Friday, November 1, 2019

Community Living for Hospice Patients: Don't "Put" People in Nursing Homes

by Lizzy Miles (@LizzyMiles_MSW)

No one should ever be “put” in a nursing home. You might agree with this statement because you don’t like nursing homes, but that is not what I’m saying. The word “put” is offensive when you are describing a person, unless you are talking about putting a 3 year old in the time out corner because he colored on the walls.

I would like to make the argument that no adult wants to be ‘put’ anywhere. You put dishes away, you do not put people away. When we are facing a situation in which the care needs exceed the family member’s ability, there are times where the best option is for the elder to move to a safer environment.

Let’s look at these two scenarios:

Daughter puts mom in a facility because mom is too much of a burden for daughter to take care of at home.

Or

Mom moved to a new community in which there were nurses who could take care of her health care needs. There are chefs who make her meals and caretakers who help her with her activities of daily living. She has opportunities to make new friends, play bingo, listen to music, and arrange flowers. Daughter’s time with mom can be spent sharing memories, watching movies and working on jigsaw puzzles together.

Same scenario. Which one feels better to you?

We do not want to say to our loved one, “You are too much for me.”

What we want to say is, “I want you to have the best care possible and I believe this choice will be better for both of us. I love you and I will continue to spend time with you.”

I should know. I was the daughter. I was an only child in my late twenties when my mom’s sister died. My aunt had lived near my mom and checked in on her daily. My mom was in declining in health and not really doing the best job caring for herself. She wrecked her car and wasn’t eating well. And suddenly I was the one responsible for her and I lived 90 minutes away. I was still working full time and tried to take care of things long distance, but I didn’t feel it was working. There was no end in sight either - though she was declining, she wasn’t terminally ill.  After touring seven facilities, I found one that I liked and brought her to see it. She liked it and moved to an assisted living facility in my city that would be able to care for her until the end of her life.

As it turned out, it was the best decision I could have made. The facility staff welcomed her with open arms and she thrived. She lived there six years and was the happiest I had known her my whole life. During this time my mom and I even became closer than we ever had before.

There is no happy place. Happiness is an attitude.

We’re not supposed to have favorites in hospice care, but a hospice patient who was on service for a couple of years just recently died. I’m really going to miss her. Every time I saw her she was always smiling and expressing gratitude. She was the happiest person I had ever seen in a facility, including my mom. She dressed to the nines with all of her bracelets and necklaces and gushed about the staff, the activities and even the food. As you can imagine, when facility staff were giving tours, they always introduced her to the visitors. This resident also had very attentive staff because she was such a pleasure to be around. Her joy for life was contagious.

Yes, a move to a nursing home is hard, but most patients adjust. In my experience, those who don’t adjust are likely to be unhappy in any setting.  There are residents who don’t leave their room at the facility – but I bet you they never left their house either.

One final story. A patient who had lived at home ended up moving to a facility due to increased care needs. I visited her a week after she had moved and I personally felt sad that she didn’t have pictures or personal items. She, however, looked around the room devoid of belongings and said, “maybe this is how things are supposed to be. Maybe we don’t need a lot of stuff.”  I had no idea she used to be a hoarder. She didn’t know it, but she was embracing the new minimalist trend.

We decorate rooms and put pictures on walls at the nursing home because we are the ones who are still attached to belongings and things. Part of growing older is shedding the past and the stuff. If you ask any resident in a nursing home of what they want most, it is not their china or their figurines and sometimes not even their pictures, but rather to be with those they love. Yes, there are those elders who built their home with their bare hands and they are attached to “place” but most of the time, it ends up not being about the place but the fear of being forgotten. Consider this though: in a facility, elders have much more human interaction and attention to emotional needs than they do at home with a single exhausted caregiver who is at their wits end.


Love and companionship can take place anywhere. 

Hospice personnel can help family members have these conversations. We lead the way by how we frame it. We can talk about anticipated care needs and why moving may be the best option for care. We can share stories about attentive, compassionate care and the activities that the facility has.  We can remind the patients and families that we’ll be there with them too.

Language matters. Words matter.

Let's talk about RESPITE

If you’re talking about a temporary respite with a patient, how do you bring it up?  Is it because the caregiver is exhausted? How would you feel if you were the patient and someone told you that you were “exhausting?”  Imagine hearing, “I need a break from you.” The caregiver needs to be firm with the patient about their needs but they can do it in a way that doesn’t come across in a way that makes someone feel like a burden.

Consider saying something along the lines of “I want you to have the best care possible and right now I don’t feel I am able to do that for you. Please - I would like to take a few days to rest and recharge my batteries. It will only be until x day and then you will be back home again.”

If the respite is for night time relief and the caregiver is planning on visiting during the daytime, say so. “I’ll come visit you so we can catch up on the news/family/whatever.”
When families are in the midst of caregiving, we can sometimes forget about the relationship we used to have with the patient. If we take time to consider the way in which we talk about caregiving needs with the patient in a way that demonstrates the love that we have, we may be able to alleviate some of the sadness or feelings of abandonment.


Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW, LSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio and regular contributor to Pallimed.org. Lizzy authored a book of happy hospice stories: Somewhere In Between: The Hokey Pokey, Chocolate Cake and the Shared Death Experience. Lizzy is best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States.
photocredit:
hands Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash
plant photo by Sarah dorweiler on Unsplash
all other photos via author


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