Getting ready to visit your loved one who resides in a memory care community? Below are a few tips to ensure your visit is positive and enjoyable – for both of you!
Prioritize your loved one’s schedule rather than your own.
Although it may be difficult, when planning a visit, it’s important to prioritize your loved one’s schedule. Doing so will give you a better chance of making the visit enjoyable and positive – for both of you. To determine what time is best to visit, speak to the team at your loved one’s community. They should know your loved one’s routine and be able to let you know what times of day they’re at their best. It’s good to avoid visits at times when they’re napping, eating lunch or dinner or sundowning. A little advance planning should set you up for a successful, enjoyable visit – for both you and for them!
Follow the rules.
In the time of COVID-19, and because your loved one’s health may be fragile in general, be sure to follow the community’s rules. These rules aren’t meant to punish, but they are geared to ensure your loved one stays safe and healthy. Avoid visiting if you feel ill or abnormal. Participating in health screenings and wearing a mask during all or part of your visit may be asked of you. And make sure to ask what IS allowed – it’s possible that bringing a beloved pet, a meal, or an infant or child is perfectly allowable, and could help bring a smile to your loved one’s face – and create a nice memory for you.
Bring something with you.
Arriving with a gift for your loved one or bringing a game or activity to enjoy together is a great thing to consider doing. When determining what you’ll bring, think about what your loved one enjoys. Your goal is to bring them joy. Perhaps your grandma enjoys puzzles, or your dad loves airplanes – bringing her a puzzle to work on together or him a model airplane or a coffee table book about planes could be good ideas. Bringing old photos could spark good memories for them and elicit a few amazing stories from back in the day. Even having some of their favorite songs on your phone or a comfy warm blanket could add a little joy to their day.
Dementia often affects the way someone communicates. Remember – the disease is affecting their brain in strange ways. Their ability to process information and reason is changing. Keep that in mind and shift your communication style to better suit what they’re experiencing. Some things you may need to do are:
- Minimize outside distractions such as a loud tv or radio that can make it more difficult for them to hear.
- Speak very clearly, a little bit more slowly than usual and if possible, use shorter sentences. This gives their brain more time to process information.
- Give them extra time to respond to your questions – be patient!
- Listen actively and try not to interrupt.
Also, watch your non-verbal communication. Making eye contact is important and the use of gestures can also be helpful. And remember – if communication becomes frustrating for them, sometimes just listening to music, watching a favorite show, or even sitting in silence while holding their hand is ok too.
Don’t take offense.
Depending on where they are in the progression of their disease, they may or may not remember you. If they don’t remember you – do not take offense. Simply introduce yourself and perhaps your relation to someone they do remember. Saying, “Hello grandpa, I’m Amy, Bob’s daughter” may be helpful. But if they’re unresponsive to that, just go with it and make small talk. Be patient and take things slow. Remember – this is difficult for them AND for you and they cannot control what they do and do not recall. Gentle reminders may be ok, but don’t be argumentative if they don’t respond in the way you hope. If they say something a bit mean or nasty, remind yourself that it’s not their fault, the disease is causing their brain to malfunction.
Be prepared to live in their world.
When you visit, prepare to enter their reality. Depending on where they are in their journey – they could think they’re a different age or in a different setting – or both. Go with the flow of what they’re saying even if you know they’re incorrect or some things don’t make sense. In many cases, someone with dementia may better recall memories from long ago, so if that’s the case for your loved one, stick with topics along those lines. Don’t point out their mistakes – that’s not helpful. Don’t correct them – also unhelpful. And above all, if they bring up someone who has passed on, and they don’t remember that’s the case – do not remind them! It will just upset them! If they mention that they just saw their mother yesterday, but you don’t that’s not true, remind yourself that they aren’t lying…it’s just that the disease is causing their brain to work incorrectly. In their mind, what they’re telling you is real. In their mind, they may be a teenager who still lives with their mother. Be ok with telling a few little white lies if it’s needed to spare their feelings or keep the visit positive. Remember – it’s more important to be kind and understanding that it is to be right. And above all, treat them with dignity and respect at all times.
Don’t stay too long.
If you’ve taken the time to plan a visit – especially if you live further away, it’s easy to want to make visits last a long time. But this may not be best for your loved one. Sometimes shorter is sweeter! Too much stimulation could potentially take a toll on their energy levels or even make them agitated. If they start getting grumpy or seem tired – or if they directly ask you to leave – do so with a smile while wishing them well. Again – don’t take offense.