|My GREAT aunt|
My great aunt (and she IS great) is 93 and in a nursing home. When we first began visiting her after the fell that ended her time living on her own, she was bright and lucid. Her mind was sharp. Now, three years later, she is a shell of who she once was. Today, when I brought the kids to see her, she had lost weight and was clearly not herself. My children, especially my 8-year old, had trouble with this latest visit. So I've compiled this list of tips to help us, as parents, help our children when they go to see someone in a nursing home.
- Talk with your kids about why they're visiting. Explaining why your relative or friend is living there, i.e. because they're unable to care for themselves, is important. Help them gain appreciation for the aging process and see, in a positive manner, why a nursing home is a good place for people who need it (socialization, constant care, etc.).
- Prepare them for what they might see and hear. They will probably see residents in wheelchairs and some using walkers. They may see people who are unresponsive or talking in an erratic manner. Encourage your child to ask questions and discuss any concerns they might have.
- Explain how to behave properly in a nursing home so that the visit is pleasant. Kids need to know that they should keep their voices down, walk instead of run, be aware of people in the hallways, and understand that older people may not see or hear them. Visitors need to get out of the way of residents first.
- Help kids not to take any negative expressions personally. Some elderly people may be resentful, in constant pain, and/or angry because they can't do things they once could. They may be angry that family and friends are not visiting more often. Help children understand what the elderly might be going through and that the behaviors expressed often have nothing to do with the children themselves.
- Try to time the visit so that the resident is at their best. Often, optimal visiting times are mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and early evening. Ask the elder or her caregiver what time of day would be the best and most convenient.
- Bring a gift for the resident and
let the kids help to pick the gift out. We bring flowers to my aunt
and my daughter loves choosing which type of flowers we bring. You
can see her
swelling with pride as we walk through the hallway and people compliment her on the beautiful bouquet she's chosen. If the resident's diet permits (check first), you could bring a treat that your child can share with the elderly person. We've stopped on the way up for ice cream; my kids pick out a cup of their favorite and we get my aunt her preferred flavor. Then we have a picnic in her room.
- Plan an activity that will involve the resident and the child. We've brought playing cards up and had a rousing game of War. If you're going to do crafts, bring needed supplies with you. An activity is a great way to engage even the shyest child who might be intimidated by the nursing home surroundings. Showing the resident photographs is also a marvelous way to foster conversation and bonding.
My aunt loves seeing pictures of our cat and hearing about the mischief she's been up to.Model the behavior you want your kids to exhibit. If they sense that you're uncomfortable, they will be, too. Keep things upbeat, although not falsely cheerful. Highlight the positives and avoid making negative comments about the person or the environment.
- Keep the visit short. Both kids and the elderly may have short attention spans and get tired quickly. It's easier and kinder to make more frequent brief visits than to force an occasional long one.
- After the visit, talk with your kids about what happened and how they felt. Answer questions honestly and praise them for having gone and for their behavior.
My kids honestly love my aunt. They remember her as she used to be and appreciate the fact that she's lived such a long life. As hard as today was, they know it was important to go and show her how much we love her.
It's vital for kids to see those in all stages of the aging process and know that there are options for when people cannot take care of themselves. Vising a nursing home to see someone you love is an important lesson children will hold onto forever.
Thanks for reading!