I was asked today about ways to help motivate, encourage, or make a positive difference in the life of a loved one in an extended care facility (or one who is unable to get out on their own). Also consider children who are medically fragile. This is nowhere close to an exhaustive reply, but it’s an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Here is my attempt to shed a little light on a vastly growing issue… 

My heart goes out to residents of nursing homes, or any extended care facility. It’s not easy; and too often families and friends “forget” about them. Generally, individuals in nursing homes (or “shut ins,” or those suffering with long-term health issues that are not able to care for themselves, regardless of their age) need to have connections – people who invest their time and care about their well-being.

A DAILY presence of caring people is important, even for those who are not coherent – there is evidence the individual knows you are there, or at least knows someone cares. Please note that I am referring especially to those individuals aside from the paid staff or even the regular volunteers (although their genuine care is vitally important as well). I often encourage families to make a schedule and have each day covered as much as possible. With large families, this is quite doable. I realize small families carry a larger burden. Focus on the individual in need, and what your time and caring spirit means to them. Some day you may be in their shoes.

For those who have no family or caring individuals to visit them on a regular, consistent basis…
We ALL need to step up. Loneliness leads to depression, and with billions of people in the world NO ONE should suffer with being alone. Thank you to the caring volunteers who give so generously of your time and caring spirits! But we can all do something (myself included). Just show up and ask the staff, “Which residents never or rarely receive visitors?” Stop in and say hello. Many are filled with stories and it is therapeutic for them to share or talk with others.

It can be exhausting to attempt to motivate the unmotivated. But try we ought.

We cannot always control the situation, and we are NOT responsible for the individual’s response. However, we are responsible for OUR RESPONSE.

A few suggestions:

– With those who have a history or passion for music, play some soothing tunes in their room (I often suggest solo harp music). Or sing to them an old familiar song from their era – music has a way of striking the memory of those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, or anyone; even those who do not speak.
– Physical touch. Take the individual’s hand in yours, lightly touching or rubbing their hand (while telling a story or singing a song). Look into their eyes and show you are present and interested in them.
– Focus on the individual’s interest, perhaps from long ago, and ask him/her to tell you a story. You may prompt them with something like, “I heard you were on the team that won the championship. What position did you play?” “That had to be exciting.”
– For loved ones who stay away because the situation is just too uncomfortable to deal with… Don’t. Please know that ignoring the issue does not make it go away. If you can’t be there, do your best to arrange for others to visit regularly. Ask others who know of your situation (or explain it to them) to help you come up with ideas that will be a positive influence in the life of your loved one. 

There is so much more to say on this topic, obviously. There are no easy answers. The one thing most of us can do is to show up. An important thing for us to remember as a caring person is that we need to go beyond the thought, and actually take action. Do SOMETHING. We may not be in a position to help all, but each of us can help at least one.

The bottom line question is:

Who will you encourage today?

Can you think of someone who needs a visitor? Who are the most vulnerable?


What about tomorrow?