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Visiting the elderly in nursing homes for the holidays

eldercare031411_optBY CAROL ABAYA
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
THE SANDWICH GENERATION

Question: "My mother (88) is in a nursing home and cannot join us for the holidays. This is the first year she will not be physically with us. We do not know what to do. She always gave my three children marvelous Christmas gifts. Now there will be none. How do I explain this to the children?"

Answer: Visiting a loved relative or friend in the hospital, nursing home can be stressful — both for the patient and the visitor. It’s not easy to see someone who was once vital and energetic now bed bound.

First you need to explain to your children why grandma will not be at your house for Christmas, so that they will be prepared. Explain her illness, if possible. Children are more understanding than many parents give them credit for.

Regardless of the elder’s condition, the holidays are a time for sharing and caring. Time is the essence of caring. So, bring your and your children’s “time” to the nursing home.

Have the children make Christmas cards and even little gifts — paper mache pictures, clay figures of her favorite animal or flower.

The key objective is to let the elder know you all care, that you care enough to have taken time to visit. The physical presence of a close relative can have a positive impact on the emotional health of the patient, IF...

  • The visitor’s compassion comes through. Enter the room quietly and talk quietly to the patient.
  • You and your children should talk about positive happenings with family and friends. Keep sentences short so as not to tire the patient.
  • Leave your answer or f ear outside the sick room. Showing anger (at the person being in bed) or fear is not going to help the patient.
  • Sense where the patient is emotional and “join” him or her there.

If the elder starts talking about something that happened years ago as if it happened yesterday, tie into this. Encourage the patient to talk about happier times. You might even say, do you remember....?

  • If the person is watching a favorite TV program, listen along with him or her. 
Talk during commercials rather than during the program. This may be difficult for children, but tell them it will only be for a short time.

What NOT to do:

  • Over talking puts an enormous stress on a sick person whether in the hospital or nursing home. So don’t talk just for the sake of talking.
  • It’s often difficult for a sick person to keep up with the conversation and it may be difficult for the person to answer sensibly. Holding a person’s hand during that TV show can be more meaningful than talking.
  • A sick person doesn’t want to hear about anyone else’s illnesses or ache and pains. So avoid negative happenings.
  • If the person is hallucinating, don’t try to bring the person back to reality. It can only cause more stress for everyone. Just listen, especially if the person is remembering the past — even though the event may never had happened.
  • Don’t overstay your visit. A sick person can tire quickly and may just want to be left alone. 10 or 15minutes is usually a comfortable time person. If the person is not very sick, 30 minutes is ok.

The Sandwich Generation is reader interactive. Questions and comments are welcome. Contact Carol Abaya via her website www.sandwichgeneration.com or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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