Once a person with Alzheimer's moves into a facility, family and friends may find it difficult or uncomfortable to visit. Conversations may be strained and the visitors may not know what to say and do. Because visits are so important, here are some suggestions of how to make your visits more comfortable, and easier for you both.
If the person is still able to communicate, start a conversation and then just listen. Give the patient your full attention. Watch their body language to be alert to the feelings that may be expressed beneath the words.
There are a number of physical activities that can be stimulating for both patient and visitor and can make visits a positive experience.
- Give the person a backrub or gentle arm and leg massage. These can relieve discomfort caused by immobility and lack of exercise. Just rubbing the skin with body lotion is very soothing.
- Give the person a manicure or pedicure. Bring a file, clippers, lotion, and a pan for soaking the feet. Women especially enjoy having their nails polished.
- If the person is spending a great deal of time in bed or wheelchairs, ask a staff member to demonstrate how to help the person with arm or leg exercises to maintain flexibility and function. If possible, take the resident for a walk up and down the halls or around the grounds.
Stimulate the Person's Senses
You can "communicate" with a person with Alzheimer's many different ways by engaging their senses. Stimulate their sight by showing them large colored objects and bold forms. Try looking at clear family photos, a large calendar, posters, mementos, and picture books with animals, flowers, or birds, and children's drawings. Remember to put on the person's glasses if needed.
Connect through music. Try bringing a tape or CD player and listen to their favorite show tunes, tapes of children singing, messages from distant relatives or friends. Try dance if the person is ambulatory. Tell jokes, read poetry aloud, listen to birds singing. You might even make a long distance call to a friend while you're visiting. Many residents can no longer write letters but do wish to keep in touch with old friends. When visiting, you can also help write letters and prepare general cards as well as birthday or holiday cards.
Touch is very important. Most residents love hugs, kisses and handholding. Stimulate taste buds with the person's favorite foods and beverages as long as there are no dietary restrictions. Most residents with Alzheimer's disease love sweets and appreciate fresh fruit.
Many facilities have a dining room available for residents and their families. Having a meal together is a wonderful visiting activity. If the diagnosed person enjoys cooking but the facility kitchen is off-limits, the visitors may be able to use an activity room to prepare a favorite dish with the person. Perhaps the family and resident can prepare a batch of cookies and have the staff bake them in the facility's kitchen.
Smell is one of the most powerful evokers of memories and emotions. Bring perfume, powder, lotion, or tobacco. The smell of vanilla may remind the resident of baking; mint extract may bring to mind the mint patch in the backyard. Liquid smoke can evoke memories of cookouts or wiener roasts. Provide the fragrances of flowers, plants, incense, and air freshener to stimulate the resident. If possible, take him or her outside to smell springtime, autumn, rain, and snow.
Remember that whenever you visit a resident in an adult or nursing home you should bring joy and, if possible, laughter. It is permissible to cry all the way home if it helps you! Just keep in mind that when you walk into the facility, you want the residents and staff to be happy that you've come.
What to Say/Do When There's Nothing to Say/Do
- Say I love you, I came to see you, and I'll be back again (regardless of their reaction to your visit).
- Sit close, away from window glare, at eye level, and touch or hold as preferred by the resident.
Look for clues to feelings through body language, eyes, or repeated phrases.
- Gentle teasing or joking provides a sense of continuity and pleasure to those who have always communicated this way in their families.
- Silence can be golden--tender moments watching birds, listening to music, or praying can be wonderful for you both.
- Respect personal space and possessions. Ask before moving things around or sitting on the bed.
- Go slow ... keep pace with the person's concentration, tolerance, etc...
- Substitute shared activities for limited conversation: manicures, massages, looking at photo albums, watching TV, walks, writing letters.
- Reminisce about your favorite holiday, first car, baking in the old home, the smell of a wood fire.
Note: If the resident is very impaired, you will need to talk about earlier events.
- Use the arts and your skills--music, poetry, photos, video or audiotapes, artwork--to stimulate the person. Play games (even if the resident can't play as well, they may still enjoy the activity.)
What Not To Do
- Rush in, standing at the door as if you are on way out.
- Stare out the window, check your watch, or look bored.
- Apologize for your guilt or feelings of failure--it's not your fault and you and the person are in this together.
- Give advice, nag, or talk down (baby talk).
- Provide a litany of your problems or obstacles to visiting.
- Change the subject when the person expresses negative or sad feelings.
- Talk about the person as if he or she is deaf.
- Spend all your time with other residents or staff.
- Talk about the person to others while they are in the room.