Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dealing with visits

Once I got Mom to move, I had a deliberate plan to get her settled, ensure the facility understood her needs then leave town to force her to get acquainted. Leaving her there and leaving town was harder than I expected. I didn't want her to feel dumped, isolated, lonely and despondent - I still don't. But, she HAD to get used to it and I needed a break from the emotional and physical demands of the whole situation.

In mid-April I got mom settled into a studio apartment at an Assisted Living Facility (ALF). I saw her daily for 3 weeks and the time was filled with hanging pictures, labeling clothes, sheets and towels; doctor visits; nail clipping; permanents and visits from other family and friends. Then I left town and promised to return in 4 weeks. While I was away, I called Mom every other day, some days she was fine others she cried and wanted to go home.

As promised I returned to see her and saw her daily for a seven days. It was really rough at first; each visit left me frustrated and in tears because she insisted she can live at home just fine. After 3 days I was a wreck and realized that I was feeling physically ill from the stress. To cope I came up with some ideas that enabled me to visit Mom, spend quality time with her and enjoy her company. I still have to be firm about the reasons she's moved - it is safer, she will get her meds as needed and she will eat better. It's become my internal mantra around mom - safety, meds, food - safety, meds, food - safety, meds, food..... To keep my sanity and be good company for Mom, here's what I try to do:
  • Keep visits short but go often; stay 30-45 minutes, but go visit twice a day if possible
  • Get funny: find a funny story, joke or something like that to share during your visit
  • Read the paper together, helps keep parent current and give you some common ground
  • Go sit outside: often it's the only time they'll get outside is with assistance and some sunshine is good for creating vitamin D
  • Share a crossword puzzle
  • Watch a special program: our favorite are Red Skelton videos and Turner Classic Movies
  • Do projects: re-organize photo albums; I bought a cheap scanner and left it at Mom's apartment. On our next visits we will scan photos; it will give use time to talk about the subjects and people in pictures, capture interesting family histories, names, dates and relationships.
  • Go "out" into common rooms for a soda or coffee and speak with other residents, then introduce your parent
  • Attend events at the ALF like bingo, concerts or other outings
  • Play games; play scrabble, cards, use the facilities Wii for bowling or golf
Think of things that would be meaningful and fun for your parent. Ensure that they are engaged WITH you not watching you. Don't forget to take your parent out to family gatherings, most ALFs will loan wheel chairs for easy transport.