[by Lisa Marie Chrico]
The moment when a family decides that nursing home care is required is truly heartbreaking. No one wants to admit that they can no longer take care of their spouse or parent. Yet, for nearly 1.4 million Americans, this choice is a reality. As many diseases progress, the ability to provide care at home becomes an impossible task.
My family was also confronted with this painful decision, which was brought about by the advancement of my Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. One important point to keep in mind during this difficult shift is that your role as a caregiver does not end. In many ways, it actually becomes more involved. Although challenges exist, I believe that it is possible for people to thrive in a nursing home.
As you move through the various stages of making sure your loved one is settling into their new home, it is common for emotions such as guilt to emerge. Although difficult to ignore, you should turn your back on these negative emotions and focus primarily on love. Remind yourself that you are doing what is best for the health and well-being of your family member.
There are a lot of adjustments that your loved one will need to make in a nursing home. Some of the unfamiliar aspects they will experience include: strangers providing care, new surroundings, routines, diet, and doctors. During the first few months, some things will go well, and others will not. Fine-tuning will be required.
It is helpful to remember that nothing is going to be exactly like it was at home, nor should you expect it to be. Laundry is one example of this. You would be surprised how much annoyance a lost pair of socks, shirt, or slacks can produce! Some families choose not to deal with a nursing home’s laundry service and instead, wash everything themselves.
There is often a misconception that a nursing home is a hotel of sorts — it is not. Many nursing homes are short-staffed, and my Dad’s was no exception. While your loved one has unique needs, which can sometimes be urgent, it is important to keep in mind that everyone on staff is doing the best they can. Under the roof of a nursing home, tempers can flare, and patience can run thin when the staff is stretched to their limits. Of course, there may be times when action is required from a resident’s family to speak out and request a meeting with the director of nurses, social worker, or the nursing home administrator in order to resolve a situation.
Just as they did at home, your loved one will experience good days, and bad days. It is critical to remember that your positive attitude, towards them, as well as towards the nursing home staff, is very important. Your mood impacts how your family member feels from day to day. When things go wrong with their care, it is natural for you to be angry, stressed, or anxious. Although it can be challenging to stay optimistic during these circumstances, it is important to try your best to maintain a positive vibe.
One of the most difficult features of the transition to a nursing home is that strangers take over your loved one’s care. You may discover a few members of the nursing home staff who are “all business.” Yet, eventually, some of the new caregivers will become just like family to you, and you will form a strong bond of trust with them.
It is the nursing home’s responsibility to make sure that your family member is cared for in the best possible manner. Your new responsibility as a family caregiver is to make sure they carry out that job. It is inevitable that there will be bumps in the road. From roommate issues, to safety concerns, to those working with your loved one who fail to show compassion. But, it is how you choose to react to these problems that will make all the difference.
Staying involved with all aspects of your family member’s nursing home life, as well as maintaining good communication with the nursing home staff, will help to reduce your worry about the quality of their care. There will be frustrating days when nothing will seem to go well. Sometimes, you may feel that no one working at the nursing home understands your concerns. Regardless of those days, this stage of your loved one’s life can and should be filled will joy! You and your family members will play a very big role in ensuring that it does.