OP/ED: Don’t Forget Relatives in Nursing Homes

A nursing home is a place where people are sent when their family or the government believes they are no longer able to give themselves the care they need to live a healthy life.

However, there is a very sad underlining to the already upsetting consequence of old age.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease when I was about five years old. My grandmother helped him as much as she could until it was obvious that if she continued this way, soon she’d be in worse shape than he was. So she put him in the best nursing home we could afford and even found a nice apartment for herself close by. So every day around 11 a.m., she’d head over to the nursing home. She would make sure he ate, and sat with him until as late as she could. Since my parents were working and I was too young to stay home alone, every summer I lived with my grandmother.

So I too went to the nursing home for at least three hours a day. And for six summers it was the same story.

There wasn’t much we could do, but we knew how much just being there meant. As his condition became more serious and he was moved to a different section, my grandmother’s job now consisted of literally spoon feeding him.  There were other family visitors feeding their loved ones around us, but there were also many residents who were only served a few bites by a nurse, and many more who had food placed in front of them that sat there untouched until the whole meal was taken away.

After lunch, a few orderlies came out and assisted most of the residents in sitting in a line in front of the TV or a line at the window. When that space filled up, the rest just sat in a chair looking at nothing.

These lines basically sum up the sadness that is for so many where they spend their final years on earth. At first glance, these actions look so routine because the people just accept them, but it isn’t until you stop and see each person as an individual that you see how sad this situation really is.

A nursing home by definition is a place of residence for people who require constant nursing care because they have significant deficiencies in their ability to perform the activities of daily life.  And in many of these largely populated understaffed homes, that is exactly what happens they are run like a computer program. Their almost sole objective is to keep the residents alive and healthy as possible. A report issued in September 2008 found that over 90 percent of nursing homes were cited for federal health or safety violations,  with about 17 percent of nursing homes having deficiencies causing “actual harm or putting its patients in immediate jeopardy.”

To patients, the main outlet they have is the visits from the ones they love –  really, the only thing that separates them from the others. The largest problem with these homes does not lie with the home itself, yet in the families of its residents. Almost all people who put a loved one in one of these homes have every intention of visiting them on a regular basis, but as time goes on, life’s daily grind makes one’s own personal time more and more important than the importance y once felt for going to see these people.

The man who found a quarter behind your ear, the woman who held you for hours when you had a broken heart, the people who were not just willing, but would pay for the power to take all your suffering away from you and put it on themselves, these love ones would die for you. Yet in so many cases these amazing people are left to rot. Their life slowly leaves them, and only you have the power to give them the only thing they want and need – your company and love.

Still they wait with no grudge and no anger, with only the hope that the next car that pulls in. or the next door that opens, will lead to your presence.

Each day repeats itself: breakfast, lunch dinner, maybe an activity or a movie, but nothing of meaning. Every day repeats its routine, and time slows down as they wait for your love. The years feel as if they never even happened as their memories swirl to a black hole of nothingness, with a few tiny blimps of memories of little things that once had such great meaning in their world occasionally appear.

Your life flourishes, your experiences accumulate. All the while they are just waiting for you in the jail of their own enabled bodies. It’s easy to say, “I’ll visit them all the time,” but days turn into weeks, weeks to months and soon you find yourself making getting home early more important than visiting the grandparent who watched you grow up and be right there at every turn. They supported you through every hard ship and tried to take away every fear to support every dream.

Now, at the most difficult point in their life, where their meaning in this world has diminished to taking up space, where they sleep every night with the fear of death slowly approaching as it has come for so many around them, where are you?

When they need the support and courage to go on living, where are you?

When they are scared and alone, where are you?

Ask yourself when their time comes, have you given them the respect they deserved and sacrifice for them as they did for you?

Don’t think about it. Go visit.

–          Jesse Brody