Thursday, December 6, 2012

A fear of growing older

 The biggest fear most people have of living in a nursing home, other than having to be uprooted from their present home, is losing the important things that contribute to our quality of life. The basic day to day decisions we all take for granted living on our own in the community. 

 People also have a fear being placed out of sight when they go to a nursing home and no longer being a part of a community. Having and being able to make our own choices is what keeps our quality of life in tact and people have come to understand nursing homes usually mean adhering to their rules and having someone else make our decisions without consulting us, or worse yet, making decisions for us entirely. 

 Maybe nursing homes have improved a bit since the 1930’s when, before then, no elderly people were well taken care of in any programs. As late as the 1960’s I recall my parents talking about the ‘poor houses’ for older people and how it was a place to be avoided because apparently it meant people were destitute who had to go there and the treatment of older people in those dreaded places was awful.

Still to this day, many conventional nursing homes resemble large hospitals and for many elderly, seem more like a prison where rules abound, not like any home they have ever known. These places make elderly people feel they are now being punished for not having a lot of money to afford help in their own home, and they feel like they have committed the crime of daring to grow old, and worse yet, being punished for needing help in their daily lives.   

 The older nursing homes where people are housed two, or more to a room in order to make even more money for the owners, represent to residents not only being uprooted from their long time home, but now having to share a small space with a virtual stranger.  

People are not paired up in those facilities according to compatibility but paired up according to the space available and for the staffs’ convenience, especially if they have similar medical conditions. Homes that do pair more than one person to a room, all of them say they want people to bring furniture and personal belongings from home, yet do little or nothing to really encourage this in reality. 

 In other words, when entering one of those facilities, people now have to give up everything they owned, be uprooted from their homes and have the added insult of getting used to a new living environment and a room mate they may or may not like. The possibility of getting a room mate who has a TV or radio they want to blare late into the evening or having habits they find hard to deal with is very high.

It is safe to say that approximately 90% of people who enter a nursing home for therapy, did not ever plan to live there long term. Having lived in denial, as most of us do, it did not occur to them that it may be deemed as unsafe by the therapists for them to be able to live safely in their own homes anymore. This can be a big blow to many elderly, especially those who are used to being very independent, to now have to face the reality of living in a nursing home. With many hospitals discharging elderly patients early to nursing homes for therapy, it can be difficult to convince elderly patients to go to places for needed therapy. As one lady once said; “you tend to go to one of those places and never come back.’

Nursing homes have to absolutely change and change quickly and steadily begin moving towards a more home like atmosphere. I see no reason why the really good, caring facilities should only be a luxury for those elderly who can afford to pay out of pocket for the good treatment.

 Culture change and good treatment should and must be available to all residents in every nursing home in America, regardless of their pay source. Every elderly person has worked hard all of their life and all deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, regardless of their source of pay to the facility.
It is my belief that all nursing homes, for profit, not for profit, those of sole proprietorship and those owned by corporations, can move in the direction of culture change without losing money, and without having to tear down their existing buildings. It is also my belief that all people living in nursing homes are owed this change and deserve this change because it creates a home like atmosphere, not a hospital one, for people to live their lives in dignity. I believe every person is entitled to be treated as an individual and with respect.