How technology is leading nursing homes to allow more visits by loved ones

Written by By Lauren Ault, CNN Baltimore

For families of nursing home residents, the annual tradition of visiting the facilities can prove to be an emotional visit.

Visiting a loved one in a nursing home can be especially fraught with emotions, especially after the family learns that their loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. For elderly patients in the facility, the thought of dying and leaving behind family members can be heartbreaking.

But thanks to advances in technology and social media, nursing homes are more open than ever to allowing visits by loved ones, and the vast majority of elderly patients have a family member or close friend visiting them.

“You have families who have been going in for 20 years … and what has changed is these facilities are allowing families to come in and see their loved ones more frequently,” said Ruth Harris, marketing director at LFS Senior Living, a Michigan-based long-term care provider.

“They’re certainly accommodating … and more open about the ways in which they want families to interact.”

While a normal visit might see the family sit in a communal room and have a conversation with their loved one, the LFS facility includes iPads and other technology that allows families to communicate directly with their loved ones from their home, even when they’re at home.

Harris said that among clients, about 75% to 80% of requests for visits are granted.

The group has also begun allowing family members to work from home or travel outside the facility’s walls and back. Harris said the group has recently approved family requests to travel to New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to visit nursing home residents.

“People are really appreciative that these facilities are trying to find creative ways to allow for them to be together while they’re here, so they feel a lot more comfortable with the choices that they have and have great access to their loved ones,” Harris said.

LFS also keeps records of visits in its database, so families can ensure they have one for an upcoming birthday, anniversary or Thanksgiving.

Sue Cavasso, executive director at the Syosset Senior Center and Living Center in Long Island, New York, echoes Harris’ sentiments.

“If a family wants to go to the nursing home to visit, they’re very open about allowing families in. Staffs aren’t trying to discourage families,” Cavasso said.

“The families feel that they’re the key to their parents’ life, and they feel that it’s extremely important to be able to come in and give a visit that’s consistent with their father or mother’s daily routines.”

But family members should realize there are some restrictions, Cavasso said.

“You can’t go in and expect your husband or husband or wife to be able to take you around the facility and provide your care 24/7. You’ll probably get a one- or two-hour visit to have your mom or dad picked up,” she said.

Cavasso added that the Alzheimer’s program at the center is unique because the staff member responsible for that program can interact with visitors in the nursing home’s “geriatric study,” which allows for interaction that is not possible with ordinary families.

“They’re talking about death and living a full life with a full purpose,” she said.

Many nursing homes are also encouraging the use of smart home technologies that help provide more close touch visits.

Cathy Carroll, co-founder of Lifestyle Care Innovations, which sells consumer devices to enable high touch visits in nursing homes, said most nursing homes have adopted these smart home technology to allow for more intimate families to be involved with their loved ones.

The latest version of a smart home monitoring device from Lifestyle Care Innovations, for example, will detect when an individual receives a personal message from a loved one in a nursing home, allowing the patient to respond, she said.

“With this one, the resident can respond to their own daughter, father, sister, brother or their grandchildren,” Carroll said.

“It’s a line that is coming back. They’re recognizing that a family is far more important than a caregiver.”

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