I’ve heard the phrase ‘warehousing old people’ many times.  Statements such as these need to be stopped and I believe that will happen only through education.  It is a greatly misled statement.  It’s also very hurtful to families as well as to professionals working in health and social services.  Ten myths (there are many more) I’ve addressed about institutional care:

1.  It is impossible to ‘drop’ someone off at a nursing home in Canada.  The individual must be eligible for this level of care which means their health is deteriorating substantially.  The waiting lists are long but individuals can be prioritized if a health problem becomes significant.

2.  People don’t ‘drop’ someone off at a retirement home in Canada.  The costs are high and living in one requires a certain level of independent abilities such as the ability to get in and out of bed.

3.  The angst families feel when deciding if it is time for their family member to enter into a nursing home is substantial.

4.  Families generally do not abandon someone in a nursing home.  The individual will still require family support including transportation for medical appointments among other activities.  Families may find visiting someone with dementia very challenging since the individual doesn’t recognize them.

5.  Institutional living for older people is not a trend only in western societies.  An article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (March 4-10, 2013; page 18) talked about the breakdown in tradition in Japan and the decrease in multi-generational homes at the same time as the increase in nursing home waiting lists.

6.  Families go to amazing and even heroic lengths to keep their elder at home.  However, disease progression such as Alzheimer’s may require secured environments offered in institutions in order to keep the individual from harming themselves.

7.  Families may not be able to afford to keep a wage-earner at home to look after an aging relative.  Aging relatives may reach a stage where they are unable to stay alone during the day.  For example, they may forget to eat or may be unable to get in and out of bed on their own.  There are day programs for elderly but families may not have access to these programs, the programs may not fit full-time work hours plus a commute or the aging relative may find the transfer between home and the programs to disruptive.

8.  Earlier generations such as those at the turn of the 20th century who lived in multi-generational homes are often compared to today’s family structure.  It’s an unsuitable comparison because older individuals typically had passed away before they incurred substantial chronic disabilities such as Alzheimer’s

9.  Increasingly families do not live in the same geographic region and older people are more likely to be living on their own as a chronic disease progresses.  This increases the risk of falls, social isolation and other risky problems.

10.  Some older people have expressed a strong desire to not burden family members if their health challenges increase and nursing homes provide a safe and appropriate option.

No one chooses to experience health issues and to move into a nursing home!  Family’s who have a loved one in a nursing home need your support, not your judgement.  The next time you hear someone mention that their family member is in a nursing home ask them how you can help.  Offer to buy them lunch, cut their lawn or shovel their snow.  They are probably exhausted from worrying about their loved one whose health is deteriorating and is living somewhere that is appropriate but not preferred.