Nursing Homes and the Elderly
Written By: Dan Stanley | Posted: Saturday, August 11th, 2012
It seems good to at least broach the subject of the elderly, our parents and grandparents, regarding the issue of nursing homes. As you know, it is much more common for our parents to live their final days in a nursing home than in our own home. I do not know the percentages, but my guess is few resorted to their children' home to finish their sojourn in this life. Rather, condominiums, townhouses, and nursing homes are the usual final stopping places for the elderly in our day and age unless they are fortunate enough to be able to live in their own home until the end of their life.
In fact, until recent years, homes for the elderly generally related to what was known as"almshouses" for the poor (which included the sane and insane). These were very undesirable places in which to live as acknowledged by all. There were also, over the past approximately 150 years, homes provided by churches and other groups for singles and widows who were destitute. But by and large most of the elderly did not stay in such homes.
In the 1930's this began to include elderly people who had children and were not destitute. But it was not until the 1960's this really gained ground and popularity. According to the Foundation Aiding the Elderly,
"In 1965, the passage of Medicare and Medicaid provided additional impetus to the growth of the nursing-home industry, which, while it had been increasingly steadily since the passage of Social Security, grew dramatically. Between 1960 and 1976, the number of nursing homes grew by 140 percent, nursing-home beds increased by 302 percent, and the revenues received by the industry rose 2,000 percent. To a great extent, this growth was stimulated by private industry. By 1979, despite the ability of government homes to provide care, 79 percent of all institutionalized elderly persons resided in commercially run homes."
Such was not always the case. The vast majority of parents in the past lived with their family members as they became unable to live on their own. It was my recollection of this as a child in the small town of my upbringing. In fact, I do not recall there were any nursing homes. My great aunt, grandmother, and other aging family members lived with their sons and daughters in their old age. That was the way it was.
Such was not the case in the past and it is still not so today in other parts of the world. In a conversation recently with two Russian born and raised ladies, they were wondering out loud why in America our parents end up in nursing homes - or rather, why we don't take them into our own homes. It was a strange and unsettling thing for them to watch.
Is it then a good thing for this transition to have happened in our day and age of modernity, especially in America? I think not. The downside far outweighs the benefits we claim that come from this recent invention. How so?
First, it isolates our parents into facilities, estranging them from their own flesh and blood. God Almighty made us to live with each other, touch each other and communicate affections towards one another. This simply is neither natural nor possible in general when that parent is living day and night with strangers. Yes, some make friends, but friends are not family, and no need and desire is greater in the latter years of a person's life than family other than the Lord Himself. This is lost in our in our present institutions for the elderly.
Second, it deprives the children and grandchildren of the presence, influence and accountability that come from our parents living with us. What a wonderful influence parents have on their children as they age, and especially their grandchildren! How blessed I was as a child to be grow up "down the path" from my grandparents! Grandparents have time now to slow down and teach and exemplify and care for their loved ones. Institutionalizing them destroys this irreplaceable relationship between the elderly and their children and grandchildren. It also deprives the family from being able to now minister to those who ministered and cared for them. It is a mutual loss to say the least.
Third, the cost for doing this is recognized by all as often unsustainable or by the elimination of any inheritance that may have been given to heirs of the aged. Everyone knows the cost is astronomical. Remove the government aid programs and it would become evident that it is simply not feasible financially in most cases. Finances should not matter in one sense, but they merely reveal a flawed method in addressing this issue.
Why then do the elderly so live? Is it because their children will not have them? There are various reasons. More often than not, the elderly prefer to live independently as long as they can. When they are finally no longer able to so live, by then taking them into the home of the children is a larger adjustment for the children. It is harder. But in fairness, the parents of our day seem to not want to live with their children. There is a mindset that came from maybe an overly affluent time in our history that has added to that. We have become fragmented as families, each not needing the other, at least in our minds. The result is a nursing home mentality.
There are also the children who no longer are able to be at home with their parents if necessary. Both are working out of the home. Added to this are fewer children in the home to help as well as the increased strain on the homes in this day and age of broken homes. The result is a mutual acceptance of our present living arrangements for the elderly. Some children work hard at visiting their parents and helping them as it is needed. Some move across the country to do this. But in the end, it demands a life style change if children are going to have their parents come and live with them for both the children and the parents.
What then can we do? Well, one by one each of us who have children can raise our children to prepare themselves to take us in if necessary. We would not do this to be a burden to our children. Rather we would want this to be a blessing to them as well as to ourselves. More than that, we can adjust our own lives so we can bring our parents into our homes and lives if necessary. Granted, some parents will not come. But the offer can be made with genuineness. Remember, it is a whole new way of life, especially in our day and age.
Some of my readers remember the days when what I am writing was the way it was. My guess is none of them who grew up with the elderly living in their homes have any regrets of this arrangement. If they had to choose between that experience versus putting them into a nursing or elderly care home, they would chose the first. It is one thing to need room and space to be ourselves, but it is another thing to separate ourselves in an unhealthy way. The latter we have done, and both parents and children are suffering the consequences. Let's get back to the way it was in the past. Having each other, young or old, is worth the cost, whatever that may be. And remember "Honor thy father and mother and so shall thy days be long upon the earth."
Dan Stanley is an owner and contributing editor of the Eau Claire Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org