A Family of Care
Eight tips to provide a sense of belonging in a memory care facility.
The older woman pushes a walker behind a basket of Time and People magazines. “Home?” she asks, in confusion. “Home,” she mutters again to herself. She is strolling through the hallway with her daughter. Out of their sight, staff members at the memory care home carry the woman’s belongings. Those boxes and bags contain the last of what she remembers, the last of what defined her previous living space. The daughter wonders, how will her mother feel as if she belongs, now that she’s somewhere new?
The scene plays out across a multitude of care centers. Those tasked with looking out for loved ones turn over the task to someone else, conferring upon staff, caregivers and cooks, the awesome responsibility of caring for mothers, fathers, or friends, as we would want to care for them.
We forget this new setting is now Mom’s home. The people there—residents as well as staff—are family. We overlook the important role we can play in this time of newness and beyond.
Here are eight tips to help you increase a loved one’s sense of well-being in their new surroundings, and settle in yourself:
- Attend activities with your loved one. Most care centers offer a schedule of regular programming. Get to know the activities director and other outside instructors. Inform them of activities your loved one might enjoy. In my mother’s care home, the visiting physical therapist hosted lively exercise sessions on Fridays. I called them dance parties, and the staff and family found this an amusing, beneficial way to engage with residents.
- Meet another family member for coffee, outside the backdrop of the care home. There are times when we need support in a more intimate setting than larger groups can offer. I once encountered three husbands, with wives suffering from dementia, who met monthly for lunch even after two of the wives had passed away.
- Bring your loved ones’ traditions into the flow of activities or special events at the care home. My mother was a Sinatra fan, like many women of her era. She adored his music. I shared this information with the activities director. Two years later, for my mother’s birthday, we planned an evening with a Sinatra impersonator for the entire care center. My mother beamed from ear to ear that night. The other residents did too.
- Use your time wisely. What can you do when you arrive for a visit and your loved one is sleeping? Read to other residents, play games or work on puzzles with them. You can be assured, tomorrow or the next day, someone will be doing the same for your loved one while you are absent. Besides, you might enjoy the gift of play yourself.
- Bring your interests or hobbies, such as painting or floral arranging, woodworking or history, to share with other residents. Ask the staff or activities director if you can offer your talent or time on a consistent or one-time basis. Not only will you have the opportunity to share in the moment with your loved one but your loved one will enjoy watching and engaging with you in a fresh manner.
- The caregivers and staff take the time to get to know your family and loved ones. Ask them about their family or children, birthdays and dogs. Find out where they were raised, went to high school or college, or how they arrived at a career in their field. Caring is a two-way street. It’s easier to travel down if we reciprocate.
- Ask other residents to join you outside, or bring in lunch or cookies for set group of residents. Humans all desire to be included as part of a group. Remember, our parents and friends once hosted card parties, coffee klatches and joined social clubs. My father’s favorite outing was time spent with his lunch bunch. The feeling of belonging is something that never goes away.
The mother will adjust to the memory care home, but she will need everyone’s help to do so. We are all capable of pulling up a chair beside her to play the game of Life.
Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours: What my mother taught me about dementia, cookies, music, the outside, and her life inside a care home (Three Arch Press), available through online retailers and distributors. Visit annettejwick.com to engage her services or learn more.