relationships are critically important to older adults residing in assisted living. Although research shows that intimacy and companionship relate positively to residents’ sense of independence, help facilitate good physical and mental health functioning and combat loneliness, such settings rarely promote or encourage such relationships between residents. This is especially true of residents’ most intimate behaviors, shows of affection and expression of sexual needs and identity.
After my father died in 2003, I moved my mother from Florida to an assisted living facility in Los Angeles, near where I live. As her primary caregiver, I spent a lot of time with Mom and watched helplessly as dementia slowly erased her mind. I went from being her beloved daughter to being the “nice lady” who came to visit, until one day, I reached out to embrace her and knew I had become a total stranger.
In June 2014, the Obama administration nominated Carolyn W. Colvin to head the Social Security Administration (SSA). She has been serving as Acting Commissioner since February 2013, and, in August 2015, she will be on hand to observe the agency’s 80th anniversary. Colvin came out of retirement in 2010 to be the SSA’s Deputy Commissioner, and embodies so many of the characteristics and values older workers possess—she has formidable intelligence and experience, is calm under pressure and is thoroughly engaged in her work.
Ten years ago, I experienced a stunning revelation. By then, I had spent 25 years as a gerontologist. I was professionally occupied with all things aging. I conducted research using longitudinal data sets and sophisticated statistical analyses. I developed and evaluated programs to improve older people’s lives. I taught courses and gave lectures on aging. I opined on policy issues affecting our aging society. So what was the revelation?
I never talked with older people.
In July 2008, 68-year-old Mr. S appeared on the doorstep of his longtime friend, Virginia, carrying a garbage bag that contained everything he owned. Despite the fact that he lived just a few miles away, Virginia hadn’t seen him in well over a year. She invited him inside. In halting, labored speech, he told her about having been abused and financially exploited by a woman he’d met in a bar months earlier.
Generations Guest Editors Tricia Neuman and John Rother devised and posed the questions in this discussion between Joseph Antos, Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Rice, Distinguished Professor of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management in Los Angeles, California.