Thursday, February 23, 2012

Label Clothing for Nursing Home Residents

Photo by Bruce Guenter
If a person has moved into a skilled nursing center--for a short stay post-surgery or as a permanent move--it means they are having trouble managing day-to-day tasks, including laundry.  

Residents can have family members do their laundry for them; however, many residents rely on the laundry services provided at the nursing home.  

It's important to label items clearly with a laundry pen or by affixing an iron-on or sew-on label. 
By checking a few online Q&A sites about labeling clothes for nursing home residents, kids going to summer camp, and children in daycare, I found this information:  

Permanent Markers (i.e., Sharpies).
These are convenient, but they only last for about four washings.
Fabric Markers.   The ink lasts longer than permanent markers, but fabric markers are a little harder to find.  If your grocery store doesn't carry them, try a craft store or buy them online.
Iron-on Labels.   These are easy to apply if you know how to wield an iron, but these iron labels do not adhere well on some fabrics.  You can pay to have these printed or run them through your computer.
Sew-on Labels.  These are more expensive and more time consuming to sew on, but they are sturdier and have a longer life than marking with a permanent marker or a laundry pen.

When choosing a style of label, note that some people are bothered by labels scratching their skin.  I hesitate to name specific brand of labels, so you will need to research products yourself. 
I volunteer at a skilled-nursing center, and one day I was helping a new resident look for her favorite pair of slacks.  I made some inquiries and ended up in the laundry room.  The employees in the laundry room explained the importance of clearly labeling each item of clothing—even socks.    The laundry employees usually check for a name by looking on the back of the collar for shirts and on the waistband for pants.

Many items in their lost and found were unmarked or the markings had faded.  Sometimes the name is written too small and cramped on the "care instruction" clothing tag.  Try to write the resident's full name since many residents have the same first name, same last name, or same initials. Also, use the resident's legal name, since some staff members do not know the resident's nicknames.

Labeling clothing seems like a chore, but those who have recently moved into a nursing home are already struggling to adjust to their new environment.   Their privacy has been compromised, and they have shed a number of possessions to adapt to a single room, often shared with another resident. During their first few days post-surgery, they may be a bit foggy from pain medication.  All of these stressors can make a resident less emotionally resilient to the loss of clothing. 

Labeling clothing helps mediate conflict between roommates or table mates who are both trying to claim the same clothing item.  I have seen residents try to make the case for why a sweater, a lap blanket, or a jacket left in the dining room belongs to them and not to their neighbor.  Sometimes delirium or dementia makes it difficult for nursing home residents to clearly remember what items are theirs.  When items are found in the common areas, labeling can help clear up these misunderstandings and help staff return items to the rightful owner.

If you have a friend or relative who moves into skilled nursing, go ahead and bring flowers, but also bring a fabric marker for the short term.  Then ask if you might order labels (4 to 6 week delivery).  When the labels arrive, you could then visit the resident and talk while affixing the labels. Performing this little act of service can dramatically improve the chance that their clothing items will come back to them from the laundry service.  
Missing Personal Items: Lost or Stolen?
Movies Set in Nursing Homes
Talking with Older Adults: Serving as a Witness
Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living