“I feel like I’ve been on extended vacation,” Ron’s father Frank said, after his first day in a memory care facility. “Today was really enjoyable.” Ron and I just melted with happiness. We had visited many facilities, with the hope of finding meaningful memory care with great activities. Frank couldn’t have said anything nicer.
It’s quite an emotional journey, finding meaningful memory care. So many of you have asked me for tips. I am re-posting the great ideas from my friend, Dr. El, Dr. Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide and a columnist for McKnight’s Long Term Care News.
Finding Meaningful Memory Care With Engaging Activities
“Remember, everything is an activity,” says Dr. El. She encourages care partners to seek a community with a dedicated memory care program, so people with cognitive impairments can benefit from all the offered activities.
“In a specialized unit, staff are trained to work with people who are living with dementia,” Dr. El says. “This training can help people enjoy greater independence.”
In one facility, a lady liked to wander into people’s rooms and take their jewelry. Rather than getting upset, the staff understood, framed this as “shopping,” and simply returned the jewelry.
“These kinds of insights create a calmer, slower-paced environment that reduces agitation,” says Dr. El.
Seek Structure, Soothing and Variety
Here are some things to look for, as you visit facilities:
Is there a home-like atmosphere?
Is there a structure to the day?
Are there calming activities scheduled for change of shift? Changing shift is disruptive, so some communities orchestrate a teatime with music or other soothing activities.
You’re also making sure there are a variety of activities throughout the day. These should include:
Outdoor Time: Taking people outside makes a big difference in mood, appetite, and the sense of connection to the world.
Movement: Exercise is an important component to health.
Nurturing: Look for activities that make people feel confident and good about themselves, such as spa days or activities that incorporate skills such as cooking, art, or gardening, modified to provide a “success” experience.
Engagement: Being engaged, rather than just entertained, inspires a sense of purpose, creativity, and social connection.
Kindness is Everything
“Meet with the recreational therapist,” Dr. El suggests. “Is she compassionate and caring? Are the staff members kind? You can have all the activities in the world but if they’re not done with gentleness and humanity, they won’t work.”
Let the recreation director know what your loved one likes to do and see if she can adapt the activity.
Visit as often as you can and attend activities together. Encourage friends and relatives to join you. Meet other residents and get to know the families and staff.
“You can act as a connector to create friendships, so residents engage in their own interaction, even when you aren’t there,” Dr. El says.
For more information, visit Dr. Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, http://www.eldercarewithdrel.com,
Treat yourself to Dr. El’s book, The Savvy Resident’s Guide
It wasn’t just an ordinary visit. I walked into the long-term care facility and made my way to the memory care unit. I paused in front of the locked door, pulled a crumpled scrap of paper out of my pocket and tapped the entry code into the keypad. As I walked to my mother’s room, her new home, I felt sad, confused and guilty. How was I going to connect with my mom in this strange new environment?
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, has 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care and understands the emotions and confusions family or friends might feel when visiting in a long-term care facility. Here are her tips for having a meaningful connection.
Seven Tips for Visiting a Loved One in a Long-Term Care Facility
Many families find it stressful to visit their loved ones in long-term care, especially if dementia has changed their usual ways of relating. Here are seven ways to make the most of your visits:
- Help the room feel like home by bringing photos and bedspreads, creating an environment that feels more comfortable and familiar to your relative and more pleasant for you to visit. Labeling the photos with names (such as “Oldest son, Sam”) provides reminders in your absence and clues for the staff that are with your loved one daily.
Turn off the television or radio and close the door during your time together. When the room is quiet and free of distractions, it’s easier for someone with dementia (and for those with hearing loss) to focus on their visitors.
Try to converse at the same height, sitting on beds or chairs rather than standing while your loved one is sitting. Bring in small folding chairs and stash them in a corner if you tend to have lots of visitors. Remember, though, that some people react better to hosting just a couple of guests at a time rather than a possibly loud and confusing crowd.
Use memory aides such as photos and magazines of beloved hobbies as conversation starters. Creating a memory book together can be a great way to spend some time, especially if the focus is on enjoying the process and the conversation that comes from it rather than on completing the memory book in a set amount of time.
Go with the flow of the conversation, allowing your loved one to talk about what’s on their mind, rather than asking questions they used to be able to answer but no longer can, which is upsetting for everyone. For instance, replace, “Don’t you remember X?” with “Your flower garden was so lovely,” adding details that reflect your appreciation for their abilities and see what response this generates.
Find pleasurable activities that don’t involve talking, if that’s beyond your loved ones’ capabilities at this point. Listen to music, hold a private stretching class, go outside and enjoy the sun and the birds. Just be, pleasantly, without expectations.
Talk to staff members and to other visiting families and become part of the long-term care community. Media reports to the contrary, most long-term care homes are filled with people who are trying to do the best they can for your loved one under challenging circumstances. They can become your allies, supporters, and teammates in care.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD is an accomplished speaker and elder-care coach with over 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. Read her book, The Savvy Resident’s Guide, for the inside scoop on how nursing homes work and visit her award-winning website, MyBetterNursingHome.com, for more tips on how to thrive in long-term care.