Smiling man visiting his grandmother and her friends at retirement home
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COVID-era research has shown family visitation can improve the overall well-being of residents, but a new study confirms far-away placement can negatively affect visit frequency.

University of Wisconsin — Madison investigators called on facilities to implement changes to the admissions process to involve families more in the nursing home decision-making process. 

“It would be particularly important to identify approaches that promote activation of family members in decisions about nursing home entry,” lead researcher David L. Weimer, Ph.D., et al, wrote. 

“This might include better presentation of options, offering decision aids to help families participate in the decision, partnering with hospitals to offer better information to patients discharged to nursing homes because these patients choose a nursing home while in the hospital,19 enhancing the decisional counseling skills of social workers who are a primary information source, and improving engagement of the consumers’ values in use of Nursing Home Compare,” the team added. 

Full findings were published in the July edition of the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. Investigators sought to assess how important different factors had on the likelihood that family members will visit nursing home residents, and conducted a national survey with more than 4,350 relatives of residents.

Access to local nursing homes has been an increasing concern as facilities close their doors amid soaring costs and record labor shortages. In some places, providers have said, that may mean residents must move 10, 50 or even 100 miles to the next closest facility. In rural and low-income communities, transportation for visitors may become a real challenge.

In the UW study, researchers found a strong association between family involvement and travel times. Visitors were most likely to come see residents at least weekly when travel times to the facility were less than an hour. They had low likelihood of visiting as travel times increased. 

For relatives who weren’t very close to the resident, weekly visitors weren’t likely even if they live close by, and not likely to exceed 30%, data showed. However, for those relatives who had a close relationship with residents, long travel times didn’t deter them from a weekly visit, the authors found. 

“Travel time is also an important factor, suggesting that there may be a tradeoff between the general quality of nursing homes and travel time, a finding supported by other studies,” they concluded. “Families should be expected to consider distance in their nursing home choices. Creative ways to lower travel barriers might be needed as well, depending on the location of each facility.”