Recently, my aging uncle was hospitalized after a fall that resulted in a broken hip. During his surgery, he was incorrectly intubated, causing damage to his throat, resulting in a loss of the ability to swallow. Gradually, he regained some of this ability and was taken to a senior care home to recover until he was able to return home.
My aunt visited every day during his stay in the senior care home. She commented on how the first two days were impressive. The next few were more routine. Two weeks later, care became negligible. When she brought up several issues with the staff (rampant bed sores, missed GI feedings, etc.) she was told that she could take him home if she felt he wasn't being well cared for. She's 87, and his primary caregiver. He's 91, in a wheelchair, unable to swallow, and now ridden with bedsores and infections.
Unfortunately, my aunt's story is not an isolated incident at senior care homes. While most facilities offer exemplary elderly health care, some patients do slip through the cracks. How can you ensure that your loved one receives adequate care, even when you are not there?
- Get to Know the Staff - even if you can't be there in person, call frequently. Offer to buy your favorite staffer a cup of coffee when you visit. Let them know you are watching, you support them, and that you want the best care possible for your favorite senior.
- Don't be Consistent - visit on an "off" day and vary your hours when possible. This will help prevent the staff from putting on a show.
- Keep it Clean - Hospitals and nursing facilities are laden with germs. When you visit, take care to sanitize hard surfaces and frequently touched items such as doorknobs and sink faucets. Ensure your loved one is being well groomed and cared for. It's OK to tell a nurse, doctor or assistant to wash or sanitize their hands before providing elderly assistance.
- Become a Fellow Staffer - Yes, you are paying for others to care for your loved one. That does not, however, mean that you can rest on your laurels and be assured they are getting all they need. Ask that new favorite staffer how to check for bedsores (if your loved one is immobilized), swelling and any other telltale signs of issues that may be related to his/her condition.
- Listen to Your Heart - Chances are, if you've read this far, you are seeking help for just such a situation. Your heart is urging you to take action - don't ignore it. If you question the care your loved one is receiving, in senior day care, at the hospital or other senior care services, take action. Talk to the staff about your concerns. If they are not receptive, talk to the management or seek alternative care options such as elderly in home care.
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-- Kim Thies