Respecting the Aging Self: Communication in the Nursing Home


  • Jean Tinney National Ageing Resarch Institute Parkville, Victoria



long term care, nursing home, communication, care, respect, self


This article draws on findings of an ethnographic nursing home study that explores the role of communication in maintaining residents’ sense of self. These findings suggest that the nursing home can be a site for recovery for the aging self, despite loss and bereavement and the negative effects on self-esteem of pain, illness and loss of function. However, where care privileges the body over social and emotional needs, residents have inadequate opportunities for communication essential to make sense of being old and in care. The key to sustaining the aging self is empathetic communication that recognizes the individuality and value of each older person, no matter how reduced by present illness or incapacity, and at the same time respects residents’ rights of choice and personal control. Harried staff, often well-intentioned but unsupported by management, carry an unfair burden. Frequently called upon to do more with less, they find themselves faced with the competing pressures of work routines and residents’ emotional needs. In trying to balance these competing needs and provide opportunities for residents to exert personal control over their lives, they must protect both the residents and themselves from the results of “wrong” choices.