Visiting a care home can be a daunting experience, where you might find yourself not feeling particularly useful. It is an unfamiliar environment filled with people facing a wide variety of challenges that you will likely find it very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively relate to. Yet your presence can be very valuable, and you can do a great deal of good. Care homes offer a valuable and exceptional service, a great example of which you can see here, but there is no substitute for a familiar face, a friendly touch, and a good time shared together.
Finding yourself in an unfamiliar setting, as well as not knowing a single person, is a daunting proposition for anyone, never mind in the latter stages of your life. Many people worry about being forgotten about if/when they enter a care home by their friends and family. This doesn’t have to be the case and, if you make the effort to allay those fears, you will do wonders for any friends and/or relatives you may have that are in such accommodation.
Here are four things that can really help the mental health of your friends and relatives who make use of care home facilities.
Care home residents are not necessarily mental invalids, and treating them as such is not only patronising, it also means they could not be trying to reach up to higher cognitive levels which could dull their senses. Be prepared to talk about a variety of different things. Maybe read up a little extra on current events, not only on the news, but also ongoing affairs and issues in your wider family. People love to keep up with gossip and know the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the people in their extended social group, even if they can’t take as much direct involvement as they used to. The key thing this exercises is the theory of mind, the part of the psyche dedicated to imagining and understanding how other people behave. An important array of mental muscles, telling stories here will keep people in care homes have active minds, and still feel part of the wider world.
Board games/Card games
Although some examples of this can have complicated and fiddley game pieces, complicated rules and interesting strategies should not be considered a barrier to entry when it comes to older people and board/card games. Many of these are specifically designed to encourage a lot of socialising or mental gymnastics that can really get the brain stretched and skilful in a variety of ways. Be sure to go beyond the traditional limiting realms of Monopoly and Scrabble (unless your friends/relatives are particularly passionate about these). While Settlers of Catan might be a step too far, games like Pictionary which require creativity, Articulate where clear communication is needed, or Balderdash where inventive thinking is key, are excellent options.
Photos, Music, and Memorabilia
Memory is something of a sleeping giant. All it can take sometimes is the right string of chords, the right image, the right texture, or the right smell to bring back an important set of memories to the front of the mind. When this happens, the phrase ‘blast from the past’ is not entirely destructive. The arrival of all these memories can even resurrect long lost skills and bring back mental states that call forth joy and engagement with the wider world. Sometimes in situations like care homes, people can forget about how to enjoy certain things. Physical tangible reminders can be very helpful there.
Favourite books and new novels
The imagination is perhaps one of the most mysterious mental muscles of all, and yet it is among the most essential. By bringing along favourite books from a person’s past, you can help re-invigorate that section of their mind. Patterns of how things used to be imagined can be very useful in awakening just how to best put together an imagined version of a world that does not actually exist. Then once that kind of set of mental tools is built, they’re ready to be used on new stories, or possibly even some unfamiliar classics. While it’s tempting to let someone revel in glories and enjoyments of times past, by bringing them new books, you can make them really enjoy and understand the here and now.
Your visits and quality time shared with relatives and friends in care homes can be invaluable. With techniques like this, you can help make the most of both your time, and theirs.