When family members or certain people in our household experience ageing, we do our best to care for them. Getting old comes with certain complications that are mostly associated with their health deterioration. It is no wonder why we often perceive elders as the vulnerable members of our community.
Aging is not an easy process both for the seniors and the people around them. Their medical conditions, whether physical or mental, tend to get in the way of them living a quality life. Being their family members or the people who look after them, we want to care for them as much as we can. But considering some of our circumstances, not all of us have the time or the availability to provide an around-the-clock care for our elderly loved ones.
Hence, the nursing home facilities. Nursing homes are residential care areas dedicated for seniors, so they can get the best kind of care and support that they need. If we can’t care for our elderly loved ones ourselves, we turn to the help and the expertise of nursing homes and their highly trained staff.
But despite the numerous benefits of nursing homes, does living in one affect the psychological state of seniors? If yes, then how?
Understanding nursing homes
A nursing home is a senior-centred care facility that houses the elderly and tends to their needs. Most of its residents include seniors with chronic or severe illnesses or those who are disabled. Basically, it’s a senior care facility for ageing adults that require a higher level of need than most.
Nursing homes often have a clinical setting. There are professional caregivers and nurses that are available to check on the care recipients from time to time. Here, the elderly can receive medical care as well as physical, speech, and occupational therapy. They can also engage in some activities that will stimulate learning and allow them to interact with other seniors admitted in the facility.
What are the benefits of nursing homes?
There are plenty of reasons why people move their elderly loved ones into a nursing home. Here are some of the most notable ones:
- 24/7 emergency service and monitoring
- Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)
- Healthcare services
- Regular meals
- Social activities
- Housekeeping services
What are the psychological effects of nursing homes on the elderly?
Although nursing homes were established for the betterment of seniors, there are also factors showing how living in one can affect their psychological state. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that nursing homes are bad for them, it’s important to know and understand how the living situation in a nursing home may impact their lives in a mental and emotional way.
A major adjustment
Moving into a new home is one thing, but moving into a place that doesn’t really feel homey with a bunch of strangers is another. It’s not easy for some seniors to leave a place that they’ve lived in for so many years and to be apart from their family. And not to mention, they will be residing in a facility where people whom they don’t know and have never met are going to be personally caring for them. Some older people can be trusting, but there are also those who are not. So, it’s understandable if the elderly person is a little antsy or irritable when they first move into a nursing home.
Kissing habitual activities goodbye
Not only does the environment change when seniors move into a nursing home, so does their movement. Whatever are the things they used to do back home: cleaning, constructing, cooking, gardening, and others, they can no longer do it as much or even at all when they’re in a nursing home. This is especially the case if the elderly is suffering from a health condition, disabled, or bedridden. It’s not going to be easy for them to turn their backs on doing the things they loved to do. Although, the positive spin on this is that nursing homes offer social and recreational activities that they can participate in. But it’s not the same as doing things they used to do on their own. This might cause them to feel demotivated or unhappy.
Losing power and control
Some seniors, especially those who were used to being independent, might not be so glad about entering nursing homes. Here, they don’t have as much freedom and independence that they used to. They won’t be calling the shots because this time, they have no choice but to abide by the rules and regulations of the nursing home and its staff members. Of course, most nursing homes try to do their best to provide a welcoming atmosphere for the elderly, but not to the point that seniors can make their own decisions or follow their instincts. Since they are considered vulnerable at this state, they are subject to the control of the nurses and nursing staff involved. They start to become dependent toward the nursing care being provided to them. It’s not far-fetched for some seniors to feel rather inadequate being in this situation.
Feeling lonely and isolated
Moving into a nursing home might improve the healthcare provided to the seniors, but it’s hard being separated from their family and loved ones. Aging adults still crave the sense of self-belongingness, being a part of a community outside their nursing home. Being in a nursing home may cause them to feel lonely or isolated. Although they are living with other seniors who are in the same situation as them, some of them do not have the courage to start interpersonal relations. It can be challenging for ageing adults to establish new relationships and often require the assistance of the nursing staff to do so. Furthermore, they mostly spend time with the nursing staff, who themselves are also busy with other administrative tasks. Unfortunately, feelings of loneliness might lead to worse mental conditions like depression.
What can be done to improve the psychological state of seniors living in nursing homes?
Yes, the mental health of seniors may be affected by their stay in nursing homes. But fortunately, there are plenty of ways that can be done to treat them! There are clinical interventions done through counselling and therapy and also various activities and resources that seniors can turn to improve their overall psychological state.
Be physically active
Staying active and exercising regularly will help seniors achieve a better quality of life. This will not only distract them from their problems or worries, exercising is also a great way to produce endorphins, a type of hormone that makes people feel good and stress-free. Seniors can engage in various physical activities such as walking, jogging, aerobics, yoga, and even dancing so that they can feel happier and more confident. (Disclaimer: for seniors who are immobile or who have certain medical conditions, consult with your doctor first before engaging in any physical activity.)
Play mentally-challenging games
It’s ideal for seniors to play mind games because they exercise their brain. Just like our bodies, we need to work out our minds so that we can remain sharp and avoid the decline of our cognitive abilities. These activities also help reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep. Examples of mind-centred activities that the elderly can do are reading, playing instruments, learning languages, and doing puzzles.
Start a new hobby
The elderly should be encouraged to try out new things, despite their age. At this point in time, they should be venturing into new activities which can become their new hobbies. This way, they can regain the feeling of belongingness and might develop a new passion in life. This will significantly help them feel more fulfilled.
Keep their connections strong
It’s hard to be in a place where you’re far away from the people you know and care about. Seniors should be encouraged to keep their relationships alive and to cultivate them, no matter the distance. Keeping in touch with their family and friends will help reduce the feeling of loneliness and isolation. They can also form new friendships with the people around them in the nursing homes, especially the other residents because they share a common ground.
A nursing home is not a bad place. In fact, its existence allows the members of the senior community to live a much better kind of life. They have access to healthcare and other things that some family members can no longer provide. However, when it comes to its psychological effects, we just have to counter them with the ways mentioned above. Mental health issues cannot always be avoided but at least they can be treated and resolved. All it takes is a lot of patience, determination, and compassion.
Remember, there’s always a way to make the best out of a bad situation.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.
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