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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
movies for slow afternoons – old ones, funny ones,
Have a deck of
cards on hand and play the old familiar games – gin
rummy, hearts, war.
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
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
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
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
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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