The best way for families to ensure their loved ones are receiving the proper care as nursing home residents is to visit them often.

Sometimes, however, frequent visits are just not possible. This is where volunteers can step in and create a comfort zone that helps residents and eases the anxiety level for families.

Recognizing the issues

The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 10% of residents in nursing homes suffer abuse or neglect. Elderly nursing home residents are vulnerable due to their age and fragile health and they are often afraid to speak out about lack of proper care. Many of the more vulnerable residents are those who become isolated because they receive few visits from family and friends. They present easy targets for neglectful or abusive staff.

Enter the volunteer

Even nursing homes that provide proper care for residents are often short on staff. Volunteers help to fill the gaps for RNs and assistants. People interested in becoming volunteers normally have to submit an application and identify the type of service they wish to provide. Some merely want to provide weekly meal contributions, but others may sign up to take residents to doctor appointments. Volunteers push residents in wheelchairs, assist in therapy exercises and keep personal spaces tidy. They get to know the patients with whom they spend time. They listen to the stories of their lives, find out how they are being treated and discover any flaws that might exist in their daily care. In this way, volunteers pinch-hit for family members. Because they are receiving more personal attention, formerly isolated patients often see renewed interest and attention from staff members.

Going to the next level

Volunteers may be friends of the nursing home residents they see. If any aspect of care seems suspect, they can report the matter to the family. Nursing homes must be held accountable for the care they give to residents, and families can explore their legal options if aggressive action to stop abuse or neglect appears necessary. It is not uncommon for nursing home patients to enjoy better care and a lift to their spirits because of the volunteers who come into their lives.