Help! Very Old People! They Will Hurt Our Children!

Hi Readers — Here’s a heart-sinker:  A Minnesota community doesn’t want a facility for Alzheimer’s patients to move in, because old people, even though supervised, might hurt  — or even traumatize by their very weirdness — their kids. So much for diversity. So much for community. So much for compassion.

As John Tevlin writes in this great Star Tribune column:

Nearly everyone who spoke against the facility had concerns that their children might be attacked or see an elderly adult do something inappropriate.

But Janelle Meyers, housing director for Prairie Lodge Assisted Living unit, also run by Ecumen in Brooklyn Park, said children are regular guests there. The caretakers of the most severely affected people are highly trained. “They know the residents very well, and can anticipate when problems are most likely to occur,” she said.

Meyers brings her son to work frequently, and there is a day-care center directly across the street.

“They bring the kids here on a regular basis,” Meyers said. “They do crafts and sing. It’s good for both of them to have contact with each other.”

“Some people don’t have respect for older adults,” Meyers said. “They are undervalued, and, personally, I think that’s so sad.”

I think so, too. And the fear of old people seems as misguided as it gets. I guess the same old truth prevails: The more separated we are from any group of people — by race or creed or, now, age — the more we begin to fear them. Even geezers. — Lenore

55 Responses

  1. If only these parents can get in their thick skulls, they too will be that old one day, and possibly stricken with the same ailments. How would they feel if they got shunned by society, because of unwarranted fears. Not to mention, they are teaching their children this same behavior and thinking.

  2. My grandfather was in an Alzheimer’s care facility for the last eight or nine years, and we had wonderful experiences bringing my daughter there (from infancy to age three when he passed away). Many residents were thrilled to see a young child and my grandfather held and connected with her even when he was unable to connect/communicate with adults. I’m shocked that anyone would feel a care facility would pose a danger to kids. At least at the facility where my grandfather was, they took security very seriously, for the safety of the RESIDENTS, rather than for the safety of the public at large.

  3. I live in another suburb of the same region and we’re having a similar controversy–the area near the elementary school I used to attend is coated in ‘Save our neighborhood!’ lawn signs. Of course, the facility isn’t going to be THAT near the school, and it’s senior apartments, not Alzheimer’s-only, yet people still freak out about it. Sigh.

    Meanwhile the folks in my community who are a little older and whose kids have grown up are making reservations for the few senior communities in town, one of which has a waiting list that’s TEN YEARS long. People are so short-sighted…

  4. I ran into an old friend last week. We both have different neurological concerns. He has became wheelchair bound, mine is slowly improving to the point that about the time that I no longer qualify for disability, I’ll be taking care of my dad. It comes full circle. We didn’t focus on the what ifs or limitations but how we seek other ways to get things done and laugh at the silliness of life. Both of us have noticed the strange looks we get from some parents that think that we may be the ones that are a threat.

  5. oh goodness….stupid people……I had to deal with this kind of thing with group homes for adults with developmental disabilities in the community……..

  6. Gee, I suppose they’d consider me a bad parent for bringing my kids to visit with the Alzheimer’s patients at the local nursing home every month. And here I thought I was teaching them that there are all kinds of people in the world, it’s important to help others, and that old people with disabilities–just like everyone else in the world–can be interesting people and teach you something important.

  7. That is a truly horribly sad article.

    When I was a kid I worked at a local home for elderly people with dementia as part of my Girl Guides (British version of Girls Scouts) Service Flash and at a mental hospital which was mainly elderly people as part of my school community service. I found neither experience to be particularly edifying, most of it was uncomfortable at best and depressing in part too (the community service bit has turned me against the idea of schools requiring community service at all).

    But there was nothing at all dangerous about it. And while it was quite depressing, if such a common part of life scares someone, they really need more exposure to it because it doesn’t disappear when you make it invisible.

    I suspect this is more about the parents not wanting to face the reality of aging than a real concern for the kids. Sounds like quite a vapid place if the majority of residents are prepared to object to the facility for those sorts of reasons.

  8. This is just too sad. I know it can be scary for very small children, because we recently visited my 95-year-old grandma after she’d had her umpteenth minor stroke. My 5-year-old couldn’t understand why Grammie was acting so strange, but Grammie was so delighted to see her, although for about 1/2 hour she didn’t know who we were.

    To me, this misguided fear is just an extension of the segregation that starts when kids are put in same-age classrooms.

  9. This reminds me of last week’s episode of “Hai Karate” on BBC 2. The grandmaster thought that the participants didn’t have enough respect for him, a zen priest and each other – so he sent them to a whole village of old people including the oldest woman on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

    Guess what? BIG SHOCK: They learnt respect and enjoyed themselves even though these old people had the added disadvantage of not sharing a cultural background.

  10. I’d like to agree with hillary. My daughter spent probably too many weekends in her first four years visiting her various great grandparents before their deaths in nursing homes. And while it wasn’t always her favorite place to be, she did clearly benefit from the experience. And it meant so much to the oldest and frailest members of our family. That includes my Grandfather in law who had to keep asking who’s baby this was.

  11. These are the same people who want all teachers and bus drivers to hide their tattoos and piercings while working with the kids. They want their kids to have a sanitized Sesame Street worldview.

  12. Baffling and sad.

  13. […] Tip: Free Range Kids * The second most depressing ward, of course, were the Medicaid patients. The Alzheimer’s […]

  14. That’s absolutely appalling.

    My father-in-law is 83 and has Parkinson’s. For as long as my 7-year-old DD can remember knowing him, he’s been old and crotchety and hard to understand when he talks. He’s lived in an assisted living facility for the past several years — with some seniors who are totally on the ball and some others who … not so much. DH takes her to visit every weekend. Recently FIL was hospitalized with pneumonia; for a while we weren’t sure he would ever come out again. He’s lost the ability to swallow, and can’t really talk anymore — but he still understands and responds when other people talk to him, especially DD. We’ve taken DD to see him twice. She stands beside his bed holding his hand and rubbing his head and talking quietly to him. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen — this normally noisy, active, slightly bolshy kid being so very, very kind and gentle to her sick grandpa. Someday, I hope, she will be similarly gentle with her kids and with her aged parents.

    How do kids learn this stuff if not from interacting with older people? How sad that whole neighbourhoods exist where such interaction is considered inappropriate or even dangerous. I wonder about people sometimes, I really do.

  15. As a consultant pharmacist, some of my favorite days were spent in the long-term care facilities that also had daycares-wait for it—IN the facility! The children and the elderly had daily group activities together, and the sound of laughing kids echoing up and down the halls brought smiles to all faces, not just those in the activity at the time. I even brought our son to spend the day with me whenever I was in those facilities.

    It was a sad day when the corporation running the nursing home decided that they could make more money with larger physical therapy rehab facilities instead of the daycare.

  16. They’re probably just, dreadfully, using fake concern over the well being of their children as an excuse to prevent something they think won’t be helpful to their property values. (Because it sounds so much better to say, “I care about the safety of my children” than “I care about maximizing my property value.”) If they succeed in driving out the nursing home, what they will learn is that in this economy they won’t get a better “fit” – they’ll probably get a stagnant, abandoned lot – and that will REALLY drive down their property values. I’ve seen the like happen. A beloved family restaurant of ours did not have its lease renewed by the city because it didn’t “fit” with the upscale image it was trying to achieve. One year later, that restaurant still sits vacant and unleased.

  17. There is a lovely book by Mem Fox, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge that shows how wonderful and helpful a relationship between older forgetful people in a nursing home and a small child can be for both.

  18. Not only is it a sad attitude, it totally ignores the fact that even a minimally competent group home isn’t going to let the people wander the streets. They’d be much, MUCH more likely to run into an incident with an old person acting disturbingly weird from a plain, ordinary homeowner living next to them, than a place where people pay for their relatives to be cared for, other people are paid to do it, and there are licenses and regulations about how it’s done.

  19. And most sadly of all, Sky is probably right.

  20. I agree Sky might be right. “Safety” concerns can often be a mask for something else.

    This is sad. Keep in mind that the free range “movement’ is great for keeping kids in the community, not just hanging with peers and teachers. It’s a good thing.

  21. This is so sad, for so many reasons, for so many people…

  22. The community needs to be educated about the tangible benefits of intergenerational practices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia – plus it also benefits the kids! Modeling respectful behavior towards the elderly to kids would also benefit the parents in the future – I am sure they’d like to be treated with love and dignity in their old age.

  23. And to think my parents took in and lovingly cared for my grandfather afflicted w/alzheimers as well as lung cancer/emphysema for a short time until his death. I guess by some standards today they would have been put away for child abuse. I was young, but I appreciate now the extraordinary amount of work it most have taken to keep him w/us. It taught me a ton about family, love, respect!, death, and dying.

  24. Karen, I actually see more validity (still silly) in the issue in your community because those seniors are potentially drivng or being visited by other driving seniors.

    My mother took me to see older relatives in the nursing home from time to time and I turned out just fine.

  25. Here in NYC, we have a different situation. Seniors of all incomes and disabilities are generally sequestered in nursing homes or assisted living or other senior housing, ranging from horrendous to bare bones to luxury, but it’s always cheek by jowl with the rest of city life, this being new york.

    I recently moved my mom OUT of an assisted living place and IN to a regular highrise rental building. So far her neighbors and the building staff have been very nice, very patient with Mrs. Magoo… but if she were a belligerent sort I’m sure they would want to get rid of her.

  26. Years ago I was explaining the location of our family’s rental unit down the street to a prospective tenant. When we had narrowed the location, I said it was at the bus stop. “Oh, the one where the old man waits with no pants?” “Yes”, I replied, “That’s was my Grandpa–he died”. Nonplussed, she checked the place out, though I don’t remember if she rented it. Now that I’ve read tis post, I wonder how many of my neighbors are still traumatized by the memory of that vision.

  27. One of the great Montessori ideas is that failure (whether based on physical, mental, or social inabilities) or actual disabilities themselves is not bad, ugly, or to be avoided when it happens. Children need to see how people cope with failures and short comings. This teaches the child perseverance, patience, compassion, nurture, and a whole host of life skills.

    This idea of shunning of the weak and aged reminds me of the Spartan culture in ancient Greece. They could not acknowledge weakness in any form. I think we can’t acknowledge anything that makes us think we are less than perfect and the place we live is anything other than Disney Land.

    I thought these things before my mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. I think it all the more now. We have walked this path for 10 years. She has taught my kids so many lessons in her devolution. She will continue to teach us.

  28. Wow, folk can be really callous when it’s not a situation that immediately affects them. My kids all went to visit the Nursing Home when Grandpa was ill. They saw each stage of his regression. I explained what was happening whenever we went to visit. They are now well aware of different things that can happen to a person as they age. They are not scared, but aware that different situations require different handling. Sometimes you need to adjust your behaviour, sometimes you need to remind Grandpa who you are, and even then he won’t know. Ageing does indeed suck at times, but we will all do it in our own ways. Along with the knowledge of life that grandparents can pass down to our children, they can pass along the knowledge of afflictions and death. This doesn’t have to be a wearisome, awful experience. It can be education in respect, awareness and assistance. People who don’t understand that are merely to be pitied for when they reach that need.

  29. Wow, way to teach compassion.

  30. I used to run a Children’s Art Museum. A local group that worked with Adults with MR called and asked if they were allowed to come. I offered to send them a school field trip packet, or give the supervisors a pretour.

    They came and I showed them around. They must have done some wonderful prep work with their clients, because they were better behaved than many normal adults. For about 3 years they came every Tuesday during the school year. Tuesday was free day and on school holidays we would be packed – and the crowd scared a few clients.

    In those 3 years I had 2 complaints. One was from a bigoted volunteer, who also objected to kids from a group foster home volunteering. She actually said the foster kids had to be thieves. Thankfully she said it in front of my Boss’s stepdaughter, who was outraged and told boss. Volunteer was finally fired.

    The other was a mom that came on Tuesdays. She actually filed a complaint with the board. All the usual stereotypes/urban legends about adults with MR were listed as reasons the Adults with MR shouldn’t be allowed in the museum.

    The other parents found out and bombarded the board with how much they loved having the adults with MR at Free Day. The board told complaining mom they had no plans to discriminated against anyone. She flounced off. The other parents told me they loved the fact their children was learning how to deal with adults who had different abilities in such a fun safe place.

  31. When my friend’s grandpa got Alzheimer’s, the pastor asked him to stop coming to church because he was weirding out some of the other parishioners.

  32. I agree with previous posters that this sounds more about parent’s own fears than true concern for their children’s safety. So many people are uncomfortable around the elderly or those with disabilities or they don’t want to be confronted with what it will be like when they get older themselves. Then there’s the less forgivable notion of property values. Either way, I hope the negative residents don’t prevail.

  33. “When my friend’s grandpa got Alzheimer’s, the pastor asked him to stop coming to church because he was weirding out some of the other parishioners.”

    Grrrr. Words fail.

  34. When my friend’s grandpa got Alzheimer’s, the pastor asked him to stop coming to church because he was weirding out some of the other parishioners.

    I’m not Christian, but is, uh, is this even supposed to be all right with God?

  35. This makes me sick. My mom has been in a nursing home for seven years, and in the Alzheimer’s unit for over a year. I take my kids there fairly frequently. No one attacks kids, or does anything that is upsetting.

    I don’t want my kids to be frightened of elderly people. Growing old is part of life. Someday I may be in a nursing home, and I hope to God my kids feel comfortable enough to come visit me frequently.

  36. One more thing: How much “inappropriate behavior” does the average child see in public school or on TV every year? I was exposed to much worse in the school bathroom, the schoolyard, and behind the gym than I have ever been at a nursing home.

  37. This is the most depressing article I’ve read in awhile. My father has Alzheimer’s, and his happiest moments are with our friends’ children. He does really well with the youngest one. who is 4 and doesn’t mind that Dad repeats himself, because Dad listens to him and gives him lots of attention. (Dad is overwhelmed by the conversation of adults, but he’s good with kids, who don’t need him to be a good conversationalist.) And no one makes my dad laugh like those kids.

    So sad.

  38. You know, when I was 7 -9 years old my mother worked part-time at an Alzhiemer’s home. Every week she brought us to the recreation evenings where we would do co-ordination activities like ball throwing and paper cutting with the patients. My little sister and I loved it! I still smile thinking of the time I sat next to an elderly gentleman called Donald and asked him with a child’s typical lack of tact, why he could remember the tune he was constantly humming, but nothing else? He burst out laughing and said he couldn’t remember the reason!

    I loved that place so much that for years after my mother quit working there I organised my schoolfriends to make handmade Christmas cards and distribute them in December. I remember that the patients were always so friendly and happy to have children around. The staff were diligent about steering us children around to the patients who were happy to have young drop-in visitors and away from those who would have resented the intrusion.

    Anyone who thinks an Alzhiemer home in their neighbourhood is a risk to their children is crazy. Certainly crazier than the patients at the Alzhiemer home!

  39. I suspect the comments about property values and real estate taxes are the real issues here, though there might be a few out there with AWP (Acute Walker Phobia). The way to win this battle is to tell the community that instead of an Alzheimer’s center, you’ve decided instead to put in low income housing or a Middle Eastern Cultural Center. Let them choose between their phobias and you’ll win.
    Today we choose our communities based on the “quality of schools.” The liberal in us says that’s what we want, but if you uncloak that statement we really mean we want to move to places with the most affluent and fewest poor people. We call ourselves liberal and open-minded, yet our communities seem to be becoming more about finding those just like ourselves. We say it’s about our kids (safety, education, values), but embedded in that is racism, classism, and age-ism.

  40. @Uly: It makes me disgusted. But it illustrates well that sometimes us Christians get pretty confused about just who it is who’s supposed to be the perfect one, and who’s supposed to realize we’re anything but perfect and treat others with compassion because of it.

  41. Alzheimer’s terrifies me. Not the people afflicted with it, but the disease itself, the idea of having it one day myself (though thankfully it doesn’t have a high prevalence in my family history). But my discomfort at a fact of life is a truly awful reason to lack compassion, and the “fears” of these people (which probably do translate to property values and wanting their children to live in disneyland) make me feel sick.

    When I was in junior high (12-14) we had a program run through our gym class wherein you could miss two or three classes by volunteering to take patients from the extended care seniors facility across the road out for walks, or, on rainy days, to sit with them. One day I was sitting with a patient who happened to be fairly lucid at the time, and he talked to me, for a solid hour, about his experiences as a refugee from Germany, about his older brother going back to fight and never coming home, about growing up on the Saskatchewan prairies half a century ago. He didn’t say anything life changing, not really, but it’s one of my most cherished memories all the same. We need to hear these stories, and learn compassion and empathy for the people in them, and most importantly, learn that people everywhere, from impressionable atheistic fourteen year olds to ill jewish refugees in their seventie, are just the same, and deserve the same rights and the same love.

    Last I heard, that program was discontinued.

  42. “uh, is this even supposed to be all right with God?”

    Uh, no. A decent Christian pastor would use something like this as an opportunity for the rest of the church to practice loving one another in less-than-easy circumstances. And, what Tracey said.

  43. @Uly – you’re obviously not the only one who isn’t Christian… that pastor doesn’t come close, he just makes his living pretending to be one.

  44. A lot of parents feel so uncomfortable talking about the ‘hard’ stuff that they simply try to shield their kids from it. Swearing, sex, death, sickness, gayness, whatever. I think people need to grow up.

  45. Whatever happened to the adopt-a-grandparent programs I used to hear about? This is miserable.

  46. Wow.

    Thats terrible. I am from the UK, and I thought we treated our old folk bad over here.

    I am just going to move my Mum in with me when she gets old.

    This is terrible.

  47. The crucial concept here (from my perspective as a native and current Minnesota guy who has also lived in Albany NY, DC, and Hartford CT) is zoning and neighborhood planning.

    Here in MN, it is presumed that any credible, autonomous, functional person has a drivers license, access to at least one vehicle, and wants to live in a neighborhood where walking to a corner store for milk and eggs is not an option. Protecting your family’s financial future is the same as believing that two- or three-family structures within a block or two are a threat, and that driving your kids to school is the only way.

    So, people are (incoherently) convinced that the only way to protect the value of their home is to hope they’re embedded in a wide enclave of exclusively residential single-family, owner-occupied homes with a few ultra-safe businesses on the periphery surrounded by massive parking lots.

    I saw similar issues at play in Albany, Washington, and Hartford, as well. But, these circumstances in MN rub me the wrong way in the same fashion that gated and/or contractually-beige housing developments do. If you can’t bear uncertainty about your neighbors, you’d better have a lot of money to buy a chunk of land and build a big fence, if not a moat.

    Otherwise, get over yourself. Meet your neighbors. Walk a lot. Make eye contact. Say ‘hi’ to strangers walking by (the next time, they won’t be strangers). Be open to babies and puppies. Poke fun at the silliness in Woodbury MN and welcome a small-to-medium-sized group home into your own neighborhood.

  48. My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. She gets a little weird at times but should we not let her see her great grandchildren? Getting old and getting sick is part of life like dieing. Hiding these things from children is never a good thing.

  49. “Today we choose our communities based on the quality of schools. The liberal in us says that’s what we want, but if you uncloak that statement we really mean we want to move to places with the most affluent and fewest poor people. We call ourselves liberal and open-minded, yet our communities seem to be becoming more about finding those just like ourselves. We say it’s about our kids (safety, education, values), but embedded in that is racism, classism, and age-ism.”

    While I do think it is probably a property value issue causing the objections in this particular case, I don’t at all agree with this generalization you make here.

    I moved into an area for the ‘quality of its schools,’ but it doesn’t have people only ‘just like ourselves’. It’s about 10% Jewish, 10% Muslim, 16% Asian, 10% black, 15% recent immigrant….Your assumption that only white, middle-age, wealthy people want to send their kids to good schools just isn’t true.

    Yes, by default, you will tend to live near people of the relatively same socio-economic status as you, because of the cost of housing wherever you settle. But the income levels and profession in the subrubs vary. We have bus drivers, lawyers, computer scientists, taxi cab drivers, construction workers, police men, doctors…And selection of “nice” neighbourhoods IS about the kids’ safety and education and quality of life for MOST parents, and not about some secret prejudice. I don’t want to live on a block where drug deals are regularly going down on the street corner and where there is a bimonthly shooting, whether those drug deals and shootings are being conducted by white people, black people, Christian people, Muslim people, old people, young people, rich people, or poor people.

    The suburbs, at least where I live, are FAR more racially and religiously (and perhaps even economically) diverse than the cities, which tend to have self-segregated ethnic and religious enclaves rather than, say, a SINGLE street with a Muslim family, a Jewish family, a couple of Christian families, and Asian family, an interracial family, a couple of white families, a black family, etc. whose kids all play together and go to the same school.

  50. Bravo Sky.

    “I don’t want to live on a block where drug deals are regularly going down on the street corner and where there is a bimonthly shooting, whether those drug deals and shootings are being conducted by white people, black people, Christian people, Muslim people, old people, young people, rich people, or poor people. ”

    Right. And neither do most black people, Muslim people, old people, or whatever people want to live in places where there are shootings and street corner dealing. I refuse to feel guilty and bigoted because I’ve managed to afford what 90% of all types of people strive to do if they can, and I would be happy if any of them succeeded and moved in next to me.

  51. Oh Woodbury? Sanctimonious, stuck up, crazy and ultimately stupid? Nevermind. Woodbury is trying to out-Edina Edina. I think they’ve succeeded…. all the young couples don’t want to have to slow down their huge SUVs and they’d rather have another Starbucks. Not to mention the fact that there are quite a few old folks in Edina because it’s established… Woodbury has the “up and coming” label attached to it, which usually means “trying too hard to be upper class.”

    I live IN the city of Minneapolis, near a senior housing complex, and our property values are FINE. so are the schools and the kids who live around them. In fact, dare I say, our neighborhood is BETTER because of the seniors who live here!

  52. This is both sad and angering. A lot of older people are really cheered by seeing children (and not, I might stress, in any sinister fashion at all) – it’s good for the wellbeing of these older people to be able to see children and families and around them, and for children to be able to encounter and understand older people.

  53. My daughter spent her first five years in a day care that was housed in a long-term elder care facility. For one day each week they spent time with their “Grand-Friends” — patients who had dementia and other long-term disabilities. They learned to communicate with seniors who were deaf, blind, and memory impaired. The children helped bring a bit of sunshine and purpose to patients who otherwise had very little of either. My daughter learned not to fear seniors, or those who acted a bit “odd”. She learned compassion and to approach others with an open heart.

    My daughter died, very suddenly about six months ago, at the age of nine, but one of her lasting legacies is that she lived the values she learned in those very early years. I credit her early experience with inter-generational programs for this. It’s a shame that there are those who are working against these important programs. They’re missing out on a chance to make their children’s lives so much richer.

  54. Oh dear. Violent old people on the loose! My younger cousins have been to visit my grandmother in her alzheimer’s unit and have all left it without damage. I just don’t even know what else to say, because the idea that having an alzheimer’s unit nearby is harmful to children is just too stupid for me to process right now.

  55. Property value worship is the root of all evil, I swear. So much bigotry, insensitivity, and obnoxious neighbor behavior results from the constant need to keep “THOSE people” (whoever they happen to be) out of our precious little habitat. Drives me nuts.

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