Well, this last year has definitely been…a lot. Visiting a person living with dementia in dementia care was already difficult, but this year really upped the ante. Let’s dive into some quick tips that work in-person, but then talk about what happens if you need to video visit.
- If it’s a video or phone call, have someone assist you.
- Know what time of day is the best time to visit—virtually or in-person!
- Learn how to say “Goodbye” for the day.
- Get to know the staff at the community.
- Bring or show off a surprise from home.
- Communicate with other family members or friends who are visiting the individual.
1. If it’s a video or phone call, have someone assist you.
On the other end of the phone, someone should be there to assist. This means a staff member, the Dementia Care Director, someone like that—it’s going to be frustrating for someone with even mild dementia to facilitate a call. I’ve seen a lot of well-intended families buy their loved ones a phone…and then immediately regret that decision because the person doesn’t know how to use it, loses it everywhere, or, worse: calls the police or other family members at all hours. It might be best to leave the phone facilitation to the community.
2. Know what time of day is the best time to visit.
There are certain times of day that a person living with dementia is more anxious, upset, and confused. Generally, individuals with dementia are more agitated 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 dementia. If you can, try visiting before your loved one sits down for dinner. This also goes for phone or video calls…plan ahead with the time of day!
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 dementia care. This is the part where you use your Embracing Their Reality(TM) 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. (This goes for the phone, too!)
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. Again, this works via phone, too. You can lead the conversation even if that person doesn’t have much to say! Talk about what you’re doing and what you’ve been up to.
6. Communicate with other family members or friends who are visiting your loved one, even virtually.
Figure out when other family members or friends are visiting or calling so you don’t overlap too much. It might be worth talking about a calendar where you can pick dates/times so that you aren’t overwhelming the person living with dementia. You should also ensure everyone is on the same page about where the individual is in there dementia progression!