By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer
My Aunt Viola had Alzheimer's disease. My last visit to her was just a few months before she died, and it showed me how important a simple visit to someone in a nursing home could be. I was nervous about seeing her since I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, and given her dementia, frankly, I wasn't sure about making the 100-plus mile trip. On entering the room the first thing I noticed was the statuesque, square shouldered woman I'd known all my life was rounder, diminutive and fixated on some imaginary point.
I asked her how she was feeling, but she was unresponsive. "Aunt Vi, it's your nephew Peter, Ray's oldest boy," I said to her. "I used to come to see you and Uncle Jerry in Florida at Christmastime when I was little." I held her hand and talked about the family, the farm, the good times together. As I talked, her shoulders squared, she chanced eye contact a couple of times, and then she laughed that hearty, vibrant and unmistakable "Aunt Vi laugh." She squeezed my hand and curled back into her chair. The intimacy of that moment was her way of telling me she loved me and thanking me for remembering her. It was to be our last visit and I think we were both happy I made the drive.
The holidays are a popular time to visit family and friends in care facilities, and it's a great time to strengthen or start a habit to visit more often throughout the year. Many of Ohio's nursing homes and other care facilities are embracing a concept called "person-centered care." One of the key components of this approach is that the individual should feel at home, no matter where he or she lives. Visits from loved ones, friends and even well-meaning strangers go a long way to making someone feel at home.
Here are some tips to make the most of your visit:
- Start with Etiquette - Call the facility and the individual before you visit and knock before entering the room. Ask reception desk or floor station staff what to expect. Pay attention to the residents' energy level and listen well.
- Engage the senses - With the resident's permission, cheer things up in the space by adding color with flowers, plants, framed family pictures, a few pillows, even some twinkling lights. Spruce up her outfit or jewelry, or help her get dressed up in a favorite outfit. Try a dab of perfume and help with her hair or makeup.
- Make the visit active, engaging and stimulating - Activities like a puzzle or books can fill the time and connect when conversation may not. Bring stationery and offer to write letters. Do a sing-a-long or bring an instrument and make music. Start a craft or painting project and keep it going through future visits. Try traditional pastimes like cards, board games, telling stories or talking about current events.
- Share memories - Home movies, videos and DVDs of the residents' favorite movie or one he has always wanted to see make a great gift. Start a memory book or family scrapbook project together or help put together a written, electronic or video personal history. This is especially helpful for people with dementia.
- Everybody's welcome - Bring the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit. They get to learn a little more about the needs of older people, and their energy will perk the residents up. Small, quiet and manageable pets add to the fun of a visit. Make new friends and visit residents who don't have family or visitors.
- Even residents need a break - For those who have been in residence a while, make arrangements to bring them home for a holiday gathering, a family meal or even the weekend if their health permits it. They will welcome the change of scenery and the mini vacation.
It's always a good idea to check with the nursing home's staff to learn their policies regarding visitors before you go. This will help you make the most of your visit. The Office of the State Long-term Care Ombudsman reminds all of us that nursing home residents have the same rights to dignity and respect as you and I, and this includes the right to receive visitors. While you are there, take a look around the facility and talk to your loved one living there. Ask her if she is happy and receiving the care she wants and needs. If she identifies any issues, you can help her work with the staff to resolve them, or you can call the Ombudsman's office at 1-800-282-1206 for assistance.
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