dignity

Long-term care residents’ rights: Part 1

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Photo credit: Ian Merritt
Photo credit: Ian Merritt

Since Baby Boomers and their family members face the possibility of arranging long-term care (LTC) housing for a loved one, or will be on the receiving end of long-term care, I am providing information related to what one can and should expect while living in a LTC setting.  This will be a multi-part series wherein I provide a real-life scenario, and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) citation applicable to that scenario.  Since I live in Washington State, I will also provide the applicable State statute, and I encourage those living in other states to do an internet search for “long-term care residents’ rights in your state” in order to locate your local laws.  All scenarios assume that the resident in question is cognitively able to make his or her own decisions.

My kids aren’t the boss of me!

I’m so excited, my soaps are about to start and I have the whole afternoon to myself. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re going to get rid of Sami. She’s been on Days of our Lives since she was a young teenager; that’s a long time in soap opera years. I’ll just wheel into my bedroom, get my knitting basket, and set myself up in front of the television.

All right, now I’m ready; it’s time to tune in!

There’s a knock at the door, drat, right when my first soap is about to start. “Come in!” Oh no, it’s that perky activity person. When they interviewed candidates for her job they must have had a perkiness contest as one of the criteria for hiring.  I’ll see if I can get rid of her real quick-like.  “Hello, Ruby, what can I do for you today?”

“What can you do for me? Don’t be silly, it’s what I can do for you that matters, Mrs. Tanaka. We’re showing a movie in the main living room that I’m sure you’ll like. It’s called, 101 Dalmatians, won’t that be great?”

A movie about dogs instead of my soap operas? Not going to happen. “That’s okay, Ruby, I’m happy just watching my TV shows. Maybe some other time.” Now I’ve gone and done it, Ruby looks baffled, not sure how to change the course of her task.

“Mrs. Tanaka, I was told to wheel you to the living room for the movie and not take ‘no’ for an answer.” She pulled a piece of paper out of her smock’s deep pocket and showed it to me. “Look right here. It says, ‘The family has requested that their mother not spend an inordinate amount of time in her room and that she attend at least four activities per week.’ It’s already Thursday and you haven’t even been to one event this week. We have to make up for lost time.” She bent over my wheelchair, unlocked the brake and positioned herself behind it.

“But I don’t want to see the movie, I want to watch television. I love my soap operas and today’s the last day Sami is going to be on Days.  Please, I don’t care what my children have requested, I’d really rather stay in my apartment.”

Ruby leaned over, picked up my yarn and needles, and placed them in my knitting bag on the floor. “Come on, I’m sure you’ll like it once you get there.” Pushing with all her might, Ruby escorted me out of my room, thus bringing an end to all my plans for the afternoon.  Those children of mine have no right meddling into my private life. “Ruby, whose opinion matters most: the person who lives at this assisted living facility, or those who don’t? This isn’t fair; don’t I have rights?”

Mrs. Tanaka was coerced to go somewhere she didn’t want to go; because she was confined to a wheelchair, her ability to stand her ground by refusing to attend an activity was compromised.  Additionally, although this resident can get around her apartment in her wheelchair, wheeling herself long distances is very problematic for her; as a result, once in the living room she would require assistance to return to her room, rendering her a captive audience.

42 CFR 483.10 The resident has a right to a dignified existence, self-determination, and communication with and access to persons and services inside and outside the facility.  A facility must protect and promote the rights of each resident, including each of the following rights:

(a) Exercise of rights.

(1) The resident has the right to exercise his or her rights as a resident of the United States.

(2) The resident has the right to be free of interference, coercion, discrimination, and reprisal from the facility in exercising his or her rights.  See also, Washington State law: RCW 70.129.140

Mrs. Tanaka has the right to make choices that are important to her.  She wanted to watch television – not attend a kids’ movie.  Regardless of what her adult children want, Mrs. Tanaka’s rights trump theirs.

42 CFR 483.15  Quality of Life  A facility must care for its residents in a manner and in an environment that promotes maintenance or enhancement of each resident’s quality of life.

(a) Dignity.  The facility must promote care for residents in a manner and in an environment that maintains or enhances each resident’s dignity and respect in full recognition of his or her individuality.

(b) Self-determination and participation.  The resident has the right to:

(1) Choose activities, schedules, and health care consistent with his or her interests, assessments, and plans of care;

(2) Interact with members of the community both inside and outside the facility; and

(3) Make choices about aspects of his or her life in the facility that are significant to the resident.  See also Washington State law RCW 70.129.140

Note: there are even more legal citations applicable to the above scenario; a quick search of 42 CFR 483 on the internet provides all laws relating to long-term care residents rights.  If you or a loved one need assistance regarding LTC residents rights, contact your local LTC Ombudsman office which can be located at the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center

Part 2 of this series will deal with the illegal practice of requiring residents to sign a Waiver of Liability prior to being admitted to a facility.

 

 

 

 

Preserving your loved one’s dignity.

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The more a person becomes dependent on others, the more protection he needs.  A person with dementia needing the assistance of others is considered a vulnerable adult.  He can’t defend himself or speak up for himself.  He can’t demand exceptional care, courtesy, and respect.  As his advocate – that’s where you come in.  When he doesn’t have a voice – you step in to be that voice.  Your reward will be great if you succeed in doing so.

Part of what I do in my working life is to advocate for vulnerable adults by doing what I can to promote dignity and quality of life for those I have the privilege to serve.  As a family member, or good friend, to an adult with dementia, your task is a monumental one because along with your caregiving role, you must also excel at the task of advocacy.   In my blog article, “Be an Advocate for your Loved One” posted on this blog November 14, 2011, I discuss the various ways in which you can advocate for your loved one.  This current article is the last article in my “Understanding Alzheimer’s and other dementia” series and it addresses the issue of dignity and privacy.

My dad in the 1960's; a former Marathon runner

As those of us who have, or have had, loved ones with dementia we know without a shadow of doubt, that our loved one’s current condition does not reflect the pre-Alzheimer’s/dementia person.  A grandmother who previously never spoke the “F-word” now speaks it as though it were just another word in her vocabulary.  A previously modest and distinguished gentleman now routinely removes his clothes in front of others, and/or may be inclined to grope his caregivers or other residents.  A former globally recognized businessman, sought after for his abundant knowledge in his field, now needs others to feed him and has lost the ability to string a meaningful sentence together.  Our loved one’s new normal is shocking to those of us who are close to the person with dementia, and completely foreign to those who are not.

Keeping people informed about your loved one’s condition.

Those who definitely have an attachment to your loved one: friends, coworkers, close neighbors, and of course family members, will probably appreciate knowing what’s going on with him.  It’s important to use discernment when deciding who needs to know – and who doesn’t.  And thanks to e-mail and texting, we can update people immediately and thoroughly with no need to pick up the phone.  That’s truly a bonus, isn’t it?  You’re already stressed and emotionally drained by your situation so having to conduct numerous telephone calls and provide the same update to several people would be prohibitive at best.

But with the ease of e-mail comes the temptation to be too thorough in the e-mail missive.  You’ve already discerned who needs to be kept updated; now you need to use judgment on how much you say and how you say it.  Does your neighbor really need to know about your husband’s incontinence?  How would it benefit your mother’s former coworkers to learn that their former Marketing Executive now drools throughout the day and can no longer feed herself?  More to the point – ask yourself this question: How would my spouse/parent/partner/sibling/friend feel if they knew I was providing all the gory details of their dementia progression to those near and dear to them?  The answer, I believe, is obvious.  If they could, your loved one would say, “Please don’t let everyone know what I’ve been reduced to.”  Showing respect for your loved one includes protecting her privacy, and thereby her dignity.  And I’ll tell you from experience – those on the receiving end of the information would rather you be brief and not overly descriptive.

Celebrate the uniqueness of your loved one.

My dad in the 1960's "fixing" the toilet. He always was a jokester!!!

Your loved one is not just some generic living and breathing person in the Early, Middle or Late stage of Alzheimer’s.  He may not be able to do everything he previously could – maybe he’s not even able to speak – but you can still celebrate him as a human being.  Everyone mourns what’s been lost; hardly any one celebrates their loved one’s remaining attributes.  I learned a lesson from my father during the middle stages of his dementia.  I was quick to finish his sentences, or rush him along by answering people’s questions for him.  My dad didn’t have to use words to express his displeasure when I did that.  He slumped in his chair, looked at me, and let out an exasperated sigh.  I stopped right then and there and made no further attempts to rush him as he conversed.  Doing so would take away one of the abilities he still had – talking and getting his point across.  It may have taken him a long time to complete his thought, but he still had the ability to do so.  Please don’t take away the remaining vestiges of your loved one’s independence and abilities.  If you feel compelled to feed your loved one just because they take a long time to eat their meal, you’re training them to rely on you for that assistance when they could have been doing it on their own.  Who cares if it takes 60 minutes instead of 15 to finish a plate of food?  If they’re still able to feed themselves – celebrate that ability.  Don’t take it away for your own convenience.

Walk into their reality – don’t force them to enter into yours.

We’ve all experienced conversations with our loved one wherein he or she talks about things that didn’t really happen, although they are convinced that they did.  What’s the harm in agreeing with them and going along with their story.  Your wife says, “Didn’t you enjoy that trip to the Grand Canyon we took with the kids a few years ago?”  O.K. – first of all you don’t have any children, and second of all, you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon.  Instead of trying to convince her of what’s real – and making her feel bad/ashamed in the process – talk about the great view, or how all the kids fell asleep in the car and missed the entire gorgeous spectacle.  I can guarantee that if you change your paradigm regarding this development, both you and your loved one will be better off.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a great adage that they offer us caregivers to help us along the way.  If you don’t insist – they can’t resist.  I challenge you to go with the flow instead of trying to paddle upstream.  Don’t cause contention.  A little make-believe goes a long way and harms no one.

AARP magazine reviewed the book Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s by Lauren Kessler. This memoir by Ms. Kessler is portrayed as “an  Alzheimer’s tale that’s warm, uplifting, even hopeful – qualities not normally associated with the illness.  This odd dichotomy – joy atop a ravaging disease – makes this book a refreshing standout.”  Alzheimer’s and other dementia have the ability to peel away a person’s former mask to allow what’s underneath to surface – pleasant or not.  What Ms. Kessler learned in her journey with her mother is that “if viewed from a different perspective, Alzheimer’s is not the end of personhood.”

Yes – dementia changes who your loved one is.  It oftentimes reduces him or her to childish, and then infantile behavior.  But they are still a person.  They are no less worthy of your respect and your compassion.  This hardest task of your life will end some day.  In the interim, may you be merciful to your loved one and may those with whom you are associated support you along the way.