The traditional image of nursing homes is of large institutionalized buildings with long barren hallways bordered by rooms filled with two, three or four hospital beds. The residents’ days are a blur of meals and regimented activities. Breakfast is served by 7:00 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m., and dinner no later than 5:00 p.m. Bingo, sing-alongs and movies or presentations fill the rest of the day.
This sterile vision is beginning to change. Over the last decade more nursing facilities are transforming themselves from a hospital environment to places that feels more like a home. This new movement called culture change allows residents to determine their daily schedules. Residents decide when to wake up, when they want to shower and when they want their meals. Floors are divided into small intimate areas called neighborhoods. The rooms are clustered around a central living space with room for lounging and working on projects. The space is airy and well lit. A central galley kitchen is located the middle of the living area so residents and staff can prepare fresh meals. Gone are the dreary environment and the institutionalized food that is served on trays and is usually stale by the time it is served.
The original focus of nursing homes was on illness. They were created to care for the poor elderly who had no family. Their primary purpose was medical with little emphasis on quality of life. They were literally places where people went to die. A resident’s day was scheduled around the convenience of the staff with little thought to their quality of life. Patients were expected to be up and dressed early so the cleaning staff could change the sheets, make the bed and clean the rooms. Meals were served in large central dining rooms. Food choices were limited and the food was often served lukewarm.
More Intimate Nursing Homes
Nursing homes are now adopting a more personalized living arrangement. This new environment requires the staff to be more flexible. Employees are trained to perform multiple tasks like cooking, cleaning, and assisting the residents with eating, bathing, dressing and mobility. Their duties are becoming more like a family caregiver and less like a staff member.
The look of the facilities is changing as well. Spaces are designed to be more intimate. Individuals are assigned their own bedrooms with private baths. These rooms are concentrated in clusters around a central living area that includes a kitchen area, lounge area and spaces where patients can interact as a community. This is sharp contrast to the institutionalize model where residents are assigned to rooms with one, two, and sometimes three or four other residents with only a curtain separating the beds for privacy.
Many of these new homes offer residents space for gardening, allow them to own pets, and provide stimulating programs such as yoga, tai chi, book groups, and political and scientific presentations. Studies show residents who live in this person-oriented environment are more active and live longer.
These new facilities offers seniors a more dignified way to age and is changing the negative image of nursing facilities from institutions to homes. They are providing the aging population with a place where they can receive required medical treatment but at the same offer them a life style that includes community, interests, and a respectful way to grown old.