Correcting long-term care’s image problem
Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
Long-term care has an image problem. For a variety of reasons, we aren’t associated with good times. There are things we can do to turn this around, though, starting with the perceptions of our residents.
Most people who come to live in a long-term care facility struggle with a sense of failure. This isn’t because of anything that occurred in their lives prior to placement, but because many people view living in a nursing home as a sign of a failed life.
The most common comment I’ve heard from new long-term residents over the years is, “I never thought I’d end up in a place like this.” Some add, “Where did I go wrong?”
There are good reasons for providers to address the inherent sense of failure many residents feel in LTC placement: It can increase customer satisfaction, improve morale among residents and staff, and reduce depression among residents, thereby lessening the need for antidepressants.
The role of the psychologist
Part of my job as a psychologist is to help residents recognize that living in a long-term care facility isn’t a failure. It’s not a reflection of a life poorly lived or necessarily indicative of difficulties in their relationships with their children or other loved ones.
I do this in several ways, depending on the person and the circumstances.
I start by telling residents that I regard it largely as a societal problem. We’ve made advances in healthcare that allow people to live longer with chronic illnesses, but we haven’t yet devoted the resources needed to help people manage successfully at home and to support their caregivers. Long-term care is often the best solution under the circumstances.
Sometimes offering that view is enough to make them feel better about the situation, but other times more is needed. For example, Marie was a new resident who’d worked as an aide in a psychiatric hospital. She was distressed about living in the nursing home and had become irritable and withdrawn. I took her to visit a well-adjusted resident, Linda, who’d been a coworker and a union representative at the same psych hospital. They talked about the old days for 20 minutes and never visited together again, but Marie had a new acceptance for placement — if the nursing home was good enough for Linda the union rep, it was good enough for her too.
As a neutral party, I can provide the perspective that families and facilities can’t, pointing out, for example, how hard family members have worked to keep them out of the facility for as long as they did, how their relationships can reset once someone else is in charge of hands-on caregiving, and the benefits of living in a communal environment with easy access to medical staff and activities.
Aside from referring residents for psychology services, facilities can address this aspect of their image problem in several ways:
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