Globe Syndicate

for release Friday January 30, 2004

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Do You Know Someone In A Nursing Home?

First of all, I believe firmly that people should stay in their homes or live independently as long as it is feasible. I think that many times people are pushed into nursing homes or extended care facilities against their will when with a little care and assistance from local agencies, friends, and family, persons could live independently longer.

I know that isn’t easy; sometimes it is excruciatingly painful, difficult, and even costly for all involved. I have a friend who has worked in nursing homes and cares for elderly people in her own home. When she worked in nursing homes, she was deeply burdened by the old folks who would cry and cry, not understanding why they were placed in a facility, who felt their possessions, rights and independence were absolutely stripped from them.

Children and well meaning friends worry about “what if they fall and hurt themselves” or “leave the burner on.” People fall and break hips in nursing homes or assisted living facilities too—there is no guarantee of safety anywhere. Many elderly people, when equipped with an emergency “lifeline” call button, a meals on wheels program, and someone who will check in on them once or twice a day, can certainly manage to live independently and will stay healthier and happier far longer than when pushed against their will into a new living situation.

However, that said, there are times when there is no other choice. Wives or husbands who are elderly themselves can quickly wear themselves into the ground (literally) while caring for a spouse. Medical conditions that require careful monitoring of medication, severe depression, mental illness, dementia and Alzheimer’s all take special care and make it very difficult to be cared for at home.

I have never worked in a nursing home but have spent time with many elderly relatives and in this column I’d like to challenge the “I’d rather die than live in a nursing home” mentality.

It is always a sobering experience for those of us who are younger, able-bodied, and in the so-called “prime of life” to visit a relative or friend in a nursing home. Most of us are repulsed by the idea that we may one day have to live in one. It looks depressing and little different from living in a jail. Is this any life?

In a good nursing home, including the top-of-the-line (and most expensive) church-related institutions in many of our communities, they are well managed, don’t smell, have decent food and treat their residents and employees with respect and care. In such a home, in the best environment possible for one’s mental and physical capabilities, the challenge of life seems to be finding a purpose in living.

My grandmother struggled with this question. She feared more than anything else letting go of her faith in the final days of life. She lived by herself in her home from age 51 to about age 91. Then she fell and broke her hip (and yes, she endured laying on the floor for several hours one time until she was able to inch her way to her telephone), but that seems a small price to pay for the independence she enjoyed over all. So in her final months in a nursing home, her purpose became focusing on God and keeping her faith.

I don’t find it distasteful anymore to visit elderly in nursing homes, and I feel like that helps my own attitude towards this “dormitory-like” situation. For instance, one evening I enjoyed listening to and talking with some of the women. One woman pleaded, “Can you please help me here? I need to get this thing into here.” She was twisting a colorful nine-patch afghan in her hands. I hadn’t a clue what she wanted me to do. Then she added, “I asked this other woman and she looked at me like I was crazy or something.” I wondered whether my own face mirrored the same question.

I listened to two other women talking, a perfectly normal conversation reflecting on the visit of one woman’s children that afternoon, and talking about the jobs their children have. I know that many residents, unfortunately, don’t have the right use of their minds, but it is good for them to try and make conversation, and to help them be in touch with reality—even if they don’t remember you’ve visited.

So go visit someone, get used to it. The Christmas rush is over and there are many lonely residents who would enjoy seeing someone different. Workers tell us that some residents never get visitors. Just sit a spell with your friend or relative. Humanize the halls, realizing that someday you may live in a “dorm” like this. Deal with it.

What do you think? Send your comments and stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

You can also visit Another Way on the Web at

Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

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