What do you do with Dad when he sits alone at
adult day care and sulks? How do you get Grandma to participate in the
activities the nursing home provides? These scenarios often take us back to the
days when our children entered kindergarten and hid in the corner, out of
shyness. But there is usually something quite different going on with a senior
who refuses to participate in appropriate activities often welcomed by his or
Frequently, these same elders complain of boredom. A friend’s mother had been a very social person. She had a phone in her room in the nursing home. She had many visitors. The mother knew the staff well, as she’d been there for several years. She would do her daily puzzles, watch some TV and call her friends. But she wouldn’t do anything with others at the nursing home. She, quite frankly, considered herself “better” than the rest. Not in social status, but in mental and physical health. She refused to join in with all those “old people.”
Yes, some of the live music on Friday’s was a type she didn’t like. But, on occasion, someone would come and play piano music – and this woman had been a wonderful pianist. She would have enjoyed the music, if only she’d have agreed to go down with the others and listen. But she refused.
She wasn’t into bingo. But, they had puzzles, art and other activities that she could have tried. They even had children singing and doing skits, which my friend was sure her mother would enjoy. Nope. She wasn’t going down to watch any programs. Every day, there were times set aside for snacks and visiting. Many folks looked forward this. Not her mother. The therapist led exercises that would have been beneficial. But she refused to participate.
Was she depressed? Most likely she was. Depression can often be treated, but medication doesn’t work for everyone. The doctor tried a couple of things, but they didn’t seem to help, and one made her worse. Was pain the problem? A good part of it. Even though this woman had the best pain management possible at the time, she still suffered chronic pain.
Still, the daughter talked at length with the activities director at the facility and they tried very hard to find things her mother would like. Studies show elders that are physically and mentally active do better. Many of them thrive, once they have companionship in a good facility.
Memory problems and pain can make any activity look unattractive, and, for some, complaining becomes more gratifying than participating. I do think she got to that point. She got negative attention by complaining to her daughter, and to her friends, how bored she was. Everyone wanted to fix that. This process became, I believe, a type of entertainment.
I told my friend that her mother was making her own choices and found some gratification in doing so. She got something positive about the autonomy of saying no. Also, she would have had to accept that she had limitations like the other residents, if she actually became one with them socially, and she wasn’t ready to do that.
What about the daughter? I told her that even though it’s hard she had to accept this. We can’t force anyone to participate. We can’t force anyone to “have fun.” We can’t change another person’s attitude. But we can change our own. Once my friend realized that she couldn’t really do anything for her mother that she hadn’t already done, she just accepted the situation. She braced for the complaining, but answered the complaints cheerfully. She mentioned options, but when they were turned down, she just got on with her day. And she let her mother get on with hers – in whatever way her mother chose.
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