Family Members Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety in Nursing Home Residents

(This post first appeared as a guest post at
In my years as a psychologist in long-term care, I find it’s normal for new residents to be feeling some depression or anxiety. Most of us would take time to adjust if we were away from home, feeling poorly, not able to get around like we used to, and living among strangers. With a few simple interventions, family members can help ease this adjustment process and reduce the likelihood the depression or anxiety will be long-lasting.
Call or visit regularly – It helps residents to know that Junior will call or visit every Sunday, or the first Monday of the month, rather than wondering when their next visitor will arrive. If schedules need to be more flexible, calling in advance of a visit will provide days of looking forward to your arrival.
Attend activities together – One of the best features of nursing homes is the opportunity to try new things and meet new people. Check the recreation calendar to find events of interest to your loved one, attend them together, and point out other activities that might be enjoyed in your absence.
Facilitate friendships with other residents – Ask the social worker or recreation therapist if they know other residents with similar interests, and bring them together to talk about baseball, their hometown, music, etc.
Bring photos or other mementoes – Even if the stay will be a brief one, it can be comforting to have a family photo or other sentimental object in the room. Bring items that are important but not irreplaceable.
Throw a room-warming party – For residents who enjoy company, invite friends and relatives to an open house to encourage visitors. For more on this, see my blog post Throw Me A Party.
Enjoy some home-cooked food – Sharing a home-cooked meal, or some take-out, within dietary guidelines, is a great way of bonding and of bringing the comforts of home into the nursing facility.
Request an evaluation by the psychologist – If you’re worried about your loved one, ask the team for a psychological evaluation. Most psychologists schedule weekly sessions, if needed, to discuss concerns, but don’t prescribe medication. (That’s the job of the psychiatrist.)
Develop your own supports – Residents often worry about the burden they’re placing on their family members. Help them by helping yourself. There are tons of support options out there, from online resources to in-person support groups, with some of them listed in the Resources for Family Members section in the sidebar of my blog.
For more caregiving ideas, see my post Caregiving for Family Members in Nursing Homes

2 thoughts on “Family Members Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety in Nursing Home Residents”

  1. Dr. El,

    Thank you, once again, for pointing out the importance of residents attending activities. Residents are most frequently admitted to a nursing home from the hospital. Often they arrive in less than perfect shape, mentally and physically, the last thing on their minds is recreation. As you stated, families can play a huge part in the adjustment to the facility by attending and encouraging loved ones to participate in recreation programs.

    Nursing home regulations require assessments, screenings etc. by so many disciplines, yet, that psychological evaluations are not required on admission, has always been surprising to me.

  2. Sue, because everyone is so focused on physical health when they arrive at the nursing home, and because virtually everyone on staff in nursing homes is medically oriented, mental health is often addressed only when it becomes an issue in medical treatment. For example, I might get a referral when a resident is noncompliant with medication, or refuses to go to rehabilitation. Virtually everyone coming through the door has been through some sort of trauma — illness, hospitalization, medical procedures, taken out of their home, etc — and, I agree, they should be evaluated, even if it's not a requirement. Perhaps this topic deserves its own blog post.


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