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Questions & Answers - Novemer 2003

Mary C. Fridley, RN,C is a registered nurse certified in gerontology with more than twenty years in the geriatric health field. She is the owner of Gero-Resources specializing in caregiver, eldercare, and successful aging education and advocacy. Mary is also an author of two caregiver advice columns and contributes articles to various websites. She is available for speaking engagements and would be happy to answer your questions or concerns while maintaining your anonymity.

About Mary
Mary's Column Archives: Caregivers'
Questions & Answers

Dear Mary,

I volunteer at a nursing home and am concerned about the residents. I know staffing shortage is a problem but residents are being neglected. Many are left to sit in wet or soiled diapers for hours even though they are suppose to be checked routinely. Those that can use the bathroom with assistance ring their call bells but they don't get answered. These poor people then wet or soil the bed and are berated by staff. I don't want to quit volunteering because the residents look forward to my visits. It breaks my heart to see how they are treated. I have spoken to the nurse in charge, but nothing has changed. What else can I do?

What you are describing is elder abuse in the form of neglect and emotional abuse. Staffing shortage is no excuse for such deplorable care. Please call and speak to an Ombudsman at your local Area Agency on Aging, your identity will be kept confidential. If you don't know the number, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for information.

The Ombudsman program was established in 1972 under the Older Americans Act and is administered by the Administration on Aging. Its purpose is to advocate for residents and investigate elder abuse in long-term care facilities including nursing homes and assisted livings.

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Dear Mary,

My wife has Alzheimer's disease and is in the final stage. She is bedridden and sleeps most of the time. She has now stopped eating and drinking, so I know the end is near. I want her to die at home but my children are pressuring me to put her in a nursing home. They think I am getting too worn out caring for her. It's hard enough watching her die; it would be unbearable for me to see her in a nursing home. What can I say to them to make them understand?

Dear Reader,

I am so sorry to learn about your wife and I understand how important it is for you to keep her at home. Your children see the stresses you are under and worry that you will fall ill. They are faced with losing their mother they don't want to lose their father, too.

There is a compromise that should satisfy both of your needs – Hospice. Your wife is in the process of dying and requires palliative, or comfort, care. You have heard me sing the praises of Hospice before and I will continue to do so. Through this wonderful organization your wife can remain at home with nursing supervision and home health aide service to tend to her physical needs. A social worker is available to help the family through this difficult time and volunteers can visit to sit with her and give you some respite. There is also the option of in-patient care at a residential Hospice house - it's up to you. Please call them right away - you will be glad you did.

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I'm writing with good news. After months of agonizing over putting my mother in Assisted Living we finally did it. She was adamant about staying home but due to dementia her judgment and memory were so poor that she couldn't grasp how dangerous it was for her to live alone. My sisters and I spent many hours visiting homes and interviewing staff until we found one that satisfied us. I won't say that the move was easy, because it wasn't. We were plagued with guilt and Mother was angry, but we persevered and within two months she settled in. Today she is a new person. She enjoys the company of the staff and residents, participates in activities, and even gets her hair done once a week. We are grateful that she is now eating well and her hygiene is attended to. She still asks when she's going home, but is satisfied to hear us say, "soon". Last month I got a call from the nurse telling me she suspected Mother had some kind of infection because her behavior was different. If she had been home, we would have never picked up on it.

I want other caregivers to know that placing a loved one in a home is not as bad as one thinks. There are good places out there with caring staff. The relief and thanks we feel is immeasurable.

Dear Reader,

It is always good to hear from caregivers who have had positive experiences. Placing a love one in a long-term care facility is an agonizing decision that takes courage and selflessness. Congratulations, you managed to do a very difficult thing in order to keep your mother safe and receive the benefits of peace of mind.

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