The reason I am writing this specific post is to share my experience and hopefully educate parents about how to prepare your child for a nursing home visit. Preparing your kid(s) for what they might see at a nursing home is a great way to ensure that they can enjoy the experience with little to any negative emotions associated with the visit. Obviously, this depends on the child’s age but, any child who can have a conversation and can understand their surrounding environment will benefit from being prepared. Unlike a toddler, a child will remember the visit, and can at a basic level comprehend what is happening, which can be a scary thing, as it was in my case.
My story of visiting a nursing home to see my great grandma can be described as scary if you had asked me when I was 7 years old. I do not remember everything about the visit, however, I do remember seeing my great grandma and her not recognizing me.
I remember her getting very agitated with our visit which was unusual because every time we visited her in previous years she was always so delightful and happy to see us. This reaction caught me off guard. I remember walking down the hallway of the nursing home and the doors would be open to the rooms of other people who would often call out names to me assuming I was their grandchild visiting them.
Seeing the very poor health of some of the people, who looked frailer than anybody I had ever seen before worried me too. Some rooms we walked past had people who were hooked up to strange machines with tubes and wires coming out of their mouth.
I will never forget the most frightening aspect of the whole trip. My family and I had walked into the cafeteria and it felt like all eyes turned to me. Everybody in the cafeteria was staring. Some of the residents at a nearby table were calling and gesturing toward me as well.
Looking back, I realize that a percentage of the residents had me mistaken for their own family. Regardless of the context of the situation, it caught me off guard as a 7-year-old. I didn’t know what to expect or how to process everything I saw (and smelled) in the nursing home facility. Hopefully, these tips can better prepare your children for a visit to a loved one in a hospital or nursing home care facility.
This is probably the most important tip here. Let your kids know that their grandparent or relative might react differently to them then what they are used to. This obviously depends on the mental clarity of the person you're visiting, but it should be talked about beforehand. The person in the nursing home might be embarrassed or stressed out. They might have lost a lot of cognitive function since the last visit due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other neurodegenerative disease. All of this is a natural part of getting older, but please be sure to tell your child so they know what to expect.
2) Let Them Know They Might Get Attention From Other Residents
I was certainly not prepared to be stared at by a whole cafeteria of residents. Please explain to your kids that many nursing home resident long for their family and often mistake other people, most frequently children for their own grandkids. If this is explained before the visit it can help prepare your kids for some unfamiliar greetings.
3) Prepare Them For What They Might See
Let your children know that nursing homes house older people who are often in poor health. I was certainly surprised to see just how bad off some people looked when walking down the hallways. If your kids know that they will see and most likely smell some very unusual things, they will not be taken by surprise when they inevitably see the frailness of some of the senior residents.
4) Use This Opportunity to Introduce the Concept of Death
This is also a great opportunity to discuss in very simple terms the concept of death to your children. This might be their first experience seeing people in very poor health so they might have a lot of questions. It is great to be prepared before explaining and introducing the concept of death to a child. If you are planning on visiting a loved one in the hospital it is always a joy to bring a gift for them. A great gift that goes a long way for someone in a care facility is comfortable pillows and blankets.
Interesting Organization Shout Out
The Legacy Project is an organization dedicated to promoting cross-generational relationships. They have published some very interesting studies on some of the benefits associated with cross-generational activities for both children and elderly. Highly recommend you check out their organization.