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Adjusting to the ambivalence of nursing home life was explained by the phrase making the best of it

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Question How do older adults adjust to the dual nature of a Jewish nursing home environment as both an “institution” and a “home”?


Interpretative anthropology.


A 145 bed Jewish nursing home in the western US.


A convenience sample of 21 people (19 women, mean age 85.5 y) who expected to be in the nursing home until they died. All had major health problems and most (76%) were unable to walk without assistance. Length of residency ranged from 3 months to 10 years.


During the 9 month study period, data were collected using ethnographic interviews and participant observation. Multiple conversational interviews were held with each of the participants (range of 5−18 interviews for each participant) and recorded via audiotape. Analysis of interview transcripts and field notes included multiple readings of the text in multiple ways, identification of categories, grouping of categories into themes, and explication of themes in a narrative text.

Main findings

Participants articulated a …

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  • Source of funding: National Center for Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health.

  • For correspondence: Dr D L Kahn, University of Texas at Austin, School of Nursing, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Fax +1 512 471 4910.