We all know the "NIMBY" mentality: not in my backyard. In other words, we don’t care what goes on as long as it doesn’t affect us. While it's not a great mentality to have, most of us are NIMBYs to some extent. I’m one, you probably are too. Why? Because we pick the neighborhoods we move to for very specific reasons: parks, schools, access to highways and shopping (or the opposite) and when that’s threatened, we react. It’s normal and it’s okay. Animals don’t like their turf being challenged and we humans aren’t too fond of it either. We also don’t like being told that being resistant to change makes us selfish, elitist or adverse to diversity. It ain’t necessarily so.
What is suspect though, is when we resist the addition of a certain group or sector of people, rather than super-sized stores or highways. And in one Twin Cities suburb in Minnesota, the NIMBY attitude is apparent in an enclave called Stonemill Farms, where resistance abounds against the addition of a nursing facility for people suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The facility would not be built, rather it would move in to a vacant strip mall near the affluent neighborhood. There are the usual worries about traffic, car parking and the like but one of the main reasons some of the residents of Stonemill Farms don’t want a nursing facility there is the opinion that the residents may be a danger to their children. They may do something crazy while at a park where children play, perhaps. Or, as some community members have said, memory impaired residents could roam the streets at night, not knowing what they are doing, committing crimes (unknowingly or purposefully) and generally being a menace to society. The proposed facility is near an elementary school and day care center.
Stonemill Farms has about 600 homes and about 50 people signed a petition to halt the plans for a nursing facility. Now while that seems a small number, it’s really not, if the objectors are not coming from the same household. What seems most unusual is the impression people seem to have of the elderly with dementia. Hanging out in parks and walking the streets? Seriously? A nursing facility that specializes in dementia offers security for their residents in order that they do not wander. This is not done so that we “normal” people are kept safe from their evil ways, it’s done for the safety of the elderly themselves so that they are not run over by cars, robbed or exposed to harsh summer and winter elements if they get lost. These residents are not drivers, nor do they head out by themselves (they are always accompanied trips by staff and family members) or endanger anyone. Where are these people supposed to go, exactly? A farm? An island? Anywhere, as long as we can’t see them?
Parents have been the most vocal. They fear their children will witness sexually aggressive behavior, foul language and other behaviors seen in patients with dementia. And this does happen in some cases. Dementia can toss decorum and good judgment aside and men and women who lived lives of respectability can change. Working with people who have dementia saw me being flashed at many a time, as well as seeing men masturbate in public hallways and foul language (that was never used beforehand) can be heard. But this was not on a constant basis and never outside the facilities. This care center is a full time, 24-hour a day facility that will be fully and professionally staffed. No one will be taking to the streets in all their naked glory, nor will angry mobs of seniors infiltrate schools to kidnap innocent children. This simply is not how a nursing center for dementia patients works. Staff to resident ratio will be low and all residents will be monitored. These people need a safe and supportive place to live, not prison. This is another reason why I highly disapprove of the label “lockdown units” often referred to dementia units where the main entrance is locked, to protect residents from getting lost; not for punishment. Objectors to this care facility have used the term “lockdown” incorrectly. That term belongs in jails and penitentiaries and is an insult to our elderly. And ironically, children, pets and the elderly historically get along pretty well. Kids in local schools and day cares can learn a lot from the elderly, no matter the state of their minds. And elderly people react very warmly to children.
It’s unlikely that the city will block the nursing care facility from moving in. But opposition remains strong and that’s a shame--not because of the facility itself (concern about parking and traffic has legitimacy) but for the reasons behind the objections. Children will not be harmed and quality of life will not be diminished. Hardened parolees with high recidivism rates are not taking over the neighborhood. People are; people just like all those objectors who haven’t had a dementia diagnosis.- yet. I wonder how these people will feel down the line, when their own parents are rejected as undesirables as they suffer the same diagnosis. And then years later, if their children follow suit. Sooner or later we will all be hit by dementia, either personally or perhaps it’ll be a loved one, a spouse, a sister, a great friend. Will we then remember our own rejection of the people we have now turned into? Would we want that for ourselves? Our children are watching what we say and do. They may follow in our footsteps when it comes to how we treat our elderly.
We need to pay it forward before the person needing help and facing rejection is us, just later on. The only difference between the objectors and the residents of this new care center is time. And time waits for no one. I encourage everyone to do what they can to make the life of an elder better. Phone, write, or even better, visit. And when necessary, let’s open our minds and our neighborhoods to people who have lived a lot longer that we have, and need professional care in order to live out their lives. There, but for time, go we.
More on this story can be found here: http://www.startribune.com/local/east/92145794.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU
Tell Us – What do you think of this story? How do you think you’d react if a care facility for people with dementia opened at a strip mall near you?