Visiting Grandfather in hospice, how can I keep him amused?
July 28, 2013 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Looking for ideas to keep a mentally sharp but nearly blind and mobility restricted 95 year old Grandfather/former rocket scientist busy during my week visit to see him.

Travelling from the UK in a couple days to Salt Lake City UT to be with my grandfather for a week and it is likely the last time I will see him alive. Hoping there might be some suggestions of things I can do with him within the constraints of his health status. This question has some good info but I was hoping there might be ideas that pertain more to his particular situation.

About him - 95, still sharp as a tack, very advanced macular degeneration, so reading or cards is out. The smallest character he can normally determine is about A4 page size. He has stage IV prostate cancer which has spread to his spine and his causing him pain and mobility issues.

He is a former rocket scientist so although his eyes have made it impossible to use a computer for the last 5 years I can explain to him how a capacitive touchscreen works and he can understand in his head. He is very interested in Geology and last visit I took him to the Natural History museum. They have an exhibition where you can touch the different types of rocks, so we played guess igneous/metamorphic/sedimentary. Not sure though if his mobility would allow him to make this trip again. But I would like to try so please don't limit answers to things that can only be done in his room. I am looking into renting a mobility van so I could take him in his wheelchair.

He is very into his Scotch/whisky but I think of late hasn't even been drinking it which is definitely a bad sign.

Other than bringing him nice things to eat and staying with him to talk do you have any ideas of games or things I could play with him to keep him amused and busy? He has a diary of his travels round South America in the 60s so I was going read it aloud to him.

For myself have arranged a gym pass for week to keep exercising for my body and mind (whenever I go to America seem to gain lots of weight - strangely!) and I have a list of places I want to try and eat after he is into bed to try and keep amused - wondering if related to weight gain?
posted by camerasforeyes to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about reading to him? Ask him what periodicals/authors/newspapers he'd like to hear.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by oceanjesse at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience, it's a good to plan but he may have other ideas. My father wanted to talk a lot about the past. A friend who works in geriatrics had told me specifically NOT to try to get into that because it might tax his memory-- not an issue with your grandfather, clearly-- or put pressure on him in some way. But that was what he wanted to do. I had a sketchbook, notebook or tablet and would write down things he said, just to have them or for possible sharing with others. Most of the time just went by talking, on subjects of his choice although sometimes I would prompt.

Bringing in the newspapers, national and local, and reading a few articles is often welcome. Your grandfather might enjoy science journals. Roaming the grounds with the wheelchair can be good too, if he's not in too much pain.
posted by BibiRose at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A few years ago I went through a very similar thing, except my Grandfather was 98 and a retired high ranking Signal Corps officer and Electrical Engineer and I had to go from the UK to Montana rather than Utah. Because his mind was really the only thing he had left he really wanted to talk about me and what was going on in the world. He also died from advanced prostate cancer, but luckily he wasn't in much pain. He was incredibly at peace and knew the end was coming, but he was OK with that - which is just an amazing and wonderful concept for someone in their 20's to grasp.

So my advice is just go in there an talk with him. He won't need to be engaged or amused, just spending time with his grandchild whom he doesn't get to see much was enough. He actually had a topic chosen germane to my career before I showed up and we talked about that for most of the first day.

TL;DR, don't sweat it. If he's mentally sharp he'll tell you what he wants to do. It was much much much easier to deal with his last days than it was with my Grandmother who died of Dementia at 91 or my other Grandfather who died at 84 after a series of strokes robbed him of his ability to speak.
posted by JPD at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh yes, I notice music on the other thread. If you can put playlists on an ipad or something, that might be good to bring along. My father was into singing and sang along if you could find the right music; ymmv.

My father (also blind by the way) liked to put on the tv news and have someone explain any visual parts.

Also, I have to say, gossip. I've you've been in a facility for a while, hearing stories/updates about people you both know may go down well. At first I was uncomfortable about the amount of gossip my father wanted to get into, but my partner pointed out it was his way of feeling involved.
posted by BibiRose at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2013

How about some music?

If he's feeling up to being out, can you locate a nice piano bar or blues joint that he'd enjoy? Sometimes, older people who are still mentally acute can feel as though they've lost their "adulthood" somewhere along the way to becoming "patients". Doing something grownup can restore a lot of self-esteem.

Or maybe bring a selection of mp3s from his glory days ... music sparks memories, and listening to some oldies could bring out some great tales from his past.
posted by peakcomm at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have any questions about family history, this is the time to ask them.
posted by zadcat at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wish I'd asked my similarily smart and savvy grandfather, on a similar visit in a similar situation, is if there was anything he'd like to tell me about.

I tell my kids so many stories about him, but nothing I can for sure say were his favorites. Write them down while he tells them.

My mom got him a super soft stuffed animal and he loved it more than I think we all assumed. He worried with it while he talked with us.
posted by mamabear at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know you say there's mobility issues, but is there any way you could take him out to lunch? Not merely bring in lunch from a restaurant: take him out of there for a couple hours. The change of scenery is often appreciated.

Did he enjoy kids? Maybe take him to a park and watch kids in a playground.

Definately, having something interesting to read to him is good.

If he's looking back over his life, take in a photo album and use that to draw out family stories. Ask about his childhood, his parents and grandparents; how did he become a rocket scientist?
posted by easily confused at 8:43 AM on July 28, 2013

I would start telling them stories that they had told me so many times – their favourite stories – and they would tell them all over again. Sometimes, I would get details incorrect or amiss so that they would correct me, and off jogging down memory lane we went.

That was one of the best uses of limited time, for whilst macular degeneration means vision is failing, they could see old memories. I would ask them to describe in detail what things were like, the smells in the air, the sounds. This had two effects. The first is that it took them back to amazing times, and warmed them greatly. The second was that is continued to impress those memories upon me.

Writing them down can be a bit awkward, for that's a statement that they're on the way out. I found the voice memo feature of the iPhone to be far less disruptive.
posted by nickrussell at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's another thread with a lot of good ideas for someone's grandpa who was mechanical and a fix-it kind of guy, and it links to yet another thread inside there.

If I were you, I would do some research into the latest innovations in whatever field your grandfather is interested in, and then talk about what's going on in that field. He's a rocket scientist - there's a lot of new things going on in space right now. To make it better for him, come prepared with some questions, either actual stuff that you want to know, or some what-if hypotheticals. Off the top of my head....How does the Hubble have enough fuel to travel so far? How close can IRIS get to the sun before it disintegrates? Over the course of your career, had you ever really thought there could be life out there, or seen any evidence that would prove/disprove it (or how many of your colleagues believed/not?) And just for fun, let's assume there is life - what might it look like or how might it affect our lives or what kind of technology would they have?

I know you said that he has vision loss - is it complete? If you were to get a large-size magazine or coffee-table book with some of the latest photos from NASA, could he hold it really close and see it?
posted by CathyG at 11:01 AM on July 28, 2013

Best answer: This is so very heartening to read. You're very kind. My background is in medicine, and I've had many opportunities chances to speak with and take care of hospice patients. Here are some suggestions off the top of my head:

Consider all senses, and work outward from there. For example:
- touch could be something as basic as giving a backrub or massaging your grandfather's calves or feet. A change of clothes that feel different. A hat. Fun socks. A wickedly cool, hi-tech, breathable shirt. Different bed linens. New pillows.
- different scents. Flowers. A change in fabric softener sheets for the dryer, or laundry detergent. Soaps, shampoos. Food and fruit.
- speaking of food and fruit, consider not just different tastes, but also different temperature. Ice cold plums or a cool peach, for example. Iced coffee or tea as well as hot coffee or tea. Junk foods, fast food, anything he'd like.
- music, TV, radio. A radio with chunky buttons and dials, he could feel and adjust on his own: easy power switch/button, dials for volume and for sweeping through the radio frequencies. You could try podcasts, but many are fast-paced and taxing. Silence.
- even with advanced visual deficits: colors for clothing, or sheets. Open/close blinds, pull curtains.

As you've already thought of, a change in environment is a great idea that'd stimulate all senses. Don't underestimate the logistics of this, though. Come up with basic contigency plans: who to call, where to go. Carry with you any durable do-not-resuscitate form he may have.

Consider carrying a pocket recorder to record his conversations or stories if he's agreeable to this. Sometimes, some people don't like doing this as it reminds them of their limited time, but sometimes some people have a lot of fun and enjoy telling their stories, or feeling like they're being interviewed or formally interviewed.

Try not to cram a million different things into any sort of time frame. Try not to change a million different things for the sake of stimulation or novelty. Try not to avoid talking about anything he might want to talk about, including death.

Engage his brain, but also be aware that everyone, including yourself, needs rest, a feeling of being cared about, and feelings of independence. Sometimes it's enough just to sit next to your loved ones, and sometimes they just want to be by themselves.
posted by herrdoktor at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

If he enjoys music, but doesn't generally have access to it, he might really appreciate your help with getting a device designed to be used by people with limited vision and loading some music.

Is he in a hospice care facility, or is he in hospice care at his own home or a family member's home?
posted by yohko at 1:44 PM on July 28, 2013

Make a recording of him talking - audio, not necessaily video - as he tells you about distant family (his grandparents, parents, etc), stories of his life, and his wisdom for you. You don't get to be 95 without picking up some insights along the way. It'll also be nice for you to have something hang on to his words for when you're old and missing the family of your youth.
posted by gardenbex at 10:24 PM on July 28, 2013

Best answer: I want to say that you're very sweet to plan such a special visit with your grandfather - it will mean the world to him and you'll never forget it either. You two are obviously blessed to have each other.

I'm old and also surrounded by old people - 150+ of us in one nest (aaargh) - and I can tell you for sure that we all love to talk about ourselves and what we've done with the time we were given. Even if the stories are the same ones you've heard before, encourage him to tell them - and ask questions, make comments, get into the story. At every age, we're really just a two-legged collection of our experiences, after all, and the older we get the more experiences we've had. Old people get too chatty sometimes, or too withdrawn, and sometimes it's because we feel no one really is interested in hearing our stories anymore, so if you're going to be so kind as to spend time with your grandfather it would be wonderful if you encourage him to tell you about his life.

This visit that you're making - it spreads the good all over the place, see? Good for you.
posted by aryma at 1:47 AM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: Marked a bunch as best answer. What a great amount of advice. This is what makes metafilter so awesome.

Plans are to see how his mobility fares and if possible go to the aerospace museum, Heber valley railroad and out for dinner/lunches. I'm going to ask him about his most dangerous Health and Safety escapades working for his firm, plus memories of my Grandmother, anything he wants to talk about really and record him with my phone. So many good ideas from the hive mind.

Thanks so much.
posted by camerasforeyes at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2013

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