Spending time with whānau, a friend or relative in a rest home can provide wonderful opportunities for bonding, connection, and learning from one another.
But at times, rest home life can feel a bit routine for residents, especially when they don't venture far or get out like they used to.
Having some ideas in mind and bringing activities with you can make visiting fun and can really brighten up everyone's day. Depending on the physical and mental capability of the person you're visiting, there are many ways to enjoy each other’s company.
Here are some ideas to try on your next visit:
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1. Go for a walk or drive
Many rest homes have gardens you can enjoy a stroll around (or push a wheelchair through), or a park close by you could walk or drive to. Your friend may have a favourite café or beach they haven’t been to for a while that they'd love to visit. Getting out is great for a change of scenery, good for mental and physical wellbeing – plus, it's a chance to stock up on some fresh air and vitamin D.
2. Enjoy their favourite food
Some rest home residents may not be able to cook anymore but still want to enjoy a favourite meal or treat. Cook one of their favourite recipes and bring it in to share, or come and collect them for lunch at your place. You can send them home with some leftovers to enjoy, or deliver a special bit of baking or nostalgic treat.
3. Share an activity
Spend time planning a few activities to do when you visit. Find an activity you both enjoy, such chess, cards or puzzles. Read a favourite book or the newspaper aloud, and talk about current events. If they're not getting the newspaper, maybe you can buy them a subscription or take in some magazines when you visit.
This is a great time to start a project together such as going through the family photos and assembling an album. Our kaumātua have a wealth of knowledge about our family history that is important to preserve. Another option might be to record your whakapapa (ancestry) to create an audio book, or write down their memories to print out for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
Crafts such as crochet or knitting can help keep older fingers more dextrous, while daily puzzles like Wordle are good for the brain. You can compare times and scores.
Before you leave, chat about what they would like to do next time you visit. That gives everyone something to look forward to.
4. Listen to music and sing along!
Play them some of their favourite music, listen to seasonal music such as Christmas carols and have a good old singalong! Set up their favourite station on the radio, download some iTunes if they have an iPad or similar device, or listen to Spotify. If you can’t find the music they enjoy via new technology, hunt down an old CD or record, as long as you can find something to play it on.
5. Watch a favourite movie or TV show
Many people enjoy company while watching a movie or TV. This is a great option if your friend finds it hard to communicate or is confined to their bed. They might have an old favourite they’d like to watch again, or you could introduce them to your favourite. If the technology is a bit beyond them, you could set up their favourite TV channels or shows to be recorded and watch a series together.
6. Listen to what they have to say
You don't have to do all the talking. If they are hard of hearing, they might appreciate being able to talk freely to you without worrying about listening hard to keep up with a conversation. Try asking about an event, or a whānau member, from the past to get them started.
7. Visit with your pets
Many older whānau will have had beloved pets most of their lives, but when they move to a rest home, the pets have to go elsewhere. If the rest home allows, bring your well-behaved dog or cat in for a visit. There's lots of research that says stroking a pet is good for you. It can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and reduce feelings of loneliness.
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8. Take your tamariki along
We all enjoy keeping in touch with younger members of the whānau, so take somebody along with you to help provide some connection and entertainment. They might like to sing a waiata they've learned at school or bring along a picture they've drawn or a story they've written.
9. Bring along a small gift
It doesn't need to be much but a pretty flower, an unusual stone or a puzzle book can provide something to look at and remember you by when you've left. Many rest homes don't provide personal care basics so a bar of soap or hand cream might be very welcome.
If memory is a problem, a diary or calendar might help. You can write down what you did and what you talked about during the visit so they can read it again later. It also gives them something to show other visitors (and for them to add to) to help with recall and kōrero.
10. Make it a regular habit
We all lead busy lives, but when you're in a rest home and can't get out like you used to, visits from whānau and friends take on special significance. So if you say you're going to visit, make sure you turn up – and try and keep it regular. Don't let them down.
Social connection and interaction with whānau are fundamental to the health and wellbeing of those in residential aged care, so make that visit count!
Six principles for safe visiting and social activities in Aged Residential Care Ministry of Health, NZ
20 great ideas for nursing home activities Love to Know, US
The Power of Pets NIH, US, 2018