I have an older friend in a nursing care facility in the next town. I visit her from time to time, and we also talk on the phone. But she tells me I’m the only one who does this. And I marvel that she can stay so upbeat, so cheery, when she must surely feel utterly forgotten.
It’s easy to do, even for church members. After all, who is busier than Latter-day-Saints? We get caught up in family activities, work, callings—and the next thing you know, months have gone by. I honestly believe we do a much better job of serving and caring for seniors than does the world in general, but we can do so much better.
I once heard a teenage boy complain that his grandmother “always tells the same old stories.” I wanted to say, “It’s because that’s all she has. Think about it. She’s trapped in a care home, and nothing new ever happens for her.” She isn’t young and going to school, as he is, or raising kids and having daily dramas and adventures. If anything remarkable does happen there, it’s lost in the short-term memory file. Those old stories are everything to her.
When my mother was unable to walk and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, I noticed how few relatives visited their parents and grandparents in her facility. Yet many of these elderly people were veterans, volunteers, and builders of the community we now enjoy. Their wisdom, and even their unappreciated “old stories” will quickly be lost, unrecorded for posterity.
Here are a dozen ways we can do right by the greatest generation:
- If you have a relative in a nursing facility, post pictures and poster strips about who they were in their prime. Let caregivers and visitors know that this is a vital, wonderful person, not just a withered shell.
- Make a chart with extended family, to ensure regular visits if you don’t live close by. Computer programs make this easy. Don’t assume “Charlie’s got it” just because he’s the one who lives nearest.
- Involve kids in making giant greeting cards, putting on skits, and singing songs. They could teach an entire, traveling Family Home Evening lesson.
- Arrange for excursions, if possible. Fresh air and a change of scenery can mean the world. Many shut-ins suffer from a lack of Vitamin D, as well, which they could get from just a few minutes in the sunshine.
- Don’t rush when you visit. Allow time to hear “the old stories” and don’t tell them they’ve already shared that. Just smile and listen.
- Ask for advice. These people have more wisdom in their pinky than teenagers have in their whole bodies. And being asked for their opinion reminds them they’re needed and valuable.
- If you’re assigned to Home Teach or Visit Teach an elderly person, double up on your visits. Loneliness is a crushing weight, but you can lift it with such little effort. And knowing someone came by before the end of the month, makes them feel truly cared about and less like an assignment being checked off.
- If the resident is your relative—even if they don’t know you’re visiting them—do it so the staff knows. Check for clean fingernails, bedsores, haircuts. They will receive better care if the staff knows the family is closely watching over them.
- Make them laugh. Bring a funny joke or card, share a cute meme you saw on Facebook, be a spot of sunshine. If something funny has happened to you lately, share it.
- Bring the Spirit. Pray with them, read scriptures, share an uplifting message, remind them that God loves them. So many people turn to spiritual questions later in life, and you can share the comforting—and exciting—truths of the restored gospel and Christ’s infinite atonement.
- Record their memories. Ask them what life was like when they were young. What inventions did they see? What did things cost? When did they fall in love? How is the world different today? What’s the secret to happiness?
- Touch them. Hug them. Squeeze their hand. We all need human connection and expressions of affection. Treat them as you would want to be treated, if you were in their position. Because, after all—even though we all like to live in denial– one day this could be you.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.