by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC
Anthony lived alone. He was 82 and suffered from multiple medical problems. He was diabetic, his balance and gait were dangerously off-kilter, and he was clinically depressed and sometimes a little confused. He had never fully recovered from hip-replacement surgery and consequently used a walker. He had an irregular heartbeat that occasionally caused him to pass out. All of which put him at very high risk for falls.
He could no longer drive and seldom went out. He mostly sat alone slouched in a chair, isolated in his dimly lit apartment looking at television. His dining table was cluttered with bottles of medications (some out of date) that he clearly was not taking with any consistency. For a man who had been meticulously neat about his appearance, he was now often unshaven and unkempt. His clothes were frequently stained, and his full head of white hair was left uncombed. Sometimes his refrigerator contained spoiled food, and he was losing weight because of poor nutrition.
Anthony was fiercely independent, a stoic member of the “Great Generation,” used to toughing it out by himself. He had a daughter who lived nearby, but he refused help from her and most other sources as well. He did allow an aide to come in for a few hours each week to assist with bathing and to take him on errands and to market, but that help was not nearly commensurate with his actual needs.
Anthony was rapidly declining. His present was dreary and his future was bleak. And then the accident that changed the course of his life occurred: he blacked out and fell down the stairs. He was shaken and bruised, but fortunately did not break any bones.
The accident landed him in the hospital, where he remained for almost a month in a special rehabilitation unit. But, for all his hard work in PT, he did not improve his balance or gait enough to permit him to return home safely. For various complicated reasons he could not live with his daughter, so the hospital discharge planner offered him the option of either a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. Since he could not afford assisted living, he was placed in a nursing home.
Adapting to his new home was not without problems, but within a couple of months, Anthony looked, felt and acted like a new man. He was bathed, combed and shaved regularly. He was well fed and began to regain his lost weight. His medications were properly administered. He was surrounded by caring aides, nurses and by other residents who were in the same boat.
A trip to the dining room in his wheelchair always garnered Anthony many smiles and a dozen or so high fives! A pretty young recreation therapist cajoled him into doing some crafts. He began to thrive. His safety, comfort and quality of life greatly improved. His depression receded and in short order he became a much-loved member of this new community.
You might expect nursing home placement to be a perfectly dreadful turn of events, but in this case, it was just the opposite! And this is true for many frail, older adults. Contrary to popular belief, a good nursing home sometimes actually is the very best choice for an elderly person who is isolated and unsafe at home.
Pearl of wisdom: Nursing homes are not for everyone, but neither is aging in place. It depends on the situation. While many older adults strongly desire to remain in their homes, a good nursing home is sometimes the best option and a real lifesaver.
Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC, is a Geriatric Care Manager practicing in Fairfield County, CT. This blog is intended for general interest only, not as advice for specific cases. Visit www.joanblumenfeld.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or make an appointment for a private consultation by calling 203.845.0191.