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Visiting grandparents in their new care home

If your parent has moved into a care home, should you take your children to visit? And if you do, how do you prepare them for the change in environment?

In an ideal world your children will find that their grandparent has simply moved home. That they’re much the same as they ever were, but they’re sharing a home with new friends and they’ve got people who cook and clean for them.

The world’s not often ideal and there are likely to be changes that need gentle explaining. If the changes are too monumental, you may decide not to introduce your children into the situation, or they may visit once and excuse themselves from a repeat.

Every child is different
The first thing to consider is your children themselves. Their age and character will make a huge difference to how they cope with change. Young children may adapt easily or may find some situations difficult to understand and even a bit scary. Barchester Homes has some great downloadable books to introduce the idea of care homes to young children. Teenagers and even young adults can find the decline of loved ones difficult to address – and may even refuse to visit at all.

Reasons for the move
If your parent has moved into a retirement home it could be that they have simply reached the point where independent living has become too difficult. They are essentially the same grandparents but slower and more fragile. They are recognised and recognise their family.

At the other end of the scale a parent may be living with a stressful condition that has affected them physically, mentally or emotionally – and this may be new to the children. Dementia takes away memories and can change behaviour. Many illnesses limit mobility and require constant nursing care. Why your parent is in their new home and how fast that change has happened will very much affect the reaction of your children when they visit. If it’s a significant change, the children need to be prepared.

In any case, it’s a good idea to visit without the children and take time understand your parent’s new environment and how things work at the home.

Familiarity or completely new?
Your parent may receive visitors in their own room, which they’ve furnished with some of their own belongings. This familiarity without strangers around will make it a less challenging time for grandchildren.

If on the other hand most residents spend their time in communal areas, then your children will have to take on board the new environment and the presence of many strangers, some of whom will seem very unwell and some of whom will be exhibiting unusual behaviour. This is likely to be something of a shock, so if you can talk to staff about finding a quiet spot for your visit it will be less disturbing for all concerned.

Keeping the children entertained
What did your children do when they visited your parent at home? Did you take toys? Or did they bring their headphones and gaze out of the window? If your children are used to bringing their own distractions with them then it’s a really good idea to keep up the tradition.

Some homes have resident pets. We’ve seen birds, cats and even rabbits that live with the residents and can be a fun distraction for a while too.

Getting out and about
If your parent is sufficiently mobile you could all go out for lunch or tea. Maybe to somewhere familiar if that doesn’t upset your parent too much, or maybe to somewhere completely new with something for everyone to enjoy.

When getting outside the home isn’t possible, can you can least get out into the garden if there is one? There may not be much for the children to do, but it gives you a little space.

Going for a short walk is a good idea, but might be too much to organise if you have very small children and a parent who needs support. Teenagers may find the very slow pace a bit difficult to manage but you could always let them make their own pace and arrange to see them later.

We’d love to hear your tips for helping children to understand a grandparent’ move to a care home. Just use the comment box below.

If you’d like more advice on getting the most from care homes you might like these articles:

10 questions to ask before choosing a care home
What to expect from your care home
Tips on choosing a care home – a reader’s experience
Ask Lesley is our advice column for anyone juggling parental care with other demands in life. Send us your challenge to [email protected].

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