Experts share insights on gender differences in nursing home residents’ experiences, and strategies for choosing a quality facility that suits the needs of an individual.
Moving into a care home is often a major transition in people’s lives, but new research shows that men tend to have a harder time adapting to life in a nursing home than their female counterparts.
The study, published by The Gerontologist, found that nursing home’s male residents were more likely to report a lower quality of life, and in particular, less satisfaction with their activities and relationships, compared to female residents.
According to geriatric and palliative care nurse Abraham Brody at New York University, who was not involved in the study, the findings highlight the importance of tailoring meaningful activities for individuals in care facilities, and creating opportunities for residents to engage with one another and staff.
Brody emphasized that a nursing home is above all, a home. “It’s why we call individuals who live there residents,” he told Being Patient. “It’s this opportunity to really take that environment and make it their home, and people who are in their homes want to do things that are meaningful to them.”
The new research, he added, lines up with his own experience with nursing homes residents. “The women are more likely to engage with each other [and] staff, [and having] conversations with staff or with the other residents, whereas men are more likely to sit there and watch the TV or do other things on their own,” Brody said.
Researchers in the study, which is part of a broader project led by social gerontologist Tetyana Shippee of the University of Minnesota, analyzed data in 2017 of 9,852 residents from 364 nursing homes in Minnesota. The team also interviewed 64 residents in four nursing homes, and observed residents’ daily life in these facilities. (As the study focused on nursing home residents in a single midwestern state, results may vary with regional and cultural differences, the study’s authors wrote.)
Men and Women Acclimate to Nursing Homes Differently
After controlling for residents’ and nursing homes’ characteristics, the researchers showed that men’s overall quality of life was significantly lower than women. The largest differences in quality of life measures between male and female residents were seen in their scores for meaningful activities and positive relationships with other residents and staff.
Through interviews, the team found that female residents often viewed their living situation in a more positive light than men. Some female residents actually saw the nursing home as respite from household and family caregiving responsibilities.
On the other hand, men tended to describe their nursing home as an undesirable place to live, long-term. They were less likely to see other residents as their friends or have family to rely on, compared to female residents. When it comes to activities organized by the nursing homes, the team found that male residents were also less likely to be involved and feel satisfied with these activities; further, men described their desire for more opportunities to play games like dominoes or card games, and go on trips outside of their nursing home.
“In nursing homes, a lot of the activities are crafts or bingo, and men aren’t necessarily as drawn to some of the activities that are frequent in homes,” lead author Heather Davila told Being Patient.
“A lot of residents, but especially men, talked about wanting to do more outings into the community, and that’s not possible all the time,” Davila, health services researcher at Iowa City Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, continued. “But they talked about wanting to see a sporting venue, go to a game, go out for dinner, or go to a hardware store in the neighborhood. I remember one man talking about wanting to have tools available. He had done woodworking in his life and enjoyed that.”
Some men would organize their own social gatherings, the team observed. Nevertheless, many male residents spent a substantial amount of time alone in their rooms, watching TV or listening to the radio.
Brody noted that this social isolation can trigger the snowballing of health issues, like depression, changes in sleep-wake cycles and eating problems.
“Even though you’re around other people, you’re socially isolated,” he said, “and that leads down the road towards sleep-pattern changes, depressive symptoms, either overeating or undereating, and other problems.”
How Can Families Help Their Loved Ones Feel More at Home in a Nursing Home?
There are ways to help people, both men and women, acclimate to the new environment of a nursing home, and that starts with finding the best fit. Both Brody and Davila said Medicare.gov, which publishes ratings for certified nursing homes, is a good place to start. Guidance from family, friends or an aging life care manager can help too. Visiting the facility in person whenever possible is an important next step.
“Spend some time walking around,” Davila said. “Just get a feel for the place. Are there unpleasant smells or noises? Do residents seem happy? Are they interacting with each other? How are the interactions between staff and residents?”
Brody added, “Are all of the call lights on? If all the call lights are on, that means the residents are having to wait to have their needs met, so it means there’s probably a staffing issue.”
He also encouraged people to ask facilities’ staff about the types of activities offered, and whether they can accommodate individuals’ hobbies: “‘Here are the things I really like to do’ or ‘Here are the things my loved one really likes to do. Can you accommodate that? And if so, how?’”
Other points to consider include a nursing home’s proximity to family, Brody added, and whether there are residents from cultural backgrounds that people can relate to.