May 17th, 2011 at 1:42 pm
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Meaningful visits: Sometimes it is just the little things

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

When visiting older friends or family members, it’s important not to stress over what to do during the visit. Although many elders may enjoy having company, those with significant cognitive deficits may not be able to handle the flurry of activity. Instead of always focusing on doing things, let the visit evolve naturally. For example, when my mom first moved to assisted living, each of my visits from out of town consisted of lots of activities and she loved it. Over time, she preferred less going, less doing, and found simpler activities more appealing.

Seven simple activities

For the lack of anything better to do, the television often serves as the focus of attention when family and friends visit. Instead of clicking the power button on the television remote, consider alternatives that do not require much effort or planning. From there you may be able to create some other options that are appropriate for all involved. Relax, be yourself and see if some of these seven ideas work for you.

  1. Bring the outside inside. Take the time to notice what is happening outside–whether it is the weather, people walking by or some of the beauties of nature. If the older adult is visually impaired, provide some interesting details.
  2. Ask for opinions. Ask for an opinion on something simple like an outfit you are wearing, a new haircut or the snack you are sharing. Stay away from controversial subjects if they could cause someone to become upset.
  3. Tell a story. Share a story about something that has happened recently. Stay away from complicated details if the person has a hearing or memory problem.
  4. Offer a massage. Give the person a hand massage or a gentle back rub. My mom was not the type of person to ask for something, but whenever I offered to give her a back rub she usually said yes. The great thing was that I usually got one in return.
  5. Listen to music. Put on some of the elder’s favorite music to enjoy. One daughter sought out some music her grandmother enjoyed in her 20’s and she was so excited to hear the tunes. This led to a special moment–the grandmother showed her some dance steps since she used to teach dancing classes before she was married.
  6. Assist with chores. Help with some chores that you might be able to do together. One daughter took the teacup collection out of the cabinet while her mother dusted them and then she put them back for her. It was a chore her mother wanted to do but was afraid she might drop one of the cups. This started a tradition for future visits.
  7. Think outside the box. Depending on the situation, you may want to do something a little out of the ordinary. One family had kept a small bottle of bubbles left over from a wedding. When the grandchildren were visiting they discovered them, had a grand time and soon everyone was involved. Now bubbles and colored chalk are always available since it ends up being a very simple activity they can enjoy together.

Think about the types of things an older adult has enjoyed doing but may need some assistance to make it happen. Pick up some magazines to browse through or travel brochures for a person who used to enjoy traveling. One grandson takes his grandfather on periodic drives to new homes and building developments. Because his grandfather used to be a builder and no longer drives, he really looked forward to an outing that is not too taxing and is centered on his occupation of more than four decades.

Little things can mean more than you know. What would you put on your list?

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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