Do you have a relative who has moved into a nursing home recently? You might be wondering whether you should take your children with you to visit. While this is always an individual decision and much depends on the specifics of the facility, the resident, and the children, there are some things you may want to consider first. Here are eight:
1. This is home now. Just as your visits were important to your loved one in his or her other home, your visit may also be important at the new home. It may mean a lot for your relative to be able to show you where he eats and sleeps and to introduce you to his new community of friends.
2. Young people can be persuaded to visit. A little enticement can go a long way, or at least that is what works for me. For example, when my mother first moved to a facility, we discovered a comic book shop nearby and promised my youngest son a visit to the shop after seeing Grandma. He would run from the car to go visit her. Now, we usually hit the pancake restaurant after a visit to Grandma’s, so that gets my now-teen boys into the car pretty quickly.
3. Children are often a great distraction. As parents, we often take for granted the life that children radiate. Their laughter and brightly colored clothes can bring tremendous joy to nursing home residents, even if they are visiting other residents. Just the presence of children can bring a change of pace and brighten a day.
4. The facility director can provide advice. Each facility is unique. The director will know the rhythm of the community, including the best time of day to visit. “Children, loved ones, and pets are absolutely encouraged to visit residents all throughout the year, but especially during the holidays,” says Kadine Mitchell, executive director of Brightview South River Assisted Living in Edgewater, Md. “Intergenerational presence adds vibrancy to many healthcare communities and is very therapeutic for our residents.”
Mitchell cautions not to visit if your child is not feeling well because older people can be more susceptible to picking up colds and the flu. She also stresses the importance of hand washing before and after each visit to prevent the spread of illnesses.
5. Children should know what to expect. It is a good idea to talk to your children first about some of the possible scenarios of their visit and then listen to what they are thinking about or feeling. Tell them that some residents will be in wheelchairs or walkers and some will be unresponsive or may say things that do not make sense.
6. Everyone gains from the experience. The segment of the U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years. By 2030, about 72 million people in our country are expected to be age 65 years and older. That means that about one in five of us will need to be thinking seriously about elderly care.
When I was young, my father took me to visit my grandfather in a nursing home. At the time, I did not enjoy the experience and for years wondered if it was the right decision for my dad to take me. However, when it came time to move my own parent out of her house, that experience gave me incredible strength and perspective. I know someday my children may be in a similar position.
7. Flexibility matters. There may be certain elements of a visit to an elder care facility that can make children uncomfortable. For example, my boys did not mind going into the lobby to pick up my mom to take her out, but did not enjoy going into the memory care unit to find her. Instead of forcing the issue, we often let them wait in the lobby for her and then surprise her with a big hug when she got there.
8. One size does not fit all. Whatever you decide will not be perfect. As with all of the many different aspects of aging, there is no flawless way ahead. Instead, determine what is best for you and your family and enjoy your time together.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.