Many people associate elderly residential care facilities with a disconnect from family life, both for their elderly relative and the family members who may no longer be able to provide them with the level of care they require in the home environment. In today’s global society this need not be the case, however, no matter how near or far away the family members may live from their loved one.
“With the advances in communication technologies and a philosophy of care that emphasises family participation, families can remain intimately involved in the decisions pertaining to their loved ones’ care and abreast of developments in their daily lives, while maintaining a close relationship with their elderly relatives,” says Ivan Oosthuizen, chief executive officer of the Livewell Villages dementia care facilities in Somerset West, in Cape Town, and Bryanston, Johannesburg.
“While many older people may struggle to master communication channels such as Skype and mobile devices, which may become even less accessible to them due to the progressive effects of dementia, we are now able to harness the potential of these technologies on behalf of our residents to help keep them connected with their families, wherever they may be in the world.”
According to Oosthuizen, many families appreciate the fact that they are able to have Skype ‘visits’ with their loved ones, as this not only bridges geographical distance and helps to maintain close knit relationships but it also helps families to see and hear each other in real time.
“For the grandparents and great-grandparents in our care, this means that they are, for example, able to watch their grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing, which happens remarkably quickly in young children.
“With both the audio and visual elements of this type of communication, depending on how advanced their condition is, people with dementia can sometimes feel better connected with their family members through this medium than a traditional telephone call would permit.”
Communication between the Livewell Villages staff and residents’ families is an essential aspect of the care offering, with family members being consulted on every decision and remaining constantly updated about their loved ones’ activities and wellbeing.
“We consider our residents’ families to be an extension of our Livewell family, and this means communication lines are always open to keep them closely involved in the day to day lives of the people we care for. We share the happy moments, such as photographs of our residents enjoying an outing, but we also share honestly and transparently any other developments relating to their loved one’s health or wellbeing.
“Families will never say they do not hear from us, on the contrary some families may feel that we over-communicate sometimes. We never make a decision without consulting the resident’s family and always ask their permission before booking doctors appointments, for example.”
Livewell employs Quality of Life Leaders who facilitate communication between the care facility and residents’ families, and qualified social workers who place a particular emphasis on fostering the close relationship with families. This is in addition to the trained nurses and occupational therapists who work with residents to ensure they are comfortable, stimulated and enjoy the best possible quality of life.
“We welcome visiting family members and, in some cases where necessary have arranged overnight accommodation for visitors from out of town. The Villages’ staff can also arrange special family meals or tea parties on request, and we really try to make families feel at home when they are able to visit,” he says.
“It is immensely valuable for the wellbeing of our senior residents that their family members are closely involved in the daily lives of our residents, both through communicating with their loved ones directly and dialogue with the staff caring for them. It is important to us to have a strong relationship with the families and for them to know that they kept constantly informed and in touch with their relatives, whether they are just around the corner or on the other side of the world,” Oosthuizen concluded.