Dale Carter, founder of TransitionAgingParents and author of “Transitioning Your Aging Parent: A 5 Step Guide Through Crisis & Change,” contributed today’s post.
With many families scattered around the country, it is a challenge to visit our aging parents as often as we would like. And, once our parents need nursing home care and move there, it becomes even more of a priority (to us and them) to be in touch.
A good friend shared, “One of my brothers moved to Houston a year before my mother died. He continues to apologize for not being there, not helping more, not visiting more. He missed out on the bingo games, the home videos, the photo albums and all the great stories that went with the memories. Grief gets mixed with guilt, and soon you are fighting a double edged sword. I know he is over the grief but will he ever get past the guilt?”
In this post, I am going to share some simple and easy strategies every family member can use to stay in touch with their loved ones in a nursing home. Distance does not have to be an impediment to communication nor does it need to result in guilt.
Here are some low-tech and high-tech ways to communicate directly with your loved ones from a distance.
1. Establish a contact (staff member) at the nursing home, someone you can connect with and call on a regular basis to ask how your parent is doing. Be sure you keep the relationship professional, and thank this person for their help.
2. Set up a schedule for when you’ll call your parent and stick to it. If he/she can’t answer the phone, talk with your established contact to set a schedule so the phone can be taken to your loved one.
3. Ask if the nursing home has a portable laptop with Skype (no-cost video and voice calls) that could be taken to your parent’s room.
4. If the nursing home doesn’t provide a portable laptop & Skype, ask if you can take the issue to the Residents Council. I bet the other residents would also really like such a service.
5. Another suggestion would be one of the newer technologies. With site installations offered by tech companies such as Grandcare, family members can send “virtual” communications to a resident’s TV.
Also, even when you can’t be with your family member in person, by voice or video, there are other ways to share with them in a meaningful way. It may take some thought, reflection and creativity, but the effort is well worth it!
1. Send photos of family and trips. I have a dear friend, “Mary”, in a nursing home who loves to receive photos in the mail. I help her fill albums, and she has a wonderful time reminiscing about the people and places.
2. Send postcards. Same type of thing. Mary keeps albums of these as well.
3. Send wedding and graduation announcements. Keep your loved one involved. Although they may not be able to attend, they will appreciate being included in your thoughts.
4. Know that birthdays are a very special occasion to someone in a nursing home. Mary received several pretty and funny cards, and a few flower arrangements. She especially loved the one with her favorite flowers, daisies, in a bright yellow dish with a Smiley face on it. The person who sent it took great care to select her favorite things.
5. Send special gifts such as audio and videos that have special meaning for your parent.
6. If your loved ones collects something, that’s a great way to pick out a meaningful gift. Mary loves flamingoes. She has quite the collection of stuffed flamingoes. It really makes her room personal and cheery.
Don’t forget about utilizing volunteers to spend time with your loved one when you can’t be there. Is the nursing home lacking a structured volunteer program? Share your desire for a volunteer with the administrators. I volunteer at a nursing home with no structured program. When I first inquired into opportunities, the administrator I met with saw a match between me and Mary, and I have been visiting her weekly for almost 2 years now. I have become her pseudo-family.
Finally, do not forget about your own personal needs. Find a support group for long-distance caregivers. Such a group, whether online or in-person, can provide you a place to meet others who are in a similar situation. You’ll be able to share your issues and feelings, and learn from others. The more positive action you take, the less guilt you will feel.
I hope these ideas help spark ideas for family members with a loved one in a nursing home a distance away. Just because you can’t be there in person does not mean you cannot “be with” your loved one.
Dale Carter, MBA