Getting used to structured living

As a new resident 14 years ago, I wondered how I would get used to the nursing home’s way of doing things. I thought my life here would be similar to my two short stays in other facilities.

The staff did its best to find out what my routine was like during a normal day at home. But, of course, this is not home so I did have to make some adaptations. In the beginning I was lonely and wanted someone to talk to. So I stayed up late, watched TV, and talked to the night shift aides. This helped me to adjust. Because I was up late at night, I did not get up and going until around noon the next day. I quickly learned to notice and take advantage of the different times of the day when aides were less busy.

I kept up the night routine for a year until I got really involved with my computer. Then I would get up, get showered and dressed, and get busy on the computer. If I was up in the daytime, I was less bothered by interruptions such as med passes, vitals, housekeepers cleaning my room, laundry staff members delivering clothing, and activities stopping by.

Back then the PA system did bother me. During the day there were constant announcements and staff pages to the phone. I told friends it was like living at a used car lot. Sometimes the music that played in the background made the PA system more tolerable. I could usually tell what kind of day the staff was having by the announcements.

To get a respite from the building’s noise, I would go outside and ride around the building. I could enjoy the neighbor’s flowers, the birds singing, and the children having a good time in the public pool. I got to meet resident family members and saw the staff come and go. Sometimes I would go to the no parking area in the back, sit in the sun, and take a nap. Many times the aides told me that I was sound asleep when they whizzed by in their cars at shift change.

I was used to structured meal times so that never bothered me. It was necessary at home because I had caregivers and my parents believed that routine and structure were good for us.

If I was tired, I pulled into my room and took a nap in my chair. But I did have to adjust my potty runs to when the aides were least busy. I did the same with my showers. For a while I was showered at 1 a.m., because the aides had more free time then. My shower was moved briefly to afternoons. Now, it is early in the morning and it has remained that way for years.

There are days when I get more than my share of interruptions. It has to be coincidence when several people need to see me on the same day. Because I write and have deadlines, interruptions are more difficult. I no longer sit up all evening working on the computer. I decided I needed diversions. So I watch TV, talk to friends on the phone, watch movies, or listen to audio books.

Over the years, the PA system has disappeared and along with it music in the hallways. But the routine is pretty much the same. I asked that my vitals not be done at night. I feel I need my sleep more, and for the most part they go along with me. This is community living so structure and interruptions are part of a usual day. But I do insist that staff knock and wait before they come in.

I know there are days that I would like to throw the schedule out the window and just sleep in. But I know that structure helps me. So every day I am up and going unless I am feeling really dreadful, which has not happened for awhile.

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Southeastern Ohio for the past 14 years.

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Long-Term Living 2010 April;59(4):48

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