Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nursing Homes

I've become afraid of nursing homes. Not because of the residents of these homes, but in some ways, because of the residents of these homes. Let me explain.

If you've read prior posts, you know how I feel about the elderly. I think they can be enormous sources of wisdom and, at their best, remarkable role models for our generation. So why the dislike of nursing homes? Because every time I'm going there, it's to see a patient with a rash. There's a point to the visit, and time is limited, because I have to get back to clinic, or head on over to see the next patient.

I usually enjoy interacting with the patients. And as mentioned before, I make a point to spend time to make a memorable visit. What bothers me is the wandering down hallways to try to find the patient room, and the walk out of the patient's room to the door of the nursing home.

What does that mean? If you've never been to a nursing home, try to picture this: sterile white hallways with a series of open doors on either side. In the hallway, or near the nursing station, there are nursing home residents in wheelchairs. They are bundled up in the warmest of wool and blankets. Most look around listlessly, and some don't even make eye contact. The most heart-wrenching part is when one of them makes eye contact and his eyes light up, thinking that someone is coming to visit, or to talk with him, and when he realizes you're not slowing down, the same light goes out, and he goes back to looking at the ground.

You say hello, but what more can you do? If I had all the time in the world, I would stop and visit with each one. I would learn what makes that person tick, relive their experiences, and validate that who they are is important. And my life would probably be that much better, had I the luxury of time to learn from them - people whose collective experience represent a pool of knowledge far greater than can be learned by oneself.

But how are we to make this time? If you were to stop for one, how could you not stop for the next? And if you stop for them all, how would you ever make it back to clinic? Some of us solve this dilemma by not looking. Speed up the walk, keep the eyes forward. But to ignore these people and these feelings is to deny their, and your own, humanity. That's not the solution. Although I'm not sure what is.

photo credit


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, this post would definitely not motivate anyone to visit a nursing home in their spare time. Either will a sad looking stock photo of a lonely elderly person...

There are a lot of institutional, dark, depressing, stereotypical facilities out there just like the one you described, and I'm glad we have people like you to be there on a regular basis.

On the other hand, there are a lot of us out there trying to change the stereotypes, promote health and wellness and individuality, and re-shape the way our building look and feel. Stereotypes will continue to bring down even the most vivid homes though!

I'm sorry that you aren't having a good experience there! Have you considered being a part of the facility's Quality Assurance Committee?

2:37 PM  
Blogger always learning said...

Hi NH administrator!

Welcome, and thanks for the comment.

Hm. I think the post probably came across the wrong way. I actually think very highly of this nursing home and the staff that work there. And am positive that the veterans there get outstanding care.

What I meant to capture was more the inevitable loneliness that we all probably experience, but which may be amplified when someone is in a home setting with no easy way of getting into the outside world and no particular place to visit, even if transportation were not an issue. Even the most pleasant of nursing homes with great activities for the residents can only occupy so much of the days. And some of the residents may be more isolated because of personal features, such as lifelong depression, or dementia, and such.

It's hard for me to walk by and see what I described, especially knowing that many of these residents would be thrilled to sit and chat. And frustrated with the feeling that there's not the luxury of time to stop and try to meet a fellow human being, and perhaps try to make both our days better for the meeting.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi...I am sorry to say I interpreted the post the same way the nursing home administrator did...but as a director of nursing of a nursing home who is working to make care more person centered, we probably have the same both might enjoy a great blog written from the nursing home resident's perspective at
Enjoy. You also might like to read a series of articles at

7:05 PM  
Blogger always learning said...

Hello Joseph,
Welcome, and thanks for posting.
I appreciate your comments. In addition to the comments made above, I'd like to add that the point of the post was really to highlight the internal struggle seeing a place where I could help do something but not having the time... apparently didn't come across that way...

2:47 PM  

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