Making the Most of Your Time When Visiting a Loved One in a Skilled Nursing Facility

A happy senior citizen couple sitting at a lunch table.

The best thing you can do for a loved one who lives in a long-term care facility is to visit as often as possible. This lets your loved one know you still care about their well-being. A visit from you also help break up their routine and may even give them some bragging rights with their fellow residents (“Did you see the handsome man who visited me today? That’s my son!”).

Some people are uncomfortable about visiting a loved one in nursing facility, because they don’t know what to do while there or they fear running out of things to say. But a visit from you provides another opportunity to bond with your loved one and deepen your relationship. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit.

Plan an activity

If your loved one is able, plan to go out to a restaurant or museum. If they aren’t able to leave the facility, bring a board game or jigsaw puzzle with you so you can connect through an activity. If they enjoy books, but can’t read easily because of a chronic condition, take a book to read to them.

Visit when your loved one is feeling their best

Many nursing facility residents have the most energy in the morning, after a good night’s rest or after a midday meal. Choosing the right time will help ensure a successful visit.

Take a pet

Animals can be very healing. They have been shown to lower blood pressure and, for those living with dementia, to reduce agitation and improve positive social behavior. Make sure the facility allows pets. If they do, this can be the highlight of your loved one’s day!

Share a meal

Dining together is a good way to see what your loved one eats on a daily basis and is usually highly conducive to connection. If there’s a lull in the conversation, you can always talk about the food you’re eating.

Bring a gift

Everyone enjoys getting gifts. This could include a CD of their favorite music, photos of the grandkids, board games, homemade treats, or a warm blanket. Still not sure what to give? Ask the staff if they have any suggestions.

Don’t let dementia be a barrier

Conversations with people living with dementia can be challenging, especially if they have difficulty tracking the conversation. That’s when a planned activity can come in handy. Focusing on a specific task may help you connect without the need for conversation.

Reminisce about the past

If your loved one is living with memory loss, this is a good way to get them to remember. Long-term memories tend to last longer than short-term ones and talking about good times of the past allows your loved one to be fully engaged in a conversation. Remembering fond moments may also lift their spirits.

Celebrate your relationship

Whatever challenges your loved one is facing, you still have a relationship, which can continue to be nurtured and celebrated. While it’s never easy seeing someone you love growing more frail or forgetting special memories from their past, try to acknowledge that the person is still a lovable human being in need of compassion. 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 2018 IlluminAge.