Partnering with your loved one’s long-term care home

Being a caregiver is one of the hardest, most emotionally and physically draining support role an individual will have to do in their lifetime. Sometimes you may have to do it more than once in your lifetime. Sometimes the role will look completely different each time. When you are a caregiver as a parent, you recognize that although it is sometimes hard, your children will need you less as they get older. Being a caregiver for aging and ailing parents or relatives is different. Depending on how involved and hands on you are, it can be harder because it is often sandwiched between other priorities. Sometimes they will need you more as time goes on, as they age and as their needs change.

Given the right skills and resources (time, money, space, family/community support, etc.) many people would opt to care for their family members at home. When that is not possible, either the family or the senior makes the decision to move to a long term care home (LTC). 

Once your loved one begins residing in a long-term care home, your caregiving responsibilities do not end. Look at it as a transition to a different type of caregiving where the need to be hands on may reduce significantly, but the requirement to be available, aware, vigilant and an advocate has to continue.

Your first job as a secondary caregiver and advocate is to take the time to get to know your loved one’s support team (doctor, nurses, PSWs, Director of Care, Nutrition Manager, recreation team, etc). Partner with them to determine a care plan that best supports your loved one. Remember, it will take time for this team to get to know your loved one. Providing as much information as possible can help them to support an easier transition in the beginning and as time goes on, continuing to provide information will support an evolving care plan.

Be vigilant about medication changes. You will be notified when there is a change, but ensure that you also follow-up to make sure the changes have been implemented accurately (correct medication, dosage and timing). Whatever you do, don’t assume that the relevant people responsible for that change are infallible. Everyone is human and humans make mistakes. If you identify a mistake with medication, alert the nurse and director of care immediately.

Try to visit at least weekly–family interaction is important for your loved ones wellbeing but it will also give you an opportunity to meet different staff and observe how your family member is engaging in their environment. What do meal times look like? Are they participating in recreational activities? Are they bored? Sometimes there can be a repetitive concern that will be missed unless you visit regularly. Example, the temperature in the room may always be too cold or too hot. You may note it in a single visit but not realize it’s an ongoing problem. Visiting on a regular basis is also a great opportunity for you to observe how your loved one and other residents are treated by staff. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to respectfully raise concerns in a timely manner and with as much detail as possible. The nurse or Director of Care would likely prefer to get feedback as close as possible to an incident occurring, so they can follow-up immediately and make changes. If you wait too long to say something, the action they take may be less effective. 

Provide feedback about concerns, but don’t forget to also provide positive feedback about the good things you observe. If a PSW is doing a good job, tell them. It is important to say thank you and celebrate the little positives. A little kudos can go a long way.

Tymbi Gonsalves, Concerned Friends Volunteer

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