For Alice, the holidays stopped being something she looked forward to many years ago. She has no close relatives who live near the nursing facility she now calls home, and while she does enjoy the decorations in the hallways and the festive adornments worn by the nurses and aides, the holidays just seem to make her feel more alone. That was, until last year when Alice got a very welcomed surprise: visitors.
Her visitors weren't anybody she knew, nor were they facility employees or a community group. Her visitors were four young adults who, while out celebrating the holidays together, decided on a whim to drop by the nursing home and ask if there were any residents there who had not had a visitor for the holidays. Staff introduced them to several residents, including Alice.
"Those wonderful kids," as Alice would come to call them, only spent a short time with her that day. They asked about her holiday traditions and shared her laughter and tears as she re-told stories of days and people past. They left her with a small token; nothing much, just a paperback novel they had picked up at a nearby drug store and slapped a cheap bow on. Alice has read that book at least five times since last year. One of the visitors, Candice, has returned to visit Alice many times, and the two have become fast friends.
An estimated 60 percent of nursing home residents have no regular visitors. This can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness. These feelings can be amplified during the holiday season as their thoughts drift toward family who have gone before them and holiday celebrations and traditions that are only fading memories now. A visit from a loved one, or even a relative stranger, can help alleviate the loneliness.
If you, your family, a group of friends or other group you participate in are looking for a unique, new holiday tradition, consider planning a visit to a nursing home as part of your celebration. Every nursing home resident has the right to receive visitors, and facilities welcome them. When planning your visit, consider the following:
- Contact your local nursing homes and ask for social services, activities or administration staff to inquire about residents who would welcome a visit. Ask about visiting hours, gift or food restrictions and their policies on children and pets.
- Schedule your visit at a time that is convenient for the facility, residents and staff.
- Approach residents' rooms as if they were their homes. Knock before entering, introduce yourself and ask before sitting on their bed or chair.
- Tell the resident about your own life or ask easy questions to get the conversation rolling, such as: "Did you ever play football?" or "Do you like dancing?"
- Don't worry if you run out of things to say or if your visit is short - it still is appreciated.
- Residents with dementia may not be very verbal, but still appreciate the sound of another person's voice telling stories or just the warmth of someone sitting with them.
- Some residents may mistake you for someone else; consider it a compliment and don't bother correcting them.
- If asked for help with water, food or assistance moving around the room, get a staff member.
By visiting a nursing home and its residents, you can bring them joy and help them stay connected to the community and the world around them. You also may discover a new, rewarding holiday tradition and form some long-lasting friendships like the one between Alice and Candice.
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