Students document life in assisted living

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Edna White and Esther Raty sit together to get acquainted. Edna is the oldest resident at BeeHive Homes of Orem and known as "Mom" by the residents and staff due to her caring personality. (David Snell)
Edna White and Esther Raty sit together to get acquainted. Edna is the oldest resident at BeeHive Homes of Park City and known as “Mom” by the residents and staff due to her caring personality. (David Snell)

Two BYU students with a desire to give a voice to the underrepresented senior population recently documented their experiences by staying in a nursing home for three days.

David Snell and Esther Raty are studying broadcast journalism. For their capstone class, they decided to create a documentary on Snell’s stay in a nursing home.

Snell and Raty were determined to better understand the elderly and capture the essence of what senior living is really like. Snell spent three days living among the elderly in a Park City nursing home. He and Raty hoped this would help dispel any preconceived notions society holds concerning the older population.

The documentary, titled “A Senior Moment,” was released in December 2016 and explores what life is like for residents living at BeeHive Homes of Park City, an assisted living facility.

Snell and Raty jumped right in to the assisted living environment, getting to know the residents over meals, on bus rides and even in yoga class. They came away with some interesting conclusions about what it’s really like to live and work in a nursing home.

“We realized that older people aren’t as connected to social media the same way the younger kids are,” Raty said, “And for this reason are pretty underrepresented in society.”

Snell was the only one of the two who stayed at BeeHive Homes overnight. Raty spent each day at BeeHive Homes with Snell and went home at the end of every day.

Snell spent most of his time in front of the camera while Raty was primarily in charge of filming and editing. Their goal was to talk to some of the residents, get to know them personally and learn about their thoughts on living in an assisted living facility.

Snell and Raty found a group of comical, happy and optimistic people who welcomed Snell and Raty and were more than willing to share their stories.

BYU advertising professor Tom Robinson has studied the elderly and the ways in which they are portrayed in the media. A primary driving force behind this research was his recognition that every person shares the common fate of growing old, yet stereotypes of the elderly still remain.

“Children, as early as elementary school, have already developed negative stereotypes of older people,” Robinson said.

Disney movies portray 45 percent of older people in a negative way, such as grumpy, villainous or fragile, according to Robinson.

“We’re all grumpy sometimes,” Robinson said.

He said he believes there is a fine line between occasionally indulging in the humor the elderly brings to society and frequently portraying them negatively so much so that society has very few positive opinions about them.

Every nursing home has people who are young at heart, according to Robinson.

“They want to do crafts and they want to do line dancing and they want to be around people their age,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that society should be more critical of how the media portray the elderly.

“That’s true with any gender, race or ethnic background,” Robinson said. “That’s normally not how all people are. We ought to look at the positives that come out of age and the experiences that they provide.”

The documentary features Gordon Butcher, a resident who expresses his opinions on living in a nursing home. He mentioned a nursing home may not always be a fun and uplifting place for everyone because it means residents may have lost everything they own. They no longer have control over the things that made them the people they are.

Some residents recall their earlier lives, and though they can experience some nostalgia, they explain that reminiscing about their full lives pushes them forward.

The facility’s activities director, Colleen Grover, described her growing love for residents. She said it can be easy for residents to forget they can still enjoy much of what life has to offer, but the friendly, caring staff is always there to help.

Grover said it’s always a bittersweet experience when one of the residents dies. It can be a sad time for loved ones, but most residents will have already let a staff member know how they were feeling and acknowledged their acceptance to pass on.

Care facility owner Tava Whitt said everyone will experience old age in some form.

“It’s going to be gradual. One day that’s going to be your mom or your dad or your grandmother or your aunt. And then eventually, it’s going to be you,” Whitt said. “Maybe you don’t have a lot of experience with it right away, but you will get experience with it.”

Snell and Raty felt they grew to be part of the BeeHive Homes family in the three days they spent at the assisted living facility. They weren’t happy to leave their new friends, but were glad they were able to show the world a more factual side of the elderly community.

“Being active online is so popular when it comes to being involved in a social dialogue,” Snell said. “So many senior citizens just aren’t online and they just fade off into the distance as just a dying generation. We had a hunch that they were doing so much more than just waiting to die, and we wanted to show that side of them to the world.”

The documentary is publicly available and can be found on YouTube.

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