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Room for Seniors
Photo: Marcelo Mokrejs
We recently had a visit from some very senior (over age 85) family members. They had not been at our home in several years, and in the meantime, several health conditions had changed for them. I had the spare bedrooms repainted and cleaned and changed the linens. I spent some time beforehand, collecting recipes and products conducive to a diabetic lifestyle. However, I don’t think I had realized how much their abilities had changed since the last time they had been at our home. Poorer hearing, eyesight, balance, memory, and energy affected our activities. I was soon reminded that the very senior among us seem to highly value familiar patterns, routines and foods. Just maintaining routine body functions becomes very important and comforting. When senses, memory and mobility are affected, one must work harder for everything. Much energy is expended on things/activities that those who are younger take for granted.

Whether it’s at holiday time, birthdays, or summer vacation, with a little extra thought and prayer, we can prepare our hearts and homes for those special visits from the oldest traveling relatives.

Ideas to Make Seniors Comfortable in Your Home

1. Prepare their rooms with special needs in mind. How easy is it to get to a bedside lamp? Is there a chair to sit in while putting on socks and shoes? Do you have a space heater or fan in case they are hotter or colder than the rest of the family? Is there a nightlight in the room, hallway or bathroom? Check thresholds and throw rugs for places that might produce a stumble or fall.

2. Prepare yourselves to repeat instructions, meet resistance, and explain storage spaces, etc. Short-term memory loss is a reality, and ideas that are sometimes rejected one day are accepted on the next. You might use temporary labels attached to the kitchen cupboards and shelves, bathroom cabinet, and hall closets. Check to see if you have any glasses or cups for their use that aren’t very heavy or easily tipped.

3. Arrange for restful days after or before traveling. Try not to plan any family reunions, restaurant or shopping events when they need to recuperate or prepare for travel.

4. Prepare to slow down your schedule, walking style, and allow yourself more time for whatever activity you share with them. Let them know well in advance when you must leave (dressing and toiletries may take much more time) for functions, expect to walk slowly together, and help them anticipate others’ rushing by them. If there is hearing loss, raise your voice, enunciate clearly and don’t expect them to hear you from the next room. Eye contact may be important for everyone’s’ understanding.

5. Arrange for restaurant meals considering the difficulty of physical approach, ambient noise level, and difficulty of ordering. Try to arrange for a meal during a time of lower patron volume, and noise. Also, unless you know your loved ones enjoy exotic or experimental dining, this is not the time to feed them food that they don’t understand or are not sure if it will agree with their digestions. Consider dining somewhere within 10 minutes of travel from home if possible.

6. Leave a paper with your home address in case they need to call 9-1-1 while you are out of the house. I wrote down cell phone numbers for each family member, and showed them how to use the house phone. I also wrote down the TV channel numbers for their favorite types of programs.

7. Suggest a church service, and don’t be surprised if they can only attend Bible study or church but perhaps not both. Listening to a service on TV or radio may please them while the rest of the family commutes. This visit may not be the best time for you to have major commitments at church in which you will have to be away from them or have to stay late.

8. Save some simple projects for them to feel useful. Ask for help with the vacuuming, setting the table, washing or drying dishes, folding a basket of clothes, or sorting some photos. Seniors often don’t want to be a burden or extra work for you and feeling useful is something we all need!

9. Concentrate on simple delights-- good comfort food, family and friends, favorite music, flowers and pets are some of the treats that usually please our dear ones.

10. Remember to give hugs. Seniors often live in deficits for physical attention or don’t believe that people find them attractive or “huggable” anymore.

Sometimes during a special visit with seniors, we don’t know how to respond to their repeated complaints or discouraging stories. So it’s easy to keep busy and avoid conversations. Remember that grief is usually an overriding issue for much of what our seniors are experiencing—loss of friends, function, identity, and sometimes their own homes. And we come face to face with our own grief when they visit-- the loss of the people that we have known when they were younger and active. Shopping trips and sightseeing may no longer be things we can enjoy together. Acknowledging their losses, reassuring them of love and gratitude, and praying together are surely balms that we can offer our seniors and ourselves, with each visit.

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By Karen Spruill. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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