Loneliness in LTC: Overcoming disability, creating connections
Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
The elevator opened up to the third floor of the skilled nursing facility. Wheelchair-bound residents lined the hall across from the nursing station, some silently watching the staff, some snoozing.
On the second floor of the nursing home, the physical layout was exactly the same but the atmosphere was completely different. Groups of two or three residents were chatting animatedly, commenting wryly on their observations of staff and laughing amongst themselves.
How do we get from Scenario A to Scenario B more often? Is it worth the effort?
The high cost of loneliness
A recent study showed that community-dwelling seniors visited their doctors more often when they were lonely — the trips to medical offices were an important but costly form of social interaction. Similarly, one might speculate that socially isolated residents request help from their nurses, aides and other workers due to feelings of loneliness in addition to addressing specific care needs.
Reducing loneliness among residents would, therefore, contribute to more staff time being available for medically necessary care.
The findings from another study suggest a connection between happier residents and staff retention. Researcher Barbara Parker-Bell, PsyD, LPC, ATR-BC, finds that “nurses consistently described the best and most satisfying aspects of dementia care as … the pleasure of seeing residents calm and engaged.”
I know from my own experience that it’s much more uplifting to step onto a unit with laughter than it is to work on a floor where the residents are depressed, lonely and withdrawn. And, of course, it’s better for the residents and their families.
Good therapeutic recreation programs are essential in reducing isolation, providing meaningful ways of spending time and in developing friendships. They’re an important step in reducing loneliness, but are also only one piece of the puzzle.
If all staff members consider the social aspects of the environment — one of the best selling features of life in LTC — we can create friendly, engaging interactions that build upon and extend formal recreation programs.
Challenges to interacting
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