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In April 2010, my mother will turn eighty-eight and begin her fourth year as a Summerhill resident. Looking back on it, no one is more surprised than I am that she has found assisted living to be a source of happiness and well being. I could not have guessed this would happen.

But she is happy now. I know this is true, because she is no longer angry about everything, suspicious of everyone, and pleased about nothing – as she was during the last two years of her life alone in her own home. Her problems then were compounded, of course, by severe weight loss, medication mix-ups, loneliness, poor diet, and a host of other small things that made her miserable. Despite her dismal condition, her rejection of assisted living was steadfast. Extracting her from her solitary life in Cleveland, Ohio, was about as pretty as a hostile takeover -- until we arrived at Summerhill.

As anyone who has dealt with a loved one afflicted by Alzheimer's knows, transitions -- changes of any kind, really – can be hard on all concerned. Even tiny changes sow seeds of confusion, irritation, and distrust in the mind of the afflicted person, and often take root in the form of extreme stress for the care-giver -- especially impatient, amateur ones like me. But at Summerhill, my mother has lived through the construction of new facilities, furniture moving, and many new routines, all without upset, incident, or complaint. All of her transitions since she has lived there have been easy for her.

I think it must be something in the great meals she raves about, or in the kind care she gets from professionally trained staff, or in the care they have taken to coordinate and stabilize her complex medications, or the company of nice people to talk to all day long who know her name, or maybe all of the above. Whatever it is, it was missing from her life alone in Cleveland and I could not provide it for her myself.

What I do know is that she seems happy to be alive. Her participation in organized social activities has steadily increased over time and she is almost always doing things with others whenever I see her – including occasional dancing and singing with her crew of friends. I am not kidding. She looks ten years younger. When she does have an occasional bad day, it's just a bad day. Not a crisis for the family.

What a change!

Thank you Summerhill management and staff. You are the best.

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