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Creating comfortable situations for the elderly when mixed ages are visiting can be challenging, but happily the rewards are greater than the effort required. The key to success lies in careful planning, to identify and minimize potential problems. Most of us enjoy the thought of family get-togethers but unless they are well organized, the result can be disappointing and especially hard on our elders.
How my 90-year-old mother looks forward to family visits! How confusing she finds them when our whole, loud, extended family gets together and the house is full of noise and movement. How sadly she thinks it is when it’s all over later, wishing she had found time to ask this or that, or to have an actual conversation with various people
Family connection and social visits are good for everyone. However, frustrations can needlessly appear if a few careful planning techniques are not followed. Keep reading to see how to keep our inter-generational visits fun!
Those whose mobility is limited can be (quite reasonably) concerned when small children are dashing about in crowded rooms. My mother gets frightened when a dog-walking friend stops by, worried that the large critter might accidentally knock her down. She feels the same way about busy youngsters in our church social hall who don’t realize how fragile an adult may be.
Now that she is a great-grandmother, she dotes on the baby. However, since he learned to crawl we have had to modify her home environment to be safer for both of them. In many ways, their safety issues are similar. Dangling cords, loose rugs, and swinging doors are equally hazardous for young and old. Since baby visits are a delight for Mom, we’ve invested in plug-in electrical outlet covers, put away some breakables, and added safety latches to several low cupboards.
Even after she fell and cut her head, Mom resisted the addition of rubber corner guards on a sharp-edged coffee table but she was eager to add them to keep the baby from harm (a relief for me!). We find it works best to keep baby visits short unless he falls asleep, in which case Mom loves to hold him. We make sure the baby is well-supported with cushions and somebody always sits nearby to keep Mom company (and in case she gets tired herself).
As Mom’s memory and health become less reliable, keeping visits brief and uncomplicated is increasingly important. After a few less-than-successful family reunions, we’ve found a balance that seems to work well for all concerned. When large family get-togethers are planned, choose a location that allows gathering in intimate settings as well as en masse. For instance, Mom’s apartment is small so we meet at my house, which is familiar to her and accommodates a crowd.
If many people are invited, seat elders in a quiet room or corner and bring visitors in singly or in small groups. If confusion or memory loss is an issue, have a familiar person on hand to give a short introduction and hints about possible changes since they last met: “Dad, here’s Joey, Suzy’s youngest. Look how tall he’s grown now he’s ten years old, wow!” Keep someone available to take an elder home or offer a quiet place to nap if need be. Have a comfortable, supportive seat for each older person and provide a table where food and drinks may be safely placed. Make sure there are dining choices that work for each person’s dietary needs. As fine motor coordination falters, finger food may be easiest to manage. Have large cloth napkins and some washcloths on hand for quick clean-up as needed.
Noisy gatherings, however cheerful, can be frustrating, especially for the hard-of-hearing. When my family congregates, the result can be incredibly loud. We found that it helps if Mom removes her hearing aids in crowded settings, since loud laughing and talking can be truly painful with them in place.
With mixed-age groups, make sure youngsters’ needs can be met as well. New parents may not be well prepared for a first visit to Great-Granddad and a confused elder may seem more concerned about their own safety than meeting their descendants. To keep first meetings smooth, be as ready as possible to make everyone comfortable. When babes in arms are expected, make sure there is a quiet, private place for Mom and Baby to nurse or nap. While some young parents are comfortable nursing or changing diapers in mixed company, elders may find such sights upsetting.
If you can, borrow or buy a highchair for babies. Have unbreakable cups and dishes available for young children. Keep an extra shower curtain on hand to put under baby’s eating area, as well as washcloths and soft towels for cleanups. Look for children’s games and puzzles at yard sales or ask parents to bring favorite toys along so children don’t get bored and restless. Simple toys that don’t make noise are preferable, since clutter and loud, distracting noises only add to the sense of chaos for our aging relatives. If possible, arrange for an older child or teenager to act as kid wrangler during a lengthy visit, perhaps offering a suitable stipend or reward.