by: Cynthia Madison
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.5 million people live in nursing homes in the U.S and although satisfaction levels among residents and families have increased exponentially over the years, there still are many improvements that can be made to increase the quality of life.
To do that, it’s essential to look beyond the basic requirements of cleanliness, safety and staff professionalism and see senior homes from a holistic perspective: senior homes shouldn’t just be buildings that give seniors a roof over their head and medical supervision, but a new home where they can live in peace, dignity and happiness. Only by doing this can senior homes convince seniors and their families that senior care is a beneficial long-term solution, not the beginning of the end.
1. Give nursing home residents more personal attention
New research released by the School of Public Health reveals that loneliness is a major issue in nursing homes and that the amount of personal attention received from the staff influences quality of life directly. On average, nursing home residents only spend a cumulated 20 minutes with staff every day, which is not enough to closely monitor residents’ physical health and wellbeing. To increase quality of life, nursing home staff might try to spend more time with seniors, and interactions should not be limited to basic feeding or medication services.
2. Create a safe and comfortable environment
Most certified senior homes in the States provide residents with an adequate level of comfort, but the administration should aspire to be more than just adequate. A room that only has a bed, nightstand and TV has a very austere, hospital feel and is a downgrade from the senior’s home, so administration should try as much as possible to create a warm space that feels like home. Add decorations and wall art, allow residents to bring items that remind them of home and take into account that a well-planned interior can help elders with cognitive impairments make better sense of their surroundings.
3. Facilitate social interactions
In addition to encouraging senior home staff to have meaningful personal interactions with the residents, it’s equally important to facilitate the development of a social network between seniors. Research shows that an active social life is essential for seniors because it can help them cope with the loneliness of losing a spouse or the physical changes of aging. Encourage residents to start storytelling groups, take part in group activities and interact with other elders living in the same facilities.
4. Provide healthy, nutritious meals
Healthy nutrition is just as important in senior years as it is in childhood and the meals senior home residents eat do influence their general mood and wellbeing. In addition to respecting the dietary requirements imposed by pre-existing health conditions, senior homes should offer residents meals that are rich in fibers, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid bland meals as much as possible and aim for diversity when developing meal plans.
5. Diversify past-time activities
Residents in senior homes have a lot of free time and the way they spend it often determines their perception of the facility. Residents should never feel that they’re bored or trapped in a senior home. On the contrary, the facility should offer them a wide array of age-appropriate activities they can choose from. For some, reading is the ideal way of spending their time, so your public library or local bookstore should be packed full of lots interesting books and magazines. Others prefer gardening, playing a musical instrument, playing board games, knitting, pottery or painting. Every person now in your senior home used to have a vibrant life – and that should not stop the minute they walk your threshold.
6. Keep them physically active
Physical exercise is essential for seniors, because it boosts cardiovascular health, increases mobility, reduces muscle pain and mood disorders. Although intense exercise routines are not recommended for safety reasons, there are many other activities that can keep seniors physically active: stretching, yoga, walking, dance lessons, swimming, climbing stairs, or light physical exercises. Apart from the obvious health benefits, they have also been linked to reducing the risk of slip and falls, which are one of the most common accidents in senior homes.
7. Monitor their mental health
A physically fit resident isn’t necessarily a healthy resident, so staff should also be preoccupied with their mental health. Depression caused by loneliness is a massive issue among seniors, so it’s essential to monitor changes in mood and behavior. Changes in appetite, sleep disorders, and general apathy are serious warning signs and if you suspect a resident is struggling with mental health issues you should not hesitate to sign them up for counseling.
8. Get the residents involved in community initiatives
Although they live in a senior home, residents should not feel isolated from the local community. On the contrary, getting involved in social causes and helping those in need can give them a sense of purpose and personal fulfillment. For example, in 2016, Rockport Healthcare Services became the first organization to involve every nursing home and assisted living community they serve in fulfilling community service through its A Heart to Serve program. As part of this program, seniors in nursing homes prepare meals for the homeless and deliver them personally to homeless shelters.
9. Allow pets in the nursing home
In 2014, Washington-based nursing home Sunrise Senior Living partnered with local pet shelters to fight for two noble causes: help residents deal with loneliness and give abandoned pets a second chance. Ever since, more and more nursing homes have initiated similar programs and some even put in place bring-your-own-pet policies, which allow seniors to live with their beloved companions in nursing homes.
10. Incorporate new technologies
Times are changing and the average senior no longer rejects technology. On the contrary, more and more seniors over the age of 65 own a smartphone, play computer games and have an active social media presence. Setting up a special area with gaming consoles and computers where residents can use Skype to talk to relatives is the latest trend in senior home care and in the following years, this will become the norm.