When your loved one is living with a memory disorder like dementia, you don’t always know what to expect when you visit. Some days will be good and things will seem normal. Other days can be frustrating, even painful; your loved one might call you by the wrong name, they may seem agitated or angry, or maybe they refuse to see guests altogether.
While it’s hard not to take the bad days personally, it’s easy to let past experiences or fear of the unknown keep you from visiting you loved one—even when you miss them deeply and want to be there for them. But don’t let guilt, fear or sadness keep you away.
Preparing for Your Visit
- First, familiarize yourself with the care facility and get to know its staff. Having a relationship with your loved one’s caregivers and keeping an open line of communication are key to staying informed. They can give you insight into the best times to visit, tell you how your loved one is doing when you’re not around, and let you know of upcoming activities and events that guests can participate in.
- Plan a few topics that you and your loved one can talk about. Think about stories they love telling or fond memories you’ve shared together. Try to focus on things from the distant past, as opposed to recent memories.
- Plan for silence as well. Remember, talking isn’t always necessary. Be present, engaged and supportive—sometimes that’s all they need.
- Bring a small gift from home. Whether it’s a flower you grew in your garden, a picture of your family or their favorite treat. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture to make a big impact.
- Plan a simple activity you can do together. You can paint, look through photos, read to them, go for a walk or look at birds in the courtyard.
- With the permission of your care center, consider bringing the family pet for a visit. Not only can this help your loved one feel connected to the family, it will likely brighten the day of other residents too.
- Communicate with other family members and friends to avoid overlapping visits. Sometimes too many guests can be overwhelming. Plus, this way your loved one gets more visits and one-on-one attention.
During Your Visit
- Keep things positive. For instance, they may start talking about a relative or friend that has died. Reminding them of their passing can be upsetting. Instead, move onto another topic, or talk about a good memory you have of that person.
- Likewise, try not to correct them if they remember something incorrectly, or if they repeat themselves. This can be embarrassing for your loved one, or give them the impression you’re upset with them.
- Avoid polarizing topics and debates. If you sense an argument coming, steer the conversation in a different direction.
- Be patient, talk slowly and keep your sentences short. Give them the proper time to follow along and respond—don’t cut them off when they’re speaking or looking for the right words.
When It’s Time to Leave
Saying goodbye and returning home without your loved one is often the hardest part of the visit. It can be especially difficult for spouses who are separated for the first time in their married lives.
Know that you don’t have to have to say “goodbye” in the traditional sense. Instead, when it’s time to leave, let them know what’s next on your agenda. For instance, instead of saying “I’m going home,” try saying, “I’m off to run a few errands. I’ll see you again soon!”
Sometimes visits go so well that your loved one seems like their old self. Other times each new visit can feel like you’re starting from scratch. Don’t get discouraged! Keep coming back—you are still an important part of their life.