Sunday, June 26, 2011

Elders: Support Seniors in Care Homes

This post will detail from personal experience what to be aware of when your parent or senior relative becomes a resident in a care home. I’m referring to subsidized facilities that I’m familiar with, which are overseen by the health authority in our district. These points were learned in the three and a half years that our relative has been in such a facility. Most of the points will apply to anyone, but the best place to start getting information is with the family doctor.

Visit often.

•  The connection with family is usually a factor in how well the resident accepts being in a care facility. Nearly all seniors will go through the denial phase. Independence is dear to all of us. They may beg to come home, or get surly and refuse to acknowledge you. Each person handles it differently. If Alzheimer’s or dementia is a factor, they won’t remember what you told them the day before.

•  Reinforce the senior’s memories by talking of things that interest them, update them on the family news, play cards, work on a puzzle in a smaller setting than the group activities of the care home, or just wheel them around the floor if the elder is in a wheelchair, walk with them if they’re still mobile. Doing something that’s not part of their daily routine is what makes the visit a little more special.

•  Be aware of other residents and learn who will try to talk you into releasing their seatbelts or pushing the correct elevator buttons so they can “escape”. Keyed or touch pad entry doors are in many newer care homes to prevent unauthorized excursions by residents.

Mix up the schedule of your visits

•  In any reputable care facility, this won’t make a difference, but dropping in unannounced is a good way to see what an ordinary day is like for a resident. Weekdays and weekends employ different staff ratios.

•  Be informed. Relatives can ask to be contacted if the resident has been ill, to be advised when in-house needs are required (like hip pads for fragile bones), and should inquire for a list of expenses if a patient’s trust fund is used for providing simple needs. Some care homes provide auxiliary services such as shoe fittings, wheelchair sizing, podiatry services, and haircutting via mobile contractors who come to the facility.

• Occasionally drop in for the meal times and offer to assist by feeding your parent. This enables you to observe how they handle the other patients and also to drop hints about your own parent. Sometimes that interaction results in better treatment from the staff, especially if the parent if hard of hearing or has poor vision. The care home staff need to know the specifics to understand why a resident may not hear an instruction, or answer a question.

Another Era by DGH

Get to know some of the health care staff at the seniors’ facility.

•  Our relative attended senior activities for a couple of days a week for several months before being assigned to that facility. As a result, the move wasn’t as traumatic as it could have been. The place was somewhat familiar, and the people managing the daily senior recreational programs were the same ones who planned activities for the residents.

•  Greet the health care staff on your visits. Find out which nurse is assigned to your relative; she can be a helpful contact at the facility. We also will greet those residents who are familiar to us, and who have talked to us as we helped feed our relative, or attended an event at the care home. Most residents respond in kind, but some may frown or rebuff your efforts.

•  If you know who to contact in case of any incidents or accidents which are not fully explained, you will save yourself time and trouble. It’s your right to have a full accounting by owner, coordinator or nurse when any incidents result in bruises, or injuries requiring x-rays. It’s always better to ask for facts first, before jumping to conclusions.

Attend events organized by the care home.

•  Family meetings dealing with particular issues, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, dementia or issues of health which affect all residents are held monthly or bimonthly. (e.g., flu shots for residents and visitors) Seasonal events will vary by facility, and may be dependant on staffing levels or volunteer help. The type and scope of events planned for residents is important, when a majority of residents are confined to wheelchairs.

•  Volunteers entertain the residents during the Christmas holiday season, and at other times throughout the year. Church services may be available for those wishing to attend on site with their relative. Residents are allowed some choice, but group activities are encouraged. This promotes the feeling of community.

Say thank you at Christmas.

If your budget allows, a group gift is always appreciated, or at the minimum send a personal card thanking the staff for their efforts throughout the year. By staff, I’m referring to the nurses, health care workers, and orderlies/attendants who help in the daily running of the facility.

The Fantasy Care Home on Moon Base
 Finally. . .

Keep yourself informed about the care facility in which your relative lives. That usually requires your physical presence, if you live close enough. Ask questions and keep your eyes open. Our relatives rely on us to support them.

Don’t assume. Be in the know.


  1. The Golden Rule comes most dearly into play here. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Kindness and staying informed and involved will get you better responses from staff and create a better environment and relationship with your parent. Also, the example you set for the next generation on how to care for their aging parents is priceless.

  2. Thanks, J. for seeing the main point - we should treat our parents as we want to be treated when we reach that point ourselves.

    It's part of the life process, as the wheel turns.


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