Jackie Cooper-Macrae, 81, was at Atlantic Villa for five years, until she was diagnosed with dementia in 2013. Ms. Cooper-Macrae had become a familiar figure around the nursing home, and visited regularly, relishing the company of the other patients. But this week she left the nursing home after being moved into assisted living.
“It’s just really overwhelming, and there’s just too much to do,” Ms. Cooper-Macrae told the Observer.
But many nursing home residents were thrilled at the prospect of having visitors. Victoria LaJoie, 82, who had another interaction with Ms. Cooper-Macrae before leaving the nursing home on Monday, said she loved the idea. “I think it’s marvelous,” she said. “We’re all lonely.”
Her husband, Darryl, who also declined to give his last name, added: “There’s no better thing for a person in a nursing home than to have somebody like somebody else living next door to them.”
But others worried about the less welcome visitors. Bobby Albade, a licensed professional counselor at the Bethany Geriatric Center and Rehabilitation Hospital in Prince George’s County, Md., worried that “familiarity breeds love.” But to which caretakers and families should one belong?
“Is someone going to be surprised that this person is still going to the grocery store or that they still go shopping?” he asked.
DeAnn Buggs, a senior vice president at ResCare, which operates Atlantic Villa, said that while the visits were welcome in itself, she encouraged visitors to do so with caution.
“Our nurses are accustomed to taking care of you,” she said. “We understand your needs, but we also understand your mom or dad’s needs. You’ve got to go into the home with a specific plan for all of that.”
ResCare chief executive Wayne Kalisman, for his part, said his company consulted the American Academy of Geriatric Medicine when making their decision to move Atlantic Villa residents to assisted living.
Some nursing home residents were glad to have the chance to make the most of their time. “I can’t wait for the wheelchair classes,” said a woman at Atlantic Villa. “I love wheelchairs.”
And Janet McGee, a spokeswoman for AARP, told the Observer: “What makes nursing homes distinctive is they are places where people in need and their families can come together in a welcoming environment with hope for a bright future.”
“AARP is not in the business of telling nursing homes what to do,” she added. “But we do believe, on balance, visitors should be welcomed and helped to feel welcome to have meaningful interactions with residents, staff and families.”
Advocates for elder care also caution that there are no immediate guarantees that the visits will affect quality of care, especially if the person visiting a resident is not receiving direct services.
“There are risks of abuse and fraud with any visit from someone with no direct connection to the care being provided,” said Sue Whitman, director of strategic health policy at The Arc, a California nonprofit that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Albade, the psychiatric counselor, said that the visits would be imperative if he had to leave the nursing home soon. “The longer I am out of the nursing home, the more stressed I am,” he said. “I feel like I’m stuck here.”
Nonetheless, Ms. McGee said that “the benefit of having regular visitors, people who you know have regular routines, is a real comfort to the residents, their loved ones and staff.”