Residents’ Top 5 Complaints About Nursing Homes: #5

Complaint #5: There’s no one here for me to talk to.

Untrue! But we need to prove it to residents by helping them connect with their peers.
The false impression they’re alone in the nursing home is based on several factors:
  • New residents carry the prejudices of most people outside the nursing home, believing everyone inside is confused or too ill to carry on a conversation.
  • The tendency of people to believe they’re unique, when in fact there are many uniquely interesting people in nursing homes. I know. I’ve spoken to them.
  • Nursing home “old-timers” who are more alert tend to leave their units to attend activities. When newbies arrive, they try sitting in the hall or in the day room and, finding the more confused residents, they come to the conclusion that everyone is confused and then retreat to their rooms.
  • Because most residents are visibly physically disabled, people often incorrectly assume they’re cognitively disabled as well.
Techniques for Family Members to connect residents include:
  • Attending activities with loved ones and talking with other residents/families there.
  • Asking nursing, recreation, and social work staff about other residents with interests similar to your loved one and helping to facilitate conversations about commonalities.
  • Asking recreation, dietary, or nursing staff to seat your loved one near their friends during meals and activities if your loved one is unable to ambulate on their own.
Techniques for Staff Members to connect residents include:
  • Introducing new residents to others with similar interests.
  • Encouraging them to attend activities before they settle into spending their days alone in their rooms.
  • Recognizing strengths and sharing them with others in the community. For example, a new resident agreed to be interviewed for a feature story in a nursing home newsletter.
  • Helping residents establish a welcome committee.

6 thoughts on “Residents’ Top 5 Complaints About Nursing Homes: #5”

  1. Dr. El,

    It can be frustrating, at times, helping residents see that they can be socially active in the nursing home. Meeting others in a nursing home, as in the community, takes work. If you wait for someone to knock on your door to become friends, you will probably be waiting a long time. I would like to reiterate what has already been said, go to activites. Of course, the ones you are interested in, but initially try going to just about everything and go consistently. Establishing relationships takes work. I would also like to suggest attending discussion, trivia, arts and crafts and baking groups and others which tend to be conducive to socialization.

  2. Dr. El… thank you for this post! When I talk with my clients about socializing, I remind them that at work, at home, at church, or other places they don't sit in a corner and wait for someone to come say hello and introduce themselves, they go out and seek friendships!

    I would love to see more nursing homes create a "welcome committee" with residents who would provide (1) a basket of helpful things for the new residents, including dining room times, a map of the facility, popular activities, the "unwritten rules," etc., (2) a "mentor" or resident who has been in the NH for a while and would be willing to visit the new resident and answer questions and/or go with them to activities, and (3) a "new kids" group that meets weekly with staff and more established residents to answer questions and to get feedback about how their stay is going.

    Too bad many of my facilities use HIPAA as a barrier to introducing residents to each other outside of scheduled activities. It would really be a wonderful way to draw residents together.

  3. Dr. El,

    I suggested a welcome committee at our resident council meeting yesterday. Many were able to recall how difficult it was when they first arrived, and we had a nice discussion about how different things now that they are involved.

    Dr. Lewis,

    I love your ideas about the welcome basket (I will include Dr. El's book when it is available) and the group for new residents.

  4. I agree, Sue, that it helps residents make connections when they sample different activities and go consistently to the ones they enjoy. Please let us know how your welcome committee works out.

    Dr. Lewis, great ideas. Getting helpful information from other residents, rather than from staff, makes a nursing home feel much more like a neighborhood. I've never heard of HIPAA (privacy) laws referring to introducing like-minded residents, but I always ask residents individually if they'd like to meet each other before I make the connection.

  5. I am the volunteer coordinatior for a county-owned, semi-rural nursing home in central Illinois. Providing socialization opportunites to our 200+ residents is one of my key goals.

    For the year (through the end of October), our volunteers have donated more than 11,000 hours to add to the quality-of-life of our residents. Many of those hours are direct one-to-one visits. I can provide someone to talk to who is willing to become a part of our resident's lives. Family and old friends are vital, but volunteers bring more.

    An organized program in any nursing home can help reduce this complaint so that it would probably not be in the top 20 list of complaints.

  6. Thank you, Anonymous, for providing another example of why having a dedicated Volunteer Coordinator is so vital to a facility. (I wrote a post on that in March 2010.) One-to-one visits from volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of residents, and if volunteers can help connect residents so they can talk to each other, so much the better.


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