Four Great Things You Can Do While Someone You Love Is in a Skilled Nursing Facility

Related topics: Care for the Caregiver

A nursing home visit

The call came in the middle of the day. "Your father suffered a stroke," the hospital chaplain told Michelle. "You need to come, right away." The next few days were a blur of CAT scans, blood tests, balance tests, and other screenings to determine when and where to discharge her Dad.

"Dad always said he never wanted to go to a nursing home," Michelle recalls. "But he just wasn’t well enough to go home. We had never talked about that possibility before!" It was obvious he needed to be in another living situation. "I thought I should have him at my home, but with two flights of stairs and no one at home during the day to ensure he ate or took his medications, he was just too fragile.  He needed to be at a skilled nursing facility," she says.

Luckily for Michelle, the hospital social worker recognized this need as well as her tremendous sense of guilt for not being able to care for her father in her own home. A united front with the admissions and activities directors at the skilled nursing facility helped ease this transition for both father and daughter.  Among their objectives was the intent to replace guilt with gratitude for this experience.

1. Show love by showing up…and having FUN.  The facility's clinical staff are experts at ensuring essential medical care and physical therapy to help patients recover their physical health. With that in mind, you have an essential role to play by helping your loved one find joy and comfort in the moment. In this case, the staff created an individualized daily rehabilitation schedule and shared it with Michelle. That way, she knew when it was a good time to stop by for a meal, enjoy social activities, or just to sit quietly with her father after physical therapy sessions when he really appreciated an encouraging presence.

"After a while, I got good at it and learned it was the little things that meant a lot," Michelle said. "Sometimes I brought my dog for a visit or a DVD movie for us to watch. If he was up for it, we'd take a drive, roll down the window and enjoy the day. Those were some of the best times for us and they were intangible ways I could show him I loved him, by having fun, together."

2. Apply these same principles to yourself. The same is true for you. Love yourself and find time for things you would find so much fun that you lose track of time.  Many family caregivers are sandwiched between caring for a sick or aging parent while also caring for their own family. In Michelle's case, she was also raising young teens and managing her household, as well as a full-time career. It's at these times, when caregiving seems to overwhelm you, that you must make time to care for yourself. The facility social worker noticed how frazzled Michelle seemed and offered her a couple of "homework" items:

  • Make it an item on your "to-do" list: Dedicate time to self-care as you would to preparing a report or having a meeting with your child's teacher.
  • Speaking of that, make a list: Whether you have a few minutes or a few hours, be intentional about looking for things that help you maintain your physical health as well as your mental and emotional well-being. Along with the essentials, like health screenings and exams, include big and little things on this list that bring you joy and make you feel happy.

"One of the things on my 'favorites' list, as I called it, was a ten-minute exercise routine each morning while coffee brewed," Michelle recalls. "I couldn't always go for a massage or facial, of course. But I could take a few minutes, each day, to focus on my breath."

Caring for yourself will help you achieve a sense of equilibrium and control during what is an undeniably very busy time, especially for those family member caregivers juggling multiple priorities and life roles.

3. Ask for help. As you seek balance in caring for others as well as yourself, there are things you must do, but other tasks can be outsourced.

"It was during this time I learned to ask myself, 'what's the highest and best use of my time?'" Gaining momentum, Michelle learned that time spent being present with her father as he recovered his health as well as being with her family were priceless commodities. Prioritizing her time, Michelle decided she didn't need to do the grocery shopping or even clean the house.

"I signed up for grocery delivery and divvied up the weekly chores among the kids and my husband. That way, everyone could lend a hand. The bonus was we also found more time to spend together."

4. Count your blessings. The end result is so well worth it. In the case of this daughter, her recovering father and her family, they learned to appreciate and savor their time spent together. She was humbled by the dedication of seeing her dad's clinical team in action, ensuring his gradual rehabilitation.

Her family gained a greater appreciation for the enormity of what goes into making a home run smoothly for everyone. "This past Mother's Day, I was given a spa day from my kids and husband," she beams. "But the real gift was how close we became over coming together to help one another. It was more than bumpy at first, but I am filled with gratitude over what we accomplished."

While you feel responsible for your loved one, and may still have twinges of guilt now and again, keep following these steps. Soon enough, you'll gain helpful insights into the blessings and value found in how a skilled nursing facility helps not only the patient but also his or her family member caregivers.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2020 IlluminAge