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Top five resident complaints about nursing homes (and what to do about them)

September 28, 2010
by Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD
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Solutions can be as simple as the problems themselves
Good sleep hygiene on an individual basis can reduce irritability, improve memory, and promote healing. Good sleep hygiene on a unit-wide basis is good customer service that can benefit the physical and mental health of residents and reduce conflict between residents (it's hard to be friendly toward someone who's kept you up all night). #5: There's no one here for me to talk to

Untrue! But we need to prove it to residents by helping them connect with their peers.

The false impression that they're alone in the nursing home is based on several factors:

· New residents carry the prejudices of most people outside the nursing home, believing everyone inside is confused or too ill to carry on a conversation.

· The tendency of people to believe they're unique, when in fact there are many uniquely interesting people in nursing homes. (I know they’re there—I've spoken to them.)

· Nursing home "old-timers" who are more alert tend to leave their units to attend activities. When newbies arrive, they try sitting in the hall or in the day room and, finding the more confused residents, come to the conclusion that everyone is confused. Then they retreat to their rooms.

· Because most residents are visibly physically disabled, people often incorrectly assume they're cognitively disabled as well.

Techniques for staff members to connect residents include:

· introducing new residents to others with similar interests;

· encouraging them to attend activities before they settle into spending their days alone in their rooms;

· recognizing strengths and sharing them with others in the community. (For example, a new resident agreed to be interviewed for a feature story in a nursing home newsletter.); and

· helping residents establish a welcome committee.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues.




If you want to be put in a mechanical lift, the vendors that sell these are willing to let you try them out. We have also had "sample" machines brought in for us to from when we have purchased new ones.We have put staff in them at our facility. It is definitely an experience. We have had staff get in one to demonstrate to residents also so its less frightening.

Sue, you're right about it taking work for residents to connect with their peers. It can be especially challenging because of soft voices, hearing impairments, and mobility issues. Getting to activities provides the opportunity for recreation staff to help residents overcome these challenges.

Cathie, thanks for the suggestion about having the vendor give me a ride in the lift. Good idea!

Catherine, I also found it illuminating to get a wheelchair ride. The chair seemed to be moving much faster when I was the pushee than when I was the pusher.

Dr. El,

It can be frustrating, at times, helping residents see that they can be socially active in the nursing home. Meeting others in a nursing home, as in the community, takes work. If you wait for someone to knock on your door to become friends, you will probably be waiting a long time. I would like to reiterate what has already been said, go to activites. Of course, the ones you are interested in, but initially try going to just about everything and go consistently. Establishing relationships takes work. I would also like to suggest attending discussion, trivia, arts and crafts and baking groups and others which tend to be conducive to socialization.

It is beneficial to have staff experience how it feels to use equipment. I took a class about wheelchairs and was expected to drive with different controls. It gave me a new level of respect for those who drive them. Additionally, when I teach classes about eating and drinking for those who lack independence in these areas, I like to have students try all of the techniques to understand how it feels. Let staff experience what residents experience on a regular basis!

Complaint #1 concerning answering call lights really misses the mark. You suggest that the nurse tell the aide to respond to the call light. Why can't the nurse get up and do so? For that matter, no one should pass a ringing call bell. Continually asking aides to do something that everybody can do, drives a wedge between nurses and C.NA's. That's not very good for staff morale. Remember, we're all in this together