In last week’s article, I talked about the importance of visiting elderly loved ones living in long-term care facilities. If your relative has trouble communicating due to long-term illness or disability, visits will feel awkward unless you take steps to prepare. I listed a number of things you can do increase the odds that your visit will be satisfying for both of you.
What else can you do to prepare for visits? Try these ideas.
- Always knock on the door before you enter. Remember that this your relative’s temporary or permanent home.
- Respect their personal space and possessions as if you were in their home.
- Involve your relative in the life of the family as much as possible.
- Get to know your loved one’s community. This encourages connectedness. Be open to including nearby residents in conversation.
- If your loved one’s facility offers activities, make it a point to participate in an activity with your loved one. Check out the facility calendar and plan ahead.
- Personalize your loved one’s room with a mind towards stimulation. How can you make the room pretty? Sports banners, family photos, pictures on the walls, soft afghans, meaningful knickknacks, and large-numbered clocks or calendars are all good ideas.
- Bring personal grooming items, lotion, makeup or nail polish that your loved one would consider a treat.
- Keep your promises. Make your visit a positive occasion and keep negativity to yourself.
- Share events happening within your life or the lives of family members.
- Bring the local newspaper and read what is happening at home in their community. It will help your loved one feel connected.
- Boost morale with compliments and attentiveness.
- Choose a time to visit that works for you and your loved one. Avoid visiting during naptime.
- Let your loved one teach you about something. Ask about recipes, a hobby, or a skill.
- Share a new hobby, skill or interest that you have recently acquired.
- Organize other family members in a card or letter writing campaign. Mail items on a regular basis.
- Bring gifts that are small, disposable, or consumable.
- Encourage your loved one to talk about his or her feelings and be an empathetic ear. You can exhibit caring even if you cannot change things. Be kind and gentle, especially if you hear the same things more than once.
- Take your visits a day at a time. Learn from each visit. Asses what went well and what to do next time. Remember that time spent with a loved one is the best gift of all.
No list of DOs would be complete without a list of DON’Ts.
- Don’t assume your loved one can’t hear or understand you.
- Don’t try to do too much in a visit. Allow for fatigue.
- Don’t rush in and stand at the door as if you are in a big hurry. Don’t act as if you would rather be somewhere else.
- Don’t give advice, lecture, scold or use baby talk.
- Don’t change the subject if your loved one expresses a negative feeling. Empathize instead. Accept their feelings and validate them.
- Don’t yell at the staff for a perceived injustice. You probably don’t have all the facts.
- Don’t give a litany of your problems or complain about all the obstacles to visiting. Leave your negativity at home
- Don’t say, “Do you remember who I am?” Instead, gently reintroduce yourself and say your name.
- Don’t visit if you are sick.
- Don’t focus on the negative aspects of group living.
With a little planning, your visits can be joyful and pleasurable for you and your elderly relative. Keep in mind that all the ideas I’ve shared here can be adapted easily for your visits to older adults who are still living at home. Visits are so important! Above all, remember that your presence is enough!!