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Faith-based and community organizations

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

The volunteers of community and faith-based organizations are often an integral part of the support system of an older adult. Understanding ways to communicate more effectively when there are hearing, vision, speech, and/or memory problems can go a long way towards creating an environment that enhances the visitation experience for all involved.


"To those who see with loving eyes, life is beautiful.
To those who speak with tender voices, life is peaceful.
To those who help with gentle hands, life is full.
And to those who care with compassionate hearts,
life is good beyond measure." AUTHOR UNKNOWN

Before you visit

Whether the person you are visiting or another friend or family member is the contact person, setting up the visit requires sensitivity to the situation and everyone's schedule. There is a lot on the minds of those involved and circumstances can suddenly shift, perhaps due to unexpected appointments or a change in a person's health. Taking a few extra steps to assure that the timing of your visit does not add to their stress can really make a difference. Since stress can play a part in forgetfulness, the following suggestions might be something to consider when setting up your visit.

• Call ahead. Verify the time of your visit and make sure it is convenient. If it sounds like there is too much going on, you may want to explore another time that is more convenient.

• If the person you will be visiting or another person in the home is not feeling well, you might want to call the night before to see if it is still okay for you to visit.

• If the person taking the information has a hearing loss or memory difficulties, make sure that you verify the time of your visit. Allow the person time to write down the information. In some cases you might want to send a reminder note or speak to another family member.

• Leave your contact information in case there is a change in plans and you need to cancel your visit.

"The more we give of anything, the more we shall get back." Grace Speare

At the time of your visit

Every day is different, and as a volunteer visiting an older adult, it is probably best to expect the unexpected. These suggestions may provide some guidelines for addressing unexpected situations.

• Leave your problems and concerns at the door. If you need to take a few minutes to relax and slow your pace down first, make sure you take the time to do that. If you are worried or rushing, that is often picked up by the older adult, even when you feel like you are covering it up. If you are very stressed, this may not be the best day to visit. Reschedule and take the time you had set aside to take care of yourself.

• In some cases, you might want to call from your cell phone just before you arrive. If the person is hard of hearing or will need a few minutes to get to the door, that extra notice can be helpful. The person is less likely to feel the need to rush to get to the door and you are not caught waiting in bad weather.

• Pay attention to any particular needs and make sure your visit is not too tiring for all involved. If anyone in the home seems to find the visit stressful because of some unexpected situation that happened earlier, take your cues from them as to how long to stay.

• In some cases, you might want to see if they need you to call someone for them before you leave.

• It is usually helpful to minimize distractions especially when there are hearing and/or memory concerns. Check with them to see if they would like to turn off the television unless your visit includes watching a favorite program together.

• Make sure your phone and pager are turned off, or put them on vibrate if you are expecting an important call. Giving them your undivided attention is something that will be greatly appreciated.

• If you are planning another visit, you might want to set it up while you are there and make sure it is on the calendar.

"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves." James Matthew Barrie

Observations and concerns

In some cases, you may notice some behaviors or situations that might impact the safety of the person you are visiting. These concerns need to be kept confidential out of respect to that person but should be reported to the designated person in your organization so that an appropriate plan of action is developed. Here is a list of a few things you might notice that should be reported, especially if the person lives alone or if his or her caregiver is experiencing some of these problems.

• Behavior changes
• Depression
• Forgetfulness or confusion
• Increased hearing or vision problems
• Slurred speech
• Repeated questions
• Difficulty expressing needs
• Time disorientation
• Trouble dialing a phone or using TV remote
• Complaints of pain or difficulty sleeping
• Shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness
• Reports of a fall or losing balance on scatter rugs or oxygen cords
• Not using cane or walker but is holding onto furniture
• Accumulation of clutter, newspapers, dirty dishes and food
• Difficulty hearing the phone or someone knocking at the door or ringing the bell
• Reports of missed appointments
• Dents in the car or reports of getting lost when driving
• Weight loss, poor appetite, lack of healthy food options, decreased cooking, spoiled or little food in refrigerator
• Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
• Unsafe living conditions
• Pets not being cared for properly

"What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?" George Eliot

At the close of your visit

• Consider setting up a future visit while you are there.
• Ask them if they would like you to pray with them, read something special to them, or get something for them to drink or eat before you leave.
.• In some cases, you may want to follow-up with a phone call between your visits or drop them a postcard.

For additional resources, refer to the articles and blogs related to Creating Time Well Spent: Enhancing Your Visits with an Older Adult