May 1, 2000 (San Francisco) -- If you want to improve life for a loved one
in a nursing home far away, here are some ideas.
First, keep in contact with your loved one: cards, phone calls, and
photographs do make a difference. Friends don't need to be around the corner,
as long as a strong message of caring is communicated, says Mary Brintall
Peterson, PhD, program specialist in aging at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison. "What's important is the perception that there is someone out
there who really cares about me," she says.
Even if a condition like heart disease runs in your family, you can do a lot to break that pattern. Your choices and lifestyle make a big difference.
Some genes lead to disease. "But for most people, a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk," says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones.
Call the federally run Eldercare Locator at 1-(800)-677-1116 to get the name
of the ombudsman at the Area Agency on Aging nearest the nursing home. Call the
ombudsman and find out if there's a local group, like the Little Brothers --
Friends of the Elderly, that visits people in nursing homes. The best thing is
for visitors to come regularly.
Call the administrator of the nursing home to see whether your loved one
could have a pet. "Say, 'I think this is something Dad needs,' "
suggests William H. Thomas, MD, the founder of the Eden Alternative.
"What's going to change this monstrous $70 billion industry are these phone
calls. It's an elder liberation movement -- we're seeking to put an end to the
sterile medical institution."
Read Life Worth Living for arguments that can counteract fears that
children and animals will spread germs and cause allergies to flare. Thomas
says these fears can be resolved.
Jane Meredith Adams is a San Francisco writer. Her work has appeared in
The Boston Globe and numerous other publications. She is also the
co-author of The Last Time I Wore a Dress (Riverhead, 1998).