6 Tips When Visiting Your Loved One in Memory Care.

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Original content published on Alzheimer’s Reading Room.

Here are some tips to help guide you when visiting your loved one in memory care.

1. Know what time of day is the best time to visit.

As you know from caring for your loved one outside a memory care community, there are certain times of day that he or she is more anxious, upset, and confused. Generally, residents are more confused later in the day. We call this type of behavior “sundowning.” Most people are tired by the late afternoon, and it’s no different for people with memory problems. If you can, try visiting before your loved one sits down for dinner.

2. Learn how to say goodbye for the day.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. It’s heart wrenching to watch residents’ spouses struggle with this most of all. I often hear a loved one say, “Okay honey, I’m heading home now.” This is so confusing for the person that lives in memory care. He or she will respond, “Okay, let’s go home.” Many residents do not realize that they live apart from their spouse; let alone that they are in memory care. This is the part where you use your “embracing their reality” skills. Let your loved one know that you’re headed out to the store, or mention something else that you’ll be doing once you leave. Make sure to tell them that you’ll see them again soon

3. Get to know the other residents.

One of the most wonderful aspects about long-term memory care is that your loved one will make friends. Even though someone’s short-term memory is impaired, it does not prevent them from making meaningful connections with others. Some of the strongest friendships I see in long-term care are between roommates. “Hang on, I’ve got to go tell my roomie where I’m going,” one of my favorite ninety-year-old residents said to me the other day.

Likewise, it’s important to understand that your loved one won’t get along with everyone in his or her community. If another resident is frustrating you, let them be. It’s not worth getting into an argument with someone you don’t know—especially someone who is memory impaired. Find a trusted staff member and ask for assistance.

4. Get to know the staff—especially the program or activity coordinator. 

It’s imperative to know the staff. The CNAs and other hands-on caregivers will be looking after your loved one and their needs. Make sure that you meet the person who runs your loved one’s activities each day. He or she will be better able to provide your loved one with meaningful interaction and activities if this person knows what your loved one enjoys.

5. Bring a surprise from home.

Your visit will go smoothly if you have something to talk about with your loved one. Bring a couple of those prized tomatoes that you’ve been growing, the family’s favorite photo album, or even your dog. You’ll have a great conversation topic and you’ll engage with your loved one in a meaningful way.

6. Plan day trips. 

Pick up your loved one for the family’s reunion, take him or her out to dinner, or even just take a shopping trip to the mall. Just because your loved one is in memory care doesn’t mean that he or she can’t leave for the day. Remember to let the staff know that you’re taking your loved one and be sure to sign them out. Getting the chance to experience life outside of the memory care community will bring both of you a lot of joy.

Each memory care community is different. Like any new experience, it will feel odd visiting your loved one in long-term care for the first couple weeks. I implore you to push through the awkwardness and keep visiting. 

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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