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How to Help Someone in a Nursing Home

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


What should you give someone in a nursing home or long term care facility? The greatest gifts you could give include your time, supervision, snacks they can eat, toiletries and sundries.

Sometimes the greatest gift for someone in assisted living is simply being there.
Sometimes the greatest gift for someone in assisted living is simply being there. | Source

Understanding the Demographics and Needs of Nursing Home Residents

There are several defining characteristics of those in a nursing home or assisted care facility. First, they have limited mobility. Even if they can walk, they cannot drive or travel. This makes it hard to go out and shop unless the facilities take them once a week to the store. Secondly, they are financially limited. Many individuals in a nursing home are the dependents of competent spouses or children.

Those who are physically able are in assisted care because their mental facilities are failing. Those who are physically limited but retain their mental facilities may still be dependent on others to manage their finances. These issues combined result in someone utterly reliant upon the nursing home staff, what the facilities provide and what visitors or family may remember to bring.

Diabetic Friendly Food and Drink

Due to the difficult of those in assisted living to go to the store when they want, they are at the mercy of the meal schedule and menu choices of the facility. Provide shelf-stable, easy to eat diabetic friendly foods. You can bring shelf stable cookies, crackers, pop-top soups, juice bottles and other items they can enjoy.

I recommend diabetic friendly snacks and drinks because many people in assisted living are diabetic or have other dietary restrictions. Bringing acceptable food and drink means that anyone at the facility can enjoy it, allowing the person you are supplying to share with a friend.

Remember to select food that the person can swallow. Some elderly individuals cannot handle traditional solid food.


One of the hallmarks of the nursing home is isolation and loneliness. Friends of the past may be home-bound or reside in similar facilities. Working spouses or children rarely visit. One of the greatest gifts you can bring is your presence and your time, making the visit last more than 15 minutes and involving more than a review of the person's medical history and the facility's billing of the past month. Bring the kids periodically, even if for a short visit.

Seeing children and adolescents helps those who are in assisted living feel connected to the world through the younger generation. Discuss with your children and teenagers in advance the personal accomplishments they can bring up and appropriate topics for discussion. If you live too far to visit frequently, mail them pictures the children make and recent family photos.

Toiletries, Sundries and Unmentionables

Bring hand lotion for those suffering dry hands. Drop off replacement socks and undergarments for those in assisted living, since these items quickly wear out but are not replaced by the facilities themselves. If their bathrobe is wearing out, get a new one. Men may need safety razors. Both genders can use mouthwash, hair brushes, toothpaste and denture cleaner.

Don't forget the physical deterioration many elderly experience. Do they need more incontinence pads? While they may not admit the need, ask the staff if it is something they need. I've found that sometimes the desire is for undergarments that function like adult diapers but don't look like it. They get what they need - adult diapers - from the facility, but the items that look like underwear provide additional dignity.


Ask the staff what issues or concerns they have regarding the elder. What do they say the person needs? What health issues are they concerned about? If someone’s mental abilities are declining faster than expected, arrange a doctor’s visit with a neurologist. If someone is refusing to eat, it may be more than mere stubbornness – ask the nurse or nursing assistant, then ask a doctor to look for medical causes. Refusal to eat may be a stubborn dislike of the food - or it may be due to an inability to eat or swallow brought on by a stroke. Is the person in assisted living suffering from bed sores? Is this a recurrent problem? You may need to bring up the lack of care to the manager – or move your loved one to a different facility altogether.

Look for signs of neglect or elder abuse. Does your family member need help eating but staff only leave trays of food beside them? Are personal items and toiletries stolen, leaving your relative bereft? Are sheets and adult diapers changed regularly?

Do not forget to ask the resident what he or she wishes were different about the facility.


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