How to Ease a Loved One’s Transition into a Nursing Home

Senior in nursing home visits with family memberPutting a family member in a nursing home may be one of the toughest decisions families have to make, and unfortunately, the decision for many doesn’t tend to feel “good.” Many hope for a long life of independence, and becoming immobile, senile, or dependent on others is a thought people simply like to avoid. As a psychotherapist who works in a nursing home, I often encounter family members racked with guilt, which has led me to analyze the experience.

Help Them Through the Adaptation Phase

Many of the nursing home residents I speak with openly express their discomfort at being in a nursing home, and some manifest symptoms of depression as a result. In my experience, it is typical for a new resident to struggle with this new environment. After a (sometimes long) transition period, many will begin to adjust. According to an article published in Nursing Research and Practice, this is called the “adaptation phase,” with the typical period of adjustment being cited as three to six months (2013).

During the adaptation phase, a new resident may be struggling to respond to new rules and expectations of the nursing home staff, as well as learning to live with a new group of people. The adjustment period can be really tough, and unfortunately, some seniors may never fully adjust to a nursing home environment.

Help Them Avoid a ‘Loss of Control’

There are a number of ways family members, friends, therapists, and staff can help improve the quality of life of nursing home residents. I am focusing on family members in this article, but if you are looking at this problem from a different perspective, please utilize this advice to help a nursing home resident you care about.

Many nursing home residents I’ve spoken with express feelings of a “loss of control” when they don’t have any say in the facility where they end up living. With that said, one of the first ways to help a senior make the transition to a nursing home is to give the person a chance to evaluate options and make decisions regarding the new residence. Finances may be a huge barrier when looking for care, but giving a family member the right to shop around and choose a residence can help foster a sense of independence and control from the beginning of the transition (2013).

A window can make a big difference in a person’s living space within a nursing home. An article in the Journal of Aging Research says that a window view doesn’t even need to overlook plush greenery to be beneficial. It can simply offer something to look at, such as pedestrians, wildlife, or any landscape (2015). If the resident’s individual room does not offer a window, access to a private space with a window and a view may offer similar benefits. Adding plants to the resident’s room can also create a more personal environment and take away from the medical feel of the room.

Personal items from the resident’s previous home can also create a sense of familiarity and mastery over the experience. This may include pictures, furniture, or comfort items such as blankets. Allowing the resident to personally pick out items to bring to the nursing home can also contribute to the sense of control that can be so important to a healthy adjustment to nursing home living.

Help Them Stay Social

Initially, it can be intimidating to join the other residents in activities, but engaging in social activities and continuing ones enjoyed before the transition can positively affect a resident’s sense of happiness. If you’re a family member, go over the schedule of activities with your loved one and help pick out some that appeal to him or her.

Life in a nursing home is different, but it’s not the end. A person can continue to feel loved and cared for, and offer their love and care in return.One of the best ways to help your family members ease into a nursing home is simply to listen to them. Often, seniors at the nursing home I work in tell me they don’t tell their children or family members about their feelings of depression because they don’t want to burden them. Others say they attempt to tell their family members, but their feelings are dismissed. Many new nursing home residents will experience depressive symptoms and feelings of hopelessness as part of the adjustment phase. Allow your family member to talk about this experience so he or she doesn’t feel further isolated. This may evoke your own guilt or a desire to fix the situation, but remind yourself that your loved one has limited people to talk to, especially about emotions. Your ability to sit and listen will help demonstrate that you care and are available for support.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, provide a sense of hope for your family members. Consider what might increase comfort in the home and offer some options. Listen to their struggles without defending them. Offer them your time and company, share pictures of the family, bring food from home, and remember to tell them how important they are to you. Life in a nursing home is different, but it’s not the end. A person can continue to feel loved and cared for, and offer their love and care in return.

References:

  1. Degenholtz, H.B., Resnick, A.L., Bulger, N., & Chia, L. (2014). Improving quality of life in nursing homes: The structured resident interview approach. Journal of Aging Research, 2014, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/892679
  2. Riedl, M., Mantovan, F., & Them, C. (2013). Being a nursing home resident: A challenge to one’s identity. Nursing Research and Practice, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/932381
  3. Van Hoof J., Verhagen, M.M., Wouters, E.J.M., Marston, H.R., Rijnaard, M.D., & Janssen, B.M. (2015). Picture your nursing home: Exploring the sense of home of older residents through photography. Journal of Aging Research, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/312931

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alexis Hansen, LCSW, therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • dot

    dot

    January 5th, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    such a timely find for me- getting ready to get my mom settled in next month and it has been a challenge that’s for sure

  • Deanne

    Deanne

    January 5th, 2016 at 7:25 PM

    This article provides many useful tips on a subject most of us will have to deal with in our lifetimes.

  • Kai

    Kai

    January 6th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    It is such a hard thing to think about but we have to realize that one day most of us will be faced with an issue like this and it is good to have a game plan for when it rolls around. I don’t know about the rest of you but my parents will probably have to go kicking and screaming if I ever started talking about having to move them from their home. I just do not think that this is ever going to be a very easy reality for them even though I am an only child so I know that I would never be able to take care of both of them alone.

  • Alexis

    Alexis

    January 6th, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    This subject has become near and dear to my heart due to my work in a nursing home. The residents do struggle, and there is a lot of sadness and loss accompanying the experience, but as I continue on my own journey working with them I can recognize the resiliency many people have and the benefits of the social experience they are provided.

  • Pete

    Pete

    January 6th, 2016 at 2:45 PM

    Huh, I have already told all of my kids that I will not go anywhere as long as my home is still standing.

    I don’t want to be a burden on them but at the same time I don’t feel like I should have to leave the one place in this world that I love, which is my own house.

  • Stephen F

    Stephen F

    January 7th, 2016 at 11:00 AM

    I think that if there is any way that they can still feel like they are independent and that this is not going to be taken away then I think that most people can feel pretty good about it. You have to help them see that this is going to be the best move for them and that you are only doing what you believe to be in their best interests.
    I know that no one really wants to have to leave their home but there comes a time when all of us lose our mobility a little and with that comes a little bit of our ability to stay at home alone and on our own.

  • deb

    deb

    January 8th, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    Many times I think that they crave reassurance that you are not going to stick them there and that they will never see you again.
    In my mind this is where one of their biggest fears lies, that the family just wants to get rid of them, that they are a burden and this is your way of getting to be free from them.
    Show them and tell them that this is not your intent at all.

  • Antonia

    Antonia

    January 11th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    For the most part I think that they want you to still listen to them.

    I think that they have a notion that you will never listen to what their true needs and feelings are ever again of they have to go into a nursing home.

    All it takes is a little kindness and reassurance on your part to help them understand that you are doing this out of love and concern for them.

  • floree

    floree

    January 12th, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    These nursing homes have come so far. They are not at all like the places that they used to be. Most of them provide an excellent service to the geriatric community and their families, but you do have to do some research to determine which is going to be the best fit for your family member. I would definitely look for one that offers a great many social activities, something that will keep them active and involved.

  • Jeff C.

    Jeff C.

    April 7th, 2016 at 7:28 AM

    Thanks for this helpful post on helping a loved one make the move to a nursing home. My family is planning on having my father start living in an assisted living facility, and we are not sure how he will take it. I like your tip on helping them through the adaption phase. I also think that the loss of control will be the hardest thing for my father. Thanks for the help!

  • Kendall R

    Kendall R

    September 28th, 2016 at 1:12 PM

    Listening to your loved ones is a good idea so that you hear their questions and concerns. I am sure they are going to have concerns, so it is good to take the time to listen to them. That way you can comfort your loved one and help them during the transition.

  • Braden B

    Braden B

    February 16th, 2017 at 6:26 AM

    I’m going to be moving my parents into a nursing home. It makes sense that I would want to be with them while they adapt! That way they don’t feel alone and become reclusive.

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