Home Away From Home

How to make a nursing facility a special place for loved ones

By Catherine Miller

I’ve hit that stage in my life when I talk to friends about the quality of nursing homes for our parents the way we used to talk about nursery schools for our kids.

Getting proper care for loved ones in nursing facilities is not always easy. I know. I have had several parents and in-laws reside in five local nursing homes. While most facilities are to be praised for their care and compassion, others are understaffed and employee disinterest is painfully obvious.

My family learned quickly how to get the best care at each facility and make it feel like home for our loved ones.

Be present

The more often you are there, the more comfortable your loved one will be. This lets your loved one know you are still involved in their life and gives you a chance to assess their care. Look around the room. Is it clean? Is the nurses’ call button within reach?

Are there photos of family to make it feel more familiar? Is there something you would need if you were there? Regular visits help you to keep on top of small issues and help your loved one feel connected to you in their new surroundings.

Get them Involved

Every facility has recreational activities. My mother-in-law would play “tennis” (balloons and badminton rackets were used), work on art projects, and go for a weekly manicure. She interacted with the other residents and staff members on a social basis. This helped to make the facility feel more like a community.

My father recently told us he won at the horse races while at his nursing home. We assumed it was his dementia acting up until one of the aides congratulated him on doing so well at the “track” (virtual horse racing played using videos of old races, she explained). Ask the aides to put your family member on the list to be taken to the activities they would enjoy.

Know the numbers

Ask the staff how much of their meal your loved one ate that day? Are they properly hydrated? If your family member is diabetic, ask what their last glucose levels were. If there is a heart issue, ask about their blood pressure.

At one facility, I found my stepfather sitting in his room, slumped in his wheelchair. The nurse’s button was not within reach, his glasses were in the bathroom and he had no access to water. Being diabetic, it was imperative for him to have proper fluid intake. When questioned, the nurse told me he was overdue to have a glucose reading.

I waited while they checked his levels, which were elevated. After a lengthy discussion with the lead nurse, there were no future issues. Asking questions regarding care informs the staff that you are holding them accountable and tends to keep the staff more attentive.

Appreciate the staff

My father tends to be “difficult” at times. It took him a while to adjust to his facility. Dementia had set in but he wanted to be home. He took much of his frustration out on the staff verbally.

I thanked each of his aides and nurses each time I saw them. Their job is difficult and with new residents come fresh challenges. The kindness you show to the staff gets reworked into their attitudes, and shown back to your family member. You’ll never know how appreciated a tray of cookies will be until you offer one up to the nursing staff.

It was a cold January night when we got the call that my mother-in-law had passed away in her sleep a short time after my father-in-law had left for the night. She was frail and it was certainly her time. As my husband and I got to the facility, an aide who was a regular face in our mom’s room met us at the locked door. She had been waiting for us to arrive.

She held the door open for us and we could see she had been crying. As we reached our mom’s room, I noticed that her hair had been recently brushed and her blankets were neatly tucked around her. The staff had taken a moment to make sure mom looked peaceful and presentable.

The employees at this facility had watched over her care to the very end. That meant everything to our family, and is the standard that every nursing home facility should strive for.

Photo: ‘I have had several parents and in-laws reside in five local nursing homes. While most facilities are to be praised for their care and compassion, others are understaffed and employee disinterest is painfully obvious.’