Once the decision is made to move a family member into a long-term care facility, and there are about 3 million Americans who have made that decision, the many layers of maintaining health begin. Patients bringing in their own set of health issues face not only adjustments to their lifestyles but also must face the realization that they are no longer independent. For them, something huge has happened. On the outside they must adjust to their new circumstances, new people and places, and their new rules. On the inside, they must adapt to a new set of microbes. All this can be stressful to immune systems.
The patients who adapt best are those with a flexible and positive outlook, based in the belief that they can overcome any obstacle. Vaccinations can be helpful against a few of the most common ailments but the best preventative is more holistic and less clinical. Basic health practices against the spread of contagious disease also improve overall health in long-term care facilities. But the will to survive and belief in the power to do exactly is everything. Maintaining a positive, social, and purposeful attitude tends to provide patients in long-term care far better prospects than even the best medical treatments.
Western medicine and the better long-term care facilities are now beginning to understand and acknowledge the power of the mind-body continuum. The Placebo Effect, that 30% of medical conditions can be cured by believing in the curative powers of just about anything, has been documented for centuries. Shakespeare´s observation from more than 400 years ago, that, Nothing moves on heaven nor earth but that thinking makes it so, applies to long-term health throughout our lives, but especially in long-term care facilities. Rather than believe in pharmacology, doctor visits, or rhinoceros horn powders we should be teaching everyone of all ages to believe in the power of their thinking in healing themselves and staying healthy. Laughter can be the best medicine, but a sense of purpose, caring for others, and belief in your own survival are also critical. Those who combine these essentials with regular exercise and a consistently cheerful approach to everything maintain their health far better than those who don´t.
Assistance and Empowerment vs. Helplessness
To help understand the dynamics of what goes on in long-term care, let´s look at all the types of assistance a facility provides their patients (from the National Care Planning Council):
- Using the bathroom
- Helping with incontinence
- Managing Pain
- Preventing unsafe behavior
- Preventing wandering
- Providing comfort and assurance
- Providing physical or occupational therapy
- Attending to medical needs
- Answering the phone
- Meeting doctors’ appointments
- Providing meals
- Maintaining the household
- Shopping and running errands
- Providing transportation
- Administering medications
- Managing money
- Paying bills
- Doing the laundry
- Attending to personal hygiene
- Helping with personal grooming
- Writing letters or notes
- Making repairs to the home
- Maintaining a yard
- Removing snow
Although some 60% of us will need some assistance doing some of these things at one point in our lives, we don´t want to feel helpless in the asking. We also want to believe that things will change for the better, that we will recover and go back to doing all the things we did before. Yet, accepting the fact that we now require ongoing help and that things may not ever be the same is a realization that can be devastating.
Find a facility that places value on empowering their patients, and trains their their staff to consistently notice the positives and give compliments. All the assistance given can feel like functions taken away unless there are happy, purposeful activities and social functions to replace them. A sense of helplessness can creep into lives at facilities, this we know, but it also weakens immune systems. Facilities can provide a long-list of assistance with the basics and some structure for socialization, but most often its left to the patient to provide their own laughter, purpose, good cheer, meaning, and will to survive.