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Why I chose nursing home care for loved ones

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

The decision to put a loved one in a nursing home is difficult for nearly anyone. Yet, elders need care and often a well run, skilled nursing facility is the best place to provide that care. The transition can be difficult, but many elders thrive once they adjust to their new surroundings.

During my most active caregiving years, I had a total of five loved ones in a local nursing home. The home was just two blocks from my own house and very close to where all of my elders had lived, so the neighborhood and the building were familiar to them. How much that mattered to my elders I'm not sure, as driving by a nursing home or even visiting someone there is much different than living in one. However, the convenient location certainly helped me.

My Dad and Uncle Become Neighbors

My dad had what should have been a fairly minor surgery, but he came out of it with severe dementia. The only way he could get the care he needed was in a skilled nursing home. My uncle, after a series of strokes, was already at the home, and we were happy with his care. I'd even had my neighbor, Joe, there (I'd become his default caregiver) after he broke his hip. Joe's stay was short, as he died six weeks later, a common result from the trauma of a broken hip. Obviously, I knew the home, well, so that was the home of choice for my dad.

My Mother-in-Law and Mom Join the Men

A few years after my Dad joined my uncle in the home, my uncle died. However, not long after his death my mother-in-law needed nursing home care, and on her heels came my mother. I'd been caring for them all in different residences, as well as making daily visits to those in the nursing home. Getting them all in one place--a place where I knew the staff and could count on good care--was a huge help for me, and it gave the elders a sense of unity.

I learned a great deal during that span of 15 years. I learned that a good facility can get better. I learned that ownership matters, as I saw this facility go through three ownership changes. None were bad, but current ownership has been the best. I learned the importance of good staff.

Elder Care--You Are Now Part of the Team

I tell people who are worried about putting their loved ones in a home to drop the guilt. Most people realize at some point that they can no longer provide the proper care alone. It's hard to admit, but the time came for me several times over. I learned to admit I needed help caring for my loved ones, and that to be a part of a care team was actually a step up for us all. A good home includes the family as part of the care team.

I visited my elders nearly every day throughout those fifteen years. It wasn't that I didn't trust the home's staff--I did. Those caregivers worked hard and gave loving care to each member of my family who lived there. However, elders need their own family members too. A nursing home, no matter how good, can't provide one-on-one care, and it's the little things only you can provide that make you part of the team.

Elder Care: Trust Your Gut Feelings

I also advise people to tour homes if they have the luxury of time. There are many ways to tell if a nursing home is well run, but your gut is probably your best resource. Watch the staff to see if they treat each other with respect. Watch the attitude of the hands-on caregivers, in my view the most important people there, the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

When my uncle died, his main caregiver was more upset than I was. I knew he was ready to go. But Holly had gotten so attached to him that she was crying the hardest. We hugged and comforted each other. I'll never forget Holly for the gift she gave me that day, because by watching her I knew in my heart that I'd made the right move when I put my uncle that home.

There were many times during the years when I'd see a nurse or a CNA walking down the hall red-eyed from crying. I would know by those eyes that one of their residents had died.

When you choose a home, consider respect for the elder first and foremost. You can pick up on the level of respect if you hang around awhile. Also, watch for choices in meals, activities and alone time. When you see the staff in action; you will know if you've found a good home

Elder Care: Take Time to Adjust

Give your elders time to adjust. They may be unhappy at first. Change is difficult. But given time, many bloom. My mother-in-law was paranoid and afraid while she was alone in her own apartment. Once she moved into the nursing home, she relaxed. She made friends. She felt safe.

The decision to put your loved one in a nursing home is never easy. But it can be the best choice for an elder who needs more care than you can give. You can then leave the "heavy lifting" of caregiving to the staff, and you can be a more relaxed, caring visitor. You can take on on your elder's special needs with the knowledge that you are no longer the sole caregiver, but one of a caring team. When the home is good, you should feelrelief.

You're not done caregiving. You've just gotten help.