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.
- Japan, Inc.. had 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- In Bubba Ho Tep, Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy lived in a run-down rest home.
- 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 Eye 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.
- In Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik, the heroine's grandmother lives and dies at such a facility.
- 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.
- 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: Bayview Retirement Village is portrayed as one of these.
- 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 And 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.
- 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".
- On 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 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 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 an 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 Bojack Horseman, after finding out that his now-senile mother put amphetamines in his Hollyhock's coffee, thus making her ill, BoJack punishes her by putting her in the worst nursing home 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.
- Taken Up to Eleven in The Proud Family: Happy Endings Retirement Home is a straight-up slave plantation where the elderly are forced to harvest okra.