The recent death of my friend R. has me reconsidering this. At 88, she was still living alone in the home that she and her late husband had built 40 years ago. She loved the house, with good reason: It was indeed beautiful, and spotlessly maintained (I think R. may have been a bit OC about cleanliness and order). What’s more, living there enabled her to keep the cat she had rescued from the wild 13 years earlier, and loved to pieces.
But R. was so frail, and prone to the UTIs that can lead to confusion. In the end, a relative found her knocked into delirium by a massive stroke or sepsis or both, three whole days after the last person had spoken with her by phone. How long she had been in this state, no one could say. She died a week later, in the hospital, never regaining her faculties and in fact lapsing into a coma just a day into her hospitalization.
I wonder: Would R. have been better off in a nursing home, surrounded by people her own age and thriving under the watchful eye of a solid-gold nursing staff?
Another elderly friend died about the same time, under slightly different circumstances. Long-widowed, J. had lived alone in an apartment until a couple years ago. But she was becoming increasingly forgetful, so one of her sons took her in to his home. It was great at first; he took excellent care of her, and no doubt continued to do so right up to the end. But he works full time and then some, so at first she was alone most of her waking hours. Later, deciding that she might be unsafe alone, he hired an aide to sit with her while he earned his living. But it was apparently too little, too late: She soon tumbled into full-blown dementia, occupying it in horror and misery for about a year before she died.
Would J. have been better off in a nursing home? Might she have blossomed in such an environment, enjoying the company of people her own age and engaged in a steady stream of activities tailored specifically to her evolving abilities?
I guess only God knows for sure. But I tend to think that both R. and J. would have been happier in a facility designed to meet their needs for medical care, companionship and intellectual stimulation.
When it comes time for you to figure out a way to take care of your elderly parents or grandparents, don’t automatically assume that home with you is the best place for them. Those who routinely denounce nursing homes are not necessarily doing the elderly any favors; there are situations in which leaving day-to-day care to the professionals in a fine nursing home may well be the best solution for your loved ones.