There was an article this week about an unfortunate event that happened a year ago. Presumably, it took so long for people to hear about it becuase the family could not get the answers they wanted by dealing with the home directly, so they went to the press. An elderly man who resided in an independent retirement home died of natural causes in his room but, he wasn't found by the home for several days and only after a concerned resident alerted them to the fact that she hadn't seen him in a while. The issue wasn't that he died, as sad as that was for his family; it was that no one noticed he hadn't been at his meals for days.
One of the reasons people move to retirement homes is for the peace-of-mind that something like this doesn't happen, especially if all meals are included in your package. That no one noticed that this man was missing is very concerning. While independent people do go to retirement home settings, one would hope that there is a system in place to ensure something like this doesn't happen. We can only hope that learning from this experience will ensure no other resident or family has to go through this sort of thing again.
For families and potential residents of retirement homes, when you tour a home ask if there is a system to check on residents if they miss a meal. Is there a "buddy system" so residents check in with one other person daily? I recently read about a home for independent residents that has a door knob notification system; residents put a card on their door knobs when they go to bed and remove it in the morning. If someone spots a card when there isn't supposed to be one, they alert staff. Ask about the call bell system - if they wear a pendant there is less of a chance that they won't be able to alert someone if they are feeling ill. If there are not call bells in the room or if meals are not included in the home you go to, can you purchase a call bell pendant system privately on your own? Can you and other family members arrange to check in with your loved one daily? I know of seniors who live alone who have set up their own call system with friends in the same situation; one phone call or phone signal of so many rings at a certain time every day alerts their friend that they are okay. Not getting that call at the same time one day, is cause for alarm and leads to a chain of events to ensure the person is fine.
For retirement homes that do not have a system in place to ensure people are okay daily, it's time to create one. I know years ago there was a home that created a card swiping system; a bit like what they have on cruise ships actually. When people went to a meal, their card was swiped at the door. If they didn't make it to a meal, the computer system alerted the staff of this and someone went to check on the person. A great system as long as residents are cognitively alert and able to remember their cards every time they go down to the dining room. While this is proably an elaborate and costly system that would not work for many settings or residents, I'm sure there are other effective ways to monitor residents' safety that homes can consider, enabiling them to ensure that the people they are meant to look after, are indeed connected to the staff and/or other residents.