For many of us who have family in a nursing home or assisted living, we can’t always be there with them. And now, with the current Covid-19 restrictions, that is even more true. But, unlike temporary urgent situations such as hospitalization, when it comes to nursing homes, even under the best of circumstances we can’t always be there. However, our care and concern are always with us. Are they healthy and happy? Are they receiving quality care? How will we know when something’s just not right?
Especially in this time that underscores the challenges of physical separation, it gives us the opportunity to take a hard look at how we can “be there” without physically being present. And that will serve us well for years to come.
We can’t overstate the importance of being able to see someone. A benefit of video technology is the ability to observe your loved one for any signs something may not be quite right emotionally or physically. Signs such as voice strength and quality, evidence of fatigue or listlessness, or even what you see and hear in the background can help you pick up on any potential areas of concern.
So, if your loved one has a smartphone or tablet, perhaps it’s time to make sure you’re both taking full advantage of the technology. Apps such as FaceTime are about as easy to use as making a phone call and provide an added measure of connection and comfort. If your family member doesn’t have access to a smart device, consider setting them up with one. There are companies that offer cellphone and tablet products that work well for seniors featuring simplified function and features. These devices are also a great way to share the latest family videos and pics. Try to set up a regular FaceTime schedule, so you both have something to look forward to and know what to expect.
So, what do you do if the technology is simply too much for your family member to navigate? Consider enlisting the aid of a staff member to set up a schedule and help get the video started. Of course, in a pinch, an old-fashioned phone call works, too.
And speaking of staff members – nurses, administrators, and physicians – it’s good practice to get to know them and make sure they know you. Ask them to identify he primary person to call if you have questions or concerns. Talk with them to learn how they prefer you to communicate and how often and when you might expect to hear from them. Share some details about your loved one to help staff to understand them better and offer to help in any way you can, should any concerns or questions arise on their end. The more you can establish a tone of cooperative care and understanding of their roles, the more likely they will reach out to you.
When you do have a concern, raise it in such a way that you aren’t casting blame. It is so easy to make assumptions when you’re worried, especially from a distance. Of course, when it’s time to get firmer, do that. But, if that’s your last resort and not your first, you’ll have more credibility when you do push harder.
While we’re on the subject of observing and advocating in the here and now, don’t forget to consider the future. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities require advance planning measures be in place and included in the resident’s record. Review what is on file and consult an attorney experienced in the laws governing nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure your loved one and his/her wishes are protected and the family is fully prepared for the circumstances when those measures are needed.
The good news is that with a few proactive steps now, you and your loved one can enjoy time together when you’re not there in person. And, that should have everyone resting a little easier.