If all goes well, over the next few weeks there will be an increasing number of family members visiting their loved ones in the nursing home, many for the first time in a year. Along with the joy and relief of these reunions, we can expect to observe a great deal of sadness over time lost with elders.
We’re also likely to find distress, as families witness the decline in physical, mental and emotional conditions that have occurred over the course of an extremely stressful period.
In a typical year, this might take place occasionally, such as when out-of-town relatives stop at the nursing home over the holidays. In this circumstance, however, virtually all families will be simultaneously encountering almost a year’s worth of aging.
We can prepare in advance to help ease certain foreseeable elements of this situation.
While many families have connected with their relatives via video chat over the course of the year, they’re bound to observe different aspects of decline when seeing them in person for the first time in many months. One way of setting reasonable expectations might be to tactfully mention this when arranging visitation appointments.
For instance, the staff member might say something like, “It’s been a long and difficult time, but we’re so glad you’ll be able to see your mom.” Or perhaps, “So much has happened since you’ve last seen your dad. We hope you have a good reunion with him.”
The point is not to alarm, or to make any remarks about a specific case, but simply to plant the seed that time has elapsed and that their loved one has weathered a storm.
That being said, we should do our best to ensure that our residents do not literally look like they’ve been shipwrecked, for lack of a haircut.