When I visit with Ros B, I know she’ll make some snappy comment, and I wait to see the twinkle in her eyes.
With Deborah, who isn’t verbal but highly communicative, I’m always hoping I can get her to laugh. But when all else fails, I know she’ll respond to just about any Jewish song or prayer I sing.
With Harry, I know that if I can get him talking about sports, he’ll forget his sadness and be transformed by the memories.
“Abandon me not when I grow old.” (Proverbs 71:9 ) Jewish tradition implores us to care for and revere the elderly. As the numbers of elderly increase in the US and worldwide, there will be more and more needing care and attention. Many are able to ‘age in place’, with friends and family to keep them company, and access to stimulating activities. Yet there are a growing number who are unable to fully care for themselves, are far from family or have none, or have moved out of their own home into a care facility and are isolated. These are the people who need our attention the most.
Visiting with older adults in nursing homes can seem like a daunting task. The physical places aren’t always the most aesthetically pleasing, lots of people seem to be hanging around staring off into space, and it can be frustrating trying to keep a conversation going with someone who repeats the same story over and over.
And yet there is enormous benefit to the recipient. Friendly visitors can provide a brief respite from boredom and loneliness, a distraction from any sadness or discomfort they might be experiencing.
There are lots of ways to make the visits pleasant and meaningful, with a bit of preparation. Bring a deck of cards or some music, a photo or magazine to share as a way of spending time and extending the conversation. Consider the best times during the day to visit, so as not to interfere with meals or other established activities, and to maximize the best part of a resident’s day.Repeated visits and familiarity will bring the best practices into focus. And always ask an older adult to tell stories about their lives.
Bikkur Cholim volunteers from JF&CS provide these visits. Through them, we extend a ‘hand and hug’ from the Jewish community, letting others know that they are not forgotten and that we care for them.
Mahatma Ghandi who said “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Visiting the sick and the elderly has it’s challenges. But for the recipient, being treated with honor and compassion, even for a brief time, can bring comfort and even peace.