ceiling view of care home room

We always knew the day would come when dad would have to move into a nursing home.

From the outset his dementia has been a sliding scale of needs and competencies. Like anyone else he had his good days and bad days.

The residential home accommodated him for as long as they could – but they were not equipped and did not have the staff to deal with his more advanced needs.

And so, we moved him into a nursing home to live for the last stage of his life.

This was to be his last home.

We all have to live out the end of our lives somewhere.

When you can no longer live in our own home a residential or nursing home is your only option.

That is, if you are lucky enough to find – and afford – one.

Nursing care is a one-way door. Once people enter they rarely leave.

When a room in a nursing home becomes available it’s only because someone else has died.

And so when viewing a room for your loved it is a little off-putting to see that the previous occupant’s personal effects are still there.

When you become a resident of a nursing home the big world outside largely disappears.

You look inwards and live in the moment.

And so your body becomes your whole focus of being.

Getting up and going to bed become the big events of the day. A sign that one day is over, and the next begins.

And so every day blends into the next.

nursing home bed and bed table

There is a big difference between residential and nursing care homes.

In a residential care home people are still able to move around, engage and interact with others.

There are more activities, which means greater participation and engagement in the social life of the community.

My dad’s residential care home had a tangible level of fun and spirit. There was a real buzz about the place.

Nursing care homes tend to be quieter.

People in nursing care tend to have greater health needs and difficulties. They tend stay in their own room which means there is a lot less socialisation between the residents.

Moving into nursing care meant that my dad suddenly had to deal with new people in a new space and new ways of doing things.

As a socially-minded person it was difficult for him to adjust. Nursing care has a very different atmosphere and vibe.

In a care home ‘eating’ adds variety and focus to the day.

Living in a body-centred world, with compromised mobility, food provides a world of treats and delight.

Hot and cold, sweet and savoury. Tastes that are subtle, sweet, textured, flavourful and omni-sensory.

Porridge in the morning, a big meal at lunch time and at tea- time, punctuated with drinks of tea, juice with biscuits, buns and scones.

This is more than sustenance; it is pleasure.

That is, until there’s come a point when the act of swallowing becomes more difficult.

Nursing homes cater for people who have different levels of swallow. For this, they use thickened drinks, puréed foods and softened/mashed meals.

This is real food pulverised into different consistencies – and enhanced by ketchup or HP sauce.

It is not fine dining.

nursing care home room

When dad first moved into his room we were allowed to re-arrange the furniture and space to suit his needs and preferences.

On the wall, we arranged pictures from his own home – and from his last care home. It gave us a sense that we could make this room a little less institutional and more about ‘him’.

We felt it was a way of connecting him to ‘home’, and to us, and to his life before.

Basically, at this point in his life his worldly belongings were reduced down to a few personal bits and pieces – and clothes.

This was all that he had, because it was all that he needed.

edge of nursing home bed showing castor

My father passed away surrounded by his family in a lovely, bright and airy room.

It overlooked a garden of beautiful, mature trees. In the evening it was filled with the soft and gentle light of the sun.

Those last few weeks were about keeping him comfortable.

He had his family around him and – unlike a hospital environment – we could spend as much time as we liked with him.

In a hospital he would have been bothered by noise, other people and the constant activity.

We would have been restricted by formal visiting times and parking.

Here it was quiet, and calm. He was comfortable and well cared for.

nursing home seat, window and table

In a nursing care home there is nothing that they haven’t seen before.

As professionals in care they deal with every situation that is part of the body’s slow, but natural, decline.

They have special equipment and facilities to enable people who are bed-bound be as comfortable as possible.

Clean sheets, pleasant surroundings and cheerful staff.

This is not a sad place.

Unlike a hospital it is an environment that is purposely designed for people at a stage of life where they need specific care.

It is a place to see them through their last days.

With a rising elderly population, the demand for beds in nursing care is huge.

And so, just as we used to visit dad here – another resident and family have taken his place, and our place.

Now the room belongs to someone else, and it will become their last home.

It is hard to think that this bed and this room was for a short time the entire focus of his life – and ours.

nursing care home bed

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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