By Jennifer Gibbons, LCSW, Adult & Senior Care Advisor
So many of us grapple with what to say and do with an elderly loved one when we visit. If your loved one has memory problems, this can be additionally challenging. My advice is paradoxical – get creative and keep it simple. One December my mother and I brought a tabletop Christmas tree to my Grandma’s nursing home. I knew this little tree would mean so much to her, stimulating the senses and evoking wonderful memories of a favorite holiday. We wound our way through the residence, evergreen needles undoubtedly leaving a fragrant trail in our wake. Everyone we encountered smiled broadly and wished us well. We got as far as the locked doors to Grandma’s secure memory program when we were turned away by nurses who declared the tree a fire hazard. Disappointed but undeterred, we left and returned with a beautiful fabric wreath and other holiday decorations. But the tree helped us engage with Grandma in a way that felt comforting and fun.
Here are a few ideas to consider when planning your visit.
- Start with Fun. My Grandma loved to play bridge. Even when her memory was failing, her ability as a card shark never wavered. Consider what your loved one did for fun and think of creative ways to share aspects of this during your visit.
- Stimulate Memories. Yearbooks, directories, scrapbooks, or newspaper clippings can spark wonderful stories and smiles. Reminiscing is a way for your parent or grandparent to share their legacy with others – and you might be surprised to learn something new about them!
- Record It. Make a recording of your loved one reading favorite stories or children’s books that you can share with younger generations. This will be a treasure for those that may be too young to remember these experiences.
- Work on a Project Together. Consider building a scrapbook or writing memories together. A large-piece puzzle can be an ongoing project you share. The important thing is that you are sharing an experience together.
- Play Games. Sometimes when we are focused solely on conversation it can come to a dead end too quickly. Playing card and board games or tossing a bean bag while talking relieves us of worrying about new discussion topics and awkward silences. Using our hands can allow us to relax and I often find the conversation flows more smoothly and periods of silence are less uncomfortable.
- Get Out and About. The opportunity to experience a different environment, even if it’s within a care community, is a welcome activity for most elders. Visit holiday stores that have beautiful seasonal displays, or view the blooming flowers and trees at a local garden. Consider a local concert or free Shakespeare in the park. If your loved one cannot leave the community, take a walk through the halls or just outside the building.
- TLC. If your grandmother loved having her nails and hair done when she was younger, consider doing this together while you visit. As we age, dexterity is adversely affected and a steady pair of hands is often welcome. My Grandma never turned down a bonus hand massage when I gave her a manicure.
- Pet Therapy. Pets have a wonderful way of bringing out the joy in us. Even if your visit must be just outside the doors of a residence, it will most likely be a meaningful and memorable experience for your loved one to engage with any pet.
Make the most of visits with your loved ones by bringing and doing memorable things. Need more ideas? Care.com’s Adult and Senior Care Advisers are experienced, masters-level social workers. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 and we’ll be happy to help with your senior care challenges.