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What do Americans think about nursing homes?

Juliet Wilkinson
Oncology Nursing

Based on my interactions as a caregiver I find that many Americans view nursing homes the same way they think about nuclear power plants: some are not fun to look at but they're glad to have them. Like any healthcare facility available there are a lot of amazing ones and some not so impressive ones. Many nursing homes are full of delightful residents and caregivers -- they are a necessary medical environment and will continue to be needed as the majority of our population age and live longer lifespans.

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner
Most Americans think of nursing homes as the place people go to die. They also view the care as inadequate and the workforce to be unskilled. Americans are afraid they will "wind up in a nursing home".

Have you ever read an upbeat news story about nursing homes? Unless you reside in a town that publishes bingo results with the sports scores in its local newspaper, it's not likely. The image of nursing homes presents a bit of a public relations problem, and you're far more likely to run across negative news coverage on escalating costs, neglect and inattention as well as cost-reduction measures that make those entrance fees at nursing homes seem even more excessive. One of the most "lighthearted" yarns to surface about nursing homes in recent years centered upon a Providence, Rhode Island, feline that could intuit when a resident was about to pass on. While family members cherished the advance notice the cat's presence imparted, this is not exactly the sort of story that endears nursing homes to outsiders.

It's not simply the news, though. Nursing homes are distressing, frightening places to most of us. They often arouse shame-prospective residents may be humiliated by impairments or illnesses that render them incapable of caring for themselves, family members might feel guilt-ridden by their powerlessness to assume care for a loved one, and even grandchildren accompanying adults may feel out of place as they are so clearly too young for this environment. A nursing home is often the only remaining option, and the final stop, in housing selections.

In the early days of the United States, feelings of shame surrounding nursing homes were quite normal. Early poor farms and almshouses were in fact stigmatized by state governments. These were the archetypes for nursing homes at the turn of the 20th century. Disgrace was associated with these dwellings to deter people from using them.

By the 1950s, American society became more amicable towards caring for its elderly as nursing homes became modeled after hospitals. Nursing homes were then recognized more as places to provide for the health of an elder rather than as providing a welfare handout. Sadly, it wasn't until the 1980s that government came to recognize what poor conditions existed in some of these homes and began to initiate reforms to improve in the quality of care received by residents. To this day, the revolution in care continues in the form of the culture change movement, which endeavors to alter the manner in which patients in nursing homes are treated.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.