My mother taught me that small, thoughtful gestures can pack a walloping punch of goodness. This is the lady who, when I had my appendix out, flew from Toronto to Ottawa carrying a container of homemade chicken soup on her lap! (This was obviously in the days before heightened airport security.)
My mother’s moderate dementia sometimes made it hard to sustain a conversation. That meant I had to find other interesting and thoughtful ways of making a good connection with Mom during my visits.
Sometimes, I would bring a single photograph with me when I spent time with Mom. It astounded me how this photograph – be it a shot of one of my children, or a place we had travelled together – could engage my mother and be the spring board for a good conversation.
Mom had once been an excellent Bridge player. I downloaded a Bridge game onto Mom’s iPad and we often played a few hands together. I noticed that Mom wouldn’t ever play the game by herself but she was happy to play with me if I initiated it.
One of my favourite things to do was to bring Mom magazine photographs so that she could talk about her extensive travels. A photo of a vineyard became the jumping off point for a great conversation about visiting local wineries. I once found a photo of two women swimming in a turquoise ocean and that led to much laughter and happy reminiscing of times Mom and I had swum in the ocean together. A shot of a mother walking her baby in a stroller led me to ask Mom what it had been like when she was a young mother.
Mom always enjoyed it when I cooked for her. She was especially happy if I joined her for dinner. It gave me great pleasure to prepare Mom’s favourite meals. I noticed that Mom ate better when she had company. Since I had to cook anyway, it was no trouble to cook a bit extra to give to Mom.
I signed Mom up on Face Book and she derived great joy from connecting to her friends and family; especially her grandchildren. Mom couldn’t access Face Book by herself but it was easy for me to connect her to people who interested her.
These are just examples of some of the tools I used to engage my mother’s attention during our many visits. I didn’t always bring a prop with me though. Some visits I just sat beside her and held her hand. She would always comment on how warm my hands were (her fingers were usually like icicles). Like just about every human being, Mom responded positively to my casual touches and gestures of affection. Holding hands, a gentle neck rub, a foot massage, a hug… seniors are often starved for affection and physical touch can play an important role in making your elderly parent happy.
My props and physical affection greatly helped Mom and I to have interesting conversations and very pleasant visits. I visited my mother five and six times a day (remember I lived in the same condo building) and there were times when I felt as though I had run out of things to say to my mother. That’s only natural when one spends a great deal of time with someone. I encourage you to try out some of these small gestures with your elderly parent. I can just about guarantee that the results will be positive. Small gestures – large results. They work!