Nursing Home Residents with Purpose

I was walking home from my writer’s group the other day, talking with a group member who’s a former emergency medical technician.

“It’s funny how the elderly get infantilized so much.  I wonder why that is,” she commented.
“I think we do it to them.  I didn’t realize it for a few years into working in nursing homes, but if you think about it, they don’t have to make their beds, they don’t have to cook meals, or go grocery shopping, or worry about paying their rent, or cleaning their homes.  What do we leave them with?  Nothing.”
“So, you think we should let them be more involved in those things?”
“No.  I think they should be writing their congresspeople, knitting blankets for impoverished babies, raising money for breast cancer research, and even participating in the reelection of right-wing Republican candidates if that’s what they want to do, as long as someone else is doing the laundry.”

8 thoughts on “Nursing Home Residents with Purpose”

  1. Eleanor, my first internship as an art therapy student was in a nursing home that had a huge art studio, a kiln and a seemingly endless supply of art materials. I remember thinking, wow, these people have it made, they don’t have to do anything and can just spend their entire days making art. Forget being an activist or supporting a cause, I’m selfish, I just wanna make art!

  2. Hi Sue,

    I’ve been waiting for you all day! You’re right, not everyone is interested in being an activist, though if I’m able to, I plan to do some rabble rousing during my nursing home years. Like my Aunt Bevy used to tell me, “I can say anything I want, I’m an old lady!”

    Art for someone like you is a very meaningful, purposeful activity, which is basically my point. I’ll bet if, in your nineties, someone suggested you sell it and put the profits toward a good cause, you’d have something in mind. Or perhaps you’d donate it to residents who don’t have family photos, to give their rooms a personal touch. Or maybe you’d make things other residents could buy at a low cost, and then give to their family members as gifts, so they can retain the role of gift giver. You could donate the proceeds to the nursing home to buy more art supplies.


  3. Or, maybe I would just hoard the stuff in my room and then they would put in a psych referral for me…and then I would get to have intellectual conversations with a psychologist. It’s a win win situation!

  4. Dr. Eleanor,

    Many times those of us that work in eldercare and probably sometimes families, “Assume” that they want everything done for them because they are elderly and deserve to be taken care of. A lot can be said for that way of thinking. Sometimes caregivers need to be reminded that although we can help them get their sweater on much faster than they can do it themselves, if they want to do it themselves let them. It helps the person maintain the individuality. It’s part of getting to know them and what their wishes and desires are. I am with them. Given the choice I wouldn’t want to make my bed either. However, we have to be careful to not take their dignity and self respect away and categorize them as a population rather than an individual.


  5. I am a 76 year old nursing home resident. I would like to help people like I used to do. I would like to hold preemies in the hospital.


  6. Sue — A hoarder and a rabble rouser — they’re going to love us!

    Gary, you’re right, people are people, no matter how old they are. The more we know the residents as individuals, the better able we are to accommodate them, whatever they’d like to do with their time.

    D — You are officially the first resident to post a comment on the blog. Thank you! Let’s hope you’re a trendsetter. You’ve got me imagining a van full of oldsters from the nursing home heading up to the hospital preemie ward to offer their arms to the youngsters. Beautiful!

  7. I like todays post and comments – esp. D’s! I wonder what my little mother can or would like to do?? That is such a good idea.

  8. Hi Judy,

    If you ask your mother what she’d like to do, please get back to us and let us know. Maybe we’ll get some good ideas going here.



Leave a Comment