Looking Out for Loved-Ones in Long Term Care

If recent reports of the deaths of eight seniors in a Florida nursing center following Hurricane Irma have you concerned about the safety of your own aging parent(s) in long-term care or a nursing home, you are not alone. 

Earlier this fall, electrical failure during a period of sweltering heat left many seniors without air conditioning or fans to cool themselves and suffering from dehydration, breathing problems and in at least one case, a need for dialysis. The most disturbing fact about this particular instance was that the Rehabilitation Center in question in Hollywood Hills was within a short walk of Memorial Hospital.  Instead of seeking help or an evacuation, staff tried to set up cooling areas and keep residents comfortable but temperatures rose indoors and become unsafe for the elderly patients.  Portable generators and other appliances that may have been used following the loss of electricity could have also contributed to the deaths as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Along with feelings of guilt over placing a loved one in long-term care is the nagging worry about safety and the quality of care an elderly patient may receive, especially if they have dementia and are not able to advocate for themselves.  And whether faced with tropical storms or winter gales, emergency planning for vulnerable elderly patients should be paramount for care providers. 

How to Advocate for the Elderly in Long-Term Care

  • Participate in care planning meetings. 
  • Visit in-person as often as possible and introduce yourself to nursing staff.
  • Change up the time of visits to get a better picture of the daily routine.
  • Family at a distance can set up regularly scheduled calls to talk with staff.
  • Begin addressing any concerns with the staff that interact with your family member most often.
  • Take notice of any changes in behavior such as anxiety or depression.
  • Be alert for signs of neglect or abuse including unexplained bruises, unwashed clothing or poor hygiene.
  • Ask questions about how emergencies like power outages are handled.
  • Know the rights of the patient.

If talking with staff and management does not improve the situation for a loved one in long-term care, proceed by contacting a local long-term care ombudsman or state or provincial agency that oversees long-term care facilities.  If an elderly resident is in immediate danger, call 911 for emergency help.

For more guidance as an advocate for seniors, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse by following this link