Today’s post is from Bobbi Jo Curty, our team’s veteran family navigator. Bobbi Jo is an experienced geriatric social worker and one of our Caregiving Advice coaches. She’ll regularly share her perspectives from the field here on the blog. Read more about Bobbi Jo’s background and passion for quality elder care.
The person you care for might live in a senior living community or still live alone at home, so caregivers not living under the same roof must be direct and intentional in maintaining the relationship. In the midst of medical appointments, grocery shopping, housekeeping and more, are you neglecting a personal connection with your loved one? Have you forgotten his or her social needs? How can we create meaningful visits while balancing our busy caregiving schedule?
When it’s hard to find time to visit someone at home or in a senior care community, here’s how to make the most of those experiences.
Meet at the emotional level.
A chaotic schedule takes a toll not only on the caregiver, but on the caree as well. When a parent cares for a child with special needs or a child cares for an ailing parent, the stress can be overwhelming and the emotions are easily transferred between the two individuals.
During your visit, attempt to counteract any stressors in both of your lives—at least for that moment. Stressors may include: adjustment, anxiety, grief, family discord, depression, or resentment. Be aware of potential stressors, then purposefully avoid what may trigger a negative emotion around them.
For example, if you know Mom gets upset when talking about politics or about what Uncle Joe did 25 years ago, don’t bring it up! Instead, guide the conversation to encourage positive thoughts and focus on lifting her spirits, not dashing them.
Physical objects of importance can evoke memories. Enhance your visits by engaging all five senses. Not sure what to bring? Refer to the following questions for inspiration:
- What can your loved one tell you about (provide a physical example)?
- Think about your caree’s history.
- Did they serve in the military?
- Did they have a cabin in the mountains?
- Did they participate in their church choir?
- What were they actively involved in as a young adult (even before you knew them)?
- What brought them joy?
- What brings them joy now?
Some examples of props may include: a military service hat, a smell of their mom’s perfume, music from their favorite band, a photo album, a fresh flower bouquet, or a soft blanket.
Come prepared with conversation starters.
The easiest conversations are the ones that quickly set our brains on auto-pilot. Even though yes/no questions are easiest to ask, they’re not given much pre-thought and rarely have substance. That’s why you should avoid asking questions that only require a yes/no response, such as:
- “Did you have a good day?”
- “Did you see the rain last night?”
- “Can I get you anything else?”
During my undergraduate studies in social work, I distinctly remember learning how to adapt the ways we ask our clients a question. We can’t lead with yes/no questions. This can shut down a conversation faster than it begins! Open-ended questions are where the conversation builds and where your loved one has the chance to engage her brain. For example:
- “What did you do today?”
- “How do you feel about the rain we keep having?”
- “What would you do (in this situation)?”
- What do you think (about this current event)?”
Aim for presence over conversation.
Some people find conversations challenging, and sometimes, those awkward silences are unbearable. If conversations aren’t your thing, don’t let it stop you from visiting your loved one. Words aren’t the only form of communication that matter. A person’s physical presence can provide warmth and comfort in different ways than a conversation can.
Being present—without a verbal conversation—can look like this: watching a movie or favorite show, listening to a favorite hymn or song, going for a drive through the country, or walking around the neighborhood.
Find common ground.
During my supportive visits with residents in senior living facilities, I usually meet with a person after a significant life event has occurred, such as being discharged from the hospital or being uprooted from their home of 50 years.
As a result, their emotions are high during this encounter. One way I strive to make the visit less stressful? Find a common denominator. Because “common ground” varies for each person, it’s uncertain what will click: Sometimes we hit it off immediately and discover that we grew up in the same town and the memories start pouring in, and, other times, this process can feel a bit like pulling teeth.
I still do my best to find something, whether it’s similar food preferences, music tastes, or agreement about the weather.
This concept should carry into your visits with your loved one. And frankly, it should be much easier to discuss things you have in common since you know your loved one already.
Making the most of your visits with a loved one helps pass the time, eases stress, enhances the relationship, and sometimes even creates connections you’ve never had before. Embrace the personal touch you offer as a caregiver and purposefully engage in these visits as they come!
Want a reminiscing tool that makes a home- or senior living-based visit more engaging and enjoyable for both of you? Check out our sponsor, PHOTAVIA, and get a discount on services as a Caregiving Advice reader when you sign up today!