Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nursing homes: How I learned to cope

I've had nursing homes on my mind recently. I think it was something my mom said about a family friend. After several decades of providing care in her home, the friend moved her almost centenarian mother into a nursing home.

Nursing homes aren't the first choice, especially if you can provide in-home care for a loved one. Sometimes, in-home care, especially for family members with dementia can be overwhelming physically, mentally and financially.

My personal experience with nursing homes was when my late husband moved into one at 33 following a catastrophic stroke. I was 30.

Nursing homes can be scary to both the people living in them and to those visiting. It's not independent living. Residents have to wait their turn sometimes. Group activities can be as daunting to a new resident as staying in a small room. And, goodness, throw in a roommate! It can be uncomfortable at times.

Here are a few things I learned along my journey as a caregiver:
  • Be realistic. Understand that it will be an adjustment for the entire family when a loved one moves to a nursing home. It isn't home and there are a lot of people living under one roof.  
  • If you or your loved one is having a difficult time adjusting, speak to the facility's social worker. Be sure to bring up any issues at the care plan meetings — those monthly or quarterly meetings where you meet with nursing and medical staff.
  • Get involved in the patient or family council meetings. Here, you will meet other family members. You can discuss things that are going well at the facility or discuss things that need improvement. Some facilities also offer special programs for family members, too. These groups are a great way to remind yourself that you are not alone.
  • Get your rest. You need to rejuvenate, so you can be a better visitor.
The most difficult lesson I learned in a nursing home setting it that problems will arise. It's inevitable, but between you and your family member you'll figure out the right way to resolve the issues.

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