Nursing Homes – Putting the 'Home' Back in Elder Care

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By Karen P Williams

Many nursing homes around the country have gotten a face lift and not just a physical kind. For several elder care facilities they are ditching the regimented care in which people are housed like a hospital and required to take medication at a certain time in addition to having to wear 'lift belts' or use walkers 'just in case.' There is a movement that has these nursing homes listening to their charges and their nursing staff. The companies that own these facilities, and there are several around the country, are putting the 'home' back in nursing home.

The old nursing homes were modeled after hospitals and institutions with an emphasis' on efficiency instead of making a persons stay pleasant and calm. Most of these new elder care facilities seem more like large dorms or apartments for the elderly. There are typically 10 to 30 people to a section with a communal kitchen, dinning and living room areas. And no one is roused at 7 am for breakfast so they could be shuttled back to their room for an 8 am shower. People wake up on their own time and the nurses or a cook will make them something to eat. People are treated like individuals and with respect. Additionally, medications are given when they are suppose to be taken, but delivered to the patients room, no one has to line up to receive medications with everyone else.

Homey touches are all around in these progressive nursing homes such as visits from pets. Many people who enter nursing homes must give up their pets which can contribute to their overall depression about their new situation, but if they know their beloved companion could come and visit with them, this could help their mood immensely.

Having residents become active participants in their care helps give them a sense of purpose. Many residents will willingly help with preparing meals, washing dishes, sweeping or other communal room chores. Other residents may organize a 'help' campaign such as sewing cloth bags and filling them with pencils and notebooks for those children who don't have school supplies in an underdeveloped country.

And many of these 'new model' nursing homes have seen a decrease in the number of employee turnovers in the past several years, something that has always plagued traditional nursing care facilities. By having no more 'floater' employees - nurses who rotate throughout the facility - and instead have a 'consistent assignment' - caring for the same one or few patients everyday they are working - has also seen a decrease in the three major problems facing patients that could be related to the constant changes in caregivers - weight-loss, ulcers and falls. If a nurse sees a patient every three or four days, they may not notice a subtle change in their skin color which could be an early sign of a pressure ulcer from inactivity. Many elderly do not handle change well and having to deal with a different caregiver each day could have a negative affect on their system and psyche.

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