Turning the care of a loved one over to strangers can be a scary step. However, there is much you can do to ensure the continued safety and well-being of your loved one, even if you have to make the difficult choice to place them in a nursing home.

Just because your parents or other loved ones require more care than you are able to provide on a daily basis, doesn’t mean they don’t need you. You still have a role to play as their primary caregiver and advocate, even if you’re not there every hour of every day.

Here are some keys to ensuring your loved one remains safe and secure in a nursing home.

Keep your eyes, ears and nose open.

It’s important to thoroughly vest any facility you are considering for the care of your loved one, but your diligence doesn’t end after the sales pitch. Not only should you pay attention to the state of affairs before committing to a placement, you need to keep an eye (and nose!) on things after your loved one moves in.

The best time to check in on what’s really happening is usually after dinner on a Saturday evening. There is typically less staff, residents have finished dinner and no one is expecting an onslaught of visits from friends and family.

And don’t forget to keep your nose open; while there are some funky odors that are inevitable, the persistent scent of urine or ammonia is not a good sign. You also want to listen to how staff members talk to the residents. They should address residents respectfully, using their names or “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” rather than pet names or terms, like “Mama” or “Grandpa.”

nursing home

Look for red flags.

Any change in personality, mood, sleeping or eating habits, or physical activity should be investigated. Not all signs of abuse show up as bruises or bedsores, although any sign of either should be reported immediately. If your loved one seems depressed, fearful or lethargic, you need to take immediate action and talk to the unit supervisor or head nurse.

Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one if something is making them uncomfortable, but understand they may be afraid to tell the truth for fear of retribution. You may need to be prepared to move them immediately if abuse is discovered. Any financial changes in their accounts, such as unexpected large withdrawals, should also be investigated. In fact, it may be best to appoint a family member as power of attorney and establish a protocol that requires their approval for any financial transactions.

Stay in touch.

One of the best ways to ensure your loved one is receiving the care they deserve is to visit often. If you can’t stop by every day, make sure you pop in several times per week and keep your visits unscheduled and at different times of day. Not only does this allow you to stay on top of how your loved one is being treated even when the staff doesn’t expect you, it also affords you the opportunity to be a bright spot in your loved one’s day. You can bring a favorite treat, book or photo album and spend time enjoying each other’s company. One of the benefits of no longer being a full-time caregiver is the luxury of spending stress-free, relaxed time with your loved one where you can really connect.
elderly couple

Know who to talk to.

If you do notice something that concerns you, make sure you go through the proper channels to get to the bottom of the situation or make sure the deficiency is addressed. You typically want to start with the unit manager on your loved one’s floor. They should be the most in tune with both the staff and residents and will be able to investigate and take proper action most expediently.

If you don’t get the results you want from that conversation, it’s time to start moving up the chain of command. The facility should have a formal grievance or complaint process that you should follow if a problem becomes persistent, and that policy should ensure that your concern is addressed within a quick timeframe, usually within 48 hours. If you are still displeased, pull out the big guns and contact the nursing home administrator directly. And if that doesn’t do the trick, you may want to contact the nursing home regulatory agency in your state to file a complaint.

Have you moved one of your loved ones into a nursing home? What advice do you have for others going through this move?
How to ensure your loved one is safe in a nursing home

Written by Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca has honed her safety and security skills as both a single mom and a college director. Being responsible for the well-being of others helped her learn how to minimize risk and create safe environments. Learn more

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