Make a world of difference this Christmas season

It Takes a Village

By the North County Staff

North County specializes in several areas of care, but two primary ones are: highly-trained rehabilitation therapists for those recovering from surgeries like hip replacements, and staff providing intriguing activities for those elderly who are active but too fragile to be in their own homes anymore.

We also provide caring services for individuals who are no longer able to consistently express what they need—either because of dementia, traumatic brain injury, or some other condition. I have to admit, these are the folks I really love to volunteers work with.

And the “work” doesn’t have to consist of just family or old friends visiting. Our residents often love to make new friends, and with new friends comes the joy of learning all about one another.

“Sure, visiting people in nursing homes is a great thing to do. But I have nothing in common with old people,” is one of the general categories by which I organize responses to my calls for more volunteers.

You have much more in common than you realize. Regardless how much you enjoy being around a bunch of children at a birthday party about to head into a sugar-fueled tantrum phase, you remember what it’s like to be a child, and one-on-one with a child you may be able to recognize ideas and toys and points of view that you had as a child, even express those views and get a real conversation going. Sure, you’re facing an age difference, but in the most important ways people have remained the same over the generations.

If you’re visiting someone who has dementia but is still verbal, try getting them to talk about their interests. Look around the room. What can you learn about this person from what is on their walls? Showing interest in family photos is often a good place to start, but you might want to stay away from asking direct questions (often distressingly difficult for people with dementia).

Come prepared with a book to read to them or a pack of cards to play with or a favorite food (check with the nurse first before doing this last to make sure the physician doesn’t consider it contra-indicated). Confidences are often easier to make when you know where to plant your eyes, like on your full-house.

Don’t be afraid to make the conversation two-sided. Talk about your own interests, especially how they relate to the interest of the one you’re visiting. Talk about situations you’re facing—you might be the beneficiary of sage advice.

Of course, North County and so many long term rehabilitation and nursing homes is always recruiting more formal volunteers, in addition to those who come to visit specific residents.

Volunteers can do all kinds of things to make living in a nursing home a more pleasurable experience. One of the best ways is to be matched with a resident who may share similar interests. Just one hour out of your week spent visiting and talking with a resident, bringing the outside world in with you, can change everything for that resident. You wouldn’t believe what a difference one visit a week can make in a lonely resident’s life.

But if talking with someone you don’t know isn’t your thing, you no doubt have other skills that would make a difference, such as decorating the home for a holiday or helping put together a monthly newsletter. You could lead group activities, or work one-on-one with residents on recreational projects. You could help a resident take a turn around the home or the grounds to help them keep active, which has a direct impact on residents’ mood and physical well-being. You could read aloud to someone whose eyesight has failed, helping to keep their mind active and perhaps staving off mental decline. You could help staff take residents on an outing to keep them more connected with the community. And most importantly you can bring your own ideas for improving residents’ lives.

Our volunteers say they get at least as much as they give when they work or talk with residents or volunteer in other ways. Few things are more rewarding than seeing that you are really making a difference in someone’s life. In addition, volunteering at a nursing home gives some people a chance to find out if they might enjoy a career in long term care, or build up a resume to find a job, or just make new friends. Getting kids and teens involved provides a great life lesson for them, and teaches them to respect and watch out for elders.

So, consider volunteering. It will change someone’s life for the better—and you might well find it does the same for you!

North County provides long term care and rehabilitation at 310 West Taft in Sapulpa. You can contact us at or visit our website at