Tips on How to Honor Residents' Right to Privacy

The right to privacy does not end when a person moves into an assisted living facility or a nursing home.  The right to privacy is a basic right that should be guarded by family, friends and staff.  The right to privacy seems to be one of the easiest rights to ignore.

Take for example, when a staff member discusses a resident's medical condition with a coworker in the hallway, forgetting that other residents are within earshot.  While this may seem unimportant to the worker, it is showing a disregard for the resident's privacy.

Listed below are some tips to keep the residents' right to privacy at the forefront of our mission to deliver the best possible service or to be a respectful friend, family member or staff.  By avoiding these (and similar) pitfalls we are honoring the residents' right to privacy.

  • Try to help residents maintain some semblance of personal identity in the long-term care setting by encouraging and maintaining private space and time (Faber, 1989).  To provide this, make sure that an area has been clearly delineated as personal and private space for each resident.  The space must remain sacrosanct.
  • Knock BEFORE entering a room and WAIT for a response.  Your actions may seem trivial, but the simple act of knocking on a door implies respect for the resident.  Further, it is an indication of the level of courtesy at the facility (Turlloch, 1989).
  • Personal belongings represent important touchstones to a resident's past and continue to enhance their sense of well-being, level of satisfaction with life, and feeling of self-worth and self-esteem.
  • Respect personal space and possessions (no matter how little the intrinsic value or small an area) and allow the resident to make decisions about them.
  • It is imperative that you always ask permission before looking in a drawer, closet, or shelf.
  • Keep noise to a minimum whether you are in a room, in the hall or the common areas.  During evening and night hours voices tend to carry further.  Pay attention, be kind, talk softly.
  • Know that the resident, like anyone else, may not always feel like talking or participating.  Respect their desire to be alone, unless their behavior is unusual or concerning, then it is important to talk to a nurse right away.
  • Sharing a room with someone other than a loved one for the first time can bring up a number of issues:  what to wear when lounging or sleeping; personal care; and privacy issues.  Keep sensitivity and understanding at the forefront of all interactions.
  • Use discretion when accommodating life partners' private time; it is inappropriate to tease the residents who require private time (Kerschner, 1989).

Remember to use simple courtesy and tact when working with residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes.  Always treat others as you would want to be treated. If you would want privacy and space to do something, give them the same respect.  We must remember that we are visitors in the resident's home.

Kerschner, Paul and Faber, R., "Sexuality goes well beyond a conjugal room and marriage," PROVIDER, Geriatric Care, Vol. 21, Number 9, September 1989.

Turlloch, Janet, "Respecting your residents' rights," Geriatric Care, Vol. 21, Number 3, March 1989.

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