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Nursing home visits can be good experience

February 22, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

Most of us prefer not to think about it much, but when a loved one's health deteriorates to the point that he or she requires constant care, moving the loved one into a 24-hour care facility can become a necessity.

Moving from one's home to a room in a nursing home is always an adjustment, but family members can support their loved ones in a number of ways, local nursing home workers say.

At the top of the list is visiting them, said Kristin Sheffler, a social worker at Homewood Retirement Center in Williamsport.

"They enjoy pictures and reminiscing," Sheffler said.

And be sure to bring the children, she added. "Sometimes people think they don't like to bring the kids because they don't want them to see Grammy" at the nursing home, she said, but residents enjoy interacting with children.

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At some nursing homes, you can even take the family pet to visit - "on a leash, of course" said Carla Brown, administrator at Reeder's Memorial Home in Boonsboro.

While you're there, be sure to speak to nursing home residents on their level, said Kathy Gatz, a social worker at Williamsport Nursing Home. "Don't talk like they're not there, or like they're a child," she said.

Listen to them, Sheffler added. "Validate their concerns, and let the appropriate staff person know their concerns."

Bring some food from home, too, Gatz said.

"They always enjoy home-cooked food," she said, cautioning that you should check with nursing staff first for any dietary restrictions.

"Even a Coke" can be a treat, Sheffler noted.

Not sure what to do when you get there? Sheffler suggested taking them down to the lobby for your visit - it gets them out of their room. Even reading to them is appreciated. "Most of their days are very similar," Sheffler said.

Some favorite things

Remember that birthdays and anniversaries are still important to them, Gatz said. Writing letters and cards and sending pictures and calling on the phone help keep them connected.

If their health will allow, Gatz suggests taking them out for a ride.

Bringing a few of their favorite things - a comforter, a pillow, some photos - is helpful, Brown said.

Be sure to participate in scheduled activities that can include family members. Williamsport Nursing Home, for example, has an occasional "Diner's Day" in which the staff takes residents to a restaurant, and family members meet them there for a meal.

Family members also accompany residents on trips to Ocean City, Md., or Baltimore, Gatz said.

When visiting, take your cues from the resident and limit the visit if necessary, Sheffler said.

Gatz added that you should make sure you come at the right time - and not when it's time for treatments, for example.

By federal law, Gatz added, visitors are prohibited from bringing even over-the-counter medications into a nursing home.

"Be an active part of their lives," Brown said. Attend meetings at the facility, stay on top of the activity schedule and be actively involved with the nursing home staff, she suggested.

"Don't have any apprehensions about asking questions" of staff, Brown said, adding that "it's always helpful for us to have background information about how they were functioning" in their lives before.

"Don't dangle the carrot that they might get to go home and raise false hope," Sheffler said.

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