What’s the best way to get my dad settled in his nursing home? I tell him he can’t come home when he asks, but he gets upset, so I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to say.
Keeping The Peace
Dear Keeping the Peace,
Your intuition is exactly right telling him he can’t come home is not the right thing to say. You don’t say whether he a dementia or not but I am assuming that he does and the answer I am giving is primarily for persons with dementia. First you want to make certain that he has some familiar things in his room that look like what he had at home. This can be done with pictures, bedspread or a favorite chair or radio – especially things he has had for a long time. When you go to visit, go prepared for a visit and start concentrating on the things you can do together and enjoy during your visit. He will pick up on your stress (though he may not be able to fulfill the role in any other way he is your dad) and concern about not being able to please him and that contributes to his concerns. Bring something he loves, a picture book, pictures of some old cars, pictures of birds, mountains, architecture, something he has been interested in during his life. Also, start with a favorite thing, coffee, candy, ice cream or if he goes out or to the shop in the nursing home say something like, “Hi, I stopped by to take you for ice cream.” If you do something together and then share your pictures and whatever else you brought to help you make conversation then you have a focused visit and you can avoid the more difficult topics. Remember to greet him with a familiar greeting such as a hug, kiss, etc. just as you always have done but maybe even step it up a little. When you are conversing try to start in the middle of the sentence and try not to ask questions. For example, in a picture book say “this looks like Jack” rather than saying,” Who is this?” This provides him with an opportunity to discuss things and be the “smart and in charge person.” If the subject gets to “home” or “going home” the best answer is to get you in agreement with him. The answer to someone, if they actually says, “I want to go home” is the truth and that truth is, “so do I.” Then the very next thing you want to do is change the subject to a different subject as quickly as you can – you may need to go for ice cream again! When you are ready to leave don’t make a fuss about having to go, in fact try to arrange for a staff person to assist you with exiting. Say warm hello’s and avoid good byes, get him engaged in something else and then leave. These are some general tips and they will take some practice but you can start having better visits and when you adjust so will he.