Here’s my latest article in Long-Term Living magazine online:
Family members: 5 ways to turn fault finders into fans
For most families, entry into a nursing home is like being teleported onto a strange new planet. The arrival is often swift and unanticipated, and the customs are foreign and frequently unnerving. Think back to your first days in long-term care, subtract your training, add a sick loved one and consider from that vantage point what services you can offer to improve the experience of anxious family members. Here are five ideas to get you started:
1. Provide essential information up front.
Your admissions packet probably includes the basics already, such as a copy of the residents’ rights and information on how to finance a nursing home stay and how to file a grievance. Consider going beyond the essentials to provide helpful details such as the names of the nurses, aides, doctors and social workers, and the fact that, for example, nurses wear white and aides wear blue and what the difference is in their roles in the facility. Anticipate the need for other information such as the location of the business office or how the discharge process works.
2. Offer emotional support via family meetings.
Nursing home entry is an extremely stressful event in the life of a family. Family members may consider nursing home placement to be “the beginning of the end” and be experiencing anticipatory grief as they look toward losing their loved one, even though the loss might be many years away. Most families are negotiating the added life tasks of trying to decide what’s best for Mom and perhaps selling a home or dispersing a lifetime of possessions. Family disagreements are common. Nursing homes that offer supportive and informative sessions run by the social worker or psychologist, with community referrals as needed, are more likely to be viewed with gratitude for meeting this unspoken need than to become targets of misplace anxiety and rage. Examples of meeting topics could include “understanding dementia,” “supporting your loved one during nursing home placement” and “coping with changing family dynamics.” In addition, offering information on illnesses such diabetes, provided by a knowledgeable staff member or by a local representative of an organization such as the American Diabetes Association, can improve the compliance of families with residents’ special diets and reduce conflict with staff (and residents) around this issue.