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.
Some people are thrust into the role of caregiver abruptly. After a loved one has a sudden illness, he or she may obviously need a lot of help.
But often, caregiving is a gradual process with few clear dividing lines. How do you know when you've really become a caregiver? When is it time to start taking more control over a relative's life -- and to start taking control away? And how will your new responsibilities caring for someone else affect the rest of your life?
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).