Policies in long-term care facilities tend to focus on technical quality in nursing care rather than on the residents’ quality of life (QoL).1 Lack of attention paid to residents’ QoL can be intensified by understaffing and by resident-to-staff ratios.2 In some facilities, there are simply not enough healthcare workers to allow staff to devote time to addressing patients’ QoL.3
What Contributes to QoL?
A good QoL is more than just the absence of negative elements such as bedsores, malnutrition, and depression.1 Among the components of a good QoL are:1
· having a sense of safety and security
· being physically comfortable, including freedom from pain
· exposure to meaningful activity—even simply as a spectator if health issues don’t permit active participation
· maintaining relationships, whether based on love, friendship, or even rivalry
The Importance of Socialization
Socialization is integral to a good QoL. Human beings have evolved to be social creatures. Our biological, psychological, and social systems work best when we collaborate with other people.4 Health problems such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease have been related to loneliness and social isolation.5 Some studies indicate that the negative impact of social isolation and loneliness on patients’ health and mortality can be as strong as the effects of high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.4
Given the burdens already facing staff in residential care facilities, adding additional health challenges that result from not paying enough attention to residents’ emotional needs can push staff to the breaking point. So what’s the answer? One solution is to take advantage of other resources.
Peer support from other residents can be very effective in addressing loneliness and depression.6 One option is to create opportunities for meaningful social engagement among the residents so they can support each other.6 For example, putting a group of residents together and encouraging them to share happy memories is one way to accomplish this, and it doesn’t take very much staff engagement. However, with staff already stretched in some facilities, there may not even be time available for this. In some cases, some of the residents may be up to the task of rallying their peers to join a chat session. When residents can’t pitch in, perhaps their family and friends can lend a hand when they come to visit.
Residents who don’t have visitors, or whose families and friends can’t visit very often, can still benefit from social activities if their families hire a SitByCare health sitter. It’s a win-win situation with all parties benefitting. Residents benefit from the social interaction. Facilities benefit from healthier residents who require less care. And families benefit from knowing that their relatives have a better QoL and are living healthier, happier lives.
1. Long-Term Care and a Good Quality of Life: Bringing them Closer Together. The Gerontologist. Nov. 3, 2001. Available online at https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/41/3/293/632406.
2. The Challenging Reality of Caring for Residents in Long-Term Care Facilities. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association Bulletin. Fall 2015. https://www.uregina.ca/nursing/assets/docs/pdf/NB2015FallWebTheChallenging%20RealityOfUrban%20December%202015.pdf.
3. Long-term Care Problems. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. May 1, 2009. Available online at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/long-term-care-problems.
4. Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness. Journal of Aging Life Care. Spring 2018. Available online at https://www.aginglifecare.org/ALCA_Web_Docs/journal/ALCA%20Journal%20Spg18_FINAL.pdf#page=4.
5. Social Isolation, Loneliness in Older People Pose Health Risks. National Institute on Aging. April 23, 2019. Available online at https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks .
How to combat Loneliness in Residential Care Settings. The Global Ageing
Network. Feb. 24, 2016. Available online at https://globalageing.org/how-to-combat-loneliness-in-residential-care-settings/.