What Does “Home” Mean?

What Does “Home” Mean? – melissa n., M.A., CCC-SLP

Home. The very word evokes a thousand thoughts, feelings, and memories. Webster’s defines home as “one’s place of residence.”  I disagree. I can think of several places, especially as a traveling Speech Pathologist, where I have held residence, but did not then, nor now, think of when I consider the word “home.” As a matter of fact, there are some places that come to mind when I think of “being home” where I never actually “resided.”

I have recently moved back to my “home,” which is the city and surrounding area that I grew up in, where my parents, grandmothers, and more than 20 aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews live. With the relocation came (of course) finding a place to live and moving. Slowly, over the month or so that we’ve been in our new residence, we’ve been making the new place “home.” painting, removing wallpaper, and filling the place with personal decor that has been in storage since I have been doing travel work. It’s a bit like Christmas, opening boxes to find heirlooms from my family and knick knacks and trinkets that I have acquired over the years that have special memories attached. When I look around when I’m unwinding after a day of work, I’m starting to feel as if I am creating yet another “home” for myself and my boyfriend and children.

Obviously, with relocating back to my hometown, it called for a change of facilities and a new environment. Likely due to my own introspection about creating a home for my family, I have been acutely aware and thinking a great deal about the differences in facilities that I have worked in for throughout my 13 years as a Speech Pathologist. Some facilities have been amazingly “homey” environments, and others have been more what I would consider institutional and impersonal.

Simple touches like warm, inviting paint jobs and decor in hallways and resident’s rooms can make a difference. One facility I was contracted with had wonderful nooks and crannies with comfortable seating and materials available for residents and families to utilize. For example, a game room with cards, board games, and jigsaw puzzles available and a media room that included a computer with internet access and DVD player with a varied selection available. Another facility that I was contracted with was similar, with a closed Alzheimer’s unit that was unlike any other I had seen.  Along the hallways, there were themed sections. One section was themed toward fishing and included an actual fishing rod displayed with a creel (fishing basket) that held plastic fish that the residents could pick up and touch. Another section was a laundry theme and there was a laundry line with clothes pins, a small basket and several items of baby clothes that could be hung or taken down and folded. The unit had a “quiet room” at the end of one hallway, and a large, main dining/activity area that was bright and cheerful. The meals were served “family style,” served from large bowls as if one were at a family gathering. The staff was welcome to eat meals with the residents, as if part of a “family,” and wore khakis and t-shirts with a small logo to make the environment less institutional. Outside of each resident’s door was a small display case with some of his/her personal items and a couple of pictures of him/her with family. All of these minute details created a very “homey” environment.

An environment that encourages our residents to feel truly at home should be a priority. Reminding ourselves that most of them truly are residents at our facilities. Most of them will spend their last days there; some of them are young and will be in care facilities for decades. Making a feeling of comfort, security, and love does not just depend on the staff and their behaviors and attitudes. Environmental details can be within reasonable cost and simple to do. What we want is not what Webster defines as “home,” not just a residence but a place where our residents feel at peace and are surrounded by familiar, memorable items. I think that home should be more than just a place to reside, but a place to laugh, love, and truly live.