It is safe to say no one thinks of spending long periods of their adult life in a nursing home. We have an image of retirement which usually includes financial stability, being able to do what we want when we want, and staying relatively healthy long enough to achieve our goals.
But, illness can set in at any age, and often retirement quickly reminds us that we won’t live our remaining days how we envisioned. Clearly, few things are more devastating as a life-changer than a debilitating illness.
A skilled nursing facility can keep residents clinically stable and help them maintain a good quality of life. Try to imagine being pulled away from everything considered normal in your life. We feel upset to lose a leg, and that is putting it mildly.
When a person lives long-term in a nursing home, there is usually a dramatic reason why—a sudden illness, a horrible accident and/or being of age where assistance is needed even for basic things. Depression and a loss of self come along with this, but I am going to focus on living in a peaceful state of mind.
Several mental stages happen when one arrives at a nursing home, including anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, feeling alone and a loss of dignity. Since few people plan to live their retirement years in a nursing home, clearly it can be quite traumatic. Getting used to new people and a different way of life, plus the realization of debilitating health and having to depend on staff to do things for you is a sign of losing independence. Desperation sets in while you are trying to make sense of a new and foreign environment. How can one take in so much and not be negatively impacted? I know I felt this way.
Despite the overwhelming negative feelings of this life-changing experience, there are ways to ease through a peaceful life while in a nursing home.
First, take advantage of services offered at the facility, specifically in regard to your mental well-being, Psychologists, whether in a group or in a one-on-one setting, can help to put life in perspective.
Therapeutic Recreation can create a friendly environment, provide music therapy and encourage group and independent activities. Take advantage of religious services, the positive message will help to work through depressive symptoms.
Welcome any physical and/or occupational therapy offered, even if it reminds you of what you can no longer do. The endorphines can provide an emotional lift.
Supportive staff can be tremendously encouraging in the extremely difficult process to provide some mental comfort. Family and friends are an invaluable source of support, giving the feeling of not going through this alone. Besides all these wonderful sources of help, one key part to coming out of depression and being at peace is a personal desire to want to be in a better mental place. You have to want it!
In closing, there is no illusion on my part of how difficult adjusting to life in a nursing home can be. My perspective is when necessity gives us little options, take advantage of what the facility has to offer. Living in a nursing home does not mean you stop wanting to enjoy and experience life to the fullest. Live your reality—you have one life.
Elvin Marmol is a 15-year resident at Silvercrest Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, Briarwood, N.Y. As a quadriplegic needing ventilator assistance, speech and physical therapy, he has received the full experience of a skilled nursing facility. He is a 9-year member of the Resident Council, having served as president for six of those years.