A nursing home is a residential facility that provides around-the-clock care, supervision, and monitoring. It is most often a facility for elderly patients, but anyone who cannot be independent and needs constant medical care and monitoring may benefit from a move to a nursing home. While these are not intended to be permanent facilities, nearly half of residents in nursing homes live out their lives there.

With this fact in mind, making the decision and then the transition to nursing home care can be difficult for everyone involved. As a caring family member you have a big choice to make, and then you want to make sure your loved one transitions as smoothly as possible. By knowing what to expect, asking a lot of questions, getting involved with care plans and staff, and spending time visiting, you can make this necessary transition go well.

What to Expect

On the first day of a transition to a nursing home, expect emotions to be running high. This may also be a physically-demanding day, for both you and your loved one. Plan to spend the day with your loved one, talking to staff, making sure all paperwork, medications, treatments, and care plans are in order. When it’s time to go home, have something to do to take your mind off the worry you will naturally have for your loved one.

In the first week, adjusting to the changes will still be difficult for you and your loved one in care. Rely on staff at the nursing facility to keep you up to date and to guide you through the process of adjusting. Request to talk to the staff social worker or counselor if you or your loved one is still struggling with the changes. This professional can help both of you cope and can provide you with tips for talking to your loved one about what is happening and what to expect next. The first week will help you learn what the routines are in the facility, so spend time there and pay attention while also noting any questions you have that arise in your observations.

Once a month has passed you are likely to have had both good days and bad days, and both you and your loved one have probably adjusted to the new routine. It is important to reframe the bad days as continuing adjustments. A bad day doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice about care. Also within the first month you should have been able to attend a meeting to plan care for your loved one. This is the time to ask questions and to make sure you get answers and that your voice is heard. Now is also a good time to reflect on and adjust your visiting schedule if necessary. It is also a good time to talk to other family members to make sure your loved one will be getting regular visits.

Making a Residential Facility Feel More Like Home

As you transition your loved one from their former home to a nursing home, it is important to take all steps that are reasonable to make sure he or she will be comfortable. One small way you can add to comfort is to make the living arrangements feel at least a little bit more like home. Losing one’s home is a big deal, and it is often the most difficult part of transitioning to nursing care. Here are some things you can do to ease that transition:

  • Bring in things from home, like a bedspread, pillows, and other comfort items.
  • Place pictures in the room that were in the home.
  • Ask children in the family to make artwork to hang in your loved one’s nursing home room.
  • If allowed, use candles that have familiar scents.
  • Change decorations for holidays and seasons.
  • Add plants and fresh flowers.
  • Provide plenty of entertainment that your loved one has always enjoyed, including books, magazines, and videos if a television or computer are allowed.

How to Handle Negative Responses

Your loved one is likely to have negative emotional responses to moving into a nursing home. This is natural and to be expected. Some of the most common reactions are anger, denial, depression, and even regression. A person who is transitioning to nursing care may be compliant or may be very negative about the experience.

It is important to handle negative comments and emotional responses in ways that are respectful. Avoid talking down to your loved one and dismissing what they have to say, no matter how negative. Take their comments seriously and listen to them. Negative comments are often not negative for the sake of being difficult; they express fear and doubt. Your loved one needs support and reassurance right now, so listen, address their fears, and involve a social worker or therapist if necessary.

Also be aware that negative responses are not always verbal. Your loved one may respond to this transition with a change in mood, behavioral issues, and subtle cues that they are uncomfortable like body language and facial expressions. Note these responses and address them with the assistance of staff members.

How to Make Visits Go Smoothly

Visiting your loved one in a nursing home is crucial for helping him or her feel comfortable and also to help you feel good about the transition. Visiting often initially may be important to be sure that your loved one is getting good care. An on ongoing basis, visits with you and other family members help keep your connections strong and keep your loved one emotionally healthy and supported. Here are some tips for making ongoing visits positive:

  • Talk with staff ahead of visits to clear plans that you have, such as taking your loved one out and to make sure what you are bringing in is allowed.
  • Bring pictures and videos from family events.
  • Bring games to play.
  • Bring anything that will give your loved one something to do, such as hobbies and activities, like scrapbooking materials or music to listen to.
  • If allowed, bring a pet for a visit.
  • Take your loved one out for a walk if possible.
  • Take your loved one out for an excursion if possible and allowed.
  • Have a letter-writing visit to help your loved one keep in touch with other friends and family.

How to Bring Kids to a Nursing Home Visit

Many people hesitate to bring children to visit an older family member in a nursing home, but there is no reason not to and every reason to include them. Your loved one likely wants to see grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and will get a mood boost from interacting with them. For children, the experience is a way to teach respect for elders and to help them see that their loved one is still doing well.

Children can be rambunctious and loud, but this can be a welcome change to the mood of a nursing home. Make sure your children are respectful, but also let them be kids. Let them interact with residents while supervised. Always check with staff first, though, to be sure there are no restrictions or special rules with children in the facility.

How to Work Well with Nursing Home Staff

The transition to a nursing home has a lot to do with the staff caring for your love done. These are the people that provide care and comfort and are responsible for ensuring residents’ well-being. To make a transition as smooth as possible, you need to work well with these staff members, from the director of the facility to the workers who assist your loved one on a daily basis.

Start by getting to know the staff. The better you know them, talk to them, and learn about what they do, the better you will feel about leaving your loved one in their care. This can also help you better recognize if there is any abuse or neglect happening. When you have any questions or concerns about anything to do with your loved one, talk to the staff and be direct. And if you suspect any negligent behavior, go to the director or supervisors.

Making the transition to nursing home care isn’t always easy, either for you or your loved one. Beyond making sure that they are getting good care, the best thing you can do for you and your loved one in transitioning to nursing care is staying in touch. Visit, call, write letters, and stay informed about care plans and what is happening in the facility, and both you and your love done will feel more comfortable about this major life change.