November 19, 2012

Togetherness can elude seniors

The closing of an assisted-living center in Scarborough separates one couple after 52 years of marriage.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Doris Seekamp receives care at the Pine Point Center in Scarborough. Her husband was moved from the facility when it closed its assisted-living unit; he now lives at a center in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The Seekamps on their wedding day in 1960.

Courtesy photo

With 80 percent of the state's assisted-living residents using MaineCare, it is not uncommon for homes to have long waiting lists like the one at Seventy-Five State Street. It is hard to estimate how many people with MaineCare are on waiting lists because many are on lists for multiple homes, Erb said.

Doris Seekamp finds little consolation in being on one of those long waiting lists. She said the stress of finding a new home for her husband and adjusting to living apart was so great she was hospitalized. Her husband, who has short-term memory problems, is "very upset" about the move, especially because he relies on his wife for help with tasks like returning phone messages, she said.

Henry Seekamp did not want to comment for this story. The couple has an adult son who lives in the area who is helping them, but he declined to be interviewed for this story.

The type of stress the Seekamps experienced is not unexpected, according to an expert on geriatrics research.

Dr. Marilyn Gugliucci, director of geriatrics education and research at the University of New England and a board member of the Maine Council on Aging, said moving to a new home is stressful for anyone, but can be especially stressful for people who rely on help from staff members at assisted-living homes.

Health care professionals expect 10 percent of nursing home patients who are moved to die from related stress, but that number is likely less for people who live in assisted-living homes, she said.

While little research has been done on the closure of facilities or the movement of older adults, a move -- coupled with separation from spouses or trusted caregivers -- is undoubtedly difficult for everyone involved, Gugliucci said.

"Each of these people go through that experience differently, will grieve differently and will adjust and adapt differently," she said. "That group would do better if they were moved together."

Staff members of assisted-living homes are also likely to feel the effects of closing a unit and moving residents, Gugliucci said.

"The truth of the matter is the staff and administration usually get very connected emotionally to their residents. I'm sure this is not an easy move for them," she said.

Despite the stress of being separated from her husband, Doris Seekamp is hopeful they will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner together. In the meantime, she is packing her belongings for a move she hopes comes sooner rather than later.

"We have a good life," she said. "Is this the golden years -- that after being married so long, you're separated?"

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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