One of the most difficult parts for anyone to adjust to a senior living environment is the feeling of loss of autonomy. I know first hand how hard this can hit someone when my mother joined a senior home.
The home itself was fantastic. It had all the amenities she was looking for. A great food program that served healthy and delicious food. Great events to keep people engaged and continuously making friends. A strong nursing staff that was both hard working and personable.
Overtime however, I noticed she stopped talking to me about what her and her friends were doing together. It took me awhile to learn that she actually wasn’t spending much time outside of her room.
I finally got an answer out of her as to why, and she explained that when you feel trapped, you can think there’s no reason to make friends. We all know this to be false, having friends makes you happier, and also healthier.
It’s not always possible to be present and make sure the person you care most about in the world is getting involved and going to Bingo on Wednesday nights, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very important.
As someone who works in a corporate setting, I know how important keeping a strong company culture is for keeping a positive atmosphere at work. I felt like I could extrapolate some of my knowledge from a professional setting, and translate it to help the person I care most about in this world to be happy and stay engaged.
Here are 2 ways to help keep your elderly parents happy while at a senior home or at home
1. Organize lunch dates
Sometimes the best way to facilitate conversation is over a meal. In business this often means you’re trying to make a sale over dinner. With your parent this can mean either organizing a specific meal with you, or with someone else at home.
For organizing a lunch for her and a friend, it really doesn’t take long. What I did for my mother was quickly talk to one of the nursing staff and ask if there was anyone my mother might like to talk to. Because nurses spend their entire days with everyone at the senior living space, they know the residents very well.
When I first recommended the idea to my mother she was very much against it. But after I set it up, and implored her to go through with it, she was noticeably happier that I showed I wanted her to be happier, and that she now had someone else to talk to.
A great way to keep your parent talking and happy is to go for lunches yourself. If there is no consistent bond of communication between each-other, it will be more difficult to figure out if something is wrong.
For many of us, like myself, it can be very difficult to take time off work and away from family to make the trip to my mother's’ home. Instead, I gave her a call and ordered a food delivery company, like doordash, to bring us both a freshly cooked restaurant meal to her home and my office.
We both hop on a facebook video call, and virtually eat our lunch together.
In the end it takes about 30 minutes out of my day, but it’s time I would have spent eating anyway. Not only does she love that she gets to eat a meal from a local restaurant, but we both get to catch up during a set time frame without any stress of a visit.
I found that these food dates were the most effective for keeping my mother happy, and I’m sure it will keep your elderly parent happy as-well.
2. Play games together
One of the classic ways to alleviate boredom during rainy days or when you were stuck inside as a kid was to play board games. This doesn’t change as you get older, and is also a great way to improve mood and decrease stress.
As I did with organizing lunches with my mothers friends, you can also reach out to your senior homes best nurse. Look here to see qualities of a great nurse. Once again, ask them if there is someone at the senior home that loves games, and might enjoy playing with your parent.
I found that sometimes it can be more difficult to organize games with my mother’s friends as the majority of them would spend their time watching tv together. Although I’m not against television, a little bit of diversity is always helpful.
As an alternative to organizing games with my mother’s friends so that she can play, I’ve gotten her an apple IPad so that we can play mobile games together while we’re apart. Since casual games have been shown to reduce stress in everyone, sometimes I can use the break as well.
I’ll just give her a quick call when I have 20 minutes, and we’ll play an easy game like Words with Friends or Scrabble.
What’s most important is keeping your parent engaged
It’s never easy to see the people you love grow old, or grow old yourself for that matter. Every-day activities that you take for granted are no longer possible, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, eating well and keeping up with your social environment, can be very difficult.
Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Watching first hand my own mother lose interest in things that she used to be super passionate about was the shock that I needed to make sure she could be happy in her old age.
In the end, she put in enough work when she was young that she deserves the time off.
In this article I summed up two ideas I’ve implemented that can help you set up activities for elderly parents. It’s unfair that in society we don’t think it’s possible to keep the elderly happy, but a happy elderly person means a longer life expectancy, and more time to spend with them. Make the change and engage with your parent in an assisted living facility before it’s too late!