You can’t stop paying attention after a loved one has moved in. You hope and pray the chosen nursing home is a good one. But the hard truth is that the first few weeks are bound to be difficult. And getting through them without trauma is no guarantee that the months and years ahead will be smooth. You’ll need to keep all of your powers of observation and diplomacy intact in order to monitor your loved one’s care and be sure it remains as skilled and compassionate as possible. Here is some advice from experts:
Expect an adjustment period
Moving someone you care for into an old folks home will be tense and painful. It is simply inevitable that family members, as well as the newly admitted resident, will experience some difficulty in the transition. If after the first month or so your loved one still seems absolutely miserable, it may be time to ask yourself: “Do I need to look for a different facility?”. During the first few weeks, watch for dramatic changes in the health or appearance of your loved one. While illness and accidents are facts of life in a nursing home, someone who is relatively active shouldn’t experience a rapid decline. A large change may be because of inadequate care or neglect or abuse. Is your mother losing weight? She may have an undetected medical condition, or she may not be getting enough calories. Malnutrition is a significant concern in nursing homes. Tremors can hamper the ability to feed one’s self and medications can cause appetite loss—or worse. Make sure vitals are being consistently and accurately tracked.
Be firm but don’t yell
Feeling guilty about having to admit a family member to a nursing home or helpless as a loved one’s health declines, some families take out their emotions on nurses —the very people charged with the resident’s care. Exploding at staff, shouting and making finger-wagging threats to sue never work in the long term. Care for your loved one never becomes any better because of such outbursts. The goal is to have these essential caregivers advocating on your behalf—especially when you’re not around.
Win over the staff
Identify your loved one’s most consistent caregivers and ask them how you can make their jobs easier. Ask them about specific problems they are having. Such efforts will reflect your respect for the people responsible for meeting the most basic and intimate daily needs of those unable to cope on their own. Get involved yourself if you can. Lighten an aide’s load by coming at mealtimes to help your loved one eat or take them outside to walk. You can also connect with staff by conveying information about personality quirks, special interests, or medical highlights.
Be alert for nursing home changes.
Changes, not necessarily positive, can come suddenly and from unexpected directions. When nursing home management changes, there can often be large and important changes made to the way an elderly home is run. Keep track of ownership changes as usually this produces the largest changes in quality of care.