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Minding our Elders: How often should you visit a loved one in a facility?

DEAR CAROL: My dad had a stroke and needs 24/7 nursing care, so he's on a list for a local nursing home. I'm impressed by what I've seen at the facility, and it has a good reputation. My instinct is to visit Dad as often as I can after he is admi...

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Carol Bradley Bursack

DEAR CAROL: My dad had a stroke and needs 24/7 nursing care, so he’s on a list for a local nursing home.
I’m impressed by what I’ve seen at the facility, and it has a good reputation. My instinct is to visit Dad as often as I can after he is admitted, but my sister says we should stay away and let the staff get him settled.
What is your opinion about visiting people who are moving into a facility? – Steph
DEAR STEPH: I’ve always thought that we should stick close to our loved ones when they are admitted to a facility so that they understand they aren’t being abandoned. With some reservations, I still feel that way.
Since I moderate two online caregiving communities, I hear from people worldwide. It was on one of these community forums that I first heard about nursing home personnel telling families that they shouldn’t visit for a week or two after their loved one is admitted. The idea is that the elder needs this time to get settled in the new facility and accept that this is his or her home.
Reading about some of these situations opened my mind to the fact that there may be exceptions to my own instincts. If an elder is cognitively sound but manipulative with the family, perhaps the idea of letting the facility staff handle the transition alone for a week or two may be valid.
I still lean toward frequent visits in most situations, however. I think that the risk of an elder feeling abandoned by the family overrides the idea that if no family members visit, the elder has no choice but to accept the staff as the new caregivers.
Also, since frequent visits allow the family and staff to get to know each other, it would seem that most facility personnel would welcome family involvement. Since facilities are often shorthanded, families can pick up the slack on some of the more superficial care. I believe that teamwork between facility staff and families most often results in the best adaptation.
Some advice to families: One reason that facilities may dread family involvement is that some spouses and adult children have an aggressive attitude that gives the staff the impression that they are viewed as the adversary. While family members must be advocates for their vulnerable loved ones, they shouldn’t be antagonistic toward the staff.
Disrespect is rarely a good idea. I’ve seen excellent nursing home staff members treated like servants by family members who act as though their loved one is the only person who needs attention. It’s wise to approach this transition as a team player.
Talk with your sister, Steph, and ask why she feels that visits should be limited. Letting the staff get your dad settled without family involvement can be valid reasoning under some circumstances, so be careful not to imply that you think your sister is suggesting the easy way out.
If you need to compromise about visits, it’s still important that you work closely with the facility staff so that you know how your dad is adjusting. The social worker at the facility may be a good source for more information.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com . She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com .

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