Adjusting to Communal Living

        Barbara Resnick, PhD, RN, CRNP, talks about how to help a loved one adapt to a long-term care facility
        Even in the best of situations, change isn’t easy. This is certainly true of a move into a long-term care facility. The good news is that there is much you can do to help your loved one adjust to communal living and new surroundings.
        If possible, start before your loved one enters the facility. Visit the community, get the lay of the land, and talk to the staff. Will they be eating in a big dining hall or have the option of more intimate or casual settings? Where are activities held? Are there features your loved one will enjoy like the presence of animals or plants?
        Of course, the transition will be easier if your loved one welcomes or at least accepts the move. To help with comfort, focus on material things that will help the new setting feel more comfortable and like home even if your loved one is resisting the move.
        However, other efforts will be important to help them adjust:
        • Spend time together in the new setting until they feel a bit more comfortable.
        • Help the staff to get to know your loved one. For example, tell them if mom is shy but will go to dinner if she’s invited by someone, or that dad misses his dog and would really enjoy some pet visits. Some facilities have shelves or storyboards where you can post things like photos of your loved one when they were younger and other highlights of their lives.
        • Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. Remember what it was like to be the new kid in the neighborhood? Or remember your first day at college or in a new job at a big company? It’s possible to be surrounded by people and still feel alone. Be patient and empathetic, and do what you can to help your loved one meet other residents. Encourage your loved one to get involved and be part of their new community, but don’t force them or get upset if they take time getting adjusted. Respect their feelings and be sympathetic.
        • Work with the staff to set a comfortable schedule for your loved one. Although it may not be possible to follow every part of mom’s or dad’s preferred schedule, you can let the staff know what your loved one’s preferences are. For example, mom likes her pill in chocolate pudding, or dad likes to take a shower at night. Having this information can make settling in easier for both your loved one and those who are caring for them. At the same time, it’s important to help your loved one understand that they may not always be able to get their medications, their meals, or their shower exactly when they want them. Of course, this can be challenging when people have memory or cognitive problems.
        • Listen to your loved one’s concerns or complaints but remember there are two sides to every story. For example, if mom says that another resident is stealing from her or yelling at her, talk to various staff members, including the administrator and director of nursing, and try to get the whole story. Don’t confront the resident or try to resolve the situation on your own.
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        Photo by Vlad Sargu on Unsplash
        • Take care of yourself. It can be hard to put a loved one in a long-term care facility. Feelings of guilt are common; and if mom or dad doesn’t want to be there, this can make those feelings worse. Be kind to yourself. If you can’t visit as often or stay as long as you or your loved one might like, make the most of your time together, and understand that not every visit will be perfect. For instance, you may plan to have a fun day with mom, getting her nails done and having lunch, but when you arrive she’s irritable and just wants to stay in her room — try to be understanding and flexible.
        Listen to your loved one’s complaints, but remember there are two sides to every story.

        Questions to Ask Your Practitioner

        • What are some ways I can help my loved one adjust to communal living if they are outgoing and have lots of friends? How can I help if they are more private and have few friends?
        • What kinds of items can I put in my loved one’s room or apartment to make it homey?
        • What should I do if my loved one seems to have trouble adjusting?

        What You Can Do

        • Get to know the people who will be caring for your loved one. Let them know about likes and dislikes, fears or phobias, favorite songs or movies, and pet peeves.
        • Arrange with different family members and friends to visit your loved one often.
        • Get to know the other residents and help your loved one meet those who they might be friends with.

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