Every major stage in our life’s journey can lead us to not only have feelings of wonder and joy, but can also lead to feelings of despair and confusion. We must make decisions that could affect our wellbeing and our mental health. One major change for seniors is the idea of living in a retirement community or living at home. We cliché have this image of elderly people getting shipped away to nursing homes and yet this is not the case. “Approximately 70 percent of the elderly live in a family setting…20 percent live alone…the remaining number live in institutions such as nursing homes.”(Cox pg.119). Thus we must ask what makes seniors decide to stay at home as they age or enter into a nursing home? What conscious and unconscious factors play a role in the living arraignments of seniors in our community?
Independence is something we value very highly on a personal level. Psychologically speaking we are always moving towards a place of individualism within a collective social environment. This being the case, the elderly are faced with a tough decision regarding their choice of living. Do they stay at home or do they move into a nursing home? “Because most older Americans would prefer to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible, their relocation…is often accompanied by a considerable amount of trauma and unrest.”(Cox, pg.119). As a result, many elderly people or the baby boomer generation are developing “’a naturally occurring retirement community,’ or NORC.”(Buntin, pg. 124). These communities are made up of seniors who, due to spouses dying or children have left, have come together and formed close nit almost dorm like apartment complexes. “Demographics estimate that 90 percent of baby boomers will age in place.”(Buntin, pg. 124). This recognition that so many seniors wish to stay at home, and age in place, is being supported by many state wide organizations who wish to aid the elderly in the process of not having to live in nursing homes. Why is the idea of living in one’s own home so important, beyond the conscious idea of wanting to age in place? Carl Jung held that the house is symbol of the totality of the psyche. He personally had two experiences that reflected this notion. In a dream before his break with Freud he saw himself in a house with many levels. Each level as he went down became older and more ancient until the sublevel below the basement was prehistoric. This lead Jung to understand the concept of the Collective Unconscious and the symbol of the psyche reflected in a house. (Jung, pg.). After his break with Freud, Jung had another image of house. He saw a large castle-like structure being built and he instantly recognized that this was a symbol of his entire psyche. In his conscious life he actually built the house he saw in his dream, and explained that all of the elements inside and out represented him.(Jung, pg.) If this symbol of the house having a total connection to the individual psyche can be applied in a collective level, then this would help us understand why seniors, and people in general, feel the strong urge to stay at their home throughout their lives.
Moving into a nursing home can be incredibly hard for many who have spent the majority of their lives in the same place. Memories that cannot be replaced and a distinct familiarity is something that many seniors do not wish to give up by moving. However, can locations be found that can attempt to replicate the feeling of a safe and homely environment? This is being attempted by Dr. Bill Thomas and his Green House project.(Fine pg. 122). In these Green Houses senior are treated with respect and dignity and not like prisoners as one fine in many mainstream nursing homes. “Residents are called “elders” not “patients”. Unlike in most nursing homes, residents can have pets, and instead of mandated mealtimes, they can choose when to eat…it is quieter…the elders are less agitated.”(Fine pg. 122). With the success of incorporating a loving and supportive living environment, The Green House Project is allowing seniors to move into communal living without compromising their physical and mental wellbeing.
When seniors are faced with the fear of having to move out of their home and into a nursing home, we find that it is for good reason. The place that represents their entire stability in life is being threatened. Therefore, if the federal and state governments can support elders living at home, or implement such styles of nursing homes as the Green House Project, then this fear can be abided and not materialize for the elderly in our communities. The home is a valuable projection of a symbol from the unconscious. It is important on a personal and collective level. We cannot force seniors to make decisions that will prove to be detrimental to their wellbeing. Through support and care can we aid them in the last stage of their lives.