What to Talk About?

You’re back in your hometown for the holidays and you go to visit your Great Aunt Hilda at her nursing home. You give her a box of chocolates, ask how she’s doing, show her pictures of your kids, tell her a story about  your new puppy…uh, discuss the weather…look at your watch. Seven minutes. Really, seven minutes into the visit and you’re out of things to talk about?

You could ask what’s new with Hilda, but you know her life is pretty static. Maybe the podiatrist was around last week and everyone got their toenails trimmed. But there’s only so much ground you want to cover on that topic. So what do you talk about? How can you pass the time pleasantly?

Here’s one idea:



Conversation starter cards. There are a variety of sets. This one happens to be what I own. Since I suffer from a generalized case of social awkwardness, I use them in different settings. I don’t always take the box along, often simply looking through it for ideas before I’m in a conversation-making situation. My kids and I have read through the cards on road trips. They can be fun to use with a group, especially a multi-generational one.  I’ve taken the box with me when visiting my mom and it made for some good discussions.  There are questions such as “Are there any unusual food combinations you like?” and “What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken?”

This could lead to interesting reminiscences. I’ve heard some tantalizing tales about my mom’s life that were new to me. You might want to be ready to take notes, or even record the conversation for posterity.

Another idea is to take a deck of cards or simple board game with you. By the time someone’s in a skilled nursing facility, they’re probably not going to be with it enough to play duplicate bridge, but Crazy 8s might not be out of the question. Or checkers.

If you have a tablet and you know there’s an Internet connection, you can bookmark some short on-line videos and share them. Who doesn’t love to watch cute baby animals doing adorable things?

You could have an informal literary discussion. Bring a poem or short short story to read aloud and talk about it.

These are all ideas that have gone well for me. If anyone else has suggestions, I’d love to see them in the comments.



Medicaid Room at Last

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Just when it looked like we might have to move my mom to any place that had a Medicaid opening, no matter how close or far or bad or good, a bed came open for her in the facility where she already lived. I was seriously losing sleep over not knowing what we were going to do. I even bought a lottery ticket – an unusual move for me – because it was my one idea.

I’d read about people in places like New York, where housing is scarce, scanning the obituaries to try to get the first jump on newly vacant apartments. I always felt grateful not to have to resort to such measures, not to have to wish someone dead so I could have a place to live. Yeah, well, I went there. I knew the most likely way for Mom to get a Medicaid bed was for the current occupant to pass on. I’d find myself thinking “Please, please, let something open today.” Then I’d try to salve my conscience by amending the thought – “Um, because somebody’s kid got a job transfer and is moving their parent to the new city as well.” or “If it’s by someone dying, let it be somebody who is 100 or older.”

Then on a Monday a couple of weeks ago, the social worker called and said they had a room. I needed to come over the next day and facilitate the move. What a long day that was. I work a split shift on Tuesday. So I drove my son to school, worked 9-1,  drove over and moved my mother to another wing of the building, went back and picked up my son from school, delivered him to home and went back in to work from 5-9 p.m. But yay! My wishes fulfilled!

Even moving to a new wing is an adjustment of course. I think anything is at age 89. There’s a new roommate, a different set of nurses, a different dining room and meal companions. But the activities are the same and my mom knows the building pretty well. And it’s so much better than having to move to a completely different facility, or even a different town, which was a real possibility. My mom has questioned me a few times about why she’s in a different room. Once she said, “Was this my idea or their’s?” I explain it to her again, but I’m not sure she gets it completely. Well, who does get Medicaid rules completely? Not I.

There was a lot of paperwork and many phone calls involved in the switch, and I’m still afraid I’m about to curse it all by posting this. There’s a part of me that’s afraid I’m going to get  a call saying it was a mistake and she has to move out after all. Meantime, I’m working my way to the point where I breathe again. I haven’t seen the actual Medicaid approval yet. I think I’ll finally exhale when I get that.

I’ve developed a sort of obsession about my own finances and the desire not to go through the same things in my elder years. But I know there’s a lot you can’t control in life. My mom worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known, and was honest and spent her life helping others. But that seems to mean little in our society when it comes to getting the care you need in your old age. It’s more about how much money you have. I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I will end this post by saying universal single-payer health care sure would make life better.

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