There are certainly members of the older population who find it challenging to make the transition into long term care, especially if they feel that they have been pressured into making the move before they were fully ready. This can make a person want to seclude themselves from the other residents, attempting to make it clear that they do not belong there, or ‘fit in.’ This is a particularly common occurrence when a high functioning resident moves into a secured memory care unit.
The family makes the difficult decision to transition their loved one into long term care, as their dementia has progressed to the point that they are no longer able to safely live on their own.
It comes from a place of love, and concern from the family, however the loved one may feel betrayed, and abandoned.
If the loved one is unaware of their dementia, and is still very physically able, they can be left trying to understand why their family does not trust them to look after themselves anymore.
They may feel as though they were wrongfully placed in memory care, and resent the staff, and lower functioning residents.
I’ve found that the residents who are struggling to accept the transition into long term care as being permanent, are the ones who are most likely to refuse to attend any form of recreational opportunities.
It can also be challenging to get these residents to engage in conversation. They have no desire to build a relationship with the staff or residents, because they firmly believe that their stay is temporary.
Although this is not the only reason a resident will avoid social interaction in long term care, it is certainly one of the more common ones.
If a resident is adamant about avoiding your programs, or engaging in conversation with you, you may need to invest some time into slowly building a foundation of trust with them.
A great place to start, is to try offering a service to them, rather than encouraging them to attend your activity.
When residents come to our activities, we are the ‘leader,’ guiding them through the program. Without realizing it, we are acting as the ‘alpha’ person in the room. We are taking charge, letting people know what the rules are, and how the program is going to be run.
So, it is understandable that for a resident who is already feeling powerless, it would be more satisfying to make the choice to deny our invitation, ‘keeping the power’, rather than to come to the program and let us ‘run the show’.
When we flip things around, and we offer to provide them with a service, we are essentially giving the power back to them. We are no longer ‘running the show’, we are offering to do a job for them.
Now they are in charge, and we are working for them in that moment.
If the resident you are trying to reach wears glasses, then this provides you with a great opportunity to try to reach them through the following suggestion.
Bring eye glass cleaner and microfibre cloths with you, or lens cleaning wipes. Approach residents, and offer to clean their eyeglasses for them.
Let them know that it is a free service being offering to the residents, and ask them if they’d like to have their glasses cleaned.
Once they accept your offer, you can take your time, and thoroughly clean the glasses as you make your first attempt toward building trust with the resident.
Survey the room as you clean, and if you can find a way to connect through an object or photograph displayed in their room, then that’s a good start.
“Was that photo taken at lake ______? I’ve always wanted to go there, I hear it’s beautiful.”
The resident is much more likely to engage in some form of conversation with you while you are providing them with a service.
Try not to be overly eager on your first visit. The resident may end up feeling frustrated if you corner them into conversation, by holding their glasses hostage. You don’t want them to avoid you the next time you stop by, so follow their lead when you attempt to make small talk.
If the conversation flows easily, that’s great. Just keep chatting for as long as you feel welcomed by them.
However, if you can’t get a conversation going during the time that you have with them, then there’s an easy out once the glasses are cleaned, and you can simply say your goodbyes, and try again the next time.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you should have been able to gather enough small pieces of information each time, to be able to eventually start a meaningful conversation that actually interests them.
If the resident you are trying to reach does not wear glasses, an alternate service you can offer is jewelry cleaning.
What better way to strike up a conversation than to offer to clean a residents wedding, or family rings for them.
“Oh wow, what a beautiful ring, is this your wedding ring?” “How did you two meet?”
“Is this your family ring?” “Did you have your children close together, or far apart?”
The resident may be hesitant to converse with you while you clean their jewelry, and that’s perfectly fine.
One important thing to note is that some residents may be uncomfortable taking their rings off and handing them to you to clean. That piece of jewelry could be all that they have left of their late spouse, or it may have some other form of sentimental value to them.
If you sense any hesitation, or mistrust, you can certainly offer to have the resident keep the jewelry on their finger while you clean it. (If using the DIY technique listed below) This will generally help put their minds at ease, and show them that you have no intentions of trying to steal their jewelry,
There are different ways to go about cleaning the jewelry.
-You can purchase a jewelry cleaning system/ machine.
-You can use a store bought jewelry cleaning solution.
Or, if you are working with a tight budget, as most recreation departments are, you can go with the DIY option listed below.
DIY JEWELRY CLEANING:
-Make a very simple DIY mixture using just baking soda and a very small amount of water, mixing until it creates a paste.
-Use a toothbrush to gently scrub the paste onto the jewelry.
-Rinse thoroughly, making sure there is no risk of losing the item down the drain.
And voila, sparkling jewelry in no time at all!
I personally love the jewelry cleaning service, as it gives you an opportunity to hear some pretty special love stories.
Many of the residents who avoid social interaction tend to be widowers. It can be a really touching experience to sit down with someone who typically keeps to themselves, and instead, have them light up, telling you stories about their late spouse, and how they met and fell in love when they were young.
I have had success using these techniques in the past, and I hope that they might prove to be helpful to others who are struggling to make connections with some of their residents.
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