Renew that 'Us Weekly' subscription: Nursing home residents are just like us!

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Tim Mullaney
Tim Mullaney

If you understand the title's reference to Us Weekly's “Stars — They're Just Like Us!” segments, you'll probably be happy to hear this: Nursing home residents derive great benefits from keeping up with celebrity culture. That's according to a study done in Belgian nursing homes, which provides some ideas for how to improve residents' quality of life through their interest celebrity culture.

When it comes to consuming celebrity news, nursing home residents really are just like everyone else, University of Antwerp researcher Nathalie Claessens, Ph.D., determined. Through interviews and focus groups at two nursing homes, she found that celebrity news provides “food for conversations,” and celebrities' personal lives are particularly good fodder for discussions about morality. This also holds true for the “general” audience for celebrity news, Claessens wrote.

Nursing home residents also can come to see celebrities as “social companions,” even though they recognize that the relationship is necessarily one-sided, Claessens found. Again, this holds true for people outside nursing homes as well — although people living in the community might not rely as much on these “parasocial” relationships to combat loneliness.

In at least one respect, however, nursing home residents get a unique benefit from celebrity culture. Claessens uses the term “aide memoire” to describe how celebrity news or photos of stars from the past can help nursing home residents reminisce and construct their identity. Nursing homes that offer screenings of classic films and host Elvis impersonators are aware of this benefit.

But here's a tip: If your facility is focused exclusively on the “aide memoire” function of celebrities, it's probably underestimating residents — at least those like the participants in Claessens' study, who are not in the advanced stages of dementia. These residents did tend to prefer celebrities of their own generation, but “they knew (at least) as much about current celebrities,” the interviews revealed. (Men in particular displayed an interest in current sports stars, so Sports Illustrated probably should be delivered to the nursing home along with Us Weekly.)

While there's an appetite for up-to-date celebrity news, note that residents might not be very interested in the Kardashians. The study group strongly preferred celebrities who earned their status rather than people who were “famous for being famous.” This likely is because residents held on to “earlier media habits and preferences,” which did not include “reality” television, Klaessen surmised.

Media also used to have a more local focus, Klaessen pointed out. Perhaps this is why the residents displayed stronger interests in local celebrities than international ones — for instance, one resident said that she followed the news after Princess Diana died, but it was of limited interest because Great Britain felt “quite distant.” So, providing updates on homegrown stars is likely to have a big payoff, even if not every community has a local celebrity with the stature L'il Sebastian in Pawnee, IN.

The findings appear as a chapter in the recently published book “Aging, Media and Culture,” edited by academics at Miami University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. It seems to be a meaty volume full of other interesting research, which I want to take a look at … right after I watch Prince Harry dancing to Katy Perry.

Tim Mullaney is McKnight's Senior Staff Writer. Follow him @TimMullaneyLTC.


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McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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