Creating Fun for Caregivers and Frail Seniors
By Lynn Howe

 

Your confined-to-home (or assisted living or nursing home) parent, just wants to have fun! You are focused on their safety, finances, medical treatment, medications, privacy, nutrition and therapy. You busy yourself with monitoring their progress (or decline) and doing everything in your power to keep them comfortable. You worry about their reduced energy level, increasing fatigue, physical weakness and variable mental status. But do you know how important it is for them to just have fun? To laugh deeply, live in the moment, to briefly not be just old and frail, to forget pain?

OK, so what can you do? I know that you are thinking, well, they can’t do that much, but you might be surprised at all the options. Too often thoughtful families accommodate so much to their senior’s weakening state that they overlook how much they can do and enjoy! While it’s good to try to bring the world to them with visits, letters, phone calls and email, it’s also important and possible to keep bringing them out in the world. Of course, it may involve more work for you — transporting walker or wheelchair, assisting in/out of cars and doors, walking slowly, negotiating steps carefully, finding bathrooms, keeping him/her dry, warm (or cool) — so be prepared for a different pace and smaller goals. And some cajoling might be needed to just get going.

Mini-field trips

Seniors look forward to having a day out, but as they age, they don’t have the stamina or mobility for trips to fascinating museums, over-stimulating casinos, monster malls, giant sports stadiums, wooded parks, loud modern restaurants, etc. But they may be able to go out for an hour or two. My mom adored a simple trip to the supermarket — colorful flowers, fanciful balloons, acres of fresh, bright produce, bakery smells, energetic families with huge carts. She pushed her walker along, senses on overload, straying down enticing aisles. We didn’t buy a thing. But it was an hour that she talked about for days – a new topic of discussion with her nursing home buddies.
Another day we drove one short mile to a local antique shop. “I had those gold Fostoria glasses,” she pointed out. “Your dad and I would stop at the Fostoria factory store on trips to see my brother in Washington, DC.” Talk about the glassware led to reminiscing about her deceased brother, until she0interrupted herself; “Look at the quilts – just like Grandmother’s.” And so on, pushing her walker forward toward the next memory. After about an hour, she had had enough and home we went.

The first trip to a small local department store just before Christmas involved a little arm twisting. But once there, lights, perfume, soft velvety fashions and just ahead a decorated Christmas tree, worked their magic. She wheeled ahead, touching, smelling, exclaiming. Onward through silky lingerie, cute children’s clothes and glittering jewelry. At about the hour mark, like Cinderella, she was done. She relived it all week.

Recently she and I went to a small jewelry store 10 minutes from her home – she had favorite rings that needed resizing. Instead of just taking them for her, I invited her to come along. For the first time in a long time she became the customer, the center of attention. Soon she asked for a chair, her shopping done. But for her it was a big accomplishment, an errand, like in the old days she so misses.

My father-in-law loved an afternoon drive looking at properties we were considering purchasing. He was curious about these houses we described, their yards, their roofs, the neighborhoods. Since we didn’t even bring his wheelchair or get out of the car, it was like a guided tour. “I’ve been in that house” he’d say. “This was always a good neighborhood” he’d remember. “Let’s see what they are building on that hill.” Other mini trips for him were to the cemetery where his wife was buried, their first house in that area and a volunteer organization they founded. He remembered being a neighbor, a businessman, a father and a contributer to the community.
Other ideas might be a quilt shop for a former quilter, a hardware store for the ardent handyman, the library, bakery, family style restaurant, plant store or flower shop.

Fun at home

You don’t have to go out to have fun of course. Opportunities are right there in their home (or facility) to have fun and fight boredom.

  • Stage a sing-along to his/her favorite music. Play the music loud and clear.

  • Get all dressed up and take some photo portraits – use them for family gifts.

  • Rent/borrow movies for slow afternoons – old ones, funny ones, scary ones.

  • Have a deck of cards on hand and play the old familiar games – gin rummy, hearts, war.

  • Scrabble is great fun with grandkids.

  • Keep a puzzle going if you have a spare tabletop – people coming in always get engaged and stay to talk

  • Get out of the room – visit other residents, attend sing-alongs, presentations, craft sessions, chair exercises lunch groups.

  • Pull out a family album – get them to identify the older ones you may have forgotten and take notes or audiotape the stories you hear. Family photos trigger floods of memories.

  • Pick a theme for the week or month. Decorate his/her room and door. It will bring people in to check it out and or conversation.

  • Rearrange furniture and pictures – just for stimulation.

  • Order in or pick up some favorite foods that aren’t on the regular menu – hot dogs for my mom, milkshakes for my husband’s dad.

  • Manicures and pedicures are a special treat too. Have candy for drop-in guests and gifts for visitors – order online; think about birthday and holiday gifts and ‘shop’ on line.

  • Make up a Christmas, holiday or birthday wish list from the web – send it to family members. So think about what your loved one has always enjoyed, listen to what they talk about, look around your neighborhood and give it a try!
     

Lynn Howe is a registered nurse, mostly retired, very interested in healthcare issues, health and wellness. Her mother, age 93, widowed for 10 years, has lived in an apartment, assisted living, nursing home and back to assisted living today. She truly enjoys stimulating, but brief outings, which continue to be fun (and meaningful) for all involved. Lynn has written one article about nursing home activities which was published in Nursing Home magazine as well as several articles for a Recreational Vehicle magazine about RV lifestyle issues.

 

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