Nursing homes: how to bridge the transition from home

This page was written from personal experience with major metropolitan nursing homes considered to have good standards and services. I am not a health care professional. I am not an expert on aging. I am a person who has already been there and done that with parents. You will likely get many standard answers and information on nursing home care, but as with many things, there are a lot of unanswered questions about nursing homes that you won't know to ask about until you actually experience having someone you love in a nursing home.

Considering a Nursing Home
Unusual Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Nursing Home
How a Person can Change when Living in a Nursing Home
Tips for Helping a Person living in a Nursing Home

  • What can you do to help bridge the transition to life in a nursing home?

  • What can I talk about when visiting a person in a nursing home?
  • What can I do for a person in a nursing home?
  • Here are a few ideas to comfort people living in a nursing home and/or making the transition to a nursing home.

    1. Talk with them! Individual interaction becomes more and more important as time goes by in a nursing home. Clues to a good visit would be to ask questions and get some kind of response. Ask opinions. Make the person you love part of the conversation - don't just talk at them. Talk with the person on current events (world and local news), family activities, the good old days, their favorite spectator sports, local politics, and similar topics. Make one short statement and then ask their opinion on the subject. Involve them in thinking about the subject. Talk slowly and clearly even if the person has good hearing, but don't talk "baby talk". It may make the person sad to talk about hobbies or interests they are unable to pursue in the nursing home. Ask about the food and what they had at the latest meal. Expect they could be unpleased and have a sympathetic reply ready. It is no comfort to tell them they will get used to it.
      • Talking about meals and food in a nursing home: For some people, no matter how good or nutritious the meals are, it isn't their own "home cooking" so it may never measure up to being a good meal. Focus on the fact that they didn't have to go through any trouble to cook or clean-up the dishes or set the table. (also see Bring a treat further down this page)
    2. Bring books or magazines with pictures, large print books, a large print Bible (Size 14point type if the person is able to read and access the book from a table), large photos of family. If they have a hard time holding books or magazines, get a table-top book-stand. Storage space is at a premium in a nursing home, so it may be a good idea to leave only one or two items on a visit and remove old material.If you have brought a book with photos, take a few minutes and look at it together, ask questions comment on each picture. We have provided some suggestions for large print books and picture books. One of my favorites to look at with mom is "Chicago The Glamour Years 1919-1941" full of great pictures that people across the country would relate to. Click on the book or here to visit our Books for Seniors
    3. A treat if there are no food restrictions. Ice cream, homemade cookies, cake or a small share of a favorite comfort food. Be sure it is just before mealtime so they will enjoy it. Disregard the fact it "Will spoil their dinner". Their joy is well worth it. There are usually no facilities to store leftovers in a nursing home . Double check with the nursing home staff if the resident does have food restrictions.
    4. Provide a radio already tuned to their favorite station. If they are unable to turn it on, schedule with staff to have them turn it on. Find out if the nursing home has electrical outlets near the bed or sitting area and bring an extension cord if necessary.
    5. Provide a small television and tune it to a favorite channel or program. If you can, be there with them to enjoy their favorite program. If you are unable to be there to share the program ask the staff to turn on the TV for the favorite program, or have them remind the person when it is time for the program if he or she is able to use the TV by themselves. You could leave a note taped on the television with the day, time and channel of the favorite program. Find out if the nursing home has cable, dish or standard television.
    6. Bring a few favorite things from home to begin life in a nursing home. Though there is not a lot of space for momentos, but the 2 or 3 small and most precious things may provide some comfort - on the other hand be prepared for tears, but in the end, they will be treasured. Bring a favorite or hand-made afghan. If you have most of personal affects at your house or available to you, from time to time bring something more to talk about and remember from "home." Use your judgement about leaving it or taking it back home with you. (Do things get misplaced there often? Would you feel really bad if it were broken? Is there enough space to keep it there?)
    7. Bring photos from family activities and encourage extended family and friends to send cards and notes. Some nursing homes may have individual bulletin boards in the resident's space. Check with the staff about pinning or taping photos and cards on the wall. Read and re-read the cards. Talk about the person who sent it. Start a family photo album you can leave at the nursing home. If you have any prior generation photos of grandparents, great aunts or other older generation family, start the book with copies of them. Put in copies of your own childhood photos - you can probably talk together easily about these. (Fast service scanning and printing is easily available so you can get copies and keep the originals).
    8. Bring something new to wear - depending on how long the person you love has been in a nursing home, and how clearly they think and understand, it may be nice to get them a new pair of slippers, or something new to wear. Be sure to put their name on it in marker in an obscure place. If the nursing home resident does not understand it is a gift for them, it can at least make you feel better! Talk about the gift and look at it together let him or her feel it or hold it for a moment - to begin a sense of ownership in something unfamiliar.
    9. Get a calendar - A wall calendar serves several uselful purposes- 1. The days can go by unnoticed. There is no sense of time for many residents in some nursing homes. One day blends into another and birthdays, holidays and events (Mother's Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, The 4th of July, etc) may not seem to exist within the walls. You can point out special days in the month, and confirm what day it is today. 2. You can get a calendar that has marvelous pictures of something the person loved or likes. You can talk about the current picture on a visit. 3. Put it where the resident can see it easily on their own. The pictures can brighten an otherwise sterile environment.
    10. Ask about their day! Meals and activities are primary. It also helps keep the mind active. If you are able to see the weekly activity schedule for the nursing home, take a look and see what you think may interest the person you love. You can ask if they went to an activity and what they did there. Ask about the meal. You can suggest a future activity from the schedule, and talk about how they may enjoy it. If activities are optional and you know the person you love would enjoy a specific activity, be sure to remind the staff about it. Caring nursing home staff will encourage participation. You can even talk about scheduled activities they never enjoyed before and probably would not enjoy now. It's good to vent or find humor in it. If the person you love will not or cannot talk, ask anyway. Watch carefully and try to interpret body language or eye movement and state the feeling you think you see in them. Ask them if you got it right?
    11. Take him or her out! When mother first lived in the nursing home, we were able to get her into a car and take her out to dinner or to the house or even to the mall in a wheel chair. It wasn't easy as we'd have to pack the wheel-chair in the car and two of us helped to get her in and out the car. This change of scenery was good for her. Gradually we cold not get her up the stairs at our house. Gradually we were unable to get the "dead weight" into a car or out of a car, as her limbs deteriorated. Now on nice days, we at least take her outside the building in the wheel-chair. Since the nursing home is located within a city, we take her on wheel-chair excursions in the neighborhood. We take her to the hardware store and other stores. It isn't a matter of being her favorite place to "shop", but rather changing the environment. With good walking shoes on , we can roll her all the way into Mc Donalds for a milk shake treat. On our last trip out, we were walking when the only rain of the summer came! We hurried. You may have to "Sign out" a person to take them off the premises. Check with nursing home.
    12. Stuffed animals? When we first started our nursing home experience, we where dismayed to see elderly people cuddling stuffed animals. As time went by, we became aware of the loneliness, and the longing in some residents. There are people who loved pets and now had none; people who were "touchy feely people" and had no one to hug. A stuffed animal to remind them of a real pet or just to hold isn't a bad idea. (Be sure to put their name in marker on it) Talk about the pets that were well loved.There's likely a stuffed animal of a favorite breed or one that is just cuddley and cute.
    13. Bring a tape player and take it home with you between visits. You can tape family events; you can tape greetings from family members in other parts of the country; you may find tapes of his or her favorite song or music and listen to one or two together. Tape recorders and players aren't as easy to find anymore.
    14. Bring a CD player and take it home with you between visits.We'll be adding a great selection of Old-Time Radio programs and music from the 20s-30s-40s that will bring back great and happy memories. Its more fun to listen to these with someone, so be sure to take some time and enjoy the programs or music together. Ask about the memories.
    15. Visit the person in the nursing home as often as you are able. Days are really long in a nursing home. Your time is valuable. Several fifteen minute visits a week may be more important than just one long visit with many days of loneliness in-between. It is also easier to prepare a few things to talk about for a short time span and you can always stretch the time if the visit is encouraging. Think about what to talk about (If you are not good at spontaneous conversation) before you set out.


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