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One Hour and a Half Visitors

April 12, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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Each Sunday I take the time to read the New York Times Blog "The New Old Age". It never ceases to amaze me how many inspiring stories are there. I have read many comments by children of folks in nursing homes who feel tremendous guilt. They are all trying to pull something good out of a bad situation. It is very difficult to watch your elderly parent get to the end of their life. We need to know there is some positive meaning or that something good came from it—at least something better than seeing an old person drooling in a wheelchair.

But there is a different story to be told. It is the story of a resident and their one and a half hour visitors. For all those reading this I mean no disrespect to my visitors. It is just a fact that most visitors stay an hour and a half. I guess I should be grateful for those precious minutes ... and I am. But in an otherwise busy life, most people can only spend a certain amount of time with their loved ones in nursing homes.

I empathize with their situation. I feel a pang of guilt myself when I see a visitor struggling to be comfortable in my nursing home room. Sometimes I think it has something to do with furniture. Maybe if I had a reclining chair, my visitors could feel better with their feet up. I know some do not feel comfortable lying on my bed. I have a nurse friend who would never do that. My sister on the other hand, feels fine about snuggling up on my bed and I certainly do not mind. She and my other friends can lie on the bed if they wish. But I do not want them to get so comfortable that they fall asleep.

I think furniture plays a part in that discomfort as well as the pictures our memory has photographed over the years. There is not much vitality in a nursing home. If there are things going on, nothing is very upbeat. Most people have little in common with what we do here until they are maybe 75. I think the baby boomers feel uncomfortable because when they look at me they see themselves some time in the future.

When you have been in a nursing home as long as I have, you see the coming and going of many visitors. I moved 20 miles away from my home so I never was overrun with company. It is very easy to get lost in the nursing home. So if you are a loner, it is right up your alley. I can spend time alone and be fine as long as I have something to do. But there are many times that I really want company and sometimes I would like them to stay all day.

I do have one friend who stays three or four hours when she visits. I usually start looking at the clock when she exceeds the one hour and a half hour mark. I know she has a two hour drive home and I start to fret about her safety. Then if she stays longer than planned, her husband calls her just to check in. I think that is her cue to get ready to leave.

Sometimes it is very hard to say goodbye to visitors. Down deep I wonder if I will ever see them again. That is not something that came at age 60; I have felt this way since I was a child. I think the most pertinent thing I ever heard was that if you pass people standing at a train stop, you need to realize that it will probably be the last time that you ever see them. To me that is a very poignant fact.

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Hi Kathleen,
Great to read your blog, I live in Melbourne, Australia and have just finished my PhD looking at the impact of the built environment on people who live in nursing homes. I interviewed residents who told me about their experiences. My PhD has been published and if you go to my website ralphhampson.com you would be able to read it - or at least the short articles about it. I would love to have your comments and ideas as I think this is a really ignored area - most nursing homes still look like institutions and as a result often, despite the best intentions they treat people like patients of inmates rather than people. If you decide not to respond that is fine too - as I understand that many people may contact you. My email address is ralph.hampson@optusnet.com.au.

Keep up your great work,
Cheers
Ralph

When my sister visits in good weather, she frequently wants us to go outside. But here there is no place for us to go outside to eat unless we would use a picnic table designated for staff. So a couple of outside tables with umbrellas on a cemented area would be great. Visits would be better in a more comfortable spot. Perhaps there could be small sitting rooms for residents with visitors. But I like to keep things private so that's why I like to stay in my room.

My sister and I sometimes travel uptown she walking and me riding in my power chair to have a meal at an accessible restaurant. There is also a little summer dairy type snack bar across the street during the summertime. However there is not much outdoor seating.

I think outings are probably always better with family and friends. Otherwise a long-term care facility feels too much like a hospital. But there are times that we do need to stay in our rooms or in our beds to rest as anyone else would in a home situation.

Another one of my ideas is a roofed solarium where visitors and residents could go. But the residents would love it and never want to leave it.

I found your blog very interesting. I am a nursing home administrator who has a very dear friend in another facility. I have a very difficult time visting for more than an hour. The chairs are uncomfortable. What could we do as a facility to make visiting time more comfortable for all involved....in your opinion?

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Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...