“A nursing home is a place for old people lor!”
“It is where those with chronic illness, mental and physical disabilities live in.”
“It is where children abandon their elderly parents.”
These were some of perceptions I held about Nursing Homes before I started working for one. After working in a Nursing home, my mindset took a 360-degree turn.
There is more to my work in the nursing home than providing assistance to residents in their daily living and their long-term care as they stay in the facility. As a Social Work Associate in a nursing home, it also entails dealing with the confusion, worry, desperation, despair, fear and guilt that the residents’ family members bring with them when they place their loved ones in a Nursing Home. I have seen many cases where the next-of-kin would break down during the financial counselling session or during admission because placing their loved ones in a nursing home had been such a difficult decision for the family.
I was also corrected in my thinking that a nursing home existed fundamentally as a place where children abandon their elderly parents. After working in a nursing home, I have since come to understand that as the elderly’s health condition deteriorate, they may require more assistance at home, especially in activities of daily living such as showering, toileting, eating or simply just moving around. Some elderly also refuse to wear diapers and as such, the family member or helper will have to wake up every 2 to 3 hours, at wee hours in the night, to assist them in going to the toilet. With time, this takes a huge toll on the family. Family members may also face challenges in managing the demanding or aggressive behaviour of the elderly, especially if he or she is diagnosed with dementia. As a result, their last resort when burnout becomes too extensive, is to seek out a Nursing Home for long term care placement to meet the needs of their loved ones. Hence, it is often never a case of abandonment.
One incident which struck me deeply was when a son came to admit his father into our nursing home. There was an elderly woman in her 70s (his mother) with him. She was quiet throughout our conversation. I sensed that she was pre-occupied with her thoughts and looked very sad. At that moment, I reached out to her, held her hand and told her,
“It’s not your fault…
I’m sure if given a choice, you would want to take care of your husband yourself, but you’re getting old and may not have the capability to look after him anymore. Please don’t feel bad”.
The next few moments pulled so hard at my heartstrings. The lady held on to my hand and started sobbing profusely, silently nodding in agreement. That was when I realized how much guilt she was dealing with internally, and struggling with her wish to, but inability to, then care for her husband adequately at home. I followed on to assure her that we had professional nursing care and trained staff to look after him and that she had nothing to worry about.
I recall another memorable encounter where, after the admission of her father to our nursing home, a daughter shared that she was happy with her father’s successful transition and adaptation to the new living environment. She enjoyed the welcoming smile from her father, almost, every time she came to visit. She also shared how worried and unsure she felt on the day before admitting her father and wondering if the family had made the right choice. She was glad that her father had grown to accept his new living arrangement. I was really humbled one day when she hugged me, thanking me sincerely, with tears in her eyes.
From these two anecdotes, it is quite clear that a Nursing Home does more than caring for the frail and the elderly ill, but also provides the family with a peace of mind that their loved one is well looked after, and serves to alleviate the caregiving burden off them.
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(Contributed by Social Work Assistant, Saro)