Win over the staff. Identify your dad's most consistent caregivers and ask them how you can make their jobs easier, Phillips suggests. Such efforts will reflect your respect for the people responsible for meeting the most basic and intimate daily needs of those unable to cope on their own. Get involved yourself if you can. Lighten an aide's load by coming at mealtimes to help your dad eat if he needs assistance, or take him outside to walk the grounds. Employees at the nursing home should respond. "I think the people who get the best care have somebody going as often as possible," says Harrington.
Share your inside knowledge. You can connect with staff by conveying information about personality quirks, special interests, or medical highlights. A father's history of depression or anxiety should prompt the question, "What were the things [done] at home that worked?" says Phillips. If classical music or E-mailing the grandkids lessened his symptoms, pass that along—and then bring in or mail the nursing home his favorite Bach and Mozart CDs, or arrange for a laptop so he can E-mail.
Ask staff about specific problems. Phillips cites one resident with dementia who became highly agitated when staff tried to get her to take a shower in the mornings. When her adult daughter found out, she explained that her mother's parents had been killed during the Holocaust. "Strangers taking her to the shower had a very different meaning for her," says Phillips. So the routine was altered: The daughter brought her mother's bathrobe—a familiar, safe reminder of a bathroom routine—and was present several times when her mother showered; the schedule was moved from the morning to later in the day so her mother wasn't groggy and disoriented from just having awakened; and to avoid an unfamiliar face, the same aide provided assistance.
Be alert for nursing home shifts. Changes, not necessarily positive, can come suddenly and from unexpected directions. When her mother's small nursing home was sold to a large chain, says Janet Wells, "the quality of care went way down." Regularly chatting with staff and participating on the home's family council might help you catch wind of potential changes before they happen.