7 methods to educate residents about their diagnoses

“Thanks, Doc, for telling me about this group!” Mr. Jones smiled and held up the magazine he’d gotten from the National Parkinson Foundation. “Except for that actor, I didn’t even know one person with Parkinson’s before I got my diagnosis—now I find out there are enough of them to have a whole Foundation!”

“You feel better knowing you’re not alone,” the psychologist reflected.

“Not only that,” Mr. Jones said, “but I’m learning a lot about Parkinson’s and how to handle it. I used to get so angry when I couldn’t do the things I used to do, but now I see it’s my illness. I’m gonna figure out how to deal with it,” he said with conviction.

Like Mr. Jones, many residents enter long-term care with medical illnesses that are unfamiliar to them, sometimes years after their diagnoses. As discussed in the article 5 Reasons to Educate Residents About Their Illnesses, not only are properly educated residents more compliant with healthcare recommendations, but the coming baby boomers are going to demand information about their illnesses. Nursing homes that provide education for residents (and families) will be offering cutting-edge services that enhance the experience of their facilities and increase customer satisfaction.

Here are seven simple methods to educate residents that are easy to implement and will help your facility stand apart from the crowd:

  1. Encourage discussion with medical staff upon admission and diagnosis. Part of the initial assessment of new residents should include asking them whether or not they know what their diagnoses are. Nurses and doctors can offer a brief explanation of unfamiliar terms and assess the need for more information, the length of time since diagnosis (the more recent the diagnosis, the more likely the resident will be in emotional distress and may benefit from mental health support), and the level of family involvement (involved family may need information too). Any new diagnoses after admission should be discussed with the physician and followed up as needed.

  2. Dispense fact sheets about illnesses. Every illness is Google-able. Chances are that your boomer residents and/or their family members will be researching their illnesses on their smartphones or laptops, but the details they’re obtaining may not be from reputable sources. By providing information from established medical sites, staff can direct residents to credible resources. The staff members also will have easy access to the information and can familiarize themselves with the illnesses and required care. Fact sheets could be in a binder available at the nursing stations for the staff to distribute or in a magazine rack accessible to the residents and visitors.  

  3. Provide information about illness organizations and how they can join. Along with the basic details an illness fact sheet provides, residents can be offered information about disease-specific organizations. The mere knowledge of the existence of such groups can be helpful, since many residents feel alone with their illnesses, despite the fact that they may be sitting in the hallway next to another resident with the same disease. Privacy laws prevent staff members from sharing such similarities, and residents might not feel comfortable discussing their physical concerns with a neighbor on their floor. Illness-related societies can offer support, coping strategies, hope and perspectives that others are unable to provide. Joining such organizations can be an important step in regaining a sense of control over one’s life.

  4. Offer institutional copies of illness organization magazines for loan. Facilities can become institutional members of illness-related societies and loan copies of monthly magazines and other resources to their residents. If a nursing home has many residents with diabetes, for example, they could provide the monthly Diabetes Forecast magazine distributed by the American Diabetes Association. The American Stroke Association’s StrokeSmart magazine could be a valuable resource for residents who have experienced a stroke. This allows residents without the personal funds or initiative to join the organization as individuals to have access to the information and to feel that their health education is supported by their LTC setting.

  5. Make use of resident education meetings for illness education. Monthly resident education meetings, which are probably already in place in your facility, are an excellent opportunity to inform residents about the various illnesses with which they are living. The format allows for quick dissemination of knowledge over a large group and the opportunity for residents to ask questions and for the staff member(s) running the group to get a sense of which attendees need more individual attention following the meeting. Some residents will find it helpful to learn about the conditions of their roommates and neighbors. For example, an illness education meeting about dementia could make residents more tolerant of people who wander on the floors, while a discussion of the purpose of medical equipment could increase understanding of the noisy oxygen machine of a roommate.

  6. Invite guest speakers from illness organizations. Many national disease organizations have local offices that provide trained peer counselors who can discuss an illness and their experience of it with your residents. A special event can be created through the activities department, perhaps in conjunction with nursing or social service, for a peer counselor to come in to educate a select group of residents living with a particular condition. For example, after the consulting psychologist noted the distress of Wanda, a resident who had recently lost both legs to diabetes, the nursing home invited a speaker from the Amputee Coalition to address a group of people living with limb loss. Wanda’s acceptance of her situation improved dramatically following the inspiring talk of the peer counselor, as did that of her fellow residents.

  7. Hold community support groups for illnesses in the facility. Opening the facility to a community support group is not only a public service that allows your residents to attend the meetings easily, but also can be an excellent marketing strategy. As one smart administrator realized when he opened his main dining room to the local Multiple Sclerosis Society, when members needed to make the move to long-term care, they chose the facility where they felt the most comfortable—his facility, where they had been attending monthly meetings for years.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, is a speaker and consultant on psychological issues in long-term care and author of The Savvy Resident's Guide: Everything You Wanted to Know About Your Nursing Home Stay But Were Afraid to Ask. For more information, visit her website at www.mybetternursinghome.com

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