I realize that not every senior citizen is lonely and there are some who are lucky enough to have family members bring them into their homes or watch them closely so the senior citizen may live comfortable and safely in their own home. It used to be that there was no question that the seniors in the family were well taken care of in their time of need.
10 months ago a 90 year old beloved friend who has become family to us in the short few years we have known him; took a fall. Since that fall, our friend has lived in hospital rooms and two nursing homes.
Before that fall, he was a fully capable, fully functioning human being who could carry a conversation about any subject. He loved classical music and enjoyed home college courses on science, biology, botany and many others. He also was well known for his gardening and until a few years ago,
was well known for his pottery skills, sculpture, sketches and paintings; a true artist in his own right. Today he gets through his nights with night time memory dreams of people and times gone by. The day dreams throughout the day are often continuation of his night time dreams…whatever it takes to get him through the day. He has multiple coloring books of flowers and he loves talking about all the pictures when we visit. He loves the animal world television channels and the classical music channel. Because his television from home did not follow him to the nursing home, we sometimes take him to the lunch room where there is a public television so he can not only be entertained by these channels, but they offer a change in routine, scenery and promotes conversation and memories that make him happy.
Although he is now in a location that is an hour’s drive from us, we are there to visit with him almost every weekend for a couple hours each time. When we arrive, we find him in basically a catatonic state; not aware of his surroundings, but when he hears our voices, he looks up with non-seeing eyes and we gradually see recognition and delight come alive in those bright blue eyes. He has good days and not-so-good days and we never know what we will find each time, but all in all, a visit becomes a highlight in not only his day, but ours too. He loves touch and if you hold his hand, he will hold your hand back and often has to be coaxed to let go so you can use that hand. We have never left for home without him thanking us for our loyal visits.
He isn’t alone; the hallways of the multiple floors of nursing home are lined with people in wheelchairs who have lived a full life and wait for that next person who walks by – makes eye contact and says hello. A spark in their eye is often seen if that friendly person walking by has taken the time to learn the name of the person sitting in the wheel chair. One lovely lady we have come to know is a brilliantly beautiful person with a positive outlook for whatever comes her way. But when there are no visitors that weekend or that week; she becomes tearful and frets about everything around her. She is lucky, she gets visits from her daughter and son when they are able to take the time from their lives for a couple hour visit and these visits keep her going, they are her life. There are residents who don’t have visitors and have no memory of what happened 15 minutes ago, but they know the names of each of their children. They may not remember you each time you walk by and address them with a greeting, but for just that moment they know someone has seen them and recognized that they exist. Frustration is what I feel when I walk down the hall and see too many of these people with mouths agape, sleeping their life away because there is nothing to ignite a spark of life. Why do people think that because their loved one won't remember each visit, what is the use of going???
This isn’t a complaint about the nursing homes. The staff is very busy doing what they are hired to do and are friendly and respectful to the residents. And I’m sure there are nursing homes that come with lovely sun rooms and comfortable visitation rooms and I am sure too that they come with a high price. But every time I visit I think how nice it would be to include nature. Nature is the true pharmacy and would do wonders for these hallways with no windows, lit only with fluorescent lighting. There is a nice courtyard that residents can go to in the warm months. Cold days and months leaves them indoors. There are windows in the lunch rooms but they are not welcoming and are not low enough for a wheelchair bound person to see out and are usually cluttered with items in the sill or in the way of getting to the window. Occasionally kind people bring pets to the nursing home so the residents can touch, hold and talk lovingly to the animal. I don’t think I have seen children come to visit…
An idea I feel would be very beneficial would be to incorporate nursing homes with gardens and daycare centers. Utilizing the same building for both, with resident courtyards bordering a playground where the residents could be entertained by the sounds and visuals of children at play. This could spark conversation with some who remember when they were children or when their own children were growing up. We have found in our visits that when there is conversation, the mind is working and the resident shows signs of life.
Of course, there is a less expensive way to make a difference in these people’s life. Sign up to be a volunteer visitor. Even an occasional visit from people who will get eye level with the residents, say their name, give a welcoming touch on their hand. Some will not remember you every time, but just for that moment, you will be their whole world. If enough people did this, our nursing homes would not be a lonely place for these people. Igniting that spark of life can awaken some and you would be delighted to hear wonderful nostalgic stories from the recesses of their memories. A priceless reward for you.
Life full of blessings,