Here’s my first article for SeniorCare.com:
4 Simple Ways Families Can Make a Difference During a Long-Term Care Stay
When your mom or dad is in a long-term care home—whether it’s for rehab or a longer stay in a nursing home or assisted living—it’s a big adjustment for the whole family. Nerves are often frayed from dealing with major decisions during a medical crisis, and it’s likely you’re concerned about your loved one getting proper care.
While certain aspects of the situation are frustratingly out of your control, there are some steps you can take to make your loved one more comfortable and their time in the home more rewarding.
1. Attend the Care Plan Meeting
Early on in your parent’s long-term care stay and periodically thereafter, there will be a meeting to discuss how treatment is going and what adjustments are needed. This is the single most important time for a family member to be at the nursing home (or to connect via conference call or video chat). Key people from each department are gathered to discuss how Mom or Dad is faring, so this is your best opportunity to raise concerns and have them addressed and written into the plan of care.
2. Bring food from home
Of all the complaints I’ve heard as a nursing home psychologist, among the most common is one about the food. Of all the compliments mentioned about family visits, the highest praise is reserved for a visit followed by the comment, “And they brought me something to eat.” Give mom or dad a break from the facility kitchen by bringing in a special treat – and be sure to check with the dietician or nurse first to be sure it meets with dietary guidelines. If your parent is on a chopped diet due to swallowing difficulties, for example, the kitchen may be able to chop up the food so it’s safe or the dietician can recommend foods that are already sized appropriately.
3. Set up a chain of contacts
Admission to a long-term care setting is a hectic time and often one family member takes the lead in keeping track of the situation. To reduce the pressure on the one family member and to increase the number of social supports for mom and dad, consider giving more structure to the help offered by friends, neighbors, and relatives. For example, one friend, neighbor, and relative might be designated to call others, so that the lead family member only has to contact three people in order to start the chain of support. Or a schedule can be created for calls, visits, and outside meals. With four people on the schedule each taking a week, your loved one can be assured of weekly contacts while the helpers are responsible on a manageable once-a-month basis.
4. Bring photos and other mementos
Even for a brief stay, having a family photo on the table can be hugely reassuring for a resident, reminding them of who they are, who they’ve been, and that there are people who care about them. It reminds the staff too, and gives them an inkling of whom they’re helping. Remember to bring a copy of a photo and not a precious original and to label everything. Other ideas: a picture of your loved one in their younger days, a quilt or blanket to make the room homey, and a telephone programmed with frequently called numbers.