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Making the Transition to Long-Term Care

Many times, those who have taken on the responsibility of caring for a friend or loved one with dementia have to come to terms with the realization that their charges require more care than they are able to provide.  The prospect of finding a good nursing home, and leaving a dear friend or loved one there, can be daunting indeed.  But here are some tips that can make the process a little easier.

Be sure to do your research.  Be sure that you are satisfied that the facility you choose will give the best possible care to your loved one.  I’ve worked in over 40 facilities in the last 10 years, in 4 different states, and I know from experience that the quality of long-term care providers can vary widely.  There can be big differences not only in the quality of care, but also in the different services they provide.  If you are fortunate enough to have multiple facilities in your area, take the time to visit them.  Find out about the people who work there, how many there are and what kind of training they have.  Do they have specialized services for persons with dementia?  All states have agencies that regulate such facilities, and they usually have a website that provides reviews and rankings for each one.

Be aware of your own emotions at this time.  Your loved one will most likely be a bit overwhelmed by his new surroundings, and the presence of so many strangers.  Try to keep calm, yourself, and take time to reassure him that he will soon adjust to things, and that you will be there often to visit.  Keep in mind that these feelings will most likely subside after a short time, and your loved one will soon feel at home there.

Share what you know.  Be sure to tell the facility staff what you know about your loved one.  You’ve spent a lot of time with her, be sure that others benefit from your insight.  Does she like to eat peanut butter on her toast in the morning?  Is she especially frightened of thunderstorms?  Does she often wake up in the night to go for a walk?

Talk to your loved one.  How much you tell your loved one about where he is going is something that only you can decide.  How much he is able to understand, or how he’ll accept the news, can vary widely from person to person.  It may help to start talking about the move a few weeks before it happens, gradually helping him become accustomed to the idea and perhaps help plan for it.  Or it may be kinder to wait until the day of the move, so that he doesn’t exhaust himself with worry.  Allow him to express his concerns and his fears, and reassure him that this will be a good experience and that you will continue to be an active part of his life.

Help set up the room.  If possible, move some of your loved one’s things into her room before she arrives.  It will help her adjust to her new surroundings if her favorite quilt is on the bed or her late husband’s photograph is hung in a place of honor.  Allow her to bring some familiar items, perhaps even furniture, but nothing that can be misplaced or broken.  (Unfortunately, she will not be able to lock her door and there are occasionally people with sticky fingers.)

Be sure to accompany your loved one when he arrives.  When the time comes for the actual move, be right there to offer comfort and companionship as needed.  Perhaps you can stay for the day, and have dinner with him.  Take a walk around the facility and see what’s there.  When it’s time for you to go, offer reassurances that you will return (and perhaps tell him when).

Check in regularly.  Talk to the facility staff on a regular basis to see how your loved one is settling in. Visit as often as you can.  Perhaps bring some of her favorite cookies, or plan to come during one of the facility’s activities.  (I actually worked in a facility once where family was discouraged from visiting for the first two weeks, for fear that the new resident would insist on leaving with them.  Thankfully, that practice is no longer being used by the places I currently know of.)

Be good to yourself.  Don’t tell yourself that you’re letting your loved one down by placing them in a residential facility.  Instead, reassure yourself that you’re ensuring that he gets the best possible care.  Treat yourself to some tender loving care, and tap into your own support system for emotional comfort.  Speak to others who have been in your place.

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