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“Ambient Despair” is Widespread in Long-Term Care Facilities

Preventing falls, minimizing medication errors, limiting the development of pressure sores, and other cutting back on other preventable problems is a key focus of reasonable care at nursing homes. But the attorneys at our firm would be remiss to ignore the various other facets of care that play a role in the overall well-being of nursing home residents. After all, no one wants to just ‘exist’ –we all want to thrive and contribute our strengths to others, learn more, and have memorable experiences with those we care about.

One nursing home resident and writer on long-term care issues calls the need to address “ambient despair” one of the real challenges of nursing home support.

Emotional Challenges
In an interview with NPR recently, the writer reminds us that helping with emotional coping is a central part of proper nursing home care. For one thing, the author notes that most nursing home residents are only there after another traumatic event. Most nursing home residents are seniors–often in their 80s and 90s–and move into the long-term care facility after losing a spouse, suffering a serious illness or injury, or while experiencing debilitating mental challenges.

In other words, the move into the nursing home is just one of several new, frightening, and often-unwelcome changes in the senior’s life. It should come as no surprise that these changes wreck a serious emotional toll on the resident. The best nursing homes understand those emotional challenges and work to help residents cope.

Without proactive efforts to identify problems, however, it is easy for facilities to miss signs of porblems. As the author of this piece–a nursing home resident himself–explains, “most residens show a calm, even peaceful veneer. But beneath the surface, all of us are susceptible to the ambient despair that is a permanent component of life in assisted living. It’s the result of yeas of lonliness and isolation.”

Unfortunately, many facilities are unable to keep residents safe from physical harm, let alone address the emotional challenges which plague residents. But, it may be a mistake to completely separate the two types of harm. A resident who is depressed or facing emotional challenges is more likely to suffer physical harm in a preventable accident or to recover following an accident.

More Than Bingo
The author explains that just as bad as neglect is the assumption that elderly individuals in nursing homes are not capable of anything other than “pinochle and dancing and bingo.” After all, everyone has a unique life story, some hold advanced academic degrees with expertise in various areas, others are expert tradesmen, while still others have amazing stories of survival and compassion in their background. Yet, it remains true that for some the society perception of nursing home residents is that of “elder zombies” who merely exist.

To improve care at nursing homes, it is important that we get beyond that. Focus must return on these individuals as worthwhile members of society who have much to offer others–they are more than just vulnerable people who need help.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Moving Adults with Mental Illnesses Out of Illinois Nursing Homes

First-Hand Portrait of Life Inside an Assisted-Living Facility