“There’s no one here to talk to,” a new resident, Claire, said to me, “They’re all so old!”
Claire was in her early 80s but thought of herself as two decades younger. She, like most residents I’ve encountered, have their own prejudices about aging and older adults. It negatively impacts them in a wide variety of ways, including in their long-term care experiences.
Residents may dismiss their peers due to their perception of them as old, infirm and uninteresting, keeping themselves isolated and preventing the opportunity to gain friends or at least “rehab buddies” who can support them through the taxing process of getting back on their feet again.
In busy, understaffed facilities (and what nursing home isn’t?), catalyzing resident engagement with one another isn’t just a nice thing to do, it can meet vital needs that staff members wish they had time for. With assistance in getting over their initial prejudices, residents can not only encourage one another, they can ease anxiety, mourn losses together and notify workers if a neighbor appears lethargic or depressed or about to fall.
All departments, not just recreation, can make efforts to connect like-minded individuals. One of my favorite things is to be a “matchmaker,” introducing women who enjoy similar activities or men who hail from the same county or country. Matchmaking can begin with something as simple as seating a potential friend next to someone’s “good” ear and commenting, “Did you two know you both … [fill in the blank]?”
Effect on adoption of mobility aids
Societal prejudices against growing old and “weak” keep many seniors from acknowledging their growing frailty. They may eschew tools such as canes, walkers or hearing aids because they “don’t want to look old”1 or be treated as such. Most of us in the business of long-term care recognize the irony that by avoiding these devices, elders are more likely to come through our doors. We might speculate that they’re also more likely to return once discharged.
In addition to training on residents how to use mobility aids, therefore, it may be beneficial to acknowledge and address the resistance that short-term residents might have to using these items upon their return to the community.
I’m thinking a short movie could do it.