As we approach the end of 2014 and prepare to bring in a new year of hope, aspirations, good fortune and most importantly good health! It seems like an age old tradition of formulating our New Year’s resolutions. Well in 2015 I just have one New Years resolution – to visit my loved ones who are in a nursing home more often! A very simple resolution and something I think all of us who know someone in a nursing home can do more of.
Nursing homes can be intimidating places: the sites, the sounds, the building full of strangers. I loved my grandmother dearly and wanted to visit her, but entering the nursing home felt uncomfortable.
If you have a loved one who is staying in a nursing home for any length of time, here are a few tips to consider and to share with your family members:
Just do it! – I went into labor when I was just 28 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. I was supposed to stay on bed rest in the hospital for nine weeks. After just two weeks, I started to mentally shut down. That taught me the greatest lesson about visiting elderly loved ones: do it! No excuses, no regrets. Regardless of the situation, it is downright challenging to stay in the same building for longer than three days (much less three weeks, three months, or even three years). It feels like time stops and the only connection to the world is the pitiful porthole of the television. Studies have shown that visitors can be a great help in the healing of a patient. Nothing can take the place of a loved one.
Keep it short – When I visited my grandmother in a nursing home, I wanted to make it count. I would plan to stay for about an hour since I lived over an hour away. Unfortunately, my grandmother would get tired after about half an hour. This may sound bad, but there was great shopping near her facility. I would make the drive with my sisters, we would visit for half an hour, then we would have lunch and hit the mall. It made for a great day and something we did more often since we all went together.
Dementia Patients – My grandmother did not have dementia, but my grandfather did. I don’t know if there is anything harder than visiting a loved one and not having them recognize who you are. We would try to have a conversation and there would be awkward lulls and things wouldn’t make sense. He would then revert to talking in Greek and I would be really lost. I had to learn to let go and just smile, nod, and hold his hand. He may not remember who I am, but he knew that he was loved.
No Pressure – As I mentioned earlier, I would visit my grandmother with my sisters. The good thing is that we would never run out of things to talk about. If my grandmother wanted to say something, we loved to listen. If she was too tired to talk or was having a difficult day, she could just relax and enjoy our company. It took away the pressure of her trying to entertain us and it gave us accountability to go and visit her.
Listen – Some days my grandma was hilarious and would talk about strippers at a bridal shower. Other days she was morose pondering the regrets she had in her life. I realized that my job was just to listen. One of the hardest days was towards the end of her life. There were several of us visiting that day and she wanted to share her final wishes and how she wanted her funeral planned. My uncle wouldn’t let her speak. He kept saying, “Don’t think like that. Don’t talk like that. You’re going to get out of here!” I could just see the frustration in her eyes. She had made peace with her life and wanted to share her thoughts. We just needed to listen.
Many of the patients in nursing homes are there for short amounts of time, but visitors are still crucial to their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. A few minutes out of your day can make theirs!