Is Your Parent Safe in the Nursing Home?

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One of several reasons people decide that elders with chronic health problems are better off in a nursing home than in their own homes is safety. Unless a family is able to afford a private-care nurse team, or an in-home agency for 24-hour care, assisted living centers and nursing homes can often afford greater safety for the elder than living alone.

The obvious point of safety in nursing homes has always been that there are trained professionals on the spot in case of a fall, mediation reaction or other health issue. However, with advances in technology, nursing homes have advanced in safety measures over and above what they once provided.

Background checks for nursing home staff

First of all, good nursing homes are very careful with who they hire. They do thorough background checks on their employees to screen out anyone who has been disciplined for abuse or other issues that could affect the way they care for elders.

When I had loved ones in a local nursing home, my mother and I often commented on the incredible quality of the people that staffed that particular home. It was obvious that this home's administration worked very hard to find quality people. This, of course, means more than a clean background check. However, background checks are helpful. Now, with the emergence of computerized records shared between law enforcement in different states, reliable background checks are easier to confirm.

New technology combined with a stronger awareness of safety issues is helping in other ways:

  • Computerized medical records make it easy for nursing home staff to double check medication records for allergies and reactions.
  • Pre-packaged medications are often used so that nurses have all of the pills and capsules a resident needs to take at one time in a sealed packet. This eliminates much of the human error that is inherent in giving medication to many people at once.
  • Alerting systems that buzz nursing home staff when a resident who is at risk of a fall gets up unassisted are used in many homes.

Nursing Home Safety Through Technology

Other nursing home safety precautions include:

  • Cameras in entrances and locked security systems keep nursing home staff informed about people who come and go. Good nursing homes want to encourage visitors and need to keep security as unobtrusive as possible in order to offer a home-like atmosphere, while still maintaining a safe environment for residents. Cameras and check-in systems can help keep residents safe without alarming residents.
  • Wandering is a danger for people in certain stages of Alzheimer's disease. Again, a good home should not seem like a prison, yet people with Alzheimer's need to be secured for their own safety. Many homes have cleverly disguised, secure exits in their locked Alzheimer's wings, so that the doors can't be opened without codes, yet the coming and going of staff and visitors isn't accompanied by the jingle of "jailer's keys."
  • Light beams can "guard" hallways or exits, as well. When someone breaks through a beam, staff is alerted. This kind of system can even be used to let people know if a person goes out of his room.
  • Cameras can be put in rooms if necessary, to alert staff to activities of an elder.
  • People who have extensive training in how to cope with Alzheimer's behavior are less apt to agitate an elder with over-correcting or scolding. Once caregivers understand how best to handle situations that may arise, they are more likely to respond appropriately, which can keep a potentially abusive situation from arising.
  • Nursing home staff, in most states, are required to report abusive behavior of other staff members. There are more safe-guards in place than in the past to make this kind of reporting a top priority.
  • Laws to prevent restraining residents have presented nursing homes with sometimes complicated conflicts, but the good facilities have found ways to keep elders safe while not restraining them, a method that was considered acceptable in years past. Restraints include over-medicating to sedate people into "compliance." The drugs used in the past to restrain elders and keep them docile created health issues for many. Likely they hastened a few deaths, but those were the days when people didn't go to a nursing home to live, they went to die. Raised standards now prevent such treatment, in most states. People are expected to live their days in the nursing home with as much quality in their lives as possible, and that means more hands-on care and less over-medicating. The new approach is generally safer for the elder.

Trying to maintain a home-like atmosphere for vulnerable elders, while keeping them safe, is not an easy task. Yet, raised expectations from the public about the atmosphere of modern nursing homes has forced some of these issue to be examined and improved. Culture change in nursing homes has encouraged a blend of technology and increased hands-on care to make the lives of our elders in nursing homes happier as well as safer. There's still a long way to go, and perfection may never be reached, but safety and happiness of elders in nursing homes is becoming an expectation, not just a fluke. That's great news.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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5 Comments

These so-called safety background checks remind me of random drug screens and fingerprint checks as will be instituted in Minn. It gives a warm and fuzzy feeling to the bureaucracy that created it but I think real abuse frequently goes undetected by family members.
True. The DON'S, ADON'S and supervisors are not going to come in and check on the residents in the middle of the night. A family has to walk in the door unannounced at all times of the day and night and still its difficult. My father is residing in an assisted living for dementia patients! He is in the hospital now and yesterday, I asked him to open his mouth so I could check if he swallowed his banana and he said "no, you'll spit in it". I cried. My brother is his guardian.......
I think this article is pretty good. It seems to be accurate and informative. I agree with most things in article. I do believe state of the art should be in all facilities. These people deserve it. But then again everything costs so much......that would be one of the first reasons why it maybe wouldn't happen! Anyone else???? Thoughts?