By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
If your loved one gets caught in the doldrums when the weather turns too cold and snowy for field trips, don’t despair. There are plenty of simple ways to stimulate senses and lift spirits indoors. For my dad, it was listening to Fred Astaire, cuddling our sheepdog, Cryssie, and sipping scotch on the rocks while watching the snow fall from our kitchen window. He enjoyed these simple luxuries until the very end of his life, and along with his friends and family, they kept him going during the most challenging days. Here are some suggestions that can help you keep up your loved ones’ enthusiasm for daily living.
Sound. Have you seen YouTube sensation Henry? He’s an Alzheimer’s patient who appears almost catatonic—until his nursing home caregiver places headphones over his ears. Then Henry’s eyes light up; he sings, gestures and engages with others—things he was unable to do before the music turned on. Of course, Henry is not the first person to benefit from the restorative power of music. As aficionados know, music bypasses the intellect and goes straight to our emotions. It can get us through hard times—heartbreak, stress, grief—and music therapy is now commonplace in many nursing homes, adult day programs and hospices around the country. If your loved one likes to sing, find a songbook of his favorite musical genre to sing together or with friends. If he just loves to listen, buy him an iPod or set him up with a subscription service like Spotify or Apple Music to stream his favorite tunes.
Sight. Although we all love a good TV binge now and then (I recently watched an entire season of the Sopranos in one sitting), as my parents used to say, too much TV rots your brain. So, the telly should not be your mom or dad’s only go-to in order to cope with pain, loss, or boredom. If there’s a break in the weather, help your mom enjoy the stark beauty of the natural world in winter: Take her on a walk or out for a spin in her wheelchair. If she is an art lover, visit a local museum or gallery. Or, if she loves the cinema, set a weekly movie date at a theater with comfortable and accessible seating.
Touch. As Harry Harlow’s famous Rhesus monkey experiment proved, we need more than just having our basic needs met. We crave closeness with others. And many elderly folks don’t get enough of it—because they are fragile, or their spouses have passed, or they simply don’t get much human interaction. So even if your grandfather is receiving personal care support from a paid caregiver, be sure to give him warm, significant touches—a simple hug, a squeeze on the elbow or affectionate pat on the back can be very appropriate ways to express love and empathy. And remember, pets can provide significant touches, too. Many assisted living and nursing home facilities invite therapy dogs for visits and welcome family members’ pets as well.
Taste and Smell. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important, of course, but your loved one should still get a chance to enjoy the tastes and smells of the foods she loves. If your mom is having trouble cooking for herself, bring over her favorite casserole and divide it into small portions that she can freeze or store to heat up during the week. And don’t forget a sweet little something. Invite your dad over while you prepare a meal so that he can savor the aromas as you sauté onions or bake buttery cookies. If he is in a nursing home, bring his favorite dessert or pasta once a week—or take him out for a treat. (If you are still checking out possible facilities, ask to visit for a meal before you make a decision.) Are the odors in your parent’s community or center sometimes a little unpleasant? Elicit fond memories by bringing in a bottle of the cologne your mom used to wear or the aftershave dad once splashed on. Even a blanket or sweater washed in the laundry detergent they used to use might produce a pleasant wave of nostalgia.
Concerned that your loved one is not fully engaging? Contact a care advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 and we’ll be happy to support you and your love one’s care needs