Your greatest concern is most likely whether your loved one will be happy in the skilled nursing facility (SNF) you select. Although it is paramount that his or her physical needs are taken care of, contentment and psychological well-being are every bit as important.

Getting old can be mentally as well as physically debilitating. Depression is one of the most serious conditions suffered by older seniors. Imagine how you would feel if you were unable to do many of the things you have always enjoyed, while at the same time unable to do the simple things you have always taken for granted, like getting your favorite shirt pulled down over your shoulders, or picking up an object that fell to the floor.

For many older persons life has become one of progressive frustrations. An individual with deformed, arthritic hands finds it difficult or downright impossible to open packages, handle knitting needles, play the piano, type faster than the two-finger method, or hold playing cards. Losing the ability to walk unaided introduces a myriad of other obstacles.

Older seniors will tell you that three of the most depressing aspects of old age are the loss of one’s spouse; the deaths of close friends; and the loss of one’s driver’s license. A skilled nursing facility cannot do anything about these realities; however, being in a place that has tools to help with daily living functions (like racks to hold playing card hands) helps to ease the burden, as does associating with others who are facing the same limitations.

Some important features that impact the mental well-being of nursing home residents are:

A Balance Between Private and Social Living

Extroverted seniors may prefer having the company provided by a double room while more introverted individuals tend to relish their “alone time” and cringe at the thought of having a roommate.

Nursing home designers have come up with innovative arrangements to give double rooms the feeling and privacy of private rooms. One such innovation is placing the shared bathroom in the middle between the two bed areas, thereby giving each bed area three walls with an open “hallway-like” space at one end.

Which arrangement would make your loved one happier? It is also important for residents to be able to bring some of their own decorative items, pictures, books, throws, etc., to make the room seem more like home.

Faith and Religious Considerations

Many seniors are kept going by their faith. Facilities that offer Sunday worship services, Bible studies, and pastoral visits can greatly increase a patient’s level of contentment. If this is important to your loved one, a faith-based SNF might be the best option since it is more likely to have such things as a chapel, regular services, Bible readings, etc.

Personal Pets and Animal Therapy

Unlike Assisted Living Facilities, SNFs generally do not allow residents to keep a small pet in their room. Separation from a beloved dog or cat can be very traumatic. In recognition of this, some nursing homes allow family members to bring the patient’s pet to visit.

In addition, many facilities welcome trained therapy dogs that make regularly scheduled visits with their owners. An abundance of doggie kisses and cuddles has been proven to cheer up even the most despondent resident.

Beauty Parlor and General Store

Some large SNFs have an on-site salon where residents can get their hair cut, styled, or colored, have a manicure or pedicure, and perhaps receive treatments like facials or massages. Facilities without an on-site salon often contract with cosmeticians, barbers, masseuses and other personal service providers who will come to the facility when requested. A new hairdo can go a long way toward improving one’s self-esteem!

Larger facilities also often have an on-site gift shop where residents and visitors can pick up gift items, stationery, stamps, greeting cards and treats.

Accommodating Visitors

Will you be able to visit your loved one as often as you want? Nothing works better at reducing separation anxiety than visits from family and friends. All-day and evening visiting hours are ideal.

Family and friends should also be able to join their loved one for meals and various activities. If the resident is physically able, being allowed to leave the facility with a relative for a few hours or a day is always a welcome treat.

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