Transition to nursing home

There are ways to make transition to a nursing home less stressful
By Meredith Moss

The difficult decision has been made: Mom will be moving to a nursing home. But how do we make the transition easier for everyone?   And how do we deal with the guilt?

“It’s one of the most difficult decisions anyone ever has to make because you may have promised mom or dad that you’ll always take care of them and you’ll never place them in a nursing home,” said Thelma Sens, a social worker at Kettering Medical Center, who’s been in the field for more than 20 years.

“But circumstances change. And you’ll have to explain to your loved one that you are simply unable to handle the care that’s required to keep them safe.”

When necessary, Sens said, a doctor or social worker may be enlisted to help explain the decision.

Ron Nelson, a retired psychologist who continues to work with the elderly at nursing homes and at Hospice, advises families to seek out a nursing home that has both intellectual and physical activities.

“You want to keep their minds active within their limitations,” he said. “Maybe they play bridge, maybe they can continue activities with their church or synagogue. Maybe they can learn how to use a computer and e-mail their grandchildren. It’s better for them when there is social interaction, and it’s better for the family because you see someone else helping them.”

Nelson said visits from family members and friends are extremely important.

“There’s a certain kind of loneliness that’s a common factor, and it’s important for the resident to see their kids, grand kids, friends,” he said.

But Sens said that doesn’t mean you need to spend the whole day.

“You need to let go, to give your family member time to interact with others,” she advises. “An ideal visit is no more than an hour, long enough to reassure them and let them know you love them.

Both Sens and Nelson advocate visits outside of the home for those who are able.

“We have a lot in Dayton — the philharmonic, the baseball, and there are handicapped vehicles to make that possible,” Nelson said. “Those outings make a person feel they are still alive, still functional and part of a community.”

Sens said patients who get out for a few hours tend to adjust better because they don’t feel trapped.

She also suggests families become involved at the home. When her own mother-in-law moved to a nursing home, her father-in-law began baking and sharing his goodies there.

“It really helped him to make the adjustment, he got to know the staff and realized they were good people, and he felt a part of things.”

Nelson believes the best anti-depressants are physical and occupational therapists.

“They help people strengthen themselves and feel more independent,” he explains.

Nelson, who has taught courses on death and dying at Wright State University, believes our society doesn’t prepare people for aging.

“We don’t prepare ourselves for the normal things that happen to people as they get older,” he said. “One of the reasons it’s such a major adjustment for a family to send a parent to a nursing home is that they begin to realize that they are not immortal, that they are next in line.”