That's Entertainment?

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

A recent news item generated much debate in nursing home circles in our area: The resident council of a skilled nursing facility here on Long Island included a male stripper on their entertainment roster in 2012. He did indeed come to the facility to perform (here's the link). One resident's family subsequently sued, noting that their loved one was "traumatized" by the experience of such lewdness up close and personal. The story broke last week.

As you might guess, talk radio had a ball with this item, roundly trouncing the litigious family as either money-hungry or in the grasp of extreme denial of their loved one's sexuality. To our surprise, many staff members who work in long-term care voiced the belief that any form of entertainment that any resident might find offensive has no place in a well-run facility. The residents had a more mixed assessment of the situation-their views ranged from "hey, why don't we have strippers here?" to strongly voiced preference for more Bingo games.

Federal law is clear about the civil rights of residents in skilled nursing facilities: Living in a nursing home does not preclude one's right to free association, free speech, or the pursuit of happiness as one sees fit. As long as the behaviors in question are legal, they are not only permissible, but the facility is actually charged with the responsibility of ensuring that they may be pursued by interested residents. The facility has the right to insist on certain standards of privacy/discretion, of course, but since residents are in their own homes, they may pursue whatever interests they please. The technicalities can get a little dicey when one has roommates and the setting offers sparse common areas, but motivated folks have been dealing with these sorts of social niceties for years (basically, the same strategy we used back in college-a sock or tie on the doorknob means privacy is needed). Bottom line: As long as nobody is forced to take part in activities they find offensive or hurtful, such activities are permissible.

Here's the thing that many critics don't get: Age and physical or functional limitations don't invariably change (or dampen) people's interests. Instead they often deepen them. Just because you're not Arnold Palmer doesn't preclude an interest in watching golf on TV, reading golf magazines, or talking about golf. Gourmet cooks don't lose their taste for exotic dishes and fine wines, although these are rarely featured on nursing home menus. Oddly, many families will gleefully sneak "forbidden" food and drink into facilities for their loved ones, but draw the line (or recoil in horror) at facilitating other interests (such as viewing online porn).

Personal attitudes aside, the sticky detail here isn't the food or the porn-it's the challenge of ensuring adequate privacy and protected space for the pursuits in question. Many places with dietary strictures (for example, those who follow kosher law) have rooms where "forbidden" foods may be brought, prepared, served, and eaten. Similarly, potentially offensive video or similar entertainment should be viewed in areas that can be secured. Warnings about 'explicit materials' may be posted to allow those who would be offended to go elsewhere. Those socks can still be placed on doorknobs-it's no big deal. The real issue here may be coming to terms with our preconceptions about age and what's "appropriate" for older adults.


Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, which is available at, or may be purchased directly from HarperCollins Publishers.

Our latest book is entitled How to Age in Place: Planning for a Happy, Independent, and Financially Secure Retirement, published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.