Providing simple, quality moments with your elder while creating lasting, meaningful memories for yourself
By Eileen B. Nevitt, LCSW, ACSW, CMC
Having just returned from a trip abroad, I had a conversation with my sister-in-law Carole in which we reminisced how her parents, formerly world-class travelers and now frail elders in their mid-80’s could no longer contemplate foreign trips and would probably also experience domestic travel as arduous.
I shared my view, based on my career as a Geriatric Care Manager and personal experience with my own mother in her last years, that families can have wonderful shared experiences with their older loved ones by going on local outings when more ambitious adventures are no longer feasible or even desired.
To illustrate my point, I recalled my trip east for a long Mother’s Day weekend in spring 2005 when my mother was still fully independent but indeed slowing down. She had been very tired that spring and had less stamina, but was emotionally and physically buoyed anticipating my visit.
For an activity, we decided to drive into nearby Washington, D.C. to visit two new sites—the FDR and WWII Memorials—that Mother wanted to see but could not do on her own. The weather was lovely; our hearts full with anticipation of a fun day together. Amazingly, I had even convinced my mother, who ordinarily used a cane and, like many of her cohorts, would normally prefer to skip pleasurable outings rather than to be ‘caught dead’ in a wheelchair, to borrow a wheelchair to allow her better access to the sights without over-exhaustion (such strategies are often referred by physical therapists as ‘energy conservation’ measures). For part of the time, she pushed the wheelchair from behind, took many photos (photography was her thing) and allowed me to push her when she felt tired, thus allowing her to take in more of the sights than she otherwise would have. We topped this perfect day with a fabulous dinner at her favorite Mexican restaurant.
Carole then related a similar experience of taking my in-laws into Minneapolis for an outing. Afflicted with dementia, my mother-in-law wondered upon seeing the city’s many lakes, “Look at how blue those lakes are! Have you ever seen lakes that color?” For an elder with memory loss, such outings, particularly after a long winter inside, allow an explosion of sensory input, an experience of the physical world as if totally new. What better way for an older loved one to regain a sense of the world’s beauty and for us adult children to share in those moments of wonderment?
Perhaps these thoughts will help those fortunate enough to still have their fathers to figure out a simple Father’s day gift. Smell the roses together and just have fun.