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Published July 27, 2013, 10:00 PM

Minding Our Elders: Daughter dreads nursing home visits

DEAR CAROL: My mom is in a nursing home because of mid-stage dementia and other health issues. I love her dearly and visit often, but I feel guilty because I dread my visits. It’s not that I don’t want to see her, it’s that I don’t know what to do while I’m sitting there with her. Do you have any suggestions to pass the time without so much awkwardness? – Lee Ann

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mom is in a nursing home because of mid-stage dementia and other health issues. I love her dearly and visit often, but I feel guilty because I dread my visits. It’s not that I don’t want to see her, it’s that I don’t know what to do while I’m sitting there with her. Do you have any suggestions to pass the time without so much awkwardness? – Lee Ann

DEAR LEE ANN: First, you needn’t feel guilty. Many people in your situation feel at a loss when it comes to how to spend visiting time at the nursing home. It’s not easy to think of things to do when you visit someone who is progressively becoming more limited in cognitive and/or physical abilities. Just the fact that you are there is what’s really important to your loved one, however I do realize that having a way to pass the time for both of you is also important. Here are a few suggestions.

Photo albums can be wonderful memory boosters and a great starting point for conversations. Again, depending on your mom’s cognitive ability, you’ll want to go back in years to photos that she may remember. Avoid saying “do you remember?” That can be frustrating for someone with memory loss. Let her lead the way. You can say “Tell me more…” if she responds to a particular picture. Even if she’s wrong it doesn’t matter. The photos may encourage her to tell stories about her life.

My mom and I used to make a ritual of changing out her seasonal clothes because her closet was small. I’d bring in bags of clothes for the upcoming season and switch them out with the clothes in her closet. Each spring, she’d enjoy seeing the clothes she hadn’t worn for several months. The same would happen in the fall. I also would buy a few fresh, new shirts to cheer things up. Maybe your mom would enjoy a similar ritual.

If the weather is nice you can take your mom outside, even if you just walk or wheel her into the nursing home yard. You can turn this little excursion into a picnic quite easily. Most nursing homes have pleasant yards and benches or chairs for sitting. If not, you’ll figure something out. Bring some fun and easy picnic foods she likes, sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and flowers.

If your mom is able, you can take her out for a drive and maybe stop for ice cream or another treat. If she can’t go out, pick up some food from a favorite restaurant and enjoy the meal with her in her room or in the common area.

Sharing familiar magazines, reading newspaper articles to her, doing a crossword puzzle “together,” even though she may not be able to help a lot, or simply sharing a TV program, a movie or a music DVD can be pleasant. While doing so, touch her arm or hold her hand to remind her of your presence. In the end, the important thing is that you are there.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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