Visiting Loved Ones with Dementia in a Community
When visiting with a loved one in a senior living or long-term care community, many types of feelings and emotions can arise. They can range from joy and fulfilling to frustration and sadness. When that loved one has dementia, it can be hard to know what to say and/or do when visiting. Here are some tips and suggestions that can make your visit an enjoyable one.
Remember that there is more to a person than just their memory or their ability to do specific things. Participation and engagement do not always mean “doing.” Sometimes, just being present in a space with ones that you care about and enjoy being with can be all the engagement they need.
Keep visits simple. Do not overwhelm the person with a lot of tasks, activities, or people as this can be overstimulating and result in unwanted behavioral expressions. Find a quiet and comfortable space to be together. This can help limit distractions and excessive noise.
Adjust your expectations and try not to compare this visit to previous ones. Being present in “this” moment will help you find joy in each visit. If previous visits were difficult or felt exhausting, try not to dwell on what could have been or what that person can no longer do but rather focus on what IS right at this moment and flexibility is key.
One of the more difficult things to be presented with is behavioral expressions towards you that can be hurtful or embarrassing. As hard as it may feel, try not to take it personally. Sometimes unpleasant reactions are a way to communicate an unmet need. As dementia progresses, a person loses the ability to verbally communicate their needs. Unpleasant behavioral expressions can simply be the way they may be telling you they are tired or overstimulated. Be mindful of the environment and activities going on. It’s ok to have a short visit. The quality of time together is greater than the quantity of time.
Creating Moments of Joy is a wonderful book written by Jolene Brackery that offers pointers on how to create joyful visits.
Activity Suggestions When Visiting:
- Use music to set ambiance, spark conversation, and encourage movement.
- Touch can be healing so offer hand-holding, hugs, pampering, or massages.
- Bring photos of loved ones (the older the better). If they do not recognize themselves, that’s ok! We never want to ask “Don’t you remember?” So instead, comment on the features of the photo: “The bride in this picture is beautiful…the children look so happy and playful…this looks like a fun vacation, etc.”
- Spirituality can inspire joy and happiness. If the person is spiritual, consider reading religious material together like the bible or devotional, listen and sing to spiritual music, or share in religious traditions.
It can be hard, but don’t worry if your loved one won’t remember what you said or did when you visit, you are still creating moments of joy and happiness for both you and your loved one. This creates memories that you can carry with you even after they have passed and these moments for them create meaningful and joyful feelings in the moment. A person may not remember names or relationships but they remember how another person makes them feel.