Readers of this blog from outside the professional social work community contact us from time to time and ask what they can do to help. We asked 12 social workers what they would suggest, and the consensus was:
“Visit older adults in your neighborhood or residents at a local nursing home or assisted living facility and share the kindness of a personal connection.”
The social workers we surveyed explained that most people who have loved ones in nursing homes or a hospice are hesitant to visit them, let alone visit strangers.
- This reluctance is natural because spending time with a loved one that is ailing is difficult emotionally and even greater if the elderly resident has dementia or other cognitive impairment.
- Visiting someone who might be near the end of their life may remind you of your own mortality.
- You may also feel grief at seeing the deterioration in the health of a once-vigorous person.
- Also, most people surveyed admitted that they worry about what to say when visiting the elderly.
Social workers suggest that if you take the time to prepare, an elderly visit is less daunting and more successful.
- Prepare yourself first by reflecting on why you want to visit an elderly loved one or even a perfect stranger. A deep understanding of why makes the how much easier. Personal mental preparation will also address any fears you may be feeling especially if your loved one is cognitively impaired.
- Prepare the person you’re visiting by calling ahead and arranging a convenient time and place for the visit. If the person you’re visiting knows your intentions in advance that will make the visit less awkward and eliminate any surprise or confusion.
- Remember that the person you’re visiting is not at their best. Don’t be surprised if they’re cranky or withdrawn. Their memory may be impaired so avoid talking about the “good old days” or asking if they remember “so and so”.
- Especially when visiting a loved one, keep in mind that you are performing an act of kindness not trying to have a satisfying relationship. The elderly are easily distracted, might want to watch T.V., may repeat themselves often during your visit, and may even fall asleep while you’re talking. The fact that you came to visit was the gift you brought, not stimulating conversation.
Don’t Forget to Remember
The elderly benefit from maintaining lifelong relationships long before they are confined to a nursing home or in extremis in hospice care. If you recently helped your parent or senior loved one make the move to a senior living community, it’s tempting to think your job as a caregiver is done.
- Although you may no longer be responsible for your parent’s daily care, your presence still has a positive impact. Maintaining frequent communication and visiting with the senior loved ones in your life helps them ward off cognitive impairment and emotional isolation as they age, according to research in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
- Taking the time to visit can reinforce family ties and shows your loved one that you can still spend time with them even after they’ve moved away.
- Visiting can also alert you to any signs that your parent’s care is not working out. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a reality for some seniors, whether they live at home or in a senior living community with other residents. Not all abuse is easy to spot — neglect and emotional abuse, for instance, may not be apparent immediately but may require multiple visits before being detected.
- Finally, many seniors who did not raise children find themselves completely alone when they outlive their friends and associates. They, of course, could really use a visit from someone.
Do Not Be Afraid
If your schedule and your temperament permit, please consider volunteering to visit the elderly in your neighborhood. Your simple act of kindness could ease their passing and save them emotional suffering in their final years. Do not be afraid.