More Tips for Families Visiting Dementia Residents

In Finding Activities for Parents with Memory Loss, Dr. Cynthia Green (a psychologist!) and her readers provide excellent ideas to improve the quality of visits to nursing home residents with dementia. It’s worthwhile to read the post and comments on the New York Times’ New Old Age blog, but here’s a summary that’s a welcome addition to my June 2009 post, Tips for Families Visiting Dementia Residents.
Dr. Green suggests simplifying previously enjoyed activities to the point where they’re manageable, but not childish. Using a calm approach in a quiet setting, and shifting activities if your relative becomes frustrated will lead to better results. New Old Age readers added the following suggestions:


  • Doing jigsaw and crossword puzzles for puzzle enthusiasts, especially personalized ones such as a crossword about favorite subjects or events, or a jigsaw made from a family photo



  • Sorting through Grandmother’s button collection, letting her describe each button and the memories it triggers



  • Winding or sorting skeins of yarn for knitters and crocheters



  • Being in calm and silent companionship rather than finding the need to fill the space



  • Reviewing and discussing garden catalogs for former gardeners



  • Reading Erma Bombeck columns



  • Positive reminiscing, steering clear of painful memories and otherwise going with the flow



    • Singing the first line of a well-known song and lettting the resident come up with the next line (New York, New York, a helluva town)


4 thoughts on “More Tips for Families Visiting Dementia Residents”

  1. Thank you for these great suggestions.

    My dad’s heart was broken twice within 16 months as he stood by my mom, his wife, and his mom as they passed away at the ages of 78 and 100. As painful as it remains, he goes back to the same nursing home every other day to visit friends and relatives. He recently commented – “Many of our friends never came to visit us when your mom was there.”

    The reasons are likely two-fold. First – It is heart-breaking to see someone you once knew as vibrant now in such a state of decline, and it’s just human nature to avoid it. Second – Many wonder “What will I say?”

    Not visiting is not an option for family members, but it is a choice for friends. Don’t be afraid to visit. Your friend needs to see familiar faces, be hugged and have her hand held by people she loves, and know she has not been forgotten. “I was thinking of you and wanted to say Hi” is a great starter for the visit. Silence is also good – just sharing space with someone you love can be enough. If a family member is there, always include the resident in your conversations.

    If you just can’t force yourself to visit a nursing home, know that families understand. Don’t forget how much the spouse at home needs contact. Frequent calls and visits go a long way in showing support and concern during this tremendously sad phase of life.

    Candy –

  2. Candy, thank you for your thoughtful comment and great suggestions. How wonderful that your Dad spends time with friends at the nursing home. Family members become an important part of the facility, and it's hard for the other residents (and sometimes for staff members) when we lose not only the resident but the people who've been coming to visit them. When family members come back, even just once, it's an opportunity for everyone to have some closure. When family members stay and become part of the fabric of the nursing home, another dimension of community is added.

  3. Sometimes, in my experience when family come to visit, deep seated emotional memories simmer to the surface. Family feel guilty, awkward and sad that their visits seem to upset their relative. Family wrongly assume that the Resident is miserable all the time. Its hard for family to sometimes understand that staff (who accept the Resident as they are NOW and not who they were) will tell them that their Mother is generally happy and easygoing most of the time. The analogy I give to family is similar to when the teacher would tell me that my daghter was a productive, well behaved child in school. I would scratch my head, perplexed because her home behavior with me at the time was terrible.

    I never judge family who tend not to visit that often. Sometimes they realize that their visits can be upsetting. I think "not visiting" IS a family's "option" that is carefully considered and driven with the best of intentions.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. Sometimes family visits can be upsetting for resident, but often the visits can become less upsetting by changing the ways in which we visit, using some of the suggestions above and in my earlier post.


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