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Bleak Abyss Retirement Home

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Maybe it's a good thing she can't remember where she is.
Lisa: I can't believe you would take away their fun to make your jobs easier!
Nurse: They should have had their fun before they came here!

When the elderly can't take care of themselves, often the most practical solution is a nursing home or assisted living facility. The kids and relatives, if any, have their own lives and can't devote themselves to full time care. Or they don't have the additional space that taking Grandma in would require, and relocating (or having the house made disability-friendly) is just not an option. Or the elderly person in question needs round-the-clock expert care (as with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia), instead of just a little extra help. Staying in home with a private nursing staff is out of reach for all but the wealthiest. A dedicated facility catering to the needs of the elderly is the pragmatic solution.

But that doesn't make it easy.

When it's time to "put mom in a home," expect a great deal of angst over the decision, quite possibly dividing siblings over the appropriate course of action. Moving to a new place inevitably means abandoning a house filled with personal effects and memories that are irreplaceable. After arrival, it gets worse: The promised weekly visits from the kids become more like once a month, or once a year. The staff is at best patronizingly helpful, perhaps talking like kindergarten teachers to the residents, paying heed to the elder's physical needs but not to any need for dignity. At worst, they could be neglectful or abusive. Expect the food to be bland and possibly pureed.

The home could be run-down and dingy, but even if it isn't, it will often be clinical, antiseptic, and dehumanizing. Attempts at warmth with arts-and-crafts projects on the walls will be about as effective as motivational posters at a corporate office. Often times, there will be nothing to do aside from talking to the other residents and maybe playing Games of the Elderly every so often. As a result, for grandkids visiting the place, it ranks up there with church services and the Museum of Boredom as one of the most mind-numbingly boring places out there.

On the other hand, if the kids have some unresolved issues with their parents, then they might see putting the parents in sub-par nursing homes and never coming back as a deserved punishment.

Tragically, there is a lot of truth to this trope and there are many, many law firms that specialize in cases involving nursing home abuse and neglect because of it.

See also Orphanage of Fear and Boarding School of Horrors.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Japan, Inc. has a chapter in which the main characters visit a nursing home (one of them has an elderly parent who may need such a facility and the others use this as an excuse to investigate a possible investment). The place is decent enough, but very depressing, and the characters decide to recommend investing in ways for senior citizens to continue living with family.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1987): This forms the last blow-up in a long, bitter history between Myndi Mayer and her sister Lili. After their abusively traditional father (who, among other things, worked their mother to an early grave) succumbs to Alzheimer's, Lili - who'd played Daddy's Girl all her life mostly to spite Myndi - puts him in a "snake pit" of a nursing home. The disowned Myndi, by now an accomplished businesswoman, transfers him to the best facility she can find as a way of "buying" his love (not that it really works, since the old man's mind has decayed so far that he thinks Myndi is Lili on every single visit).
  • Le Petit Spirou: Mr. Mégot the gym teacher is shown living in one in a dream sequence. Little is shown of the home itself (but it's literally called "The Last Gasp") as the focus is on the hugely muscular adult Spirou and Vertignasse, come to extract vengeance from their old gym teacher. This causes Mégot to wake up and cancel the day's exhausting workout.

    Fan Works 
  • The Merry Go Round Broke Down: Happy Shiny Fun-Fun Retirement Palace is a sad, broken down place where only the most forgotten toons, guys like George Jetson (but not his wife, Jane, who ran off with another man decades ago) and Captain Caveman, live.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Up, no examples are shown, but the idea is there. The elderly in the Pixar Short George and AJ are so repulsed by the idea of entering a retirement home that they happily follow Carl's example and uproot their houses for destinations unknown. Eventually the denizens of Shady Oaks itself follow suit.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Bubba Ho Tep, Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy lived in a run-down rest home. It is played with in that the residents aren't being actively mistreated and are pretty well taken care of... but that's it and the old folks really have nothing to do except sit around waiting for meals and the occasional visit from family (if they visit).
  • In The Invention of Lying, there is a nursing home called "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People."
  • The Real Macaw plays with the trope: The plot revolves around preventing the main character's grandfather from getting put in a retirement home, but it's because of the grandfather's enormous debt. They had to sell his house to pay it off.
  • In Win Win, much of the plot revolves around a well-off elderly man unwillingly consigned to an assisted living facility, and who bears responsibility for this. The facility is apparently decent, but the man is still unhappy about leaving his home.
  • Happy Gilmore: The cheerful orderly who runs the place is actually forcing the old folks to work in a horrible sweat shop and threatens the residents into keeping quiet about the conditions to their relatives. When family visits, he immediately slides back in pretending to be a caring, nice orderly.
  • Carl Reiner's dark farce Where's Poppa? has a scene where the lead character tours a Dickensian nursing home that he's considering putting his senile mother in.
  • In She-Devil, Ruth accepts a job at the expensive and dehumanizing Golden Twilight rest home. She quickly proceeds to bring some color into the lives of both staff and retirees, such as a soccer match that proves to be a hit with the old ladies. However, the one thing not tolerated at Golden Twilight is incontinence, and Ruth uses that to her advantage to frame Mary Fisher's gossipy mother as a bed wetter, getting her kicked out of the home and forced into moving in with Mary.
  • Gran Torino: One of Walt's sons tries to convince him to move into a retirement home but not at all out of genuine concern for his bitter, elderly, and recently-widowed father, oh no. He just wanted the house, some of the stuff and hoped he'd get the titular Cool Car out of the deal too. One can only presume that this trope would have followed. Walt tells him to go to Hell.
  • In Cloud Atlas, publisher Timothy Cavendish ends up in one. He is on the run from a client's gangster relatives, and asks his brother Denholm for help. Denholm is fed up of helping Timothy, and Timothy soon finds out the place where he expected to lie low for a while is really a well-appointed prison where people dump their parents, and he can't get out. Unlike most examples of this trope, it's Played for Laughs, and Timothy is soon invited to join the escape committee.
  • The Australian movie The Empty Beach (1985) has Private Detective Cliff Hardy stumble across a Nightmare Fuel version, where the residents are locked in their rooms so their pensions can be collected and spent by the criminal running the place, who disposes of their bodies via an incinerator in the basement when they die of starvation and neglect.
  • The 1986 comedy Tough Guys is about two aging ex-cons who are let out of prison. One of them is not happy to be told he's reached mandatory retirement age and so has to live in a retirement home. He's reported to his parole officer for being a 'disruptive influence' after he demands proper food and sleeps with a female resident.
  • The Sinners of Hell: The Tenjoen old folks' home. It's bad when you're an old person basically left on a mat on the floor to die; it's even worse when your husband is cheating on you with some young tart in the very next room, within earshot. The residents in the shabby common room complain about the food and accuse the doctor of skimming off of their welfare payments; he angrily denies it. He does however have no problem serving rotten fish to the residents.
  • "Grandma", the last episode of If I Had A Million (1932), is about Idylwood, a 'rest place for elderly ladies' run by Mrs. Garvey (Blanche Frederici) who makes the girls sit in rocking chairs in drab uniforms and won't allow cats, cards or even a little cooking. Feisty Mary Walker (May Robson) often stands up to the old bitch... and she's the one who gets a million dollars from tycoon John Glidden, who's giving his fortune away to random strangers instead of his greedy relatives. She turns Idylwood into a private club with luxurious furnishings, party nights with gentlemen friends (including Glidden, who takes quite a shine to Mary) and, of course, cats everywhere.note  What do the old staff get paid to do? Sit in their rocking chairs and rock, and nothing else.
  • I Never Sang For My Father has Gene Hackman's character touring one of these in anticipation of having to house his aging father there, and being overcome with horror and guilt.
  • Children of Nature: The old folks' home in Reykjavik. There doesn't appear to be any sign of overt physical abuse, but it is clearly a warehouse where people wait to die, and the nurses are really jailers. The administrator, while claiming that everyone is free in the home, also tells Thorgeir and his daughter that the staff limits how much pocket money the residents can hold. Notably, the secretary that serves them coffee asks the daughter "how does he take it?", rather than asking Thorgeir, who is sitting right there. When Thorgeir first arrives Stella is being forcibly taken back to her room; later we learn that she was caught at the bus station. After she gets a little to vocal when complaining to Thorgeir, she is again forcibly escorted back to her room. The two of them eventually escape in the middle of the night.
  • I Want You Back: Peter's grandmother stayed in a retirement home in the last years of her life. He described it as a sad, smelly old building with terrible food and bad movies, and is the reason he wants to found his own cozy retirement home. Instead, he's stuck working for a similarly bleak retirement home company.
  • I Care a Lot: Justified. Sam, the director of an assisted living facility, is part of Marla's conspiracy of rob the elderly. She imprisons them in his facility so she can seize and liquidate their assets without interference. In exchange for a cut of the profits, Sam has his staff control and abuse the victims to keep them from stopping Marla's fraud.

  • In Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik, the heroine's grandmother lives and dies at such a facility.
  • Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell. The intelligence services of the world have set up several luxury "retirement" communities on neutral ground where no-one is allowed to be harmed. Only the men running them know that the residents (ambitious men who've fallen from grace, cooped up in a Gilded Cage which eventually palls) are frequently Driven to Suicide.
  • City of Bones (2002) opens with LAPD detective Harry Bosch at the Splendid Age Retirement Home. It's so splendid that one of the residents hanged herself in despair.
  • In Barbara Brooks Wallace's Peppermints In The Parlor, Sugar Hill Hall as seen through the eyes of the orphan girl working there.
  • In Red Dragon, the villain grew up in his grandmother's house modified into a retirement home. '
  • Tricky Business has a downplayed version: while the staff isn't too rude or insulting (except for one guy who threatens to put Phil and Arnold in the Assisted Living wing, aka the loony bin), they're not used to having their patients being very active (in fact, large quantities of drugs are distributed to keep them quiet). Phil and Arnold bribe an orderly by giving him their allotted drugs, which he then sells at parties.
  • In The Twelve Chairs, Ostap Bender visits a retirement home of this kind in search of the MacGuffin. Bleak, antiseptic and run by a very stingy and embezzling administrator (and a bunch of the administrator's relatives chowing on old ladies' rations).
  • Carlotta gives her kittens to a retirement center in Cat Pack. It's well-kept but lonely, so she wants her kittens to brighten up the place.
  • Averted with Min Mar Manor, the assisted living place in Amy Tan 's The Bone-Setter's Daughter. Ruth's estranged husband Art helps her locate a clean, cozy place where some of the attendants speak Mandarin and there's appropriate food and activity. Because LuLing would never take charity, Art creates a fake "radon leak" evacuation notice and tells her the city's going to pay for her stay in this nice hotel. In reality, he plans to pay for it himself. His conspiracy with Ruth to help her mother ends in their reconciliation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In House of Anubis, Sarah thinks of her retirement home as this.
  • The Golden Girls
    • The show has a Running Gag that Dorothy had put Sophia in Shady Pines, a retirement home so bleak that simply mentioning sending her back would humble her. She was there for five years before the place burned down. Although Dorothy feels Sophia is just exaggerating how bad the place was.
    • In a later episode, Sophia's friend Lillian was in a retirement home that Sophia makes clear is the only home worse than Shady Pines. She then concocts a plan to break her friend out. Unlike with Shady Pines, Dorothy believes Sophia because she's seen firsthand how bad the place is. For whatever it's worth, the state of the home is not because the staff is negligent or abusive, but because Sunny Pastures is severely underfunded.
  • Inverted in The Sopranos. Tony's mother Livia constantly refers to her nursing homenote  as if it's a hell-hole (and that Tony doesn't visit her often), but on the whole it's shown to be a relatively pleasant place to live (and that Tony visits as frequently as his schedule allows, and substantially more often than a lot of others might).
  • Waiting for God: The management of Bayview Retirement Village, Harvey Baines, is continually attempting to find ways of cutting costs and making the place more profitable, usually at the expense of the residents. His schemes include poor food, underpaid workers, and having the heat. Fortunately, the main characters are (usually) able to foil his plans and improve their conditions.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit featured an extreme version of this trope in an episode that dealt with elder abuse. The detectives initially suspected one of its orderlies of abusing an old woman who'd broken out, but later discovered that the manager herself was also abusing her charges, deliberately giving them drugs to induce heart attacks so that she could "rescue" them and thus look like a hero (and presumably pump their grateful relatives for more money).
  • Subverted on a two-part episode of Raising Hope. Maw-Maw is admitted to a nursing home after her family is suspected of elder abuse and they try to break her out because they think the nursing home is going to be like this. However, Burt and Virginia realize the staff at the nursing home are doing a better job taking care of her than they were. When she is kicked out and returns home, her family uses some of the techniques they learned from the staff to take care of/deal with her.
  • Mother & Son features one in the first episode. It doesn't seem too bad at first glance, when Arthur is shown around a reasonably comfortable room, but when he drops Maggie off, he's told the room was a "typical" room, which they only had one of at the moment, that Maggie is on the waiting list for a possible future "typical room", and will have to share with another patient in the meantime.
  • Nick Nickleby, The BBC's 2012 Setting Update of Nicholas Nickleby replaces Dotheboys Hall, the Boarding School of Horrors Nicholas works at and is horrified by, with an equally unpleasant carehome named Dotheolds Hall.
  • Averted in All in the Family with the Sunshine Home, where Edith first works as a volunteer, then as an employee. It doesn't have a lot of frills, but has a warm, laid-back ambiance and the residents are happy. The one time Edith does CPR, it's on a visitor, a 40ish high-stress businessman who has a heart attack at his mom's birthday party.
  • Hannibal: Referenced by one aging Serial Killer who lets himself be caught because a life sentence would be more comfortable than any retirement home he could afford.
  • Cheers: Subverted in the second-to-last episode, when Cliff puts his mother in a home, which she treats like this, and is later on mentioned to have been on 60 Minutes twice. However, it soon turns out Cliff's ma is having a great time. Cliff's objection comes from the price, which is more than he can afford.
  • Psych: Zigzagged in "The Old and the Restless." Glorious Pines is a pretty pleasant place (despite the unnaturally complex security system). There's plenty of recreational activity, good food, and people are eager to get in. However, Sunshine Meadows, another retirement home, has bad food and miserable residents who are desperate to get into Glorious Pines.
  • Still Game: Jack, Victor and Isa end up temporarily staying in one of these. The head nurse initially seems nice and friendly, showing off the amenities and claiming they have a highly successful chef working in the kitchen. Once they're there, though... the head nurse turns out to be a Glaswegian Nurse Ratched, the staff are rude and abusive, the food is awful (and complaining leads to more abuse), and there's so little to do the three seriously consider murdering one another.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Tommy decides he's had enough of being forced to pose as the "teenager", so he retires from the mission and moves into a local retirement home. He enjoys it at first, but after a few days he gets so bored he loses track of what day it is. Eventually he decides he can't take it anymore and asks to rejoin the mission.
    Tommy: They keep the TV too loud, it's too hot, everyone's on drugs. It's like a rave without the babes.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Excelsis Dei", the Excelsis Del Nursing Home is one, with a possible poltergeist.

  • Moby's "Natural Blues" music video takes this to Nightmare Fuel levels.
  • Implied Trope in Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson", which deals with a family who are consigning their mother/grandmother to a nursing home.
  • The video for Heavy Metal Breakdown by Grave Digger features the band sneaking out of one to a graveyard, drinking and letting a drop fall on a certain grave, whereupon Death turns them into their (not that much) younger selves, allowing a gig to occur involving drinking Horny Vikings and amazons on flying creatures, before they turn back, go back to the facility - and are met by Death again, who introduces them to their coffins. The sign bearing the name of the place has the subheading "A Nice Place To Die".

  • The Gin Game is about two old folks who get to know each other at a retirement home. The Bentley Nursing Home is a grim and sad place. The staff isn't actively abusive, but it's still a place where the elderly are basically left to rot. It isn't a very well-built place either, being dingy and dilapidated. Weller calls it a "slum" and a "warehouse for the intellectually dead" and is disgusted when the roof starts leaking from the rain.
  • The care center in Allelujah is competently staffed and relatively inviting, but it is suffering horribly from NHS budget cuts and everyone there knows it. Not taking into account one of the nurses murdering any patient she personally feels is beyond help... which, in her opinion, is any patient who can't control their bladder.

    Video Games 
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, two commercials that can be heard on the in-game radio are for different retirement homes. One is Musty Pines, for people who want to get rid of their elderly to get their inheritance faster, and the retirees are guaranteed to only live for three months or fewer. The other is Farewell Ranch, a place that the announcer unashamedly describes as being where the retirees are worked to the point of exhaustion and they have funerals nightly.
  • Ann Sheppard from Heavy Rain lives in one. It's implied that Madison is the first visitor she's had in some time.
  • In Mother 3, Alec, Wess and at least two other senior citizens are thrown into a retirement home built on the site where Wess' house used to be during the three-year Time Skip. The retirement home, called "Old Man's Paradise" is depressing to say the least, being completely run-down, infested with cockroaches, and having several leaks on the roof. The upper floor bedrooms even resemble prison cells, which is fitting considering that the Pigmask army won't let Wess or Alec leave the place. Mike, one of the elderly people thrown there, states that his family rarely comes to visit him and has no one to talk to with the exceptions of Nan and Linda, who work there.

  • A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip is about a nursing home that has low sign-up rates because the place is depressing and dismal and all the old folks look like they're just sitting around, waiting for death. A consultant suggests they do a huge, expensive overhaul of the place, then reveals that he's just kidding, and puts up a sign saying "Waiting For Death World Championships".

    Western Animation 
  • In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Madame Foster believes retirement homes are a sort of prison where the elderly are brainwashed into compliance with tapioca pudding. The caretaker of the episode’s retirement home ends up later admitting that was the case.
  • The Futurama episode "A Clone of My Own" features a virtual reality to this effect.
    Farnsworth: It was as though I were living in a facility in Florida with hundreds of other old people. All day long we'd play bingo, eat oatmeal and wait for our children to call.
    [the rest of the crew gasp in abject horror]
    Leela: It's a hundred times more horrible than anything I could imagine!
  • The Retirement Castle in The Simpsons is a perfect example of this. The orderlies even go out of their way to make life miserable for the elderly to keep them docile and zombie-like, because it makes their jobs easier. In early seasons, the home was portrayed as a totally drab and depressing place, although back then the staff did at least take care of them. Even back then, the Retirement Castle's slogan, "Where the Elderly Go to Hide from the Inevitable," really told you all you need to know about the place.
  • Twice in Rugrats:
    • One episode revolved around a retirement home where the old people were kept out of all the fun activities. Thanks to the babies, things turned into a riot.
    • In one episode, an unappreciated Grandpa moved to Flushing Waters Retirement Center. Unfortunately, it was rather rundown in contrast to what the commercial made Grandpa think.
  • Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from SpongeBob SquarePants live in a retirement home, although, said nursing home isn't as bleak as it is boring. Mermaid Man doesn't mind, naturally, being so senile.
  • An episode of Drawn Together has the cast leave Toot in a nursing home because they realize that she's technically in her 80's (despite 'toons not aging), and a few out-of-context moments make them think she's senile. The nursing home is a filthy mess, but this trope ends up being subverted when its revealed that there is no such thing as Alzheimer's. Old people just fake it to get their loved ones to pay for a nursing home where they can be pampered and they can treat the staff like shit with no consequence.
  • Harvie Krumpet: The staff at Harvie's old-folks home doesn't appear to be abusive but it's still a melancholy place. The Alzheimer's patients have a habit of wandering out and waiting at the bus stop to visit long-dead relatives, so the staff builds a fake bus stop on the grounds.
  • In South Park, the nursing home that Stan's grandfather is put in is compared to a prison, complete with a gang of elders that sells drugs to the local birthday entertainers and a prison economy that uses Hummel figurines as currency.
  • In Scary Larry, some of the residents are so miserable they seize control of a nearby power plant in order to raise awareness of their cause.
  • In the Bojack Horseman episode "Time's Arrow", after finding out that his now-senile mother put amphetamines in his half-sister Hollyhock's coffee, thus making her ill, in an attempt to cause her to lose weight because Beatrice was so used to eating “pretty pills” in her youth, BoJack punishes her by taking her out of her more comfortable nursing home and putting her in the worst one he could find, which looks pretty rundown and has her room overlooking a dumpster.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, when Numbuh Three's first Rainbow Monkey starts getting too old to accompany her on missions, she brings him to a retirement home for Rainbow Monkeys that turns out to be a trap set by Nurse Claiborne so she can take kids' Rainbow Monkeys and grind them up into Rainbow Munchies cereal.
  • Exaggerated in The Proud Family: Happy Endings Retirement Home is a luxury resort like Potemkin Village, beneath which is a straight-up slave plantation where the elderly are forced to harvest okra.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic subverts this in the episode "The Point of No Return" when Twilight and Spike go to see the old Canterlot librarian to return a long-overdue book. While Twilight thinks of the retirement home they go to as this at first, it turns out it's a great place with lots of fun activities for the residents to do, ranging from theater to painting to water-skiing.