When I asked a gentleman whose mother is in a skilled nursing facility where I visit why he rarely comes to see her, he said, “I can’t stand to visit mom! She barely remembers me and there’s nothing to say to her. She doesn’t care what’s going on in my life, and what would she want to tell me about being here day in and day out?”
This very honest answer explains why families stay away from their elderly loved ones in droves. It is very hard to visit—hard to know what to say, hard to see someone look so diminished, hard to keep from crying.
May I offer some suggestions for making a visit with a very elderly loved one a lot more pleasant and meaningful?
“Mom, remember the year we got our first puppy?” “Dad, I was out in Colorado and I thought of our vacation trip out there. Remember?” Sometimes questions like these about past happy events will start some story-telling. Listen with delight; prompt memories or ask questions or add some memories of your own.
If possible, have some family photos hanging on the walls of your loves one’s room. Bring in a photo album or a few snap shots from the past. A person who cannot remember a grown son or daughter will often recognize baby pictures or school photos of that same child! Talk about what you know is in the photo and ask them about things you don’t know. Give them time to just look at a photo quietly. Don’t ask for a comment about each photo, but allow them to enjoy looking and be ready to respond to anything they have to say.
Music from the past and recordings of radio broadcasts from the past can have a wonderful effect on people who are elderly or ill. Bring in the equipment needed to listen—including earphones, which can help even a very hard-of-hearing person enjoy the sounds. Musical instruments can also be a great part of a visit. If a family member plays guitar, arrange a sing-along. If a child is in a school band, have her bring her instrument to play something for grandma or grandpa. Sing and play Christmas carols and old-time favorites. Do a little research—what were some hit songs the year your parents got married or the year you were born? What radio or TV shows were favorites in special years?
Preparing for a visit using ideas like these will make it more likely you’ll have a good time, and might even want to visit more often!