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Deconstructing the nursing home stigma

Created date

September 20th, 2011

Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and directs the provision of medical care at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is coauthor of Old Is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available on

Most of us would rather do anything than live in a nursing home. While making this move is rarely our first choice, it is important to realize that it can be a positive experience should it become necessary for you or a loved one. I have seen many instances where moving into a nursing facility can provide the physical and emotional support that result in an improvement of both mood and function and an increased sense of independence. I have seen anxiety symptoms melt away in a supportive environment as the challenge of trying to manage with limited resources is relieved. But how do you decide on what living arrangement might be best for you and your family?

What to look for

When evaluating your choices, it is important for you and your family to know what to look for. Factors that distinguish exceptional facilities include a high-quality nursing and medical staff with high staff-to-patient ratios. You want to know that the facility and its managers have expertise and experience and that they also have a caring and compassionate staff committed to honoring your personal wishes. Attention to detail is important. Is the facility clean and uncluttered? Are there private rooms and private baths? Do residents have personal decorating touches in their rooms? Do staff members know each resident s preferences when it comes to meals and activities and are these preferences honored? Availability of a health care provider expert in geriatrics is also essential. A good nursing home will have someone on-site on a full-time basis. At Erickson Living communities, for example, in addition to nursing staff, social workers, and dietitians, we have full-time nurse practitioners and physicians solely focused on geriatric care. Along with geriatricians, other medical specialists, such as cardiologists, orthopedists, and mental health specialists, should be readily accessible in a nursing home. You can also find information about quality ratings, health inspection results, staff data, and fire safety inspection results of most nursing homes at Nursing Home Compare (, a website provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The decision to move to a nursing home, while difficult, can be a very positive experience. Take the time to learn as much as you can about your options because finding the right place can make all the difference in the world. In good health, Matt