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Notes from the Nursing Home – Part 2

Notes from the Nursing Home – Part 2
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As I mentioned yesterday, my elderly mother came to live with me, eventually moving to a nursing home up the street.  In the eight years she spent there, I learned many lessons (making me the go-to person among my friends now that many of them are facing that dreaded fact that their mom needs to be in a nursing home.) So here is a little more hard-won wisdom:

Celebrate everything: Bring her favorite flavor cupcake (don’t forget the lighter and candle) for her birthday, get a live little Christmas tree for her bedside (Jackson & Perkins features a different theme decorated tree each year) or an electric Menorah, bring candy hearts for Valentine’s Day, mark St. Pat’s Day with an airline bottle of Bailey’s (yes, nursing home residents can drink as long as it doesn’t interfere with their meds), pack a family picnic and wheel her outside (or on a rainy day, bring a checkered tablecloth and drawings of ants to scatter around), bring I-love-you plants (of a hardy variety) just because it’s Tuesday.

Put it in writing: Carry small envelopes and notecards with you. Write any notes to the staff and leave them at the desk in an envelope with their name on it. Somehow written messages get remembered and acted upon much better than verbal or phone messages.

Learn pet policies: Your loved one might enjoy being signed up for pet visits (from therapy dogs who come through the nursing home) or if allowed, bring your own well-behaved puppy. Mine used to nap on my mother’s bed reminding her of the dogs she’d had throughout her life.

Watch what you sign: Having a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order and Living Will on file with the nursing home is a good thing, but, unless your loved one has dementia, be careful about signing a Power of Attorney. It will make you liable for all her bills, even after her death. Better to arrange direct deposit of her Social Security and any pension checks into her own account, bring along her checkbook and have her sign checks to pay the facility and other bills. (Keep her wallet, important IDs and credit cards at home!) On the subject of money, many insurance companies no longer pay for ambulance transportation (which can run a few hundred each way, depending on distance from a hospital.) Have emergency funds stashed away.

Outfitting your loved one: When it comes to buying beautiful clothes for your senior, save your money. Clothes going through the facility’s laundry don’t last long or are simply never seen again. Use a laundry marker to put her name on every item, but, unless you want to take her laundry home and do it yourself, don’t get attached to any particular item. I  helped my mom keep her individuality by buying her the wildest socks (no-slip) I could find. No one else had such small feet (or outlandish socks.)  Her leopard and zebra pairs even survived her.

Keeping her sharp: Subscribe to the newspaper, if she’s interested in world affairs. Buy a wall clock with giant numerals so she can easily track the time and keep a calendar tacked where she can see it upon awakening. Teach her how to use an iPod filled with her favorite music (look for Big Band compilations or the best of Doo-Wop) and podcasts like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. (She’ll be glad of the earbuds if she has a moaner or weeper for a roommate.) Make sure to use the accessibility settings on the iPod to make the text large and the screen bright. Consider stowing it in her dresser in a lock box. Create an easy to-remember password.

Never miss a party: Attend all events at the nursing home. Her face will light up knowing she has somebody coming (and she gets to show you off, too.) But don’t be surprised if she doesn’t want to attend any celebrations. Seniors often will say they “don’t want to hang out with those old people.” Drop by anyway. She may change her mind.

Suit up and show up: If you can’t visit every day, call (every patient has a phone by the bed—get the direct number so you can call even when the switchboard is closed.) If you can’t visit or call every day, forgive yourself—but try to make at least a few times a week (your mom still worries about you.) Attend the regularly scheduled meetings where the staff goes over your mother’s care plan and arrange to accompany her to every off-site doctor’s visit. She’ll be comforted by your presence and you’ll be better informed.

What you can bring: Visit discount bookstores and buy bags of half-price paperbacks (hard covers get too heavy for arthritic hands). The ladies like the romance novels (you haven’t lived till you get into a conversation about sex with octogenarians.) Donate them to the home’s library cart when she is through with them. A large, light hand-held unbreakable mirror comes in handy, as does a small perfume spray of her favorite fragrance, a tube of her favorite lipstick and a squeeze tube (jars are hard to open) of hand lotion. If she is wheelchair-bound, pay a hairdresser and manicurist to come to cut her hair bedside and give her a gentle mani-pedi..

Saying goodbye:  You never know if this is the last chance you’ll have to see your mom, so end every visit by telling her you love her. You’ll never regret having said it and may always regret if you don’t.

#caregiving #nursinghome



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