Here are some great ideas for service projects and simple acts of kindness for nursing home residents! You will make them feel so special as you serve them in socially-distance approved ways during this pandemic.
As a nursing home nurse, this pandemic has really hit home. Since the elderly are one of the most at-risk populations, our doors have been closed since February.
Since February. That means no visits, no outings, no face-to-face contact with anyone from outside of the facility, except me and other staff. Now, if you think the quarantining has been hard for you (which I’m SURE it has been!), just try to imagine how they must feel. Trapped. Lonely. Abandoned. So please consider using some of these ideas to brighten their day!
*These ideas are generalized, and can be adapted for all circumstances! If you do not have a loved one in a nursing home, your love and service to them will still be very meaningful and important.
—Even if you think you don’t know anyone in a nursing home, your lives have still been changed by their influence in your community and country—
Simple Service Ideas for Nursing Home Residents
Cards and Letters
Nothing seems to brighten their day more than notes or letters! They LOVE hearing from anyone and everyone. It’s the simplest way to show them that they are remembered. If you have children, consider mailing some of their artwork. My nieces and nephews love to donate their art to the cause. They also crack up/get choked up at those cheezy greeting cards. I’ve never seen my residents so happy as when they received a card with a cute kitten on it.
If the facility does not allow any cards to be delivered, ask if you can tape messages outside of their windows! Messages of encouragement, holiday greetings, etc. What a surprise for them to wake up to!
Visits, Phone Calls, and Singing
If they are allowing visitors, in-person contact is so meaningful. Whether singing in the halls or outside the window, they love hearing music and seeing your face! Right now, our facility is doing Skype calls for individuals, but we would love someone to volunteer to skype in and perform for the residents. They love seeing talent and playing games with people.
Talking with them about their lives, their passions, and their accomplishments is so important at this stage of their lives. I recently found out that one of our patients was a very famous local artist, and read blog posts she had written. I hope we remember that they have lived incredible lives and we have so much to learn from them.
Activities and Productivity
Most of our residents are not only lonely, but bored as well. They are constantly asking me what there is to do, and when I’m busy trying to do cares, it’s hard to help them find productive activities. Imagine going from a full-time career and family to suddenly having only TV as your option to pass the time. Though we have occasional group activities, our residents always need more to do! If they were artists, send some art supplies. If they were avid readers, drop off one of their favorite books/genre. Our interests and hobbies don’t just stop when we leave home.
If you’re not sure what they like, some other ideas can include puzzle books, word-searches, magazines, newspapers, card games, simple board games, puzzles, and books. Think about donating old magazines, books, or puzzles!
They also love to be involved in service projects, when able! Consider inviting them to be part of a local service project.
Treats, Snacks, and Homemade Food
If no one brings it, they don’t have it. Although we have a vending machine, a lot of residents have to wait until their family members bring coins to use in the machines. So many residents ask for sodas, candy bars, chips, and other familiar treats, but we don’t have them to give! If you know their favorite treats, consider dropping them off for them to enjoy. The nurses will likely have a place to keep them in if you are afraid the treats will go too fast. Bulk donations of treats (such as boxes of chips, candy bars, soda etc.) can be distributed to a lot of residents if you indicate to do so!
Residents also love homemade meals, because they remind them of home. Especially with the holidays coming up, they talk often of those wonderful homemade foods, like pumpkin pies, that they love so much. If you’re a baker, think about what foods you would enjoy around this time!
Decorations and Interior Design
Not gonna lie, sometimes these places look (and feel) like prison, especially in the middle of quarantine. Seasonal and other decorations can make their rooms feel more like home! They love picture frames with family pictures, decor from home, wreaths, garlands, cute signs, and posters. They love having things to decorate their doors and those cute window stickers. One resident has one of those picture blankets with pictures of her with each member of her family hung on the wall, which helps her and staff members see her life and those she loves every day!
When a resident does not have clothing, we will try to find extras from previous residents or they wear a hospital gown. One way to preserve their dignity is making sure they have enough clothing to dress nicely each day! Some residents are dropped off with only 2-3 outfits, which makes it difficult to do their laundry quickly enough (especially if they spill or have an accident). Some tips: stretchy is better. It’s more comfortable for them and it will fit longer if they start to fluctuate in weight. Make it cute! They are still people, and I don’t know about you, but I would hate to wear a t-shirt and sweat pants every day. Consider stretchy jeans or professional looking slacks, button-up shirts, and clothing that the would wear.
Shoes are also easily misplaced! The best shoes are slip-on shoes that have good traction (to prevent falls). Socks are also a great donation, as they go through them pretty fast.
Reminders of Home
Anything that reminds them of home is the best thing you could give them! Photo calendars, canvases of family pictures, a photo album with relationships and names labeled clearly, etc. Pictures of them when they were younger! Scented plug-ins with scents that they would have used at home! One resident has photos from her life hung all over one wall in a collage, and it helps staff get to know her better. She was a sky-diver! And I might never have known without those pictures on the wall. (Stay away from area rugs, as they can cause falls.)
Things to Keep in Mind
-Not all patients in nursing homes are old. We have a wonderful variety of people that suffer from injuries, disabilities, mental illness, and other diseases. Remember them in your efforts!
-With Covid-19, there are a lot of restrictions. Call ahead to coordinate with the nursing home to make sure your efforts will be allowed there! Ask about in-person visits through windows, delivering packages, food restrictions, and other regulations.
-In my facility alone, we have a resident who sold famous artwork throughout the Western US, an inventor who worked on creating color-television, a doctor who started one of the most prominent healthcare companies in our state, MANY self-sacrificing veterans, and a nurse who used to work at this same facility 🙂 Even if you think you don’t know anyone in a nursing home, your lives have still been changed by their influence in your community and country.
DoorDash, Amazon, and other online websites do deliveries to minimize contact. If you’re not comfortable dropping items off yourself, don’t forget you can add them to your cart from the safety of your home.
If you have any other ideas, feel free to drop it in the comments and we would LOVE to add it to our list. Let’s spread joy to these amazing people that have done so much for us in our lives and communities.