I'm back-dating this post. So sue me.
Today was my mother's 75th birthday. I'm sure she never planned on spending it in a nursing home, but that's where she was.
She's been recovering from her heart surgery, and that recovery has been going so well that they're going to send her home earlier than she'd anticipated--ready or not! (The answer is "not" in this case) But she's still there for now, and found herself there on her birthday.
Her comment to me: "It was probably a better birthday than I would have spent at home alone." Why? Because she was around people and those people made something of her birthday--they had cake in the dining hall and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to her; they came down and attached a balloon to her walker; they just generally made something of the day for her.
I think the elderly, my mom included, have a tendency to look negatively at nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the like, as a place to be avoided, sometimes at all costs. And I know that there are nursing homes out there that give the institution as a whole a bad name. However, I think there's also a lot to be said for the value of such places, and that value is first and foremost community.
One of the difficult things that the elderly--particularly in America and particularly in rural or semi-rural places--struggle with is certainly loneliness. They don't go to a job every day, and because they have to drive everywhere when living in a rural or even suburban setting, it may seem like too much of a hassle get out and go places. And so, they sit at home. My mother lives across the street from a friend who goes to the same church and with whom she's been friends for probably 35 years. She's known the second-closest neighbor about as long. Other people who live nearby take an interest in her and check in on her occasionally, while keeping a watchful eye on her. She lives just a mile or two (which in rural terms is nothing!) from church and a lot of the other members of that church live in the same general area. She's 5-10 minutes (by car) from the nearby town. She's fairly embedded in the community, both her neighborhood and the local community, having lived in the same house for 35 years. It's not bad, when you look at it, but I know my mother has struggled with loneliness.
In a situation like this, I can well imagine that a nursing home could be a very positive thing just for the sense of community it offers. When you can walk down the hall and talk to people you know or meet new people--and, for that matter, people who are in a similar stage of life as you--that's a pretty good thing. It's an aspect of what makes college and boarding schools such an intense--and for many, an intensely positive--experience, but it applies to the elderly as well.
That's not to say that it's perfect, ideal, or even great. However, if one's greatest discontent in life is loneliness, it can definitely be a net positive, especially on one's birthday (I'd like to think the package we sent also helped!).