Having fun in a nursing home

(Editor’s note: Dr. Barbera is licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities and is also the newest blogger for Long-Term Living.)

“I told my daughter not to be so gloomy-doomy all the time. I’ll be all right.” –A recently placed 89-year-old woman.

I laugh with the residents all the time. We laugh at their jokes and we laugh at the crazy things that happen in life and in a nursing home. Once I was working with Mary, a genteel woman who’d had a series of roommates, each with their own peculiarities. Her first roommate was a 100-year-old lady with the mouth of a truck driver, then the promised quiet new roommate had a husband in attendance almost 24/7 whether or not his wife was in the room, and finally she had a lady who couldn’t hear a thing. Over the months, her tales took on a Candide-like quality. When she told me she’d been roused from sleep when her latest roommate had rolled her wheelchair toward the bathroom close to the foot of Mary’s bed, put her hand to the new hearing aid in her ear, and said loudly, “Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, 4,” I burst out laughing, and Mary did too. “This would be great material for a stand-up comic,” I told her, “only it would have to be a nursing home resident, preferably in a wheelchair, so it would be a sit-down comic.” I’m still waiting for a resident with enough chutzpah to make the rounds of the nursing home entertainment circuit.

There are lots of opportunities for fun in a nursing home, from the formal activities scheduled by the recreation department, to sharing a laugh with some friends on the floor, to going out on a day pass with family.

Once, one of my coworkers was a therapeutic recreation director who was in a wheelchair himself. He took the residents water tubing. Yes, water tubing. The adventurers transferred from their wheelchairs to a seat on top of a large rubber tube. One end of a rope was attached to the tube, and the other end was attached to a boat, which took off with the floating resident flying along behind it. I have never seen a more revved up group of residents returning from a trip.

The Draisin-Plus wheelchair bicycle.

Not too long ago, I learned of a company, Draisin, which makes tandem bicycles for people in wheelchairs. I showed the photo of one of the bikes to some residents, and almost half of my small sample (N=11) said they’d be willing to go for a ride if they had the opportunity. Not quite water tubing, but still a lot of fun.

The WalkerWonder

WalkerWonder is a company that makes decorative walker bags and accessories for people to enliven their medical walkers.

A man in the building where I live exchanged his dull wheelchair wheels for ones that flash colorful lights as they spin. I think it will take only one person in each nursing home for that to catch on.

I’ll end this post with a true nursing home joke: One day after a psychotherapy session, I was trying to wheel one of my patients to her table in the dining room, but another resident, a gentleman in his 90s, was in the way.

“Excuse me,” I said to him, but realizing he couldn’t hear me, I leaned forward and asked in a very loud voice, “Which Ear Is Your Good Ear, Mr. Schwartz?”

He looked at me and said enthusiastically, “Any year I’m alive!” Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at www.mybetternursinghome.blogspot.com.

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