Growing old is an inescapable part of life that has been interpreted and anticipated differently by everyone through the ages. Nursing homes in this day and age are a prominent part of the aging process, and are accepted and embraced as a perfect way of dealing with elderly loved one. However, attitudes toward the aging population are progressively getting worse in our youth focused society. Rather than taking care of the aging, we neglect and abandon them in nursing homes, in greater amounts each year.
As a result nursing homes have perpetuated ageist attitudes, destroying the ethics of treatment of the elderly by forcing them into positions of low self worth, abuse and neglect.
Before the popularization of nursing homes, people would take care of their elderly relatives and hold onto a personal connection with them. It was assumed that since they took care of you at a young age you would take care of them at an old age, out of pure respect and
affection. Because they were emotionally connected, older relative were treated ethically, and society had a general appreciation for the aging. When nursing homes were first created in the late eighteenth century they were a form of asylum where the elderly were “placed
alongside the insane, the inebriated, or the homeless” (Foundation Aiding the Elderly). Eventually these asylums evolved into nursing rooms that took in the elderly of all mental states, not just the mentally ill. Howeve, the popularity of nursing homes spread in the twentieth century, redefining our ethics toward the older generations.
Our sense of responsibility, as well as how we value the lives of older people changed dramatically.
Whereas before, there was an understood responsibility to take care of the aging population, the aging have become more and more neglected. Children would learm the responsibility of taking care of an older relative, and when they grew up, would follow that system of respect. However, as the use of nursing homes became less focused on the medically insane, and began to include the entire aged demographic, the general population began to rely on nursing homes as a way to abandon responsibility, and with it abandon aged relatives. With this, ethics concerning treatment of the older and weaker collapsed, and as a society of individuals, we no longer felt the inherent duty to care for those who needed help. In the case of for-profit nursing homes, we began to believe that we could pay someone to take care of
older relatives, disregarding the value of a personal relationship. The lives of the older demographic were devalued, as the common view of older people shifted. Elders were no longer seen as wiser, more experienced relatives, but rather as burdens that needed to be dealt
with, something that needed to be cleared froma person’s conscience. The use of nursing homes set in motion the spread of these views throughout society, making them common and accepted.
The attitudes against the elderly have had a negative impact on the psychological state and of older people. AS people age, they feel that their lives are losing value, because society, now, gives them few alternatives to a stagnant life in nursing home, ultimately ending in
death. The older age that gives people freedom from the duties of raising a family, and from working, as they retire, instead of making people feel free, instead creates the illusion that they are worthless and also robs them of purpose. The devaluation of life understandably is
one of the causes of the widespread depression that affects older people. The older people get, the less affection and attention they receive. They are treated like burdens, and so they feel like burdens, which is why “the suicide rate in people ages 80 to 84 is more than twice that of
the general population” (Mental Health Minute). And the ageist views held by nursing home staff, doctors and relatives exacerbated the issue; “depression in elderly people often goes untreated because many people think that depression is a normal part of aging and a natural
reaction to chronic illness, loss and social transition” (National Alliance on Mental lness).
Society had become accustomed to believing that older people are inherently miserable, and inherently worthless, that their treatable problems go ignored. The nursing homes that evolved from asylums, though they no longer keep the elderly locked away in terrible conditions, still exhibit great amounts of ageism. Ageism has been reported in the treatment of the elderly, from the condescending attitude the elderly must face, to being utterly ignored by staff. Cases of abuse have become not only common, but hidden from attention. When it comes to for-profit nursing homes, people leave their older relatives in the care of someone who has not emotional bond or relationship with them, devaluing an elderly person’s life to a simple task. Not only does the devaluation of their lives cause depression and feelings of low self worth, but their low status in nursing homes make them victims of negligence. Nursing homes staff has neglected the needs of the elderly, from medical attention and proper nourishment, to basic hygiene.
In fact, it is estimated that “90 percent of nursing home patients do not get the care that they need.”(Nursing Home Abuse Center). The elderly commonly die wrongful deaths from lack of medical attention, dehydration, malnutrition, or over-medication in the hands of nursing staff, but these deaths are automatically labeled as natural death, when a person is old (Nursing Home Abuse Center). The staff has control over what the elderly members can do, leaving them powerless and vulnerable. Because of this, older people have no power in voicing sexual and physical abuse, until it is bad enough for a relative to notice. This division of power explains why over 30 percent of Nursing Homes have been cited for abuse (Nursing Home Abuse Center).
Having power over the elderly because they are weaker is undoubtedly an ethical problem that nursing homes have created and enforced. The families do not live with their elderly relatives anymore, and usually do not see them on a daily basis, so the abuse in nursing
homes often goes unnoticed. According to the nursing home abuse center “often times, victims of sexual abuse in a nursing home are victimized because their condition makes it difficult to communicate with others. Additionally, victims of sexual abuse in a nursing home
are intimidated by their abuser, or they are told that they will not receive food, medication or other necessities if they speak of the abuse.” The ethics of treatment are bent when it comes to the elderly, both because nursing homes fuel ageist views, and devalue the lives of older
The ageism that nursing homes create extends outside them, reaching into other parts of society. For instance, social ageism is becoming more and more prevalent. When families become separated from their older relatives, children grow up with an absence of elderly
figures in their lives, and when they do visit elderly relative in nursing homes, they see them in a negative light. As a product, children as young as six exhibit ageist tendencies (Kimmel). When a prejudice is rooted in people from such a young age, it becomes more and more
difficult to abolish. As the amount of nursing homes continue to grow, older people are isolated in a space, away from a community. Communities have smaller elderly populations, and the lack of exposure to the elderly leads to ageism in people of all ages. When ageism
becomes ingrained in people, they exhibit it everywhere, including at work.
The discrimination that occurs in hospitals and healthcare in general is rooted in the ageist mindset and is a reason behind why “older people are routinely undervalued under all health care systems” (Mayer). For instance, “older people will not receive screening for certain diseases unless there are particular indications that such screening would be appropriate. Some people may not be recommended for physical rehabilitation because of a view that they could not withstand the rigors of rehabilitation or will not benefit sufficiently from it” (Kane). The view of older people as a burden is becoming common even in professional settings like hospitals. Elderly people get less attention to their health because they are seen as a lost cause. These forms of discrimination however force upon them the view that they are not worth treating because they are old and dying soon anyway. The devaluation of elderly life, once it stretches past being a social prejudice, and becomes accepted in hospitals is an unbelievable leap in ethics. Before nursing homes became prevalent, older people were considered equally important in preserving health and well being, and equally worthy if respect.
The elderly have the potential to do great things for themselves and others. Because they do not have to raise a family or work, they have free time to learn new skills, rediscover old talents, write books, explore the world, and virtually anything that isn’ta hazard. Nursing
homes have been perpetuating ageist views and limiting the lives of elderly for far too long. If the ageist views that have manifested in society didn’t inhibit the lives of the lives of the elderly they would be much healthier and happier, and society would be enriched by valuing
their perspective and insight.