How to Visit a Nursing Home

By Cy Christopher Carstens (CNS)

This little article adds some valuable tips for making a good visit to a relative or friend who is a shut-in or a nursing home resident.

Maybe it has happened already, and maybe the day remains in your future. But eventually someone you care about will live in a nursing home.

We think of nursing homes as places for very old people. Still, as a result of accidents or illness, many younger people also need special assistance that their families are utterly incapable of providing at home. So they also must go where the care is available.

It is a terribly, terribly difficult decision to place someone you love in a nursing home. It is the sort of thing people put off for years, usually waiting until every other option has been tried. But there comes a time when taking care of a very old or seriously disabled person 24 hours a day, seven days a week demands more than the family members have left to give.

Truthfully, hardly anyone likes nursing homes. Many of the people in them are very frail, some are very badly out of touch with reality. Those residents who still have all their mental faculties often find nursing homes boring, because life is so much the same, day after day, and there are few trips to the mall or dinners out to break the monotony.

When someone you care about is in a nursing home, there is a lot you can do to help. Be a good visitor. There is nothing that brightens life in a nursing home like a caring visitor. You don’t need to spend all day or do anything spectacular. Just go, be yourself and let your caring show.

Four Things

There are four things you should bring to every visit. One should be something that can be seen, touched and held. For example, you might take one of your school papers, a flower from the garden, a magazine or a little bottle of hand lotion. Bringing something tangible provides a reminder of your visit, a little remembrance of the people who care. It will continue to cheer long after you have left.

Second, bring news from home. People in nursing homes feel cut off from daily life. They can find out what’s happening in Washington from the television, but they can only get family news from you. Talk about what’s going on in school or in your church youth group. Tell what happened at your sister’s softball game or how the dog ate the cake you baked for your mom. When you can’t live at home, just hearing about what’s happening there helps you feel like a part of things.

Third, bring a willingness to listen. Many older or disabled people relish talking about the past. Telling those old stories gives a person the chance to feel important and valuable, even when they are no longer active. It is true that older people tend to retell the same stories again and again. The more current news you bring from home, the less time will be spent on ancient history.

Finally, the most important thing to bring is a commitment to visit on a regular basis. Dropping in unannounced shines a little light on a single day. However, if your visit can be anticipated, it will brighten an entire week. Often the residents of nursing homes function from visit to visit, and become more active and cheerful for days in advance when they are expecting company from home.

When Leaving

So, when you finish each visit, be sure to say when you will be back. And then keep your promise. That pledge of love is one of the most gracious gifts you will ever give anyone.

Reprinted with permission from Horizons (April 29, 1990), a bimonthly Byzantine Catholic publication.