Surprise Visit to my Mom’s Skilled Nursing Care

Surprise Visit to my Mom’s Skilled Nursing Care

Surprise Visit to my Mom's Skilled NursingI can’t stop thinking about my surprise visit with my mom yesterday.  I arrived Sunday afternoon about 2:30 PM to Freedom Village Healthcare Center in California.  She was not in her usual places – where was she?  A caregiver said, “Oh, your mom is down in the activity room.”  I said to my husband Chris, “We really need to pay more attention to the activity calendar, so we don’t visit during those times.  I want her to enjoy all the social times and I can visit her when nothing else is going on.”

We happened upon the activity calendar and all the activities were done for the day.  So what was she doing?  As we turned the corner, we saw my mom’s beaming face.  She was playing bingo.  The caregiver smiled at me and said, “Oh, do you want to take your mom?”  I said, “Absolutely not, let her enjoy herself.”  It was great to see pure joy – when she said, “Bingo!”

What was interesting to me was her interacting with the other residents and helping them play too.  My mom has severe vascular dementia.  When she speaks it is about 70% non-reality.  What a great activity to really stimulate her brain.  The caregiver said to me, “We decided to put on a bingo game for them, they like it and it gives them something to do.”

Well, bless those two caregivers who created an unscheduled resident activity to help with the resident’s quality of life.  This was a huge “Wow” for me and I can’t stop thinking about how happy my mom was.  For those of you who follow my blog, I moved my mom 1000 miles to be near me about three months ago.  This was the best day of my mom’s life here in California.

After each resident said bingo, the caregiver would call the resident by name and say, “You won a cookie.”  No cookies appeared.  I thought to myself, well the residents have dementia – they won’t remember the cookie promise.  To my utter surprise – cookies appeared at the end of the last game.  One cookie for each resident.  When the caregiver was handing out the last cookie, the resident said, “I don’t get one – I didn’t win.”  The caregiver said, “That’s okay, you are a winner for even being here.”  There are tears in my eyes writing this, because these staff went above and beyond!

As the afternoon progressed – my mom continued being animated and talking nonstop.  It did not matter that 60% was non-reality.  She was having a great time and I loved spending quality time with her.  Some people think people with dementia have nothing to offer in life, well, they are 100% wrong.

Please share your success, failures or comment below to join the conversation and interact with other senior living professionals on what is currently being effective to increase occupancy on a nationwide basis.

Diane Twohy Masson is the author of “Senior Housing Marketing – How to Increase Your Occupancy and Stay Full,” available at with a 5-star rating.  The book is required reading at George Mason University as a part of its marketing curriculum.  Within this book, the author developed a sales & marketing method with 12 keys to help senior living providers increase their occupancy.   Masson developed this expertise as a marketing consultant, sought-after blogger for senior housing and a regional marketing director of continuing care retirement communities in several markets.  She has also been a corporate director of sales and a mystery shopper for independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled care nursing communities in multiple states.  Most recently Masson was recruited to consult for two debt-free Continuing Care Retirement Communities in Southern California – Freedom Village in Lake Forest and The Village in Hemet, California.  Interestingly, this career started when she was looking for a place for her own mom and helped her loved one transition through three levels of care.

© Marketing 2 Seniors| Diane Twohy Masson 2013 All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog post may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author, unless otherwise indicated for stand-alone materials. You may share this website and or it’s content by any of the following means: 1. Using any of the share icons at the bottom of each page. 2. Providing a back-link or the URL of the content you wish to disseminate. 3. You may quote extracts from the website with attribution to Diane Masson CASP and link For any other mode of sharing, please contact the author Diane Masson.


  1. And this is what I tell all my prospective families. “While it is great to make an appointment to visit with your prospective communities, it is more important to check the residences out at odd times with surprise visits. That way you will see what the community looks like when they are not expecting a visit.” Before you move your loved one in and after. You must stay involved in your loved ones care. Good for those caregivers! And great for our industry that there ARE these wonderful places for our loved ones with dementia to go!

  2. Beautiful! It made me cry tears of happiness, too. I’m so glad she’s in a wonderful place with people who care about her.

  3. Linked In American Society on Aging

    Nicely said!! As a nursing home administrator/consultant many nursing homes do improve the quality of life of the residents.
    By Jeff Weinberg

  4. Linked In Licensed Nursing Home Administrators of America

    Hi Diane, marvelous example of social integration! Sometimes with vascular dementia, the individual does produce what I call volumes of scripting, talking endlessly or intrusively about non-realities because they are wanting to communicate, but are no longer articulate enough to find the correct words to express what they believe they need to say. This symptom presentation sends a message to “most people” that the person is likely enormously “gone” which is erroneous. They do in fact retain a lot of working memory, especially with artistic, musical, and pictoral types of association, and the joy that is experienced in those activities actually stimulate plasticity in the brain. So there is this comorbid presentation of failure and success. The success being the ability to recognize a process in bingo, to follow the social parameter of sitting at the table and participating, placing an object on a square..(this is parietal function happening, knowing what a thing is for), and experiencing joy from it, succinctly lowering anxiety and physiologically reducing pain. Weather the caregivers knew all of this potential from the onset, is unknown. Because the residents enjoy it, they do it, and that is beautiful because in the large scope of facility care, sometimes, activities are sadly underfunded because it is difficult to measure the worth of qualitative investments. Quantitative investments of time and money typically devour budgets rather quickly, and to maintain being within compliance, those things cannot be excluded. Even if residents are participating in an activity incorrectly, they are still gaining tremendous benefit just from participating, or observing others do it because the healing affect of inclusiveness, is exponential!
    By Lucia Oldson, BSHCA/LTC

    • Thanks for the interesting info Lucia

  5. That is a great story Diane, since I know the area and community I was so excited to hear good things. It is so refreshing to see positive posts. Thank you for your article..and I hope you continue with the positive stories.

  6. Thanks for sharing such a sweet story with us.. Dementia has to be one of the most difficult conditions to deal with, as we watch our parent age. Glad to know you made the right decision for your mother.

  7. Barbara Ivanhoe (Consultant / Director of Sales, Resident & Family Relations) wrote:

    “What a wonderful surpise visit you had. To all of those that say “there is more to life then playing bingo” need to understand that to some, bingo brings a meaning to life.”

  8. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Diane, thank you for sharing such a beautiful story! Kudos to the caregivers who created such a stimulating day for the residents. Special kudos to you for providing such loving care and dedication to your Mom!
    By A Michael Bloom, M.A., M.S., CPC, FAAIDD

  9. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    How nice to hear something positive. I work in health care and I hear the negative comments about my work place all the time. When I hear a positive comment whether it be about the facility in general or about a particular staff member I make sure that I pass that on. Just the other day I heard a very nice comment made about a co worker. I passed it on to her. She was delighted and to quote her “I don’t ever get a compliment. Thank you.” She really didn’t have to say anything. The smile on her face showed that she was proud of what she was being complimented for. So often the focus is on the negative in long term care facilities. It’s good to let the positive shine through.
    By Cheryl Simon

  10. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    I so enjoyed your story. :)
    By Sheila Graham

  11. Linked In Elder Care Professionals

    If this place is in the Bay area I want to know where it is please.
    By Patricia Player Maxwell

    • It is located in Orange County, CA

  12. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    I hope their supervisors realize how special and valuable they are.
    By A Michael Bloom, M.A., M.S., CPC, FAAIDD

    • Yes, I have spoken with the Director of Nursing and the Administrator.

  13. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    Diane, thanks for sharing your experience when visiting your Mom. It was nice to hear you catching someone doing something right and recognizing there are a lot of positive experiences individuals have in skilled nursing and assisted living. I agree with others in the industry regarding the media; why not take on the premise captured in Paul Harvey’s famous words “more of the rest of the story”. As a State regulator I have seen some horrid areas of neglect but I have also seen more often than not, exceptional compassion affecting the quality of life and living of those dependent on others for their care. This is really the norm.
    By Myron Taylor

  14. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Love this story.
    By john brown

  15. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    I know the feeling you had when you saw your mom participating. I was blessed to have the same feeling when mother was able to partake in some social activities once again. The best thing was when she got her contagious smile back that she had lost.
    By Acme Posture Partner

    • Yes, you understand the amazing smile of loved one! It is so hard when they are confused and don’t understand why they can’t remember. Seeing pure joy is a treasure.

  16. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    As a nurse, I have saved many a people’s lives, and very few people of them have said thank you. It is nice to be appreciated. As a caregiver, it is not an easy job, sometimes a very dirty nasty job. Thank you goes a long way.
    By laura sarrach

    • Laura, thanks for sharing. It reminds me of a story in the bible. Not many come back to say thank you!

  17. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    What a wonderful experience Diane, to know your mom is taken care of so well and that the facility actually shows care and concern for its residents. Your mom has been blessd with a very good home to care for her. Your unannounced visit proves they ARE doing their job, BINGO!!!
    By Rose G. Cole

    • I love your comment Rose!

  18. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    I am glad to hear a positive comment, with a lot of negative things in the industry, there are a lot of good that doesn’t get mentioned. Thank you
    By Cathy Gaertner

  19. Linked In Boomers: Aging Beats The Alternative

    It really is possible to engage people who have a dementia. We just have to keep trying so they have the best quality of life they are able to have at any stage. Great story!
    By Lorie Eber

  20. Linked In Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST)

    These acts by caregivers go on everyday across the country. The real Heroes of Caregivers as we give awards to each year. God bless those who care for our frail elderly.
    By Pat Anderson

    • Yes, bless them all!

  21. Linked In Linkage Marketing Senior Living

    How beautiful Diane. I have had nothing but bad experiences with Skilled Nursing. It is good to see that this is not always the case. Thank you for opening my eyes. It sounds like you found a really good home for your mom.
    By Kathryn Watson

  22. From Linked In
    How beautiful Diane. I have had nothing but bad experiences with Skilled Nursing. It is good to see that this is not always the case. Thank you for opening my eyes. It sounds like you found a really good home for your mom.
    By Kathryn Watson

    • Thanks Kathryn! I am glad my mom’s caregivers can start to change the world one resident at a time.

  23. Eydie Merwitzer (Co-Owner/Manager PostNet) wrote:
    “Human interaction and touch are important to all of us, but crucial to the lives of the youngest and oldest of us. And, if we can add the use of all the senses, the experience is enriched beyond measure.”

  24. Linked In National Senior Living Providers Network

    What a heart warming story. Thanks for sharing

  25. Linked In Licensed Nursing Home Administrators of America

    Kudos to the Residential Aides , I believe activities should be everyone responsibility and if the resident’s are participating in Activities they are not on their call lights, in their rooms for possible falls!
    By Wolgamott Jackie

    • And yes, Wolgamott, the caregivers were going above and beyond.

  26. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    Wow is all I can say. Carestaff like them are worth their weight in gold.
    By Barbara Rollins

  27. Linked In Executives in Long Term Care

    Really, BINGO? I am glad you mother enjoyed it but we really need to get more creative with our activities programs.
    By Alice Smith

    • Oh, bingo meant the world to her. Plus cognitively – she could process it.

  28. Linked In American Society on Aging

    This is a beautiful anecdote of compassionate care. It demonstrates that people and systems can organize around principles of quality care. Also, it provides the necessary context for looking at the myriad of failures in similar homes and implies the important question, “What’s the difference?”
    By Robert Fettgather, Ph.D.

  29. Linked In Assisted Living Professional Network

    A sincere thank you for sharing your story. There are wonderful communities for aging seniors. First of all, family involvement makes for a richer life for our seniors, secondly, the world is full of wonderful caregivers who deserve to be recognized. A watchful eye by family and by services such as we provide through Assisted Transition Santa Clara County in California, help to prevent any abusive experiences. Contact Karl Winkelman 408.659.9465 for assistance with choosing a community of care for your family member. Once again, grazie!
    By Katherine Winkelman

  30. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing. My Mom is 87 and thankfully fully independant at this time. She lives with my brother in the same city she raised us. I know there will be a time when she will need some help, up to the level of care being received by your mother. I pray we will find a place with wonderous people like the staff in your story.
    By John Ebey

    • Thanks John, your mom is lucky to have you and your brother watching out for her.

  31. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    If only we could get NPR to investigate this!!
    By Jay Banks

  32. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    My standard answer when residents are concerned that they did not win at bingo is “Did you have fun?”. They are respond “Yes!”. My answer is “See, you are all winners”.
    By Bobbie Rocha

  33. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Very emotional, thanks for sharing!
    By Carla S. Reyes

  34. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    A great story – it really is heart-warming to see seniors happy and finding meaning. I wish society treated seniors the way we treat children…with the fundamental goal of teaching and reacting to their responses and needs. Such a simple change in mindset would make a world of difference, and make stories like yours common place :)
    By Elaine Cheedle

  35. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Thanks for the heart warming story!
    By Mindi Blanchard

  36. Linked In American Society on Aging

    What a wonderful example of how those with dementia have something to offer. Your story not only demonstrates meaningful caregiving, it reveals the capacity of the human spirit. Thanks so much for sharing!
    By Sharon Dickol

  37. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    Diane, Very encouraging. What a blessing and also thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.
    By Duane Coleman

  38. Linked In Healthcare Marketing

    What a wonderful visit! Sounds like you have mom in the right place. Keep up the good work, Sounds like the facility has the right mindset to think about the people and thefreedom to go outside the box to really deliver great life quality.
    By Karen Patterson

  39. Linked In Assisted Living Professionals

    What a great story to read!! I spend one day a week with my Mom who lives in an assisted living memory care unit. While they have an activity schedule, when I come in or my brothers visit, she is usually in bed! She is doing less and less activities since she moved to the dementia unit and I don’t believe she is walking enough. She uses a walker because they got her dependent on it and there is nothing wrong with her legs. I take her out for hours and I get her walking. I keep telling her: “Mom, use it or lose it!”
    By Beth Gandelman

    • Keep advocating Beth! Don’t give up!

  40. Linked In American Society on Aging

    It is so nice to hear a story like this. It shows that care can be compassionate and provide superior quality of life for elders.
    By marcia southwick

  41. I’ve been to Freedom Village.. excellent choice. The lobby makes me feel like I was in Paris.. so beautiful. Great article

  42. What a great story, so nice to hear “good” outcomes from nursing home tales.

  43. Linked In Linkage Marketing Senior Living

    Great story Diane. Thanks for sharing!
    By Steve Wittman

  44. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Such an uplifting story. I am glad you shared this because we too often hear only the negative side of nursing home care. Your story shows that there are positives also.
    By Beth Shaver

  45. Linked In American Society on Aging

    Thanks Diane… my Mom has vascular dementia, as well. And we just made the decision to move her into the dementia unit at a lovely place, where they try to keep people engaged. She’s also very hard of hearing, which is isolating…but you give me some hope! Send me your email. I am working on an aging-related project and will need all the sources I can get!
    By Rita Baron-Faust, MPH, CHES

    • Rita, email me anytime – we are going through the same experience.

  46. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    Thank you for sharing the story and to hear something positive. Usually we hear only the negative about our industry and it’s true not too many they are coming back to say thank you.
    By Doina Farcas, BSW, President

    • Thanks Doina and I loved your gramma story Kim! People think seniors have nothing to offer and they can change the lives of those around them.

  47. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    I’ll add a scenario. . .
    When I was first starting my career as a counselor I had a woman come to our agency with depression. She shared that she worked in a nursing home (in the ‘activity dept) but didn’t do anything that ‘really mattered’ – as she felt she was not part of the professional nursing staff (she was going to school for nursing at the time). I just looked at her and very sincerely enlightened her that her job was of the ‘best’ in the place because she was one of the rare people the residents saw in a day who weren’t poking, prodding, handling body functions, or forcing them to do something challenging or uncomfortable. She said she never thought about it that way.
    Speed forward to now – despite significant life events these 20 years – including having her mother staying in the same home for 3 years unable to talk – she stayed in the ‘Activity Department’ despite her nursing training – and retired this year! She invested more of herself in the choice of activities that included preparing local traditional favorite foods, visiting local churches, seasonal trips to local favorite spots and yes – lots of Bingo!
    By Karen Kehler

  48. Linked In Executives in Long Term Care

    Whatever works best for the group and gives them joy sure works for me.
    By Candyce Henry, CEO

    • Linked In Executives in Long Term Care

      BINGO, is an ever popular activity in long term care. I can agree that it is not conducive to physical exercise; however, BINGO does allow for increased mental stimulation. Since this is an activity of choice, why not incorporate some physical tests into the game? For example, when a certain letter/number combination is called the group stands for a brief moment or does some other physical activity. There are many ways to put a new twist on a classic favorite.

      After all, residents deserve to have their social, physical, and mental needs meet with facility planned activities. It is our responsibility to assure they are participating and gaining enjoyment and benefit.
      By Scott Blankenship, LNHA

      • Thanks Candyce and Scott, I always hated bingo. But it is a numbers game. My mom was a professional bingo player at one time, it is in her long term memory. Simple numbers…

  49. Linked In American Society on Aging

    It’s a great recognition that those with dementia aren’t on the same schedule as the calendar might suggest. Activities need to be flexible and spontaneous and meet the residents where they are, not where the calendar is. Kudos!
    By Erin Pettegrew

  50. Linked In Licensed Nursing Home Administrators of America

    The wonderful thing is “Mom” doesn’t know it is not reality, and those who do not know her do not know it is not reality. They are just enjoying the moment. A lesson we could all learn. :) Learning to enjoy the moment.
    By KAT Stenson

    • Kat you are 100% correct! Today was another day that she was just enjoying the moment. She told me her day was better because I was there.

  51. Linked In Senior Living & Care Professionals

    When my gramma was at a care center (7 years or so ago) she had amazing care. They really loved her there. I remember one time her calling me so excited that she won coverall in bingo and won $5! I remember on person who used to read her the local paper every day. My gramma loved that. I still visit that community today as some of my tenants either do rehab there or move there permanently. There are still staff that remember me, and my gramma! I used to bring them flowers and goodies and signed up on their “exceptional staff” wall. They deserved it.
    By Kim Prayfrock

  52. Linked In Senior Assisted Living Sales, Marketing & Operations

    Terrific story Diane – funny how it presents on the LinkedIn format because I clicked on it fully expecting a horror story and was thrilled to see it was quite the opposite. Thank you for sharing AND for crediting those caregivers. Spot on!
    By Brett Frankenberg

    • Thanks Brett! It was a GREAT surprise visit! Today, I had another one when she said that I made her day by coming to visit!

  53. Linked In The Elder Care Network

    People are the key difference. You can pay people to do jobs but you can’t pay them to care… That is part of their personality and way of living. People who truly care about others is such a blessing and they improve our entire world in every work they do!
    By D. Alicia Golden-Herrera

  54. Linked In Senior Care Services Companies

    Karen, I Love that story!
    As the administrator of Angel House, my small ALF home in south FL, I am seldom involved in the full day of hands-on care, but very often involved very intimately for an hour to a day at a time, with that. I pop in and out, shop for the home, take Residents to specialists, train new people, cover when someone fails to show, and just generally befriend my residents and we feel more like family than Resident and Administrator.

    Yesterday I showered our newest Resident and spent time with her, getting her to breakfast. I’d noticed she was better than when she came to us about 5 weeks ago, and so had her family. But now I saw a different time of day, and she is Much better!

    We had also noticed positive changes with another lady, and today on our cameras I saw her eating 100% independently! And she picked the bowl up and poured the last tablespoon of milk into a tablespoon without spilling… Now, this may not seem much but it’s huge for her. She’s talking more, and she says, “Hey, Doreen!” when I come in, rather than her usual, “Hello, honey”. This means she can put the face with the name and actually Say it again! I was so excited, I texted her daughters. When we see these things, I say to my staff, You did that!
    By Doreen Campbell

    • Thanks Doreen! In dementia it is the little mind connections that matter. Great stories, thanks for sharing!

  55. Linked In Linkage Marketing Senior Living

    I love the positivity this brings. We often hear so much negative and there are so many caring people in senior communities that go unnoticed. They deserve the cookies too!
    By Heidi Garvis

  56. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing, Diane. It shows how little effort it takes for staff to create an enjoyable time for residents and how great the payoff is for residents (even if they don’t remember it later on).
    By Marcie Lovett

  57. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    Thank you for sharing your story Diane. My mom is in the memory unit at an Assisted Living called Morningside House of Laurel. I can’t even put into words the joy and relief I feel when I see my mom responding to staff who are leading activities. I am so grateful to these activities directors and caregivers. Thank you for putting my feelings into words Diane.
    By Jacqueline Williams

  58. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    I loved your story and the eminence joy you shared. We hear so many negative stories and it is nice to hear the positive. I have seen so many employees go above and beyond for residents not because they want recognition, but because they become attached to their residents. It is a common occurrence to see and feel the love between a resident and those who serve them. Thank you for sharing.
    By Lisa Case

  59. Linked In Marketing to Seniors

    I love this story. In Pennsylvania we also have a program called “PEER” Pennsylvania Elderly Empowered Residents. It provides a level of communication for residents with each others needs and the facility beyond the scope of the resident’s council, It gives added communication with residents and a great sense of pride for the PEER volunteers.
    By Patty McCluskey

  60. Linked in Marketing to Seniors

    Diane – Thanks for sharing this wonderful story! I am still smiling. My uncle is in an Assisted Living Facility that is less than ten minutes from my house. Most of my visits are surprise visits. His days are filled with fun activities and he is thriving. I think it is important for all of us to share our successes. And yes, BINGO is one of his favorite activities.
    By Marilyn Souders, RN, CHP

    • The great comments are appreciated. Jacqueline and Marilyn, thanks for sharing about your mom and uncle too.