Making the decision that a nursing home is the best place for your loved one is never easy. When you choose a facility to care for, support, protect, and create a warm home environment for an older adult you care about, you trust that things will go well even when you can’t be there. But no matter how ideal a nursing home may be, you still need to be involved in your family member or friend’s life to make sure they receive the care and attention they need—and that’s right for them as an individual. Concerned relatives of an older adult who moved into a long-term care facility may be asking: How can I check on my loved one in a nursing home?
Ways to Check on a Loved One in a Nursing Home
After you and your loved one have chosen a nursing home as the best place to meet their health and safety needs, there are still many opportunities for you to stay involved in their care. Here are a few ways to check on your family member or friend who has moved into a long-term care facility.
- Visit. The best way to get a complete picture of your loved one’s life in a nursing home is to visit and visit often. Show up announced when feasible and appropriate.
- Communicate. Use the means of communication your family member or friend prefers to keep in touch. This may mean writing letters, calling on the phone, sending emails, texting, or using a mobile app that is convenient for your loved one.
- Listen. Pay attention to the spoken and unspoken ways your loved one discusses their life in the nursing home. If anything seems “not quite right,” or is mentioned frequently, don’t ignore the signs that something may be wrong.
- Know the Staff. Learn the names of the people who spend the most time with your loved one. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, you will know who to talk to first. Discuss your loved one’s health and care plan frequently with staff. Ask to see notes and schedules for your friend or relative. Make copies of any documentation you review.
- Join or Organize a Family Council. A family council is a self-managed group of family members and friends who work together to improve the lives of nursing home residents. The Arkansas Department of Human Services Office of Long Term Care publishes The Family Council Guide to help organize and maintain effective family councils.
- Research. Whether choosing a nursing home or looking to learn more about your loved one’s facility, you can read up on the ratings, history, certification, and ownership of a nursing home. The Arkansas Department of Human Services offers consumer long-term care information online, including options to search for a nursing home by name or county.
Why It’s Important to Check on a Loved One in a Nursing Home
As a family member or close friend, checking on your loved one’s care in a nursing home in an essential part of tending to their wellbeing. Being closely involved in the life of an older adult you care about is the best way to make sure they are healthy, safe, happy, and receiving the consideration they deserve. Even if you believe the nursing home or care facility to prioritize the best interests of its residents, there are things that can go wrong. Negligence, carelessness, laziness, inattention, a pattern of cutting corners, or even one bad actor on staff can turn a safe environment into a dangerous one.
Many of us are familiar with the prevalence of abuse that occurs in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The statistics we know can only begin to describe the scope of this enormous problem. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has stated that roughly five million older adults are abused every year, and at least $36.5 billion is lost annually through the financial exploitation of seniors. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that two out of three nursing home staff members admitted to committing some form of abuse in the past year. Yet the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) estimates that for every one case of reported abuse, 24 cases go undetected.
Abuse is preventable. Sometimes, it only takes the presence of a caring friend or family member to stop a vulnerable adult from being victimized by an abuser. For this reason alone, making a commitment to regularly check on your loved on in a nursing home shouldn’t be a question. But abuse prevention is not the only reason frequent visits to an older adult are vital to their health. There are many other benefits to routinely checking on a loved one in a nursing home.
When you become familiar with the facility in which your loved one resides, you are able to identify staff members by name, help make requests, introduce your loved one to social activities on site, and know where to go if an issue arises. Be being present, you can help hold employees to a higher standard of accountability. It’s good to be aware of some of the most common complaints in nursing homes so you can make sure the facility is not lax in their practices. Common complaints include slow response times, poor food quality, staffing issues, and diminished quality of life for residents. Watching for signs that may indicate a nursing home has fallen into carelessness or inattention can help avert problems—even minor discomforts and inconveniences—before they happen.
Finally, there is no right answer to the question: How often should you visit someone in a nursing home? Although it’s not always convenient to take time out of your day to visit an elder friend or relative in a nursing home, your actions can have a substantial impact on someone’s overall wellbeing. Numerous studies have shown that meaningful social connections help older adults stay healthier, both physically and cognitively. In one study conducted by Cornell University and University of Chicago researchers, older adults who lived in isolation or reported frequent loneliness suffered higher rates of morbidity and mortality, infection, depression, and cognitive decline than those who enjoyed strong relationships with others.
What to Look for When Visiting a Nursing Home
Each time you visit a resident at a nursing home facility, take notice of the environment and behavior of others on the premises. Pay attention to your loved one’s physical and emotional condition, being aware of any changes to their appearance, attitude, or actions. Only those who visit regularly will be able to tell if something has changed. An attentive visitor may be able to notice even small changes that can have a large impact on a nursing home resident’s overall quality of life. It’s not always easy for older adults to communicate or be aware of the issues themselves. As someone familiar with the nursing home, you can help advocate for your loved one when this is the case.
When you visit a nursing home, take notice of any signs indicating a problem at the facilities, such as:
- Signs of abuse, either physical or psychological
- Indications that neglect or self-neglect has been allowed to occur
- Evidence of financial exploitation
- Poor management practices
- Staff members who don’t know residents’ names or care plans
- A resident showing emotional stress, changes in behavior, or unwillingness to communicate
- Signs of overmedication
- Bedsores and other indicators of immobility
- Injuries due to a fall or other accident
- Visibly unhappy, malnourished, or ungroomed residents
- Resident clothing inappropriate for the season
- Staff members unavailable or unresponsive to calls
- Staff members who seem stressed or dissatisfied at work
- Poor grounds maintenance
- Unclean facilities, lack of handrails, or objects left lying in walking areas
- Limited food choices or poor food quality
- Lack of social activities for residents
Recovery After Nursing Home Abuse in Arkansas
If you believe a loved one may have been the victim of wrongdoing in a nursing home, you can take action to defend their rights and protect others from similar harm. Nursing home abuse lawyers across the country fight every day to protect older adults from the injustices of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Here in Arkansas, the Fayetteville nursing home abuse lawyers at McMath Woods P.A. believe that no one who lives in a nursing home should fear for their safety. The very institutions designed to protect older adults must be held accountable for any act of harm that is allowed to happen under their roofs. We advocate for victims of nursing home abuse and their loved ones in Fayetteville, AR and surrounding areas. Contact our office to discuss your case with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney.