Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Volunteering with seniors

There are a great many of things one can do in these volunteer placements.
They love the old-time songs!
This was my late Mother's book.
Sometimes, residents need help eating, going outside, or participating in regularly scheduled activities. I have volunteered in private homes, for-profit private and government long-term care (LTC), and retirement homes.But, the thing I like to remember most is to dress in bright colours! It shows that you care if you dress well.

It is important to take into account various disabilities they may have: visual, auditory, physical mobility issues. In my dad's case he couldn't see well, his glasses didn't seem to work for him, then he lost them!  He had a 75% hearing loss according to his last hearing test. He had hearing aids, but with his dementia could not manage the hearing aids. He would turn them up until they buzzed. I suspected that his hearing deteriorated with his brain tumour, but either way, the end result was the same. He lost them both in the LTC.

Visual Disabilities 
Skip-Bo and other games

Is this case. Talk about what you see going on. Clients with recent visual impairments, e.g., glaucoma, can identify with the world around them as you interpret it for them. One can take clients outdoors and describe the sights and sounds. having lived in cottage country for several years, I find that the sounds are amazing. Even living, as I do, on a busy highway, the birds ar busy building nests and singing to their loved ones. One woman I met in a retirement home told me that staff had spotted a snapping turtle in the nearby creek.

Clay can be therapeutic
Conversations are important. We talk of simple things: I found a dandelion and gave it to my client to hold, and told my client about the dandelion my granddaughter found.

I describe the terrain around the home. How far the leaves had unfurled, the birds building nests, the daffodils and the tulips that had donned their cheery spring coats. I spoke of the plants in my garden. We compare plants, flora and fauna.
We compared birds I found in the area: blue jays, chickadees, crows. I saw a hummingbird fly by today. Another mouth to feed!
Humour is the best medicine. I love to tell self-depracating stories. Getting lost, mistakes, humorous tales of grandchildren.

Knitting can be hard for those with fine muscle issues
For others that and sewing may be a great activity.
Here is a wonderful volunteer.
I have also gone in a played piano, my recorder, or simply sung hymn tunes.

Speaking of our mutual birth cities we compared stories about this. Once I get to know my client a little more, I'm going to ask him about his life and do a Life Review.

Auditory Disabilities

I have found that my clients, as well as my father, seemed to lose both at once. It is seldom that they cannot hear, but can see. Dad's hearing was selective. He'd hear what the young, cute staff members said, as he chose when he wanted to read lips.

Puzzles, as well as pet therapy!
However, this is when one can talk with a senior, as they go through a photo album, for example. One of the ladies, in fact, many of the residents in these institutions, have many photos on their walls and momentos around them. They need not hear you as you ask about them. I had a long conversation with one woman, 102-years-old and on her way that afternoon to her son's funeral. She had amazing character and it was a privilege to get to know her.

Cognitive Disabilities
Sometimes simple things like holding a hand, rubbing a back, simply being present is an important part of visiting. I spent long hours while my father lay in a coma, simply sitting beside his bed reading. The time for conversations were over. All I could give was my presence. Studies have shown that despite a coma, they know you are there. In fact, I always assume that a client has their faculties, rather than the opposite. There are many in wheelchairs, having had partial paralysis and are unable to navigate a wheelchair with the use of only one arm. You cannot assume that they are cognitively impaired.

Activity Expectations
Some activity directors in LTC like to schedule cutsie crafts. I have promised my husband that
1) I will not put him in LTC...barring unforeseen difficulties.
2) He would understand if I had to do #1, but I wouldn't expect him to paint, glue, colour, draw, or cut anything!

I cannot imagine having a veteran do such activities. For senior men it wasn't something they did before they went into LTC!

One LTC facility has a regular club for those who have served. It is enough to talk about their lives, compare stories, if they are able. But some may not be able to do so.

Guessing game
Place small articles in a sack.
I used this with my Creative Writing group
Many play scrabble, there are cooking sessions. One 102-year-old man helped make cookies on his birthday. It was precious. Others are still able to play Skip-Bo. This is a game I used to play with a hospice client every afternoon. It is simple, and I had fun with her. Sometimes we'd play for a couple of hours.

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