The journey of caregiving for a loved one can be complicated. It is even more complicated in the time of COVID-19. However much we want to believe that time and rehabilitation may cure our loved ones and help them return to normalcy, sometimes they do not. Sometimes, we must make the hard decision to transition a loved one to long-term care.
Long-term care is defined as a variety of services that help meet both the medical and personal needs of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities who cannot care for themselves for extended time periods. Long-term care facilities also are often referred to as nursing homes.
Following my mother’s stroke and months of rehabilitation a few years ago, I realized my mom’s medical care was too much for me to handle alone. Physically, I knew I could not manage her care because she now needed assistance to move from wheelchair to toilet or bed, and she also needed daily injections and multiple medications. Additionally, she lacked the ability to safely be by herself for any period of time. We opted to move her to a long-term care facility.
Selecting a long-term care facility can be time consuming. In the end, you should identify the most clean, safe and home-like environment where dedicated professionals are passionate about caring for your loved one, both physically and emotionally.
Tips to ease the transition
The move to a long-term facility can be challenging. The reality is that sadness, fear and even confusion may be part of this change for a loved one. The COVID-19 pandemic may be amplifying these challenges and affecting how you interact with your loved ones and the protocols at health care facilities.
When making the transition, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Communicate with the administrative and health care team to understand what the admissions and visitation procedures are during COVID-19. Though many of the policies are dictated by state and local governments, don’t be afraid to ask questions about how you can be with your loved one during the transition.
- Intense feelings from your loved one are normal and to be expected. Be mindful of your own feelings and respectful of your loved one’s. Turn to experts like social workers or medical professionals for strategies that may be specific to your loved one’s needs. Use language that is empathetic and kind (“I understand…”).
- Focus on the positive. With every change, there are challenges, but there also are opportunities. Seek out the positives, such as the activities that are offered within the long-term care facility and amenities, such as access to the outdoors (i.e., optimal window viewing areas or safe garden spaces that residents can access).
- Help make it home. Where feasible, integrate a few items such as pictures, a blanket, a radio or CD player, or a door decoration that provide the comfort and familiarity of home.
- Help make connections. Your loved one may need your help meeting and interacting with others. Take the time to introduce him or her to both staff and residents. If you can’t personally help, be sure to ask the facility’s administration for assistance. Many facilities have activity or other health care personnel who are helpful and kind with these types of requests.
- Explore together as feasible. Walk (or or wheel) your loved one around the new facility. Take time to look at things like the calendar of events or activity bulletin boards, as well as where there may be opportunities for independent interactions (i.e., a fish tank, bird aviary or simply a community room where people gather).
The transition may be challenging and may take time. However, with kindness, effective communications and time, long-term care may provide the support that will be best for your loved one.