Visit Those Over 80 – I Learned A Lot
There are people in my little world who are always posting pictures and events including ones with their parents or relatives over 80. Others post pictures and memories of those no longer with us. That’s why we should Visit Those Over 80 and learn a lot.
For the two months before my mom died, she was in an nursing home. My mom had quickly developed dementia and some other medical problems. So we had to bring her from her home of 88 years in NY to New England.
We decorated her room with things from home and even got her the YES network. Mom needed her Yankees fix.
We tried to make the best of things. Chip’s favorite time was taking my mom out on the grounds and sitting and talking with her.
There were times when she was lost, but she could talk about the past. One of her confusions was she thought I came from RI to NY everyday. She was always thankful I made the 4 hour trip everyday, but worried I was doing too much. I tried to tell her where she lived now, but she wasn’t interested in such details. I eventually took the “good child” compliment and ran with it.
Making Friends at The Home
My mom was fairly social in NY. We wanted to facilitate her making friends and getting the most out of her time there. There were other people who had similar challenges, but, it’s my mom. We wanted to see if we can get her connected to people more than the group of dinner companions the home assigned her to.
We went to visit everyday and met many people in her age group that were there and hadn’t had any visitors in a long time. Some for several years. Sure there were holiday gifts and an occasional fruit basket, but no human contact from people who they are connected.
Her nursing home was a Catholic home. There was mass everyday at 10 am. You could go to the Chapel for it or listen to it over the home speaker system. Then at 10 and 2 there was bingo or music time. A day or two a week there were crafts.
The patients were brought to the recreation rooms and frequently sat with people they didn’t know. Just put in any empty spot.
However, even with these activities and efforts, there was little interaction among the patients. It was sad.
The Real Story
Then the nurses and aids started talking about some of the patients. There was a women on the second floor who was a world renowned professional yodeler. I didn’t know you could be a professional yodeler, let alone internationally known.
Another person there had traveled around the world with her husband when they were in their 70s.
One woman was 95, sharp as a whip, dressed perfectly in pearls and beautiful clothes everyday. She had a successful husband and she was a philanthropist from the Boston area. She told us she was tired of doing the same thing every day and wanted to die. Yikes, that was hard to respond to.
No one had visited any of these people in three to five years.
They all loved their children and grandchildren. Each had a special story to tell about them as if they saw them just yesterday.
We asked the staff if they could find an activity that allowed the patients to share memories and details of their lives. As I understand it, there was an approved curriculum that the home had to follow.
While Visiting Those Over 80
As best we could, we tried to go visit my mom at activity times. We’d sit at the tables with my mom and her mates and ask people about their lives.
There were people who had some fantastic stories like the ones above or the woman who was one of the only female commissioned army nurses in WWII.
Most had regular lives…stay at home moms, factory workers, store owners, etc. Each had their own special humor and story. Each had experiences or brushes with greatness (meeting celebrities, politicians, awards for being the best at what they did) that were all unique and special.
We heard about how they watched the world change. Some things they found funny and most felt that this generation was raised so different than they were. Many times they even would talk about their own parents and siblings and some of their antics when they were young.
A Couple Sweet Stories
There was one woman who did have a daily visitor…her daughter. Her dementia was more advanced than my mom’s. Everyday she wanted to go home. She was thrilled that today was the day. Her daughter would say she was going to pack her suitcase and be right back to take her. At first I believed it, and told her how exciting it was.
Then I learned that it was a daily thing and that she would forget after dinner. For those minutes and when she awoke the next day, she was filled with anticipation and hope of resuming her life as she knew it.
Another story that really got me was the man who came to have breakfast and dinner with his wife every day. They were given a table all to themselves. He would tell her about his day, read the paper to her and tell what was happening in his life. She was in a wheelchair and seemed to have had a stroke.
However, everyday, he came and acted as if it was just a normal day.
The server told us that she had been a patient there for over 10 years. When they got married he promised her they would never start the day or end it without each other. And, at 87, he kept that promise.
How Things Are Changing
As gerontology research has advanced, they have found that the more engaged and active people are the better quality of life and health they have as they age.
There are studies going on at the moment testing how to change the nursing home curriculum to foster more personal engagement and healthy activities. Bingo is great and winning that penny pot is a big day, but when people have to think a little more they have a better experience when they leave their home of many years and need to adapt to someplace new.
In my opinion, this can’t happen fast enough.
I Wish We Were Able to Follow Through Better
For about 6 months, every couple weeks, we went to the nursing home to visit some of the people there. In that short time, some had died and others lost more and more understanding. Some were left in wheel chairs in the hall completely alone.
I wish we were able to sustain the visits, but we didn’t.
However, for that short period of time, we learned a lot and now revere more than before those over 80 in our lives.
A five minute visit, a meal, a call, a ride around town, a trip to a coffee shop makes a difference.
If you have a chance, drop by a nursing home occasionally and see who you meet. Or, just make an extra special effort to let your relatives and family friends know they have value beyond words. It can change a life.
If you have a story, about an amazing 80+ person, please share it.