It would seem that as a nursing home professional these trips would be old hat. Really, though, it practically froze me at times as I opened the door to a reality that is easy to forget in the front office: Spending 30-45 minutes with someone, even someone you love very much, can be difficult when the person is hard of hearing and sight, requires more assistance with daily activities than the last time you saw them, and has a generally gloomy outlook on their situation.
But at the end of every visit, we had brightened Grandma’s day. Probably her week, since the average nursing home resident does not get many visitors. So what can you do for a resident that you are visiting at the nursing home? Just visiting is half the task, but there are certainly small things that you can do to truly enhance lives.
1. Let them know you’re coming. Don’t you hate the pop-in? Nothing worse than your friends and family stopping by while you are watching a movie, eating dinner, or having a party they weren’t invited to. Don’t assume your loved one appreciates such surprises. It may leave them with that same distressed feeling you have when the pop-in happens.
2. Bring leftovers. Lasagna always tastes better the second day, right? A nursing home resident doesn’t have the same luxury – and I’m not talking about the macaroni soup the kitchen made from yesterday’s entrée. There’s no shame in sharing your extras – they won’t be seen as leftovers, just good old home cooking.
3. Blow up the news. While many residents still enjoy reading the newspaper, the fine print leaves me squinting at times. Technology has made it so easy to find any article of any size – and manipulate it to fit our needs. If your loved one enjoys the Chicago Cubs, search for recent articles at usatoday.com or your local periodical. Cut and paste the best articles into Word and adjust them to a size 18 font, double-spaced and printed on white copy paper. This makes articles easier to read and also eliminates the overwhelming glut of articles found in a full newspaper.
4. Bring toilet paper. This sounds corny, but even the best healthcare facilities still purchase commercial toiletries. A couple of super soft rolls of Angel Soft can go a long way. Insert the same sentiment for other bathroom products. Not extravagant, just personal.
5. Don’t forget the roommate. We’re still living in facilities built in the 1960’s, which means most residents have a roommate. Bring two pieces of lasagna instead of one and you’ve made two peoples’ day.
6. And the employees? I’ve always preached “enough for everybody” to employees and residents. If you are the cooking/baking type, making cookies for the unit staff says a lot. Better yet, give them to your loved one and let them give the baked goods to the staff. This pay it forward gesture brightens everyone’s day, including the resident. Go with the cookies versus the toilet paper for staff.
7. Change out pictures frequently. Don’t forget to bring new pictures of the kids. That prom picture from 6 years ago is cute, but don’t you owe it to Grandma to exchange it for a college graduation photo? If there is no bulletin board in the room, a $15 investment will get you a nice 2’ x 3’ board and a couple of screws. Ask staff if you can hang it – they won’t say no.
8. Sexy calendar. My mom bought Grandma Shuey a “Sexy Firefighters” calendar every year for nearly ten years. Grandma got a kick out of it for sure, but more importantly it gave her and the employees a nice conversation piece. Staff appreciated the ice-breaker quality that something like this can bring, because many younger employees have a difficult time finding things to talk to the resident about. Make sure it’s appropriate of course.
9. Advocate kindly. One truly kind gesture you can give is to check wheelchair cleanliness. This is an area that is frequently neglected by well-intentioned staff. If it just needs a brush-up, perhaps you can take 30 seconds to help out yourself. If the chair needs more attention, be kind about it, asking politely for some attention will always get a better response than anger. Also, asking for staff to assist with things like this tells them that the resident has friends and family that are looking out for him or her. This perception can make a difference.
10. Make things tradition. To Grandma Shuey, the firefighter calendar wasn’t about the hunks in suspenders; it was about the anticipation of receiving the calendar each Christmas, laughing hysterically over the mildly embarrassing nature, and the ceremonial act of hanging it up and changing the pictures each month with staff. Whether it’s bringing pizza, the newest Ann Landers segment, or a sexy calendar, these traditions mean so much to the nursing home resident.
Grandma Shuey passed away last year, but I’ll never forget our visits. I can look back and say that while we did a lot of these things, we could have done more. If you haven’t visited your loved one in the nursing home for some time, what are you waiting for?
I just saw that sexy firefighter calendar for 75% off at the local bookstore.