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Nursing Home Etiquette


Lunch In the Nursing Home
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If you are planning to visit a friend or loved one in a nursing home, remember that this is not only a medical facility it is also a place where people live. Show the same respect you would when visiting someone's home.

Visitation Guidelines

Each nursing home has its own policies, so learn what they are before you go. The most important ones are often posted near the entrance. Most facilities have posted visiting hours, so you will want to find out what they are before you go so you won't be turned away. Don't forget to sign in when you arrive and sign out when you leave.

Most residents in nursing homes are elderly. They have led full lives, held jobs, raised children, and been active in their communities. Never look at them as children. Call them "ma'am" and "sir." Listen to what they have to say and stifle the urge to correct them. Even if they are wearing most of their last meal, they deserve respect.

Additional tips to consider:
Personal respect - Always respect the people who live in the nursing home, including the other people who live there. Don't invade their personal space. Always knock before you enter a room and go out into the hall when personal tasks are being tended to.
Commitment - If you have told a loved one you will visit honor that commitment and show up on time. The nursing home resident may have made plans around your visit or told others that you were coming.
Friendliness - Always be friendly when visiting someone in a nursing home. Smile, offer a friendly greeting, and hug if this is something that you typically do when seeing a friend or family member.
Noise - Keep in mind that some of the residents might be sleeping, so don't speak too loudly or make other harsh sounds.
Children - Most nursing homes encourage visits from children, but find out what the rules are. Spend some time explaining the rules to your children before they go so they will know what to expect and how to behave.
Pets - Before you bring an animal to the nursing home, ask about the policy. Many nursing homes see the value of pet therapy, and they often encourage visitors to let other residents pet the friendlier ones.
Conversation - Do more listening than talking. Before you visit, have a few conversation starters in mind to prevent awkward moments.
Activities and meals - Schedule your visits around activities and mealtimes so you won't interrupt something that is important to the resident. Many of the recreational activities are planned as therapy. If you would like to help with an event, offer your services to the recreational therapist or activities director. Even something as simple as handing out supplies can be a big help to the person in charge.
Length of visit - Don't overstay your welcome. Stay long enough to enjoy your time together, but keep your visit brief. If you sense that the person is getting tired, leave graciously.
Future visits - If you plan to visit again, ask the nursing home resident if there is a good time to stop by. Never promise to be there and not show up. Being confined to a nursing home can compound the disappointment in a broken appointment.

Communication with Staff

Nursing home employees work hard, so make sure you get to the point and respect their time. Always be friendly and show empathy for their jobs. Most of them love what they do, but the work is physical and emotional. They see their patients every day, so they often become attached to them.

Don't be offended or get your feelings hurt if the person you are visiting shows preference for his or her nurse over you. This is the person who attends to your loved one's daily needs, so you should be grateful that they have a good relationship. Before you leave, thank those who add value to the residents' lives.

Tips for talking to nursing home staff:

  • Smile and remain on friendly terms.
  • Learn the names of those who regularly have contact with your loved one.
  • Introduce yourself and state the name of the person you are visiting. Never assume that the staff members know who you are.
  • Never argue with a caregiver. If you have a legitimate concern, go directly to the nursing home director and express your thoughts. You may ask to attend a patient care meeting that specifically involves your loved one.
  • If you have a complaint, take it to the director or family liaison. Be very selective in what you choose to complain about, or no one will pay attention.
  • Don't offer tips.
  • Before bringing a gift, find out what the nursing home policies are. Many only allow small gifts during the holidays.
  • Thank the caregivers while you are there. After you get home, send a thank you note and mention those who are doing exceptional jobs.

Holiday Visits

The holidays are often filled with celebration and extra activities in nursing homes. If you are capable, offer to assist with decorations or handing out refreshments at parties. The activities director will be grateful for the extra hands, and the resident will be proud of a family member being so kind and gracious. It's always good to bring gifts, but make sure whatever you have is allowed.

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