What do you think life might be like if you were living in a nursing home? You might be very conscious of being physically removed from your familiar home and community. You might feel lost, unsure of how you'll get along -- you might feel rejected and unloved.
With all of these feelings, you might agree that experiencing the need for human interaction is important. Ties with old friends and new friends become important in helping you adjust to this new phase of your life.
Hypothetical? No, these are real feelings experienced by real nursing home residents. You, as a family member or friend, can help. You may say to yourself that you're uncomfortable visiting a nursing home. People use a variety of reasons for not becoming involved. Here are three of the most common ones, along with some suggestions for overcoming them.
Excuse #1: I don't like what I see in a nursing home.
Many people have this reaction -- even relatives who have cared for their loved ones at home. The problem lies in the concentration or numbers of older people who have suffered some degree of physical or mental disability. Frequently, the sight of so many disabled, dependent individuals is disturbing.
What can you do? Try to look beyond physical appearances. Think of each of these residents as an interesting individual who has experienced much in life. Each person has a unique personality that is not dependent upon physical appearance. You may be bothered by those who appear to be confused or disoriented. But, these people often can be reached simply by gently holding their hands and looking into their eyes. It may take time, but it may work, too.
Excuse #2: I'm afraid to go visit in a nursing home because it reminds me that I may need one some day.
This is a normal response, especially if you are at mid-life or beyond. The surest way to overcome this fear is to become familiar with a nursing home and the needs of the residents it serves.
These facilities provide support services including nursing care, rehabilitation, food, shelter, companionship, recreation, and social activities. Such services help residents to function at their highest possible level. And, this approach represents a positive philosophy.
Inadequate knowledge produces fear -- and that fear can be overcome only by more knowledge or information. In this case, knowledge of nursing homes and the residents in them gives one a new perspective on aging.
Excuse #3: When I visit "Mother," she complains the whole time.
This is a complicated issue. Your relationship with your loved one or friend is probably longstanding, and you are meeting under perhaps stressful conditions. You should listen, evaluate, explain, and limit the time spent on complaints.
First of all, listen. Listen very carefully to the complaint or complaints. Second, evaluate what's being said. If "everything is wrong," then the resident probably is still adjusting to life in the nursing home. He or she probably continues to feel alienated and uncomfortable in new surroundings. If there are specific complaints, try to discern the truth -- what's underlying them. You may wish to talk with appropriate staff members, who may not be aware of the resident's concerns. Often, misunderstandings can be cleared up quickly.
Third, explain what you conclude to be the solution for the complaint. Be sure your relative or friend understands your explanation. You may have to explain more than once, but try as best you can to help the resident understand your perspective as a person who cares about him or her.
Fourth, limit the time spent on complaints. For the chronic complainer who is never satisfied, set a limit to the complaint time. We all need to vent our feelings and emotions. Let and help the resident do this, but then turn to something else specific, such as letter-writing, playing games, looking at old pictures or jointly visiting with another resident.
As you listen to the resident's complaints, remember that -- depending upon physical and mental capabilities -- he or she may have relatively few opportunities to make decisions affecting his or her life. For instance, meals are served at specific times -- not necessarily when the resident is hungry or accustomed to eating. As another example, fire regulations may prohibit the resident from arranging the bed in certain ways in the room. Things that you may take for granted often are sometimes removed from the resident's control -- for good reason.
Remember, too: Control over one's life is important for positive self-esteem. Visiting is an area over which the resident can maintain control. There are some well-accepted rules of etiquette about visiting nursing home residents. Following these guidelines can enhance the resident's self-esteem and help in retaining a sense of control over certain aspects of life.
When to Visit
Depending upon the mental competence of your loved one or friend -- and the relationship you've developed over the years -- consider telephoning ahead to request permission from the resident to visit. Some people feel more energetic or social at certain times of the day. If you establish the time together, chances are the visit will be more successful. In addition, the resident can look forward to your visit, which will extend the pleasure.
Most nursing homes have specified visiting hours. Usually you may visit anytime during a 10-12 hour period. Just remember to use good judgement, and try not to visit when you may interfere with care, treatments or rest.
If the visiting hours at the nursing home conflict with your schedule, work out an alternative time with the resident and nursing home personnel. Some homes encourage relatives and friends to join residents at meal times. If you eat at the nursing facility, you should expect to pay a fee.
Finally, and most importantly: A caution about visiting. There is a tendency to "promise a rose garden" and then be unable to deliver. Do not promise to visit and then not come. That is cruel, and can lead the resident to feeling doubly deserted. If you see you cannot make a scheduled visit, call and immediately suggest a substitute time. When you and your relative or friend are planning your visiting times together, look over your schedule carefully and realistically. Decide how much time you can spend each day, week or month.
Realistic planning avoids disappointment for the resident -- and feelings of guilt for you.
Who Should Visit?
Anyone who is important to a nursing home resident should visit regularly if they can. Most nursing homes have minimal restrictions, and special arrangements can be made for visiting at almost any time of the day or night.
Nursing homes are not hospitals, and well-behaved children are more than welcome. Young children rarely react negatively to older people or those who are ill. On the other hand, teenagers and older children may need some time to adjust.
If you cannot provide such support for children who need it, arrangements may be made for a staff member to help out and provide support for a child during the first few visits. The resident usually turns out to be the best teacher of all, often putting everyone at ease with their conversation and comments.
Preparing a Child for a Visit
The best way to prepare a young child for a visit to a nursing home is to tell him or her everything you can about it. Preparing a child for such a visit should not be rushed or taken lightly. Allow enough time to answer the questions a child has.
For example, tell them there will be people with wheelchairs and walkers, and some will be in bed. Instead of living by herself now, grandmother lives with other people who can help take care of her. Nurses are there to take care of the residents. It may even smell different, like a hospital does.
Many times, children are afraid of what's behind those doors because adults often contribute to a child's fears. Children should feel free and be encouraged to ask questions about nursing homes. Answer them as straightforwardly as you can because, when you don't, that's when they think you're trying to hide something from them.
Preparing for the Visit
Once the date and time have been established, you should give some thought to what you will do when you get there. If you plan ahead, you may avoid an unsatisfying visit filled with complaints. Your plans will depend on the mental and physical condition of the resident you'll be seeing.If out of bed and alert, the resident might like to go outdoors or to another part of the nursing home. On the other hand
, a private visit reminiscing or helping you make some decisions about something in your life might be preferable.
Remember, this is an individual who has lived a long time and whose wisdom is valuable. Ask for their thoughts and advice. Or, write letters together or read a story. Concentrate on the quality of your visit, which should provide a pleasant break in a somewhat routine existence.