No one sets out to live in a nursing home. But when a family member declines to a point that living on his own is simply impossible, alternatives must be weighed. For family members of these aging individuals making long term care decisions can be overwhelming.
Five years ago my sister and I found ourselves in a similar situation. Our mother, who was an only child, had passed away years earlier. Her parents – our grandparents – lived more than 2,000 miles away. Their health was rapidly declining. My grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease just six months apart. My grandfather was battling diabetes and was simply unable to care for my grandmother. (We suspect it was because my grandmother had spoiled him for so many years!)
Our visits to their house became more and more worrisome. Food was left rotting in the refrigerator, medications were left sitting out, and my grandmother had taken to wandering outside in the middle of the night. (One night she was spotted walking along their neighborhood lake in her nightgown.)
When my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we had to act quickly to get them both in facilities that could provide the medical and custodial care they needed. Unfortunately, we had to separate them.
Their health had declined to the point that neither could be moved closer to my sister and me. Working long-distance arrangements was daunting, especially since states differ in how they structure levels of care. Hospital social workers were a tremendous help, as were online resources.
For those who are finding themselves in similar situations with family members, the online magazine CityView offers a detailed listing of care options. It has a 10-point check list for choosing a facility, explains who pays for long-term care, and gives an overview of Alzheimer’s disease and options for those suffering from memory loss disorders.
Statistics of neglect and abuse in long-term care facilities can make the decision to place a family member in one even more stressful. Good facilities do exist but you must know how to identify them. Research several facilities and take time to visit each. Be aware of the environment: Are calls from residents being answered quickly? Does the home look and smell clean? Does staff appear friendly and know the residents by name? Do residents look comfortable?
I also encourage you to question staff and talk with other family members about their experience with the facility. And once your family member is placed in long term care, remain in contact with staff, visit your family member as much as possible, and continue to be aware of the surroundings. Know the signs of abuse and neglect, and report any suspicious behavior.