Gresham Facility Fills Communication Gap for Deaf Residents

The Chestnut Lane community is unique in the face of a nationwide deaf housing shortage
The Lund Report

September 21, 2011 -- In most ways, Chestnut Lane looks like any other assisted living facility.

The activities calendar advertises bingo games, craft days and shopping expeditions. In between activities and medication rounds, the staff talk to residents and the executive director, Sherry Andrus, as she walks around the facility. There's one difference, though: Andrus and her colleagues are communicating in American Sign Language (ASL), and so are most of its residents.

Chestnut Lane, located in Gresham, started as an adult foster care home for deaf and deaf-blind seniors. Then, with a change in management, it began marketing itself toward seniors who could hear – but now only accepts deaf or hearing impaired residents. Everyone on staff is fluent in ASL, and 60 percent are deaf.

In the eight years Chestnut Lane has existed, it’s been under management by several companies, and  the current owner, Emeritus, is supportive of the original vision – serving the needs of the deaf community, Andrus said. Only one other assisted-living facility for deaf seniors exists – the New England Homes for the Deaf in Massachusetts.  

Deaf seniors are at a disadvantage when placed in a facility for hearing people and, on average, live less than a year, Andrus said.  

A former resident needing round the clock care was moved to a nursing home after her health worsened, but couldn’t participate in activities because she couldn't understand what was being said, and didn't make friends because no one knew ASL.

“I visited her and she said, 'What do I have to live for?' She was only 58, but mentally, she was done. She gave up,” Andrus said.

Many residents at Chestnut Lane have dementia, which makes the need for appropriate communication even more crucial. Several deaf-blind residents also live there, some of whom may be losing their eyesight due to macular degeneration or cataracts.

“Deaf people have cherished their eyes since they were born,” Andrus said, and deaf residents can become very depressed as they begin to lose their eyesight and require one-on-one assistance.

Residents come from across the country, often leaving behind their families to live a place where they can communicate and be understood.

“We try to exceed our expectations of community because our residents give up to much to live here,” Andrus said.

Because the deaf community is so tightly knit, frequently visitors realize they’re acquainted with a resident – and newcomers often find they know a few people at Chestnut Lane.

“It's a small deaf world,” Andrus said, and Chestnut Lane is like a big family. Placing deaf seniors into homes geared toward hearing people doesn't work, Andrus said. “It's like a death sentence.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Deaf Seniors of America: http://www.deafseniors.org/

 

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