Family matters – How to handle (and surpass) high expectations

15 December 2021

Family matters

How to handle (and surpass) high expectations

Despite families often feeling that they are “giving up” on their elderly loved one when it comes time to move them to a nursing home, the reality is often the exact opposite. Family are the advocates and supporters. If you are facing the prospect of moving a relative into a nursing home, it’s likely the decision is weighing heavily on your mind. It’s not only your relative that has to live with the decision, it’s the whole family. Here’s how to make sure you can keep everyone happy.

Families can experience a huge amount of stress during the process of selecting a nursing home or aged care facility. It is a tough process, and often, it is years before action is taken. Even after a choice of nursing home is made, the journey is far from over. As a family member, you will play an important role in your relative’s life in the nursing home.

Why it’s important to cultivate the connection

Many studies have been done on the positive impact that interaction between nursing home residents and visitors and interaction have on physical and mental wellbeing.

If Covid and the lockdown restrictions have shown us anything, it’s how much we all need connection. Studies on the impact of lockdowns on nursing home residents have shown that lockdowns disproportionately affect people in care facilities.

A recent article in Frontiers in Psychiatry explains how visits help buffer “against loneliness, anxiety and depression by providing continuity, advocacy and emotional support.” Without visitors, residents can lose connectedness and meaning. For dementia patients, this is a particular concern as they tend to experience increased feelings of loneliness and confusion when visits stop.

  1. Make it personal

Being surrounded by personal items, memories, and familiar sights goes a long way in helping someone maintain dignity and good mental health. Displaying personal effects is essential when choosing a nursing home. The last thing you want is your loved one left in a sterile and soulless environment, so the smallest touches can have the biggest impact.

Many care providers understand this and encourage residents to bring special items and personal effects – the type of items that help them feel reassured and connected with their new home. A photo on the door of their room or a favourite cushion or blanket on the reading chair go a long way in making things feel good. Personal effects can also assist staff in getting to know a resident and their past life and achievements. It makes for a good way to start a conversation and form a connection.

2. Stay connected

Staying connected with a family member suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s can be challenging for family members who aren’t trained in how to deal with such situations. While nursing staff are familiar with caring for a dementia patient, most family members or friends are not.

As difficult as it may be, staying connected is a lifeline for dementia patients. It is often the family members who will have intimate knowledge of the resident’s likes, dislikes and past experiences – which can all help things go smoothly. A good care team will suggest ways to engage with a relative or provide ideas for suitable activities. If it’s not possible to do this, sometimes it’s more important that family members just feel comfortable just to sit and be there.

3. Keep it real

Avoiding the allure of an impressive showroom can be difficult. It’s easy to impress families of prospective residents with a dressed-up room featuring furniture, linen and other items that don’t represent reality. Such an approach can create unrealistic expectations, and families may discover there is a big difference between the marketing and the reality.

This then leads to a sense of powerlessness in the family, and the resulting tension can see molehills regularly turned into mountains. It is far better in the long-term to create a realistic understanding within a showroom.

4. Invest in quality

There is nothing better than high-quality linen and furnishing in the bedroom, whether it’s a nursing home or your own home. The days of sterile and drab bedding and furnishing are long gone and there is a general overall move towards quality and comfort.

And it doesn’t take much to inject a little touch of luxury into a room. The addition of a throw blanket on the bed makes things feel that little more luxurious. As do good quality towels and pillows. And there is nothing better than a good-sized bedside table to keep all those important things close to hand, like a book, glasses and a cup of tea.

5. Encourage independence

It’s incredible how the stress can fade away when families see their loved one thriving with new relationships, hobbies or pastimes in the nursing home. An active social life is an incredibly powerful way to inject purpose and satisfaction into life. Creating ways for loved one to engage in life is therefore vital. Encourage them to get involved in the group activities on offer or, if this isn’t their thing, enable them to take up their own hobbies like knitting, art or music.

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