Last weekend, I took a quick road trip out to the countryside to visit an elderly family friend, “Mrs. E”. This was the first time I had taken my new car somewhere besides work, so I figured it would be a good “bonding” opportunity. Well, I don’t know if we bonded per se. I think that will just take time.
Here we are at a rest area:
Anyway, I learned how to use the cruise control. I also learned that it was great fun to be able to pass people! Passing people was rarely possible in my old car, because it was so slow. What a relief to be able to pass people who couldn’t find the speed limit.
*insert rant* If you can’t get within 5 mph of the speed limit, please surrender your license immediately!
Okay, back to the trip report…. It was a good day overall. Mrs. E looked better than she has in years. She was alert, happy and aware, and said her usual funny things. Although we often think that children have cornered the market on funny stuff, seniors provide some pretty humorous moments, too. Mrs. E takes particular joy in her grandson’s dogs, “He has those Jack Daniels dogs, you know. They are pretty cute!” You would be proud of me, because I did not laugh or correct her. I distracted myself from the “Jack Daniels” thing by asking how old the dogs were, how many dogs her grandson had, etc.
If you have a senior friend or relative, please visit them. They often literally have nothing to do. When they are particularly advanced in age, they are housebound and bored. Here are some tips:
- If you tell them you are coming for a visit, make sure you show up. Do not cancel or postpone. Your visit is incredibly important to them. Every time I visit Mrs. E, she is wearing her best cardigan, has her hair freshly coiffed, and puts on her lipstick.
- Bring large photos so that you can share part of your life with them: a new house, relatives visiting, a trip you went on, etc. The photos don’t have to be on photo paper. I just print 8x10 photos on regular printer paper….
- Before you go, make a mental list of conversation topics. Ask them about their children and grandchildren. If their memory is good (and depending on their mood), ask them about where they lived, why their parents moved from Smalltown to Tinytown, how many siblings they had, what their chores were, what they did for fun, how they met their spouse, how they survived a flood/earthquake/tornado, etc. If you’re into genealogy, information about relatives is *really* important. Once your elderly relative is gone, a wealth of information goes with them.
- If you or they have old photos, go through them together. Bring small sticky notes for labeling.
- If your senior friend is in a larger assisted living home, it is often interesting to observe that you are being shown off. The residents sometimes have unspoken contests to see who reserves the “family table” in the dining room, who gets the most visitors, etc.
- Be patient and polite, and be a good listener.
- Bring a small notebook and a camera, just in case.
- If you’d like to bring a gift, check with the caregiver first. Most seniors have particular tastes and/or restricted diets.
- Do not debate with them about race, ethnicity, orientation, etc. Remember, they lived in a VERY different era. Respect that fact. If they are curious about something, they will ask.
- Pay attention to what they are saying. You can often extend the conversation that way.
- Most of all, remember this: that elderly person will be you someday.