15 Ways to Preserve Dignity in Nursing Home Patients

As the population continues to age, the number of people living in nursing homes is growing. For many residents, these facilities provide much-needed care and assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing and eating; however, one aspect that often goes overlooked is maintaining a person’s dignity while they live at a nursing home facility. As a nurse, it is important not only to take care of the physical needs of your patient but also their emotional and social needs. In order for families members to feel comfortable leaving their loved ones there, it is important to create a place where patients feel valued and respected. Here are 15 ways you can help maintain dignity in nursing home residents:

1. Own their hesitation

Many people in nursing homes are reluctant to participate in activities because they feel inferior, or that the staff thinks less of them than other residents. If you notice your patient looking unsure about something but is hesitant to voice their concerns out loud, ask them what’s on their mind. This will let them know it’s okay for them to speak up and you’re there to listen.

2. Be their advocate

If your patient shows reluctance for participating in an activity, but the staff is insistent on it, be sure to take your patients side and speak up for them. You know what they are capable of doing or not, so make that clear when speaking with others. There may be times when they simply don’t feel up to participating in an activity.

3. Give choices

When possible, offer your patients a choice of activities or times for them. This is especially important if it’s something that must be done every day such as bathing and eating meals. Offering them options lets them know their opinion matters and you respect what they want.

4. Give them freedom

Some people feel trapped when they’re in a nursing home, and having the freedom to come and go as they please can make them more comfortable. Whether it’s letting your patient take walks around the facility or allowing them to garden on their own, give them options that will allow them some independence.

5. Remember their past

Many of your patients may have lived very different lives before coming to the nursing home. If possible, ask them about their past or what they are interested in knowing more about. Perhaps you could even share some of your own childhood memories with them so that you have something else to talk about and relate over.

6. Be patient

Your patients may not be able to do things as fast as they used to, and many times it may take them longer than expected. If you notice your patient is frustrated by this or anything else for that matter, try not to be impatient with them; instead ask if there’s something you could do help make things easier on them.

7. Use a gentle voice

When speaking with your patient, try to use a soft approach even if they are yelling at you. This is the way most people like to be spoken too and will help put them in a better mood instead of making them more agitated or angry.

8. Don’t ignore their needs

Just because your patients don’t say anything about having an itch or pain, it doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. If you notice them trying to reach for an itch or grimacing in pain, offer your assistance and be sure to address any concerns they may have about something that’s bothering them.

9. Be present

When you are speaking with your patient, give them all of your attention. If there are other things going on around the room during this time make sure they aren’t distracting or interrupting you from giving full focus to what they have to say. This will help remind them that their feelings and thoughts are important to you.

10. Use their name

When speaking with your patient, always use their first name to show that you are truly engaged in the conversation and care about them as an individual. This will help strengthen feelings of being valued by others who they know have taken time out of their day just for them. Also using a person’s name is a great memory technique.

11. Listen

Listening is one of the most important ways to show your patients you respect them and value their thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Take time out for this daily if possible or at least weekly so they will know that it’s something you make a priority even during hectic times with other activities going on around the facility.

12. Give them small task

Give your patients the opportunity to feel needed and wanted by giving them daily tasks that make their life more manageable or help you out during busy times of day. If not possible, offer to do these things for them yourself so they know they aren’t being overlooked as a person who is no longer able to do the things they once could.

13. Give them time and space

If your patient is experiencing one of those particularly difficult days, don’t push to try and engage with them too much. Allow them some extra time alone if needed so that they can pull themselves together before you interact with them again. This will help remind them that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes and that their feelings matter.

14. Give them compliments

Complimenting your patients on their appearance will make them feel good about themselves even if they are covered in wrinkles or have gray hair now. Whether they dress nice for events such as church, family gatherings, etc., mention something you noticed that makes them look nice. It will help remind them that you see the beauty in all people and not just their physical appearance.

15. Help your patient feel connected

The elderly can become very lonely as they no longer have family or friends to visit with so it is important to connect with them on a social level by asking about their interests, hobbies, favorite TV shows, etc. to help keep them feeling connected with the outside world and not isolated in an unfamiliar place where they don’t know many people or feel comfortable around all of you.

As a nurse, it is important to remember and honor the personal dignity of your patients. Using different techniques such as those listed above will help remind them that you see them as people not just bodies who need medical care.