"Make the Holidays a Little Brighter –
Visit a Care Facility"
By Lisa M. Petsche
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If you are planning to visit a relative or friend in a nursing home over the holidays, follow these suggestions to help ensure positive interactions.
- Call ahead to the unit where the person resides, to find out the best time of day to visit.
- Plan to visit when you are not rushed for time.
- Bring something with you: flowers and a vase, a photo album, a magazine or newspaper, a guest book for visitors to sign, a favorite music tape or CD, or a special food treat. (Check first with staff whether the person has any diet restrictions.)
- Position yourself at eye level, face to face. Ensure you are close enough and speaking loudly enough that the person can adequately see and hear you.
- Actively listen to what the person has to tell you. Express interest in their daily activities, and allow them to vent their feelings about their situation.
- Encourage reminiscing about pleasant events, especially those from past holidays.
- Tell some jokes or a funny true story, or bring in a humorous videotape to watch together.
- If conversation is difficult or impossible, share news about family, friends and current events, read aloud or listen to music together. Sit in the lobby and people-watch. And learn to become comfortable with silence.
- Check the recreational activities schedule for special events - such as a holiday bazaar or a visiting choir - and accompany the person you visit to one of them.
- Telephone between visits if you can't get in as often as you’d like.
Visiting the person with dementia
Visiting a person who is cognitively impaired can be particularly challenging. You may not be able to relate with them in the usual ways. Visits can still be meaningful, however, once you adjust your expectations and learn new ways of interacting. Here are some guidelines.
- Visit alone if possible. It is much easier for the person to deal with one visitor at a time. If you find visits awkward, though, bring along a friend for moral support.
- Come prepared for any possible mood. Or, call ahead and ask what kind of day the person is having. If it's a bad one, postpone your visit.
- Approach the person slowly and from the front, giving them time to see you coming. Make eye contact, and use touch as appropriate.
- Address the person by name, and identify yourself also. Be prepared that they may not recognize you or may not recall previous visits. Rest assured this does not make your presence any less valuable. Your visits not only provide mental stimulation, they also validate the person as a unique and worthwhile individual.
- Find a quiet place to visit in order to avoid distractions, since over-stimulation leads to agitation.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Use familiar words and simple sentences. Avoid clichés. Talk in a calm voice, using a low-pitched tone.
- Ask simple questions that require a short answer - preferably yes or no. Avoid posing questions that challenge their short-term memory, such as "What did you do today?"
- Use body language - gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice - to help get your message across.
- Don't argue when the person has facts confused. If a conversation appears to be causing frustration, change the subject. If they become restless during an activity, try something else.
- Don't take verbal outbursts or other uncharacteristic behavior personally. Shorten the visit if it’s going poorly - if the person is irritable or fatigued, for example.
- Following a difficult visit, do something for yourself - such as going for a walk or soaking in a hot bath - to help relieve tension.
Ideas for activities
- Watch home movies or rent a favorite movie – perhaps a holiday classic.
- Decorate the room: bring in pictures, a calendar, a sun-catcher for the window, a plant, special knick-knacks or a seasonal decoration.
- Look through picture books or albums that reflect past interests.
- Write a letter to someone special.
- Play a card game or board game.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Make a collage out of family photos.
- Give a manicure or set hair.
- Give a hand or foot massage.
- Bring your pet in to visit (find out the facility's policy first).
- Bring children or grandchildren with you.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.
RSA License R2519.
Legacy Home Care is licensed as a residential service agency by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Health Care Quality.