Make the Most of a Visit with a Loved One Living with Dementia

Elderly couple getting served food from female carer in a retirement home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 50 percent of nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. If you’re planning a visit with a loved one in a skilled nursing facility, it can be a challenge. People living with dementia may be living in a completely different time or place than those around them. Additionally, they may not remember what was said just minutes before. Here are some ways you can make the most of your visit.

Share a meal
Consider eating lunch or dinner with your loved one in the facility’s dining room. Food is a good way to reminisce about good memories and provides a topic of conversation (“This meatloaf is really good! What are some of the best meals you’ve had here?”).

Plan an activity
Bring a jigsaw puzzle or other board game with you so you can engage your loved one in an activity. You can also bring along a book to read or go outside for a walk if the weather is nice.

Share memories about past events
Because long-term memories may remain intact, reminiscing about the past is a good way to have a conversation that is enjoyable for both of you. Bring a photo album and ask your loved one to share memories with you.

Bring a gift
Everyone enjoys getting gifts and this may be a natural segue into reminiscing about some of your loved one’s favorite presents from the past. Good gifts are those that stimulate the senses, such as a soft blanket, scented lotions, a CD of favorite music, or a photo of the two of you together. Or you may consider taking some fresh-cut flowers that the two of you can arrange in a vase together.

Let them live in their own reality
When spending time with your loved one, be prepared to live in their world. If they talk about how well President Eisenhower is doing in his new job, ask them what they like about him. If they don’t recognize who you are, but have memories of a son or daughter, invite them to share those memories without explaining who you are.

Demonstrate empathy
If they get upset about something, validate their feelings by telling them you understand and would feel the same way if such a thing were happening to you. Then offer to help them solve the issue. If a loved one feels like someone is in their corner and looking out for them, this may allow them to trust you more.

Celebrate your relationship
While seeing someone you’ve loved all your life slowly slip away from you is understandably upsetting, try to acknowledge that the person who does exist is still a lovable human being in need of compassion. Recognize that whatever its form, you still have a relationship and that it deserves to be nurtured just like any other relationship. Always remember that your loved one is dealing with one of the greatest challenges any of us could face. Your willingness to connect with them helps them have a life that is still joyful and full of purpose.

Source: Real Properties in association with IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2017 IlluminAge.