Putting 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).
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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