I heard a story on NPR this week about a pastor from a church in Virginia, Kenneth Dupin, who is believed to be revolutionizing life for the elderly who are facing nursing home placement. He is the founder of the MEDCOTTAGE, or as the kids are calling it the “Granny Pod.” It’s basically a home on wheels (portable) with “advanced health monitoring equipment” that is intended to be placed in a family’s backyard where mom and dad or grandpa and/or grandma can live when they are no longer safe or able to remain in their own homes. Instead of facing institutional life, i.e. the nursing home, for a mere $2,000 a month, one can bring mom or dad home to live within arm’s length, and still offer some form of independence.
Albeit a great concept, Dupin has overlooked several factors that affect a person’s need for a nursing home. Like, how is mom, who is no longer ambulatory, supposed to get to the bathroom on her own during the day when daughter and son-in-law are at work from 8-5pm (sounds like a broken hip if you ask me). And, what about our beloved Alzheimer's patient who will (and I promise THEY WILL) wander out of that MEDCOTTAGE in a state of confusion while looking for ‘their home.’ Or, I love this one, how many seniors and their families can realistically afford $2000 a month for, essentially, rent? Not including monthly food, medicines, supplies, etc. The reality is such a concept may very well appeal to only a very small portion of the population; a portion who can, financially and physically, afford to have options. Of the “million and a half” seniors currently living in nursing homes across America, I doubt this concept will affect even 1% of them.
Let me tell you a little about why the typical nursing home resident goes into the nursing home: 1) their health is so severe that they require 24/hour nursing care simply to maintain; 2) their cognitive status is so lacking, due to some form of dementia, that they no longer recognize their family members, nor are they able to eat on their own, and they spend their days displaying obscene childlike behaviors or unsafe wandering; and 3) their family and loved ones live states away, or for whatever reason are not able or willing to take them in. I’d wage my bet that #3 is in fact the #1 reason any senior is institutionalized.
The sad fact is we live in a society (specifically white American society) that does not value caring for ‘our own.’ Rather than planning how we will care for our parents when they can no longer care for themselves, we PLAN on them going somewhere to live, where OTHER people will take care of them, where we don’t have to worry about it… or perhaps we avoid the subject all together. Because let’s face it, we simply don’t have the time or resources. Rather than handle the stress, the financial burden, or finding the time, we put them away!
But, did you know, in almost every other culture in the world, nursing homes are rare!... even a disgrace! Even in America, I find very few people of Hispanic, Asian, etc., dissents in a nursing home. And, during my master’s degree I had several classes with a girl from Russia, who was specializing in gerontology in order to take back what she learned to Russia, where nursing homes were just surfacing. She told me how in Russia, nursing homes were like 3rd world care, and no one wanted to send their loved ones to one because it was seen as shameful. It was a last resort, often for people without children. I’ll tell you from experience, most (and I say most to be pc, but I’d personally tell you ALL) nursing homes are basically 3rd world care. Compared to the care that one could receive from their own family, from people who actually know and love them… how could it truly compare?
In my practice, I make it a habit of comforting and relating to caregivers and family members who make the decision to place their loved ones in a nursing home. In fact, I am likely the one educating them about their option to do so. And, I especially empathize with the senior who is being placed, as this is not something any person at any time in their life hopes for. Although, I recognize this as the main reason we as a society can plan on life sucking after 70, I realize that society made its choice decades ago. When the family unit changed, i.e. divorce rates sky rocketed, fathers AND mothers began working full time, retirement age breached 73 years, etc., we also began to see the grandparent forgotten. And what decades ago did to produce such a mainstream phenomenon, I am not going to overturn by berating an overwhelmed caregiver for their choice to place their loved one at a facility. I respect this decision and do my best to ensure some quality of life from then on for that senior.
For myself, although my parents are only in their 40s, I am already thinking about how I and my siblings will plan to care for them as part of our individual families. I do hope that in some way, this will validate my parents’ lives as something meaningful… with something to look forward to beyond their retirement years… beyond the time when they can no longer give to society, or produce….. and give them continued hope… where one day they will die not alone in a stale room with unfamiliar things, but with those they love, and who love them… and where they are offered joy even at the end.
Otherwise… what are we all living for?