Writing About a Nursing Home

Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

One of the most important things about the time you spend observing is that you should not be passive. Be involved in activities and, most importantly, talk to people. Try especially to meet people other than the hosts who bring us into the settings. In addition to the main participants in the program (the kids in a school), seek out and talk to some of the people who are more in the background---office people, family members, custodial staff. Look at the questions given for each assignment and ask people in the setting what they think about the issues that are listed.

Asking you to visit a Nursing Home has three objectives.

1. The first is to encourage you to think about what nursing homes are for.

Many of us hold stereotypes about nursing homes and people in our families may have strong feelings about living in nursing homes themselves or allowing family members to live in them. It is important to recognize that to some extent these feelings have more to do with how our day-to-day lives have become disconnected from our communities and our families than they do with the realities of nursing home living. Think about who is actually in nursing homes, what problems the homes address, and when this kind of living arrangement is really necessary. One side of the nursing home scene is that people who are very sick or disabled are there and we have no good way of caring for them except in this kind of facility. Maybe our difficulty has to do with our unwillingness to deal with sickness and death rather than notions we share about warehousing old people as they wait to die.

2. A second objective is for you to think about alternatives to nursing home life and to consider why these facilities exist as successful businesses.

People working to create more independent lives for the disabled argue that nursing homes are supported and legtitimated by business interests and that they do not actually have the best interests of residents at heart. Indeed, many people could be supported in the community effectively if the same amount of money were spent for the care in the community as is spent on their nursing home care. You might think about the limitations on the lives of residents that nursing homes impose and you might also think about the societal interests that limit the independence of disabled people.

3. The third objective is for you to think about nursing homes as places for living and how you personally relate to the kind of people who are there.

Many students find it difficult to be around elderly people and especially the disabled elderly we find in nursing homes. A valuable thing to do when you visit is to be involved in helping people eat or helping them to move around the facility. Pay attention to the reality that interaction often is not cognitively lucid but that there still is a strong emotional connection you may have with residents. Pay attention to the sources of your own discomfort being with the elderly. Think about what it is like to live in a place like this. We focus on negative aspects like people shouting out or people sitting in chairs, disconnected mentally from their surroundings. Pay attention to the variety of people who live and work in a home. Pay attention also to the character and quality of relationships residents have with each other and with staff. Be mindful that those relationships often are not placid, without conflict, or minus political aspects. This is a rich and intimate setting that one can penetrate if you take the time to talk to people and see them as whole and valuable human beings.