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Advice for Visiting Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Visiting a family member or friend who has Alzheimer’s or dementia can be an emotionally difficult process. Not knowing how to act around or speak to the “new” person your loved one has become due to Alzheimer’s is a common challenge people face. However, no matter how difficult it may be, the benefits of these ties are immense for patient care. Medical studies show that regular visits and socialization opportunities for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can have many long-lasting health benefits.

Keep reading to learn about how memory care residents benefit from regular visits with family, friends and other loved ones, and how you can prepare.

Planning Ahead for a Successful Visit

Just like any meeting or trip you are about to embark on, it’s important to take time to plan for a visit with a loved one who has a form of dementia. Some of our top tips for a pleasant and successful visit include:

  • Limit visitors to one or two people at a time. Too many guests to interact with can be stressful even at the best of occasions. For someone with dementia, visiting with more than a couple of faces at once can be very overwhelming.
  • Try to schedule your visits during a time of day when you know your loved one is at their best. Many memory care residences like Havenwood Heritage Heights are happy to work with you to coordinate visits and answer any important questions.
  • Make sure that the length of your visit doesn’t run too long. It’s common for people with dementia to quickly shift between moods when they become overwhelmed or tired. So, try not to overstay your welcome. While every person is different, it’s a good idea to check with their caregiver for advice on the overall length and frequency of your visits.
  • Ask if it’s okay to bring along pets to your visits. Pets can often be a great icebreaker and may provide a great deal of comfort for those with memory problems. Unfortunately, not all senior living facilities welcomes pets, so make sure to check their rules first.
  • Always do your best to minimize distractions during your visit. It helps to keep the environment quiet and calm if possible. This means that you should turn off the television or any loud music. If there is anyone else around who is not part of your visit, ask them to leave the room or move your visit to a quieter location if possible.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming events. At our memory care facility in Concord, we often put on special events throughout the year, and getting a visit from a loved one can be a real treat for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you’re concerned that your visit may disrupt the day, try to plan your visit to coincide with mealtimes or an activity.
  • Send a quick refresher list of preparation information to newer visitors before they stop by so they have time to prepare and get into a calm and easy state of mind.

Essential Do’s and Don’ts for New Visitors

If your family member or friend is a resident at a memory care facility, practicing a few key “do’s and don’ts” during your visit can help to keep you both enjoy a positive visit. Follow these tips for a successful stay.

Things You Should Do During Your Visit

  • Keep your tone light and body language positive.
  • Make eye contact and stay at eye level during the conversation.
  • Always introduce yourself casually, even if you’re sure your loved one must know you. Something simple like, “Hi Grandpa. It’s Sarah, your granddaughter” will work best.
  • Speak in short sentences, at an easy pace. Try to only tackle one idea per sentence. For example: “The weather is lovely today, isn’t it?” or “Tell me about your dog.”
  • Always give your loved one ample time to speak and answer your questions. There’s no need to rush the conversation or push for a reply.
  • Remember that it’s best to use open-ended questions. There are no right or wrong answers when spending time with your loved one!
  • Do your best to be comfortable with simply sitting and enjoying each other’s company in silence. Your loved one may enjoy this just as much as keeping up a lively conversation.
  • Always follow their lead and let them choose an activity or conversation topic that they enjoy.
  • Allow your family member to express their feelings of fear, anger or sadness, and do your best to validate those feelings.
  • Go with the flow of conversation — even if you are talking about things that don’t quite make sense to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to share memories from the past. In fact, many seniors with memory issues are more likely to remember events from long ago.
  • Always come prepared with an activity idea that you may both enjoy. Try picking something nice to read aloud, a photo album you may like to share or even some of their favorite records to listen to.
  • If your loved one gives permission for physical contact, feel free to give gentle hugs and touches that let them know you care.

Things You Should Avoid During Your Visit

  • Don’t use phrases like, “Do you remember?” This can result in feelings of embarrassment or anger.
  • Avoid arguments. If your family member says something that is incorrect or starts telling a story that seems made up, just let it go.
  • Don’t point out mistakes during activities or in conversation. Doing so can make your loved one feel bad and upset the visit.
  • Don’t assume that your loved one doesn’t remember anything from their past. Many people with dementia or Alzheimer’s can have regular moments of clarity.
  • Do your best not to take any mean or nasty comments personally. It is common for memory issues to result in confused and twisted words that may cause your loved one to act out due to confusion, anger, fear and embarrassment.
  • Never talk down to your family member.
  • Don’t talk about your loved one to others as if they aren’t in the room. No grown adult would enjoy feeling that way, and they won’t either.

Frequent Visits Help the Learning Process

The road to enjoying positive interactions with someone who has Alzheimer’s may be long and paved with challenges; however, it’s important to keep in mind that as you practice, your skills will build, and your interactions are likely to be much more successful than someone who only visits occasionally.

The Benefit of Visits from Family and Friends

Research has shown that even though seniors with memory problems may no longer recognize their family and friends, the time you spend together can have a positive and long-lasting impact on their overall health. Even if your family member is unable to remember your relationship to them, they may remember how often you come to visit them. Additionally, opportunities to socialize can quickly improve their mood, helping them to relax and enjoy their day or week ahead.

Many people with Alzheimer’s still have their emotional memory intact and can easily remember how a visit made them feel, even if they forget the details surrounding the visit. They may still enjoy having visitors even if they have trouble remembering your name or your relationship to them. In fact, studies suggest that your loved one may recognize you, even if they are unable to express this recognition in terms that you understand.

Other Helpful Tips for Visiting Loved Ones in Memory Care

Bringing Children

Getting the children involved in regular visits with your senior family members can be a fun and great way to maintain important relationships. However, it’s a good idea to discuss with your children what dementia is before their visit. Let them know what they should expect. Allow them to ask questions and address any concerns they may have. Parents should also explain to children that they should speak clearly during conversations, avoid arguments and ask for help whenever they need it. Additionally, bringing along a quiet activity that the children can get involved with is a good idea.

Create a Visitor Guestbook

As your loved one becomes more comfortable receiving regular guests, their disease can make it difficult to remember all of the different comings and goings throughout the day. Creating a visitor guestbook can be a fun and simple way to help remind seniors with dementia how they spent their day. The guest book can help them recall who came to visit for the day and how they spent their time together.

Additionally, they can work as a great conversation starter for your next visit. The guestbook doesn’t have to be anything fancy either. In fact, a simple notebook or journal that is housed in a central location often works best. Leave it by the front door or on a coffee table, so that each guest can leave the details of their visit. To help make sure that your loved one with dementia gets the most use out of the guestbook, each listing should include:

  • The date of the visit
  • The name of the visitor(s)
  • How everyone spent their time together
  • When you’ll be back again (try to keep this as specific as possible)

Top-Notch Memory Care in Concord, NH

As the premier continuing care retirement community in the greater Concord, NH area — we’re proud to offer a safe and comfortable memory care facility on campus here at Havenwood Heritage Heights. We’re always happy for our memory care residents to spend time with their loved ones and will do everything we can to work with you to determine the best time to schedule your next visit! Interested in learning more about the memory care services we offer? Please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team for more detailed information.  

By Mike Wall


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