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Jan-30-2013 01:06printcomments

Nursing Homes Not Conducive to Independent Mindset

"Give me liberty...or give me death!" - Patrick Henry

Nursing home

(SALEM) - While I have no say-so on what other people decide to do in their Golden Age years, I've decided that the option of a nursing home environment is not suitable for my personal values. This subject came up in a discussion with my wife recently. We are both in our 70's and need to look carefully at our futures.

For nearly 40 years I have been an active gerontologist in five different states. I've handled operating a suburban senior center, counseling elderly clients, running inter-generational projects, doing home care with shut-ins, and teaching social work interns about the wants and needs of our older population. I have also worked within the confines of a nursing home in Washington, DC, and done volunteer work with facilities in Northern Virginia and Dallas, OR. That supplies me a fairly broad overview.

These are my personal reservations about those places I have observed.

  1. REGIMENTATION:  Due to their institutional nature, I find such homes not very flexible on rules; they tend to exercise a "one-size-fits-all" way of doing things and frown on individual preferences.  Rather like the army, they live by the clock.  In contrast, I crave flexibility to eat when I please and choose my own activities.   A limited choice of options makes me feel more like an inmate.
  2. ISOLATION: The very concept behind nursing homes is to segregate people by advance age and disability.  I find that an artificial divide, and draw energy from being around younger people on a regular basis.  My age cohorts are often preoccupied with health woes.  This hardly makes for the positive environment that I crave.  My preference is for a cross-generational setting.
  3. MOTIVATION: What turns me on is doing creative community projects and not being narrowly in something that benefits only me.  Having launched two Peace Corps forums in our library and the Japan Peace Vigil after the 2011 tsunami, I love to network and motivate others to become part of the greater community.  Nursing home staff promotes in-house activities; these aren't mainstream.
  4. ATTRITION: Those in these facilities seldom move back home.  Instead, they stay there till death. What is the redeeming value of facing continued losses among your "extended family"?  I would find that rather depressing if not ominous.

If the day comes that I lose most of my faculties, perhaps I would have little choice but to rely on others to be my support system.  Meanwhile, I cherish my independence and certainly will defend it against outside interference, in the words of Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty...or give me death!"


NOTE: Lee Coyne served three terms with the Arlington, VA. Commission on Aging and currently hosts the KMUZ weekly talk show called "Aging Without Raging".  Email him at:

Barry Lee Coyne, a NYC native, blends three careers: Journalist, Counselor, Educator. His writings have appeared in newspapers and magazines on the East and West Coasts and the Southwest. He loves the art of the interview and has covered such persons as Dr. King's 1963 "Dream" speech and Sen. William Proxmire as an advocate for the environment. A global traveller to some 30 countries aboard, he speaks Spanish semi-fluently and very rudimentary Russian, Tagalog, German, Arabic and Hebrew.

Lee's legacy here in Salem includes launching the Salem Peace Mosaic at the YMCA and doing a radio talk show for KMUZ/88.5 FM. It airs Mondays and highlights lives of proactive, productive senior citizens. He invites you to contact him at:

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