Visiting a care home for the first time can be daunting for anyone, so if you have children, you’re bound to be worried. Unforgettable’s content editor Kate Corr shares what happened when she took her young daughters to visit their granny in a dementia care home.
When Mum moved into residential care Grace and Ava were very young (aged six and three) and I struggled to explain the move in a way they could understand. Eventually, I decided to keep it simple. ‘Granny has moved from her flat to a big new place she share with other Grannies and Grandads,’ I said. ‘It’s a bit like a hotel but with extra kind staff and nurses to help if anyone’s feeling poorly.’
The idea seemed to intrigue them. On the day of their first visit, I warned the nursing staff to expect us and when we arrived they were on hand immediately offering large glasses of orange juice and a plate of homemade biscuits. Mum was sitting in her favourite armchair in the reception area, sipping a small sherry (she’d decided she was living in a hotel and no one, thankfully had tried to put her right). The look on her face when her little grandchildren ran up to her for cuddles was one I’ll always treasure.
We then went straight to Mum’s room which contained all her familiar furniture, photos and quite a few cuddly toys and dolls for the girls (and Mum) to play with…When all three of them decided they wanted to explore, I took them for a brief walk around the newly named ‘Granny Hotel.’
Perhaps it was beginners luck, or perhaps the sight of young children and the sound of their laughter as we walked along the corridor, around the day room and into the garden, was some sort of tonic, because everyone we met along the way welcomed us warmly. Grace and Ava lapped up the attention (and every extra biscuit they were subsequently offered). Our visit probably only lasted about 20 minutes but it was enough to delight Mum and to create a positive memory for them both. ‘When can we go back to the Granny Hotel?’ they asked on the way home.
I continued taking them for short but sweet visits for the next couple of years. Inevitably, some visits were trickier than others. On one occasion, a resident tried to take Grace’s Barbie doll, and on another they saw an elderly man break down and become very upset. But a straightforward explanation was usually all they needed.
Their final visit was very sad of course. By then, Mum was bedridden and unable to talk after suffering a stroke. Some people questioned whether I should take them to visit at all…but somehow it just felt right.
So after a lot of preparation and explanations about why this would probably be our last visit to the Granny Hotel…off we went. Mum beamed when she saw them. Her dementia was advanced, but I like to think she still knew these children were special to her…and loved them. Although initially a bit upset, Grace and Ava recovered quickly, particularly since we’d arranged for a few surprises ‘presents from Granny’ to be waiting for them in the room, alongside a letter she’d ‘written’ for them both to help them understand…
They’re both teenagers now and remember those visits to The Granny Hotel very fondly – even the last one – and they still treasure those final presents and letters.
I’m sure the experience taught them a great deal, it taught me many things too; that children are more resilient than we might think, that the very sight of them can be uplifting for a person with dementia…and that biscuits and presents can sort out almost anything.