Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel
Dimi Todd, 101, is known for motivating other residents to get involved. She says living in a nursing home is easier to do after you’ve made friends and if you’re active in the community. Here she gets a hug from Hilee Jackson, activities director at Maryville.
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel
Dimi Todd, 101, is known for motivating other residents to get involved. She says living in a nursing home is easier to do after you’ve made friends and if you’re active in the community. Here she gets a hug from Hilee Jackson, activities director at Maryville.
BEAVERTON – It’s not unusual to see Dimi Todd motivating the residents at Beaverton’s Maryville Nursing Home to get involved in activities.

The 101-year-old woman entered Maryville three years ago and still has no difficulty making new friends. “I was surprised,” said Todd. “I was only here a little while and I was elected queen.”

Todd said that it’s easier to live in her new home since making friends and being active in the community. “I have lots of friends here,” she said. “They always come by and they always talk. They always make the time pass, too.”

Hilee Jackson is activities director at Maryville. She encourages residents to make new friends. “You’ve still got your mouth and mind,” she tells them.

Folks of varying cognitive abilities can regularly be found talking with each other. Sometimes they don’t talk about anything in particular. “They would sit there, hold hands, and just talk,” said Jackson, recounting numerous stories with this theme.

Why is being social important in this new environment? “They feel like they’re still a part of something,” said Jackson.

At Maryville, residents are invited by the staff to engage with others and attend healthy activities like exercise classes and trivia games. But they aren’t pushed to do so. Not everyone is ready immediately upon arrival. “The very first thing we do is start nurturing,” she said.

Father John McGrann is the head of pastoral care at Laurelhurst Village in Portland. He says the staff at Laurelhurst are focused on caring from a place of love.  Some people are just more outgoing than others, he added. This part of someone’s personality doesn’t necessarily change with age.

Still, Father McGrann said friendships do keep people more alert and emotionally healthy.

At Laurelhurst Village, he asks residents to participate in activities at least once. He hands new residents a document upon their arrival. This document promotes taking an interest in people around them, introducing themselves, and inviting people into their living space once they’re settled.

But they aren’t rushed.

“Be gentle with them,” Father McGrann advised other caregivers.

For those eager to interact with others, basic communication can be crucial.

Gerie Coville is a 79-year-old retired school teacher. She takes her motorized chair all over the Portland metro area. She has lived at Maryville for three years. Coville said if she’s in a new group, she may just approach someone, introduce herself and start a conversation.

“It’s a very easy thing for me to do,” she said.

With her bright smile and cheery personality, she finds a way to get people talking. But she insists the more important element of communication is listening. “Once I start talking and get them to talk, then I listen,” Coville said.

Residents who aren’t as outgoing as Coville can turn to the staff at their new home. The activities staff at Maryville will help point residents toward activities that may be specifically beneficial or interesting. “I would encourage any new resident to become very involved with activities staff to help guide them,” said Jackson.

Her other advice: go to activities, find people of similar mind, and join clubs and parties.

“The main dining room can be a great gathering place,” she said.

At the Providence Benedictine Nursing Center in Mount Angel, the story is much the same.

“Food is a good social venue,” said Valisa Way, the center’s activities director.

Yet, cultivating friendships among those residents who aren’t interested can be a challenge for her.

“Either they’re social or they’re not,” said Way.

According to Way, some residents are just glad to be getting time to themselves after a long and busy life.
But being social definitely makes a difference, she said.

To those looking to forge new friendships in a care center, Way encourages them to accept where they’re at and be willing to take help. This can be a critical step toward having a social interaction.

Todd has had to accept her loss of mobility. She is an avid reader. She’s not sure how she has made so many friends at Maryville because she’s always reading. “I’m friendly, I guess,” she concluded.