by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC
Eighty-nine-year-old Mary had every reason to be sullen and depressed.
She’d had a stroke that left her unable to walk, swallow properly or take care of her personal needs. She was fed a nutritious solution through a tube permanently inserted into her stomach.
Mary was widowed from a husband whom she had treasured dearly. She had no children, and her relatives were few and lived far away. She’d been a biologist in her earlier years and was still quite sharp mentally, but spoke rarely because she was self-conscious about the swallowing problem which caused her to drool. Mary had been an avid reader but now had poor vision, and this prevented her from reading anything but very large print, and even that was dauntingly difficult.
Yet, despite all her loses and challenges, Mary had the most consistently pleasant, gentle and accepting disposition of anyone I’ve ever met. In the five years I was Mary’s Geriatric Care Manager, she complained exactly once — she absolutely hated it when the aide sponged her with a cold washcloth!
Mary always made the best of her difficult situation. She had a ready smile for fellow residents in her nursing home. She was appreciative of all that the nurses and aides did for her. She participated in activities to the best of her ability. She was an important contributing member in crossword puzzle sessions and at the head of the class in trivia activities. She joined in with wheelchair bowling and exercise groups, and loved the amateur concerts which specialized in music from the WWII era.
To bring more intellectual stimulation into Mary’s life, I read books aloud to her — biographies of FDR and Eleanor, stories about Helen Keller, and gruesome thrillers which were her favorites. We purchased a large screen TV for her from her petty cash account so she could watch her beloved soaps and had a subscription to the large-print NY Times delivered to her door.
But I wanted to inject even more life into Mary’s circumscribed routines, and one day I had an inspiration: a field trip! I broached the subject to Mary, and she responded without hesitation — she wanted to gamble at Mohegan Sun, a gaudy local Connecticut casino!
I was a little surprised but game. So I arranged for a van to take Mary in her wheelchair and me and her private duty aide to the casino. Mary spent the whole afternoon playing the newfangled electronic slot machines, winning and losing, winning and losing, and ultimately going home with a hard-earned $3 jackpot and a big smile!
Back at the nursing home, Mary was an instant rock star. Everyone — staff and residents alike — wanted to know about her field trip. Was it fun? What did she play? Did she win? How much? What did the casino look like? How long did it take to get there?
She responded to all the friendly inquiries with short, succinct answers and a twinkle in her eye.
Over time we took other field trips, and each provided Mary with a much-needed change of scenery and a rich experience to think and talk about for days. We went to movies (Mamma Mia! was a big hit). We went to the Natural History Museum in New Haven, where Mary was fascinated by the dinosaurs and life-sized dioramas of the Connecticut woods and shoreline. We strolled on the boardwalk at a local beach and found shells for her to take home. We went to the Norwalk Aquarium to take in an IMAX show and see the huge tanks of local marine life.
We continued taking occasional field trips, which Mary thoroughly enjoyed for the rest of her life, until she died at the age of 94.
Pearl of wisdom: Field trips promote a better quality of life for elderly and disabled friends and loved ones by providing enjoyment, mental stimulation and the opportunity for interaction with others. Field trips can be expensive, like a day at the casino, or inexpensive like a walk along the beach. Create some interesting field trips for the frail elderly folks in your life. It will enhance their lives immeasurably.
Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC is a Geriatric Care Manager in Fairfield County, CT. For information, visit www.joanblumenfeld.com. © Joan Blumenfeld 2012.