If living at home is no longer an option

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When you or a loved one enters hospital in a crisis or becomes too unwell or frail to remain in your own home, an alternative type of care must be found. This not only ensures you will receive the best care on an ongoing basis, but also takes unnecessary strain off the healthcare system—making sure that the right person is getting the right care, in the right place at the right time.

With that goal in mind, let’s look at the steps for transitioning from home into long-term care (LTC) and outline what you might expect.

Deciding to leave your own home

It may be your family physician who helps you make the decision to leave your home for a new environment that is more suited to your current needs, or perhaps a close family member or long-time friend. Sometimes a health concern will prompt the move, such as a serious medical condition, memory issues or injuries from a fall. The decision can be difficult, but it is one that will allow you to live with less stress and more consistent help and comfort.

Depending on where you live, professionals in your area may be able to help you apply to specific LTC homes. It is usual to make two or three choices in case your first choice has a long waiting list. Your family physician can connect you with the appropriate organization in your district.

You or your loved one might be worried about moving to this next phase of life and may need some encouragement. A number of options are available to help you adjust to the change. For example, you can speak with or visit someone who has already entered LTC; make an appointment to see some of the LTC homes in your area that you might find appealing; or even stay in a respite or “short-stay” bed for one or two weeks. These special beds are available in some LTC homes and are offered specifically for this purpose, and to allow family caregivers to either have a break in their caregiving or take a short vacation. These options can help allay any fears you or your loved one might have, and make the decision to leave home easier and the transition to LTC smoother.

What to take with you

With all the possessions you or your loved one will have acquired in a lifetime, it can be difficult to know what to take as you enter your new environment. In LTC, space can be limited, and each home may have specific rules as to the number of personal items you can bring with you.

Photo albums or framed pictures of recent family gatherings can help you keep memories close. Albums are nice because they can be shared with friends you will meet at the home or family members who come to visit.

Small pieces of furniture are often permitted. Examples of suitable items include a rocking chair, bookshelf or curio cabinet to display special mementos such as figurines, hobby items or photos. You might also be allowed to bring a reasonably-sized dresser. The bed and bedside stand are usually provided by the home.

Depending on whether you have a private or semi-private room, you are likely to have space for both hanging and folded clothes, kept in either the closet or dresser drawers. A good idea is to have only the current season’s outerwear with you at any one time—for example, keep your outdoor boots, coat, hat, scarf and gloves with you in winter and then send them home with family in the spring, exchanging them for more appropriate outerwear for the upcoming season. This enables you to keep the volume of your possessions to a manageable level, and also allows you to keep the clothes you need in your new room.

LTC homes will usually mark all your clothing when you arrive in case items are lost or misplaced, and you can usually choose whether to have your washable items laundered at home by your family or at the LTC home itself. Laundry is included in the cost of the room and there are no additional charges.

Situation-appropriate clothing

When you or a loved one enters LTC or another alternate environment after leaving your own home, you might require special clothing to help the staff care for you in the best way possible. For example, nightwear that opens at the back can be useful if you or your loved one requires personal care in the middle of the night. In addition, you might want specific footwear to prevent falling, such as solid running shoes, or shoes that do up with Velcro straps if tying laces has become more difficult.

Planning ahead

Forming a tentative plan ahead of time can make the difficult decision to leave your own home, or have your loved one enter an alternate-care situation, easier and make the transition less onerous for everyone. Some LTC homes have a waiting list, and the process of getting on that list before you or your loved one reaches a crisis can be hugely beneficial. Gradually decluttering or down-sizing your possessions can make the transition to an LTC home or other care facility, when the time comes, far more streamlined and less overwhelming emotionally. Some elderly people like to give away their possessions as they downsize, while others prefer to mark the items or keep a list for the future.

In closing, the more informed you are about the options available when leaving your own house and moving to a new home, the smoother the transition will be. It is important to search out all the available options in your area and make the best decision for you. Moving to LTC or an alternate level of care can be a good way to meet new friends, maintain social activities and reduce medical risks, as well as reducing the caregiving strain on friends and family. And it’s not as difficult as you might think!

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Deb Jenkins

About Deb Jenkins, RN, BScN, MN

Advanced Practice Nurse, longstanding LTC Nurse (Former Best Practice Coordinator for LTC at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care).

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