Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Learning how to visit the elderly and the ill

 Visited DOD today. Dear old dad.

Yesterday, I picked him up from his dialysis treatment, and he was very weak and very quiet, occasionally making sounds that indicated to me that he was uncomfortable and possibly in pain.

I tried to engage him in conversation but really didn't get anything back from him. I hadn't seen him in eight months, so I didn't know if this was the "new normal" or if this was a bad day.

I went over today with mom and their dog, Bu. Dad was having a little nap with his head on the table in the sunroom but woke up when we got there and was much more lucid today.

I was so relieved and pleased to see that he was much more comfortable today and able to hold a perfectly normal conversation. I said dad you seem like you're feeling much better today. And he said yes I am.

I asked him about his days in college and as I recently learned that he actually studied to be an engineer, not a physicist. And that he went to Brown for one semester. I never knew any of this. And that he taught himself atmospheric physics after getting a PhD in solid state physics.

My dad 's been in a nursing home for two or three years now. He has some form of dementia, which may or may not be Alzheimer's. He also has a stoma in place of his bladder and has had more than one occurrence of cancer, which has always been treated simply with surgery.

The main thing I try to remember when I go to visit my dad is this: it's not about me. If he doesn't remember me or doesn't feel like talking, I don't take it personally. This is all about him right now. And I leave myself, my needs my feelings my ego at the door. I try to be 100% there for him. And that seems to make for the best visit.

Yesterday after I realize he didn't feel like talking, I just drove him back to the nursing home in silence. I could tell he just didn't have the energy to force conversation.

Today he was in a good mood, so I engaged in a conversation about stuff that would be in his long-term memory, what college and studying physics – things like that. I also showed him some funny pictures on my phone of my dog and some funny things I had snapped off of the Internet. It was a nice visit, and spending about 30 minutes with someone is all you really need to do.

If they are in a facility or hospital they don't have that much energy and you don't want them to feel like they have to entertain you. In fact, for a number of people, 30 minutes would be too much. Maybe just 10 minutes.

The point is this: leave yourself behind for a brief time, Tune in to what their needs are, and do your best to be a good friend/loved one.

If you have experience or advice that is helpful in visiting a loved one who is chronically ill, terminally ill, recovering from surgery or in the hospital for any amount of time, please leave them in the comments below. I'm always looking to learn more and share more about this topic: How to be a good visitor.

Photo: Me n dad at the singalong on Wednesday. 

The Singing Patient
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