Now that our elder is in a facility near us we see her more often. In fact, we spend time doing volunteer work there. Some members of the family wonder why we bother. That attitude rankles.
Why do it? Different activities help cognitive function. A scheduled activity time is highly beneficial. The staff does a great job but an extra two or three pairs of hands can make it better for everyone.
Will they understand? The people in our elder’s unit are able to understand far more than they can express. As an example, one of the men in the unit tends to sit by himself in a corner. When music is played and one of the staff invites him to dance, he does. When we did a poetry reading, he came over and sat with the group, smiling. Yes, they do understand at least some part of what we’re doing.
When is it appropriate? Find out what the routines are well before volunteering. Aside from activities the staff has to see to the needs of all of the patients. That includes meals, medications, shower assistance and so on. Showing up to start an activity five minutes before lunch is served may not be helpful.
How do I approach? Talk to the director or the activities director of the facility. If a holiday is coming up, find out what’s planned or make suggestions. Be willing to take on as much of the activity as you can if it is something not already on the schedule.
What can I do? I will give you some examples that we have already done or are planning on doing. We started in February on Valentine’s Day. We used large manila envelopes to hold cards and other treats. These were taped up and everyone was encouraged to put something in the envelopes for others. On the day itself, we opened the envelopes and had a poetry reading.
On the Wednesday before Easter we dyed and painted eggs. Those who were less capable did the Paas egg dye kit. Those who were higher functioning used acrylic paint on hand blown eggs.
The furthest ahead we’ve planned is for Cinco de Mayo. As we’re in Southern California, this is a much celebrated day. We’ll be doing a version of a Mexican dance, talking about the history of the day and having quesadillas for a snack.
There is one more thing you might like to know. Volunteering helps the person doing the work as much as it does the residents in the unit. It feels good to contribute to our elder’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of the rest of the people. I’m glad we can do it.