Originally published on October 15, 2021 at The Denver NorthStar
The Gray Zone: Stories Connected to North Denver’s Older Adults
Last week I planned to spend time taking a tai chi class and going out to lunch with a friend who’s living with early-onset Alzheimer’s. We’ve done this before and, until last week, it had been a fun and upbeat experience for both of us. But that morning her spouse texted to prepare me: my friend was having a really hard day. And indeed, she was teary and sullen on-and-off for hours as we adjusted plans to see what might cheer her up.
Whatever your age, you likely know someone whose world has gotten a lot smaller in recent months or years. Whether that someone is rehabbing from an injury, had to give up driving, or has moved into a group living community for a little support, most of us have opportunities to plan a few minutes of enjoyment for someone who’s not moving about in the world as they once did.
So, I’ve been thinking about what makes a visit in these circumstances a good one. In my friend’s case, it turned out to require a flexible mindset and Plans B and C. The heads-up from her spouse made this possible. Another friend joined our Plan B (surely a cat café will do the trick!) to help lighten the mood.
Dezie Johnson, manager of Cottage Hill Senior Apartments on Tennyson Street, suggestions that a visit of any kind makes a difference. It’s true, an enjoyable visit is not typically as difficult to pull off as it was that day with my friend. And according to Johnson, “Consistency is good, but I know a regular schedule doesn’t work for everyone. Really, just visit.”
Johnson points out that most of her residents are no longer working—and some don’t drive—so they have many more unstructured hours in their day and less to look forward to. It brightens their spirits to be taken out for a meal or to have a friend or family member stop by with a little something special, perhaps a flowering plant or sweet treat. “And kids!” she says, smiling.
Dr. Andrew Allen of Restore Osteo suggests that a good visit doesn’t even need to be in person, or lengthy. Longer visits can be exhausting. Allen checks in with his mother by phone for a few minutes every day, listening for a sense of how she’s doing.
The pandemic, Allen points out, has meant dramatically less mobility for many. The extended time isolated indoors takes a toll on physical fitness, mental health, and our eating habits. A good visit could include working alongside your loved one in the yard or taking a walk together. If their health has suffered, offer to go with them on a visit to their doctor.
Mario Gonzales has a beautiful formula for visits with his grandmother, Florence Trujillo. And, it turns out, their visits bring joy to others as well. Trujillo moved into the assisted living wing at The Gardens at St. Elizabeth a few months ago. Her new place is on Gonzales’ way home from work, so just about every day he stops in to take her for a stroll around the block. And then he rolls his grandmother, in her wheelchair, into The Gardens’ auditorium and plays the piano for her. Other residents pop in and have a seat, enjoying the pre-dinner concert. Gonzales has gotten to know several by name, including one who doesn’t seem to receive visitors. “It goes a lot further than I ever would’ve thought.”
And what makes a good visit? Gonzales pauses a moment, and then, “I’m sure they appreciate any time that you can spend with them, but I also know that if you’re in a hurry, they notice that too. I think it’s important to make the visits count and just know that it goes a lot further than you’d think.”