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5 Misconceptions About Long Term Care Homes

Long-term care (LTC) homes, commonly known as ‘nursing homes’ have long been subjected to negative stereotypes. And that’s understandable given the sometimes troubling stories shown in the news. Of course, abuse and neglect are the exception, not the rule within these facilities. If you operate or work in one of these care homes, you’re aware that they’re often characterized by empathy and compassion. Though safety is the primary concern for residents and their families, there are other worries as well. Over the years, unflattering pop culture portrayals have made nursing homes seem like dull and unpleasant places to live.

What should management and staff do to show that their facilities are safe, comfortable, and vibrant? This post will explore five of the most common stereotypes surrounding long-term care homes. It will cover attitudes that care workers deal with regularly, but prospective residents and their families will also relate.

1) Nursing Home Atmosphere

Let’s start with what’s most obvious. Many people perceive nursing homes as depressing. If you work in this area, you’ve probably heard it many times: your career must be depressing. Your work environment must be depressing. And your residents – well, they must be depressed.

It’s one thing when friends and acquaintances have these misconceptions. But what about potential residents and their family members? For a lot of aging adults, the idea of moving into a long term care home is accompanied by dread. Because of these feelings, adult children often promise never to move a parent into a facility.

Of course, things change. For many people, there comes a day when receiving care in the community is no longer enough. Still, it’s probably rare for potential residents and their loved ones to feel optimistic while touring your premises. To be fair, some studies have found higher than average rates of depression in long term care homes. But there are things that you as an operator or employee can do to help your residents cope.

Does your facility provide a diverse range of activities? Appropriate physical activity for mobile residents? Do you offer a group therapy program? What about depression screening or assessment?

Help prospective residents and their families see beyond their preconceived notions by highlighting your dedication to mental wellness.

2) Staff Members Don’t Care

It’s no secret that there have been incidences of long-term care staff mistreating residents. In Canada and around the world, news about these types of events attract a lot of attention.

These stories stick with people for one reason: empathy. Viewers put themselves in the shoes of another. They ask, what if it were my mother or father?

Worrying about the care of a loved one is natural. That said, if you work in a long-term care home, you may find yourself in a position where you feel you have to defend your colleagues or (if you’re in management), your staff.

Of course, not everyone is aware of the dedication it takes to tackle challenges that arise in these environments. Take nursing as an example. From med pass to ringing call bells, long-term care nurses have a lot to deal with. And the scrutiny that often comes from the family members of residents can cause further stress. Why do nurses and other care practitioners stay in these facilities? The answer, of course, is that they’re passionate about helping older adults.

If you’re involved in the operation of a long-term care home, you probably have staff members who go above and beyond. Don’t be afraid to show them off and sing their praises. And if you’re a nurse or PSW, don’t forget what a difference your friendly and engaged presence can make.

3) Outdated Practices 

Often, when people think of long-term care homes, they’re thinking of places that no longer exist. Negative perceptions are frequently connected to outdated attitudes and practices. But things have changed in recent years.

Consider how restraints are used in facilities. Today, whenever possible, situations that were once believed to require restraint use are resolved in less invasive ways. This is just one of the ways nursing home culture has become more resident-centred.

The adoption of technology provides another example. In most (if not all) sectors, technological development has resulted in better, quicker, and more reliable service. Organizations that harness these advancements are many times more efficient than they otherwise would be.

Knowing this, why would leaders in long-term care ignore the opportunities technology provides? If you work in this area, you know the answer. In short, they’re not.

Operators and managers have never been more open to change. Think about electronic health records, nurse-to-nurse communication platforms, and systems for wandering and fall management.

Technology is developing alongside resident-centred care. As a result, long-term care homes are becoming more responsive and better able to deal with large volumes of people.

So, what does the near future hold? Those who will be part of the influx of seniors in the years ahead just might be surprised.

4) No Privacy

It’s a fine line to walk. On one hand, residents and their loved ones expect safety to be priority number one. On the other, they want staff to respect privacy. Of course, these expectations are reasonable. Fulfilling them both can get pretty complicated, but it’s a goal that most nurses and PSWs strive for.

Yes, there have been negative news stories. A handful of serious privacy violations have been discovered (including the case of a deceased PEI woman whose photo was shared on snapchat). But as public outrage mounts, so does the response from healthcare leaders. Prospective residents can expect homes to start enforcing rules related to social media more strictly.

There are, of course, longstanding practices that show respect for resident privacy. Don’t barge into rooms without knocking. Don’t open windows or change television stations without asking. Understand that residents have the right to store their possessions in a locked chest or box.

When privacy issues come up, they’re usually the result of staff busyness – not ill intent. Say, for example, a nurse forgets to identify himself before entering a room. The resident in question can assert her rights. In most cases, a respectful resolution can be reached quickly.

What else can you do to convey respect?

If you are a frontline worker, review your responsibilities as they relate to privacy. If you’re in management, make sure residents and families understand the challenges of balancing safety and privacy. Explain privacy policies and your commitment to them.

Also, ensure that any staff members who may come into contact with residents and their belongings understand these policies.

5) Loneliness

In some cases, aging and loneliness go hand in hand. And despite being surrounded by people, those who live in care facilities aren’t immune. Television frequently depicts long-term care homes as places where there’s nothing to do but stare at the wall. In such an environment, how can friendships bloom? If this were an accurate depiction of the average care facility, they wouldn’t.

The activities you provide create a time and place for residents to connect with one another. Enjoyable mealtimes and pleasant common areas can do the same.

Still, you most likely have residents who are withdrawn. In many cases, new inhabitants abstain from social activities. Preconceived notions about long-term care are sometimes at fault.

Family members who visit may become concerned. Why doesn’t dad seem to be interacting with anyone? How come mom is so often complaining about her roommate? Unfortunately, in these situations, loneliness can really take hold. Encouragement from staff, including a psychologist, can help.

At the same time, relationships with family members should always be encouraged. Family may live far away or be unable to visit regularly, but video chats can help. With the right technology, older adults can even connect with loved ones at the touch of a button.

The Truth About Long-Term Care Homes

Long-term care homes can be demanding work environments. And public scrutiny often adds to the challenges of operating, managing, or working in these facilities.

The sad truth is, many people don’t know how welcoming these places can be.

A recent study found that 83% of Canadian boomers want to receive the future care they’ll need at home. Based on the common – and persistent – stereotypes surrounding long-term care, who can blame them?

It takes time and sustained effort to build the trust of new residents. The same goes for those who entrust their loved ones to your care. Luckily, there are ways to overcome preconceived notions. Start by remembering that a quality long-term care facility is a place residents can truly call “home”.

Feature image courtesy of Ulrich Joho

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