Reaching Out to the Shut-in

Twelve steps to a nursing home visit you'll both enjoy

A friend has just moved into a nursing home. Your friend's world has become very small?the call bell, the bedside table, the curtain around the bed, the nursing station down the hall.

After making decisions for a lifetime, your friend is left with a day that proceeds on schedule?waking up, bathing, meals, enjoying activities, going to bed.

Worse, your friend is separated from the people he or she loves, and death has taken many friends. Perhaps your friend sees little to look forward to.

Can visits to those in nursing homes make a difference? Medical personnel, caregivers, and the patients themselves say yes. Here are some suggestions for making your visits effective.

Entering the room. Should you say a warm "How are you?" Not always. Your friend may be depressed or in discomfort, yet trying not to give in to negative thinking.

Instead, try: "I came to be with you for a while." Place your chair fairly close, where your friend can see you without straining. If you remain standing, you give the impression you will leave at any moment.

What is there to talk about or to do? Can you draw out memories of his or her life and the people in it? His or her work? Hobbies? Travels?

Take along something to do together if silence becomes uncomfortable. You could ask: "Would you like me to write some notes for you? Tell me what to say."

Or bring a book, a game, a radio, or a cassette player. You can either play favorite tapes or do what a friend of mine did. She ran the tape recorder while a 90-year-old recalled cherished moments for her family.

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