Here's a thoughtful article on the quality of life for older people in a good nursing home, by documentary film-maker Alan Gilsenan in the Irish Times:
'Real care does not reside in the building or its facilities... but rather in the spirit of the people within. Laughter seems to be a huge part of this: a shared sense of humour that engages with the elderly rather than excludes them. Time too is hugely important: the time to sit and talk, to listen. The ability to engage with each person as an individual rather than as a unit. Above all, tenderness. Time and time again, one glanced down a corridor or through an open door to see a gentle hand on a shoulder, a supporting arm, an easy hug. These little gestures spoke of some enduring goodness, some small triumph of humanity, in a health service so maligned and under threat.
'Strangely, while there is a sense of warmth and light inside the home, one would be less certain about the life for older people on the outside. Spending time with the many day-care users, who live independently in the community but visit St Monica’s for one day a week, one was struck by the loneliness and fear of many of them.
'The demise of neighbourliness and the onset of violent crime against the elderly was a constant theme. The quiet emptiness of weekends and bank holidays seemed to carry a particular poignancy. For many, that day inside St Monica’s each week was a lifeline of care and fun and support.'
This theme has been part of the thinking behind the Haringey Neighbourhoods Connect project underway with Networked Neighbourhoods, working with networks of informal neighbourhood carers. We can't insist that older people are necessarily better off ageing in place rather than in an institution, but we can take steps to make it more desirable as an option.