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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Thriving in a Nursing Home

Since February, after my grandmother had a blood infection that induced a heart attack and landed her in a nursing home, I have been fretting over the possibility of a decline. I had the opportunity to visit her last week. Preparing myself for what I might find – someone saddened and feeling defeated, I was pleasantly surprised. The facility was clean with a superb staff, and my grandmother was thriving!

Exposed to more activity than my family had been able to provide in her previous situation, her schedule is full of exercise classes, town outings, performances and spa days. I could hardly keep up with what she was doing and when. Popping in here and there, I found her speeding down the halls with her walker, making the rounds and checking in on her new friends (I swear she needs a little horn on that thing). At times, she would be parked on a bench in the hallway watching folks come and go. I was pleased to find that she attends every activity, and she was pleased to tell me all about how she her nails get painted every couple of weeks. Based on the drawers full of candy, chips and clocks, it seems she has quite a knack for bingo and hardly lets anyone else win.

Before every meal, she declares she is not that hungry, yet clears the majority of food on her plate every single time. Her only complaint is that her roommate just sleeps all the time and doesn’t talk to her. She joked, “I have to force her to talk.” Perplexed, I asked, “How do you force her to talk?” She responded a bit annoyed, “Well I just ask her a million questions until she starts answering some of them.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I suppose that is one way to get someone to talk to you. Now I know where I get it from.

I realized a few things after spending a bit of time in and out of the facility with her. If you have a loved one in a facility, especially with dementia, you might find the following tips helpful.

  • Try posting a sheet on the wall in your loved one’s room listing the times of each meal (breakfast 7am, lunch 12pm, dinner 6pm). This provides a constant reference or basic daily schedule for your loved one, since the short-term memory may not retain that information.
  • In the same vein, put up a daily tear-type calendar in the room so he always knows what day it is. Even though the day and date might be posted in a hallway of the facility on a bulletin board, dementia patients can’t always remember that information by the time they get back to their room. Otherwise, if there is a monthly activity calendar posted in the room, try to get him to put an X on the previous day before going to bed to help him keep track of what day it is.
  • Make her room feel like home with favorite personal items such as blankets, clocks and pictures that remind her of all the friends and family that love and care for her so much.
  • Ask him to give you a tour of the facility every couple days to ensure he remembers where everything is located. This can reinforce his memory as well as provide additional exercise.
  • Take her out to lunch or dinner. See how she does away from what has become her familiar environment. She might be confused by the new surroundings or become obsessed with who has her purse, but keep in mind that the different stimulus is good for her brain. 
  • Ask about new friends. If he doesn’t remember, ask the staff or sneak in at different times to find out. Talk to his friends. You might learn something new about him or gain something new to discuss with him by chatting it up with his friends.
  • Forget about the fact that she may not remember you were there the day before and that you may have to repeat entire conversations. She gains something from the moment she is in, so just be there with her in that moment. Whether you realize it or not, she appreciates what happens in that moment. Therefore, make each moment special and create an abundant amount of those moments. Stop in, if only for a quick hug or chat. Bring her a couple cookies you made. Play a few hands of cards. Show her that cute video on YouTube that made you laugh today. Tell her what you have been up to. Be patient and be present in that moment.

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education
Chicago Skilled Nursing

Chicago Senior Living

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