Many people avoid visiting loved ones who reside at a nursing home. However, studies show that visits with elderly people help them stave off depression and cognitive decline and even infections and mortality.
Despite these clear benefits, family members frequently confess that they would prefer to dodge awkward visits with their loved one at a nursing home because it only stirs up sad feelings of guilt and loss.
It shouldn’t be like that. And, it needn’t be so.
Here are a few helpful tips to make your next visit to the nursing home less of an uncomfortable chore and more of what it should be: a special time spent with an aging loved one to let the person know you care.
Right-size your visiting team: Don’t overwhelm your loved one with an army of well-wishers. Try to limit your group size to just one or two individuals.
Come in the morning: Your visit is likely a big event for your loved one. Consider making your call on the person in the morning hours or after breakfast. This is when most frail seniors have the greatest amount of energy and alertness during their day.
Come to dine: Check ahead, but normally nursing homes are happy to accommodate you as your loved one’s guest at mealtime.
Pro tip: A meal gives you something to focus on and discuss during your visit.
Respect privacy: A nursing home is a home, first and foremost, and your loved one’s room is private space. Respect for an aging person’s dignity requires staff and visitors alike to knock on the room door before entering.
Along these same lines, should staff need to provide care to your loved one during your visit, politely excuse yourself from the room.
Let them keep dreaming: Don’t wake a senior who is snoozing peacefully upon your arrival. Instead, settle into a lobby chair with your cell phone or a magazine and wait for your loved one to arise. That way your loved one is less likely to be groggy during your visit.
Greet them warmly: Be sure to provide a bright smile to your loved one upon arrival. Make good eye contact and give a warm embrace or a lingering handclasp. If the person is lying down or sitting in a wheelchair, don’t stand above and gaze down. Find a seat quickly and sit down. Aim at remaining at eye-level during your visit.
Raise your voice just a bit: Nearly half of seniors aged 75 or older have trouble hearing. To help your loved one hear you better, don’t shout. Just raise your voice slightly. Limit background sounds by shutting off the TV and closing the door.
And, be sure to face your loved one as you speak to them. Seeing your facial expressions and moving lips may help the elder person follow the conversation a little better.
Pro tip: Be aware of yourself checking your phone or fidgeting with your car keys — these are conversation distractions that read “I’m bored” to your loved one.
Bring props: Bring photos or a favorite collectible. If the nursing home allows, consider bringing your well-behaved pet. Sharing helps build conversation and provides for an enjoyable activity to do with your loved one.
Go for a stroll: If your loved one is up for it, consider going for a walk around the nursing home. If weather allows, take in some fresh air outside the facility.
Encourage conversation participation: Ask open-ended questions that refer to the past and present to help engage your loved one in conversation. An example might be: “Such a beautiful summer day. What do you like best about summer days?”
Be patient: Those living with memory problems need time to gather their thoughts. It’s OK to give them time to sort out their thinking. It’s also OK to help them stay in a conversation by prompting them with “you were just telling me about…”
Pro tip: Touching a loved one’s hand while they speak with you may help them focus on your conversation.
Visiting loved ones is important to their overall well-being. That is true even if they don’t remember the visit shortly after you have gone home.
But, visiting them is also good for you. It’s a very special, emotional pick-up when we cheer our loved ones and show them that we care. Don’t let a fear of nursing homes hold you back from igniting that singular pleasure of life.