Sunday, November 02, 2008

Supporting Loved Ones in Nursing Homes Enhances Daily Living

(ARA) - According to the National Center for Health statistics, 1.6 million people currently reside in 18,000 long-term care facilities across America. Types of facilities range from assisted living to round-the-clock custodial care, with staff workers providing the level of assistance required.

The experience of living in a long-term care facility can vary greatly for residents, depending on the level of support provided by their families. Dewan E. Williams, clinical coordinator for the Practical Nursing program at Brown Mackie College -- Akron, Ohio, offers insights into how family members can enhance the quality of life for loved ones in long-term care.

“Many people think of nursing homes as a place for the elderly; however, because of our world and how rapidly it’s changing, the age of the extended care population is getting younger,” Williams says. Young people might require skilled nursing care due to developmental disabilities, the debilitating effects associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, or drug or alcohol recovery. Other common reasons for younger people to reside in a care facility include rehabilitation after a car accident or sports injury, and patients with brain damage. “There is a great need for the family to support those they can no longer care for at home," Williams says.

Williams’ role includes coordinating placement of nursing students in clinical settings, working one-on-one with Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) students as they progress through required training prior to graduation. As she works with students in nursing homes, Williams sees first hand that no matter what their ages, residents who receive no outside visitors can feel isolated and alone. “Of course the facility staff cares for them, but for some, my students and I are the only sunshine that comes in from the outside world,” Williams says. “We can’t fix everyone. We simply make a point to take extra time to talk with them and allow them to gradually eat their meals slowly. The students provide time and care that the staff doesn’t always have time for.”

Many people find it difficult to enter a nursing home, saying that the unfamiliar smells and the number of elderly and infirm people who live there make them feel uncomfortable. “It’s important to remember,” Williams says, “that the residents themselves have made huge transitions in moving from a home to a nursing facility. Despite their health conditions, they are still people who appreciate contact with others, especially family and friends.” Williams outlined these simple tips to help make the most of every visit to a nursing home:

Call in advance of your visit. This allows the resident the same courtesy and control of a home visit. Many facilities schedule special speakers and activities throughout the week. With advance notice, you will be sure not to interfere with another event that the resident plans to attend.

Offer news of family, friends and the world. Providing information on those who are dear to the resident will help him or her feel that they are still involved. If cousin Joe just landed a new job, the news will be welcomed. National and world news events also make good topics of conversation. Just like the rest of us, residents watch television and welcome the chance to voice an opinion.

Be realistic about when your next visit will take place. Promises to return to visit at a specific day and time should not be made unless you realistically intend to follow through. A “no show” after a promise can be a bitter disappointment.

“We encourage every family to stay involved,” Williams says, “I found that many residents live in nursing homes because there’s no one to take care of them at home. Many people cannot afford to take a leave of absence from their jobs to care for a parent. People are busy, and demands of professional and family life can prohibit frequent visits by family members. That’s why in nursing homes, unlike hospitals, you’ll see the staff giving hugs and holding hands with patients as they talk. In fact, many people become nurses because they like to touch lives and make a difference for others. If there isn’t family support, it is wonderful to have schools and local programs visit nursing homes."

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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