Many associate senior care with living in nursing homes and other long-term facilities. Approximately 1.4 million residents live in nursing homes, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, palliative care and hospice make up two other aspects of senior care. Per the CDC, 1.3 million people received hospice care in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available.
End-of-life care for seniors is among the most difficult experiences family members and caregivers must face. In some cases, providing end-of-life care in the home may not be possible, so families may need to admit an elderly loved one to an inpatient care setting. Unfortunately, anger, sadness, and hopelessness may accompany this decision. However, your staff members can help ease the transition by completing senior caregiver training that includes an overview of the concerns and factors affecting the decision to obtain inpatient care for elderly loved ones.
Top Reasons Families Consider Inpatient Care of Elderly Loved Ones
Avoiding the topic of inpatient admission for end-of-life care is almost an archetype. One family member needs the help of trained senior caregivers, and another wants to uphold the promise of “keeping Mom at home.” The decision to obtain inpatient care, including hospice and palliative care, explains the National Institute on Aging (NIA), can help meet the need for assistance with the following:
- Mental and emotional challenges. Seniors in need of inpatient care may feel depressed, lonely, sad, anxious or fearful. Unfortunately, family members may not be able to recognize the signs of these feelings, but an experienced senior care professional can help seniors with emotional and mental troubles. Additionally, seniors may have difficulties managing money or remembering things, explains CNBC, which can result in the loss of utilities, the home or other assets.
- Practical difficulties in providing care. Caring for senior loved ones can also be difficult because of long distances between family members, work or school responsibilities and physical inability to provide care. For example, adult children of seniors may not have the physical strength to care for their parents’ needs. Additionally, traditional means of pain management, such as taking oral medications, may lose their effectiveness. However, inpatient caregivers can help administer intravenous pain medications.
- Spiritual concerns. End-of-life care must include a focus on spiritual concerns, including religious needs or wants and fostering positive relationships between seniors and family members. For example, end-of-life senior care professionals can help bridge the generation gap or resolve disputes before death.
Ways to Ease the Transition into Inpatient Care
Seniors may not be receptive to the idea of being admitted to an inpatient care facility. Consequently, family members should follow these steps, as explained by the NIA, to help encourage acceptance of inpatient care.
- Explore available services. Since seniors want to avoid inpatient care, exploring all options is essential. For example, home health may be an intermediate option for seniors who need minimal assistance.
- Visit senior family members often. The transition into inpatient care is made easier when family members visit seniors often before, during and after admission. This also helps to avoid waiting too long to get assistance. For example, frequent visits can help family members identify worsening cognitive decline or pain.
- Encourage seniors to participate in their care planning. Seniors should be included in all their care plans. Obviously, those with advanced dementia or cognitive decline may not be able to participate. In addition, family members should talk with seniors about what is happening, even if they do not seem to understand.
- Stay in contact with other family members. Having every family member contact the facility about their senior loved one’s health status detracts from caregivers’ ability to provide high-quality care. Consequently, it is best to designate one or two people to oversee contacting the facility and sharing information with other family members as events unfold. However, this is not a reason to avoid staying in contact with seniors after admission.
How to Stay Connected with Seniors After Admission
Admitting a senior to an inpatient care facility is the greatest reason for family members to stay connected with their elderly loved ones. Unfortunately, spending all day and night with senior family members may not be possible. However, family members can help stay connected through the following activities:
- Create a schedule of visits. Seniors that have access to a calendar with planned days that family members will visit can help alleviate anxiety and nervousness.
- Bring dinner, if appropriate, for seniors in inpatient care facilities. There is some debate about providing home-prepared meals for seniors. Since palliative care is based on comfort and pain management, dietary restrictions may be removed. However, a senior may not be able to eat because of delirium or the effects of pain medication. Make sure to explain these concerns to family members.
- Spend time with senior family members, and talk to them. This is an important part of staying connected. Family members should spend as much time as possible with their elderly loved ones.
Inpatient care for seniors is not always about end-of-life care, but it does make up a significant, emotional portion of your responsibilities to provide the best care possible. You cannot control when a person reaches the end of his or her life, and family members must come to accept this fact with time.
For your staff members to help families through these difficult times, make understanding end-of-life rationale for inpatient care and concerns part of your senior caregiver training program. Essentially, you must be the person to ease the transition into inpatient care for both family members and seniors through the sharing of knowledge and experience in your organization.
Above all else, encourage family members to speak with elderly loved ones, even when they cannot respond.
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