For homebound, a visit can be best gift of all

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By Joan Martin

The holiday season is a time to not only give gifts that you can buy or make yourself but also to provide special service and visits to people you love.
The homebound often appreciate a visit as much as having a gift. With limited access to the outside, a person’s world can shrink considerably and he may feel disconnected from people and the community.  
One of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is homebound is your time. Make it a point to talk with these friends or relatives including those living in long-term care. Listen to their stories, learn from them and try to put yourself in their shoes.
Include homebound relatives and friends in as much of your family’s holiday celebration as possible. This may include taking the holiday celebration to them. Remind your loved family and friends why and how they are important to you and your entire family.
Remember to be respectful of their wishes. One of my friends was homebound because chemotherapy made her very sick and weak. At first I was surprised to find her washing dishes. I offered to do the dishes for her but she refused. She was weak and couldn’t stand for more than five minutes at a time.
What she told me was a life changing experience.
My dear friend said that she couldn’t do much anymore but doing this one little thing, washing the dishes, made her feel that she could do something for herself and family. She felt that she needed to do for someone rather than always being done for.
She said doing something helped her still feel alive. So, I learned not to rush in and just clean or do other things for a homebound friend.
There are many ways to help a homebound friend or relative feel a part of everyday life.
Plan to call or visit when you are not rushed.
Arrange for a regular date to get together.
Encourage your friend to express emotions and then listen to them.
Encourage self-care such as adequate nutrition, rest, follow-up on medical appointments.
Offer to bring over a meal and then eat with them. Eating alone all the time is not fun.  
Be sure to ask about what help will be most valuable such as dusting, vacuuming, laundry, changing the sheets, doing the dishes, etc. If your assistance is declined this time, continue to express your desire to help on subsequent visits.
Help a female friend or relative feel good about her appearance by offering to polish her nails, comb her hair or bring a new accessory. Helping a friend sort through everyday jewelry may not only make it easier for them to use, but it also can bring forth some discussion about memories related to the jewelry.
Encourage mind-stimulating pastimes such as word puzzles, journaling, drawing, crafting and reading.  
Share news about family, friends and current events to facilitate connections with the outside world. Share the newspaper and current magazines.
Encourage your friend or relative to get a computer and help the person connect to the world through the internet on social networks, online education courses, current events, shopping and health related information.
You may want to help a homebound friend decorate for the holidays. If you offer to help decorate, then also offer to come back to help put everything away.
If the person uses a wheelchair, or is confined to a bed, place the decorations in places that will be most visible to accommodate their needs.
Thanks to Amy Hosier, Extension Specialist for Family Life at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture for providing some of the information in this article.

Joan Martin is a consumer and family sciences agent with the Anderson County Cooperative Extension.