With more seniors aging in place, it’s no surprise that younger generations are facing new challenges in caring for their elders, but what about bonding with their elders who may not be in the best of health physically, mentally and/or emotionally? Memory issues, frail and tired frames, and a potential loss of interest in activities once enjoyed can sometimes discourage family and friends from visiting. Not because they don’t want to, but because they are struggling with how to turn what can sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable visits with an unwell loved one into meaningful quality time. The secret lies in better understanding their position and meeting them in their space – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Make a loved one’s physical space pleasing and safe
For many people, their home is a sanctuary, but what if one can’t relax in their space? Do a safety check around the home to ensure that there aren’t any imminent hazards. Once any safety risks have been eliminated, help your loved once create an organized and easy-to-navigate home that helps to promote them getting up and moving around and completing household tasks with confidence. Also, help facilitate a little feng shui and decorator’s touch in a home that perhaps hasn’t been updated for a while. Nothing can invigorate the enjoyment of being home quite like a cozy new look in a familiar and safe place. Ask them if there is a household project that you can help them complete. They’ll surely appreciate you helping them Marie Kondo their lives.
Work around your loved one’s schedule
Taking the time to schedule visits at a time that is ideal for them instead of ideal for you is a small, but powerful way to show you care. No one wants to feel as though they’ve been penciled in between more fun social engagements. Ask loved ones what times of the day their energy is at its peak. Offer to bring or prepare any meals should the visit occur at a mealtime, so that your family member can simply relax and not entertain.
Live in the moment
When you are with your loved one, be present and in the moment. If they move slowly, join them at that preferred pace. Put away your cell phone and communicate in a way that your loved one prefers. Really listen to your loved one and do your very best to avoid getting distracted by emails, texts, work or calls. Being present is the best gift you can give someone.
Tailor activities to your loved one’s needs
If a loved one is struggling with a debilitating health issue, take an audit of what they are and are not capable of doing. You may need to modify certain activities, but having an opportunity to participate is key. If they love to read, perhaps read the same book and discuss it together, or you can read excerpts from a beloved title to your loved one during a visit. Try doing a puzzle together, or even drawing to get the creative juices flowing.
Take your loved one outdoors
We’ve all experienced the mind-numbing effects of monotony, and an outdoors activity is often the best medicine. Go for a walk. Help start a small garden in the yard, as it affords an excellent way for your loved one to engage with nature and also contribute by providing sustenance for the family.
We all love taking a nostalgic look at our lives. Break out the old family photo albums, written letters from the past, family heirlooms, etc., and ask your loved one to share their personal stories with you. You’ll learn fascinating things about your family, and they’ll be excited to share them with a new generation.
When looking for ways to bond with an older adult in your family, trying to understand where they are in all facets of their lives is key. From the state of their living arrangements to their physical mobility to their mental and emotional needs, if you can get a better handle on who they are and where they are at, you can help them learn to relax in settings with visitors. Some days, bonding will be simply holding a hand while watching your loved one’s favorite program. On other days, (gently) push your aging loved ones the way they pushed you when you were growing up. Encourage them to get out there to participate and share who they are with the world. Keep in mind, you have to first meet them in their world and help them navigate their way through this fast-paced shared world. That journey is where a visit becomes much more than just a visit and lays the foundation for more meaningful moments.