or if you are -- then you'd better catch "No Place Like Home," a sensitive PBS report on "Long Term Care for the Elderly" tonight at 9 on Channel 26.
It will almost surely make you cry.
"Time," says narrator Helen Hayes, "is what most old people don't have." And, with the graying of America -- by the mid 2000s, over-65s will represent some 20 percent of America versus 4 percent in 1900 and 11 percent today -- the problem of caring for the "frail elderly" becomes increasingly urgent.
The $21-billion-a-year nursing home industry won't be crazy about this program, which concludes that in all but the most extreme circumstances home is better than even the best nursing home. Moreover, there are still woefully few "best" quality nursing homes in this country.
Of the $5 billion spent yearly on the elderly by Medicaid, about 78 percent goes to nursing homes. Only 1 percent goes to home-care services.
Although most think of nursing homes as medical institutions, 90 percent of direct care of nursing home residents is given by untrained personnel with 75 percent turnover rate.
About three-quarters of the American nursing homes are now privately owned and operated for profit.
Facts are only part of the story, though, and at the heart of "No Place Like Home" are the intelligent and gracious interviews Hayes conducts with elderly people.
Over and over nursing home patients say things like:
"It shouldn't be called a home. We're more like inmates than patients . . ."
Or, from a man whose voice breaks as he speaks:
" . . . just to be able to go into your own fridge to get something to eat when you're hungry . . ."
Or: "You don't own your own soul . . ."
"No Place Like Home" explores experimental programs and their successes in Connecticut, Minneapolis and San Francisco as well as the British experience. It comes almost on the eve of the White House Conference on Aging, which is mandated to recommend a national policy.
"Older people," concludes Hayes, "deserve choices that let us live out our days as we wish. We've seen people making choices all over America, and we realize what we might have known from the start: For most of us, there really is no place like home."