Home is where the heart is. But the heart is a complicated place that is developed over time, and matures through many years. It is a sort of a storage device that carries in it all the memories of the people and places and things that made it into the unique vessel that it is. This is why it is so important for those in a senior residence to be surrounded by the things that make their particular heart their own.
The first, most important, and most obvious connection needs to be to family. Simply because one lives in a new place does not disqualify them from needing the love and support that family provides. In fact, it underscores the need. After a move to a residence, family members need to understand that the only thing to have changed is the dwelling. They must recognize that a shift in home needn’t be a terminal point, but rather a continuation of their loved one’s journey.
“We like the opportunity to celebrate all kinds of family and individual milestones,” says Denise Tidman, Executive Director of Norgarden and The Peninsula, retirement residences just north of Victoria, BC. “Immediate and extended family are always encouraged to join residents for celebrations or just to ‘touch base.’ We offer Skype for residents that have families in far-off places, or families are able to email me if they are out of town or on holiday, but want to keep their relatives in the loop with a travelogue or pictures.”
Food, perhaps, comes a close second to family. Over many years, we develop a genuine intimacy with the foods we consume. How could we not? It not only sustains, but soothes and comforts us. Ensuring continuity and consistency in the diets of residents is a priority for Lisa Tracz, General Manager of Amica Mature Lifestyle’s Thornhill, ON residence.
“It is our biggest area of both compliments and concerns,” she says. “We have long since learned that although no one can make a roast like they did, we welcome and incorporate all feedback. We also have an active dining committee made up of residents that meets with our chef monthly.”
Man’s and woman’s best friend is not lost in the complicated equation when a senior shifts to a residence. It is hard to overstate the bond that can exist between a companion animal and its owner. Research continues to demonstrate that interaction between seniors and animals can have a tremendous therapeutic effect. Tracz is quick to point out that while every accommodation is made to cater to a resident’s wishes vis-à-vis his or her pet, the happiness and well-being of all must be considered.
“We need to balance the individual resident’s need for their pet with welcoming it into the community for all residents,” she says.
In light of this, all crocs and most constrictors are probably discouraged.
While many can benefit from contact with a pet, not every senior is in the position to care for an animal. Tidman’s solution? A resident dog. It is in the building most days to visit with those who may want to but are unable to look after their own.
“Pets can offer unconditional love and continuity at a time when there is a vast amount of change. It is also an icebreaker when meeting new fellow residents. It is a perfect opening for stories and reminiscing,” says Tidman.
It’s true that the items and objects we amass and possess are merely things. Tracz experiences this first hand from her residents.
“They often tell me that other than family photos, everything else is just ‘stuff,’” she says.
Still, for others, the sentimental value of “stuff” sometimes cannot be overestimated. Having access to these pieces, and being surrounded by some of them is an integral part of making certain a residence feels like a home and giving seniors a genuine sense of control over their lives. While some downsizing is usually necessary, both Norgarden and The Peninsula and Amica residences offer spacious suites large enough to hold a lot of stuff.
The heart is a receptacle. It collects. It catalogues. And the longer you’re at it, the bigger it gets. Seniors need a place for theirs, no matter where they reside.