What to take when you’re visiting a care or nursing home?
If you’re visiting a friend or family member who’s moved into a care or nursing home, you could be wondering what you can take with you to cheer their day.
Everyone is different of course, so making general suggestions is a little tricky.
Not only are tastes different, but individuals will be living different lives, from taking part in communal activities every day and getting out for trips occasionally, to receiving bed-based care in their rooms. But from our various experiences, here are a few thoughts you might like to consider.
Family members will probably be asked to keep basic toiletries topped up, but there’s no harm in bringing along something a little special. Older skins can be very dry and thin, so a luxury hand cream that you can apply for them can be a pleasure and a comfort.
Care homes do tend to provide food that’s easy to eat and digest. That means that most of it is soft. My dad used to pine for a quiche with a crispy base, so we would take him a slice sometimes. And he also thoroughly enjoyed home-made marmalade for his breakfast.
At the other end of the scale, we are currently visiting someone with very little interest in food now, but she’s enjoyed home-made soups and a bit of ice-cream (brought in a cool bag with multiple ice packs and still runny).
Treats like chocolates are great, although they can pile up in a drawer if everyone donates some. It’s a good idea to find out what your relative thinks they will enjoy, and then just bring a little.
Care homes tend to provide lots of water, some squash, and tea/coffee at certain times of day. Many, surprisingly perhaps, also offer a glass of wine with dinner. The water is supposed to be drunk regularly to help with good health, but residents can get tired of feeling it’s forced upon them all day. So if there’s something they might enjoy instead, say a fruit juice in a small carton, you could try that.
Televisions are provided in most care home bedrooms and living spaces, but it’s rare to see a radio. If your relative has always enjoyed Gardeners’ Question Time or the cricket, they will probably appreciate access to a radio. If it’s battery-run, bring replacement batteries. If it’s mains-driven, ask any visitors to check that the cleaners haven’t unplugged it for access to the power socket and then forgotten to plug the radio back in. We speak from experience.
If your loved one is spending time alone in their room, they’ll be able to choose what they watch on television or listen to on the radio. They may well have spent much of their lives reading the Radio Times with pen in hand to plan their entertainment, so would appreciate receiving a copy each week. I hadn’t read it for years, but on a care home visit myself discovered that it’s full of information and as much of a magazine as a listings guide. And it’s definitely targeted at an older audience.
Hearing aid batteries
Somehow hearing aids never seem to work well in care homes. It can be because the batteries have died and the home doesn’t keep a supply. If you leave some of the right size in a drawer and notify anyone who needs to know, that may help.
Newspapers and magazines
Maybe your loved one doesn’t want to read books anymore, but can still enjoy a short read. Or perhaps they have always done the crossword and could be sad to stop now. You could bring reading materials, or quite possibly the home will take an order for a daily paper, which they will then add to the bill.
A box or packets of tissues can be invaluable to a care home resident, especially if they can’t easily get out of a chair or their bed. Yet somehow they seem to go missing all the time. Again, keeping a stock in a drawer is a simple but really helpful thing to do.
A selection of framed family photos is a great way to cheer up a room. And you could add some individual photos or even albums of past events for your relative to look through in their own time.
This could be especially beneficial to those with a degree of dementia, who have trouble remembering people and events. In this case, it’s quite a good idea to label the photos clearly on the back.
Those living in care or nursing homes are unlikely to see family as often as they might like to, and may well miss out on family events. You can always bring your phone or a larger screen to share recent photos and tell the stories around the day. It’s worth judging how well these are received – many will be delighted to see them, but it may upset others.
Pen and paper
Many of us only take notes on our phones these days, but pen and paper can be invaluable in a care home setting. You can leave notes and reminders for your relative and care home staff – such as where to find the hearing aid batteries.
Personal blanket and cushions
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with the furnishings provided by the care home, but it can be nice to personalise a room, and bring a little more colour to the surroundings. You could bring in familiar and treasured cushions and blankets from home, or even get new ones printed with photos of grandchildren, the dog, or happy places.
Flowers and plants
If you’re bringing flowers, a vase to put them in is a wise addition. The trouble with flowers though is they need constant topping up and staff won’t necessarily have the time for such duties.
Pot plants also need care, but choose ones that don’t need copious watering and they may last longer.
Bear in mind though that there isn’t a huge amount of display space in a care home bedroom, and flowers and plants may lose out to family photos and greeting cards.
If you found this helpful, you may like to read:
- What to say when they’re never coming home Ask Lesley
- We couldn’t have asked for a more caring nursing home Family story
- Visiting grandparents in their new care home Advice
Article by Kathy Lawrence, editor at When They Get Older.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash