The importance of visiting
We all enjoy visits from family and friends; people with dementia are no different. Visits can be a source of support and comfort, and a way to stay connected with others.
However, uncertainty about what to expect may make some people hesitant about visiting a person with dementia. To make visits easier and more comfortable for everyone, consider the following tips.
Before the visit
Set a convenient time and consider how long you should stay.
Find out the best time of day to visit. It may be during the middle of the day when the person you’re visiting isn’t tired. Make sure the length of your visit is appropriate. Every person with dementia is different, so check with the caregiver or others who visit about what’s best.
You may have friends or family members who are interested in visiting but may be unsure of what to do or are hesitant to come—especially if this is their first visit since the person was diagnosed or moved to a long-term care home. This is a good opportunity to ask them to come along, as visiting together can help remove those doubts. For those who would like to visit but can’t make it, ask if it’s okay to phone or video call them during the visit, and arrange a time beforehand.
Find out if it’s alright to bring a pet along.
Pets can provide comfort and joy for people with dementia. If you’re visiting a long-term care home, it’s best to check their rules first regarding animals coming into the home.
Prepare what you want to bring.
Photographs, videos and letters are effective ways of connecting with the person you’re visiting. If there is a particular treat that they enjoy, try to bring that. You may also want to consider buying assistive products that can support their engagement in meaningful activities.
Check for special events to enjoy together.
If you’re visiting a long-term care home ask the staff if there is a special event going on, like a holiday party. If you are concerned that the person you’re visiting will be upset when you leave, try to plan your departure with an event. Having the end of your visit coincide with going to a meal or an activity can make for a natural end to the visit and can be a distraction for the person. When you leave, sign the visitor guest book (see below) so the person you’re visiting can check it later and other visitors know you’ve been by.
During the visit
As the dementia progresses, the person you’re visiting may not recognize you as someone they know. Depending on the stage of the disease, you may need to introduce yourself and say why you’re there, e.g., "It's Jane, your old friend. I came to visit you today." Respectful and caring communication is the key to a great visit.
Be prepared to listen.
People with the disease may want to share their feelings. Remain open and sympathetic. You may have to answer difficult questions, and by doing so you can acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that they are safe, loved and cared for. Common questions include asking when they can go home and when will someone who died a long time ago come to visit.
Make the environment pleasant.
Reducing background noise by turning off a TV, closing a door or shutting a window can help make the visit peaceful, more focused and less confusing.
Ask the person what they want to do.
By encouraging the person you’re visiting to make decisions about how you spend time together that day, you enhance their independence and self-esteem. It is generally a good idea to limit the choices. Try asking “Would you like to go for a walk or sit here and chat?” If that is too much choice, try “yes/no” questions such as “Would you like to go for a walk?”
Establish connection through the right activity.
Concentrate on the person's talents and abilities. Depending on what the person wants, it may be a relaxing visit watching a movie with some treats, listening to music or going outside to get the benefits of fresh air and exercise. Other good ways to connect may be building a scrapbook together or playing a familiar game.
Establish connection through a common item or person.
If the person you’re visiting is not interested in a particular activity, this can be a good time to bring out those items you’ve brought along to enjoy together, or have that friend or family member who couldn’t make it call in.
Allow for quiet time if needed.
Quiet time during a visit can be very meaningful and a good way for everyone to feel relaxed. Remember, not all communication is verbal.
Remember and laugh together.
Recall humorous experiences you both shared, e.g., "I remember when we both..." Take pleasure in each moment.
Other tips for visits
Bringing a child to visit can be fun for everyone and helps maintain important relationships. Use these tips to ensure they’re comfortably involved:
- Discuss with the child what dementia is and what to expect. Listen to the child’s feelings and concerns.
- Explain to the child that during the visit they should speak clearly, avoid arguing and ask for help anytime.
- Bring along a quiet activity that the child and the person you’re visiting can do together, like a jigsaw puzzle.
- Have the child give something they made to the person you’re visiting, like a picture or some homemade cookies.
Creating a visitor guest book
It can become difficult for a person with dementia to remember all the comings and goings in their day. By creating a visitor guest book, you can help the person you’re visiting to remember who has come to visit and how they spent their time together. Guest books can also be good conversation starters for other visitors and for the person with dementia to remember everything that has happened in their day.
A guest book can be an inexpensive notebook or a journal that is kept in a central, obvious location in the home where visitors will easily locate it (such as by the front door). Though it is best if the guest book is made so the person with dementia can enjoy it to the fullest, the following information should always be included:
- The date of visit
- The visitor’s name
- How you spent your time together that day
- When you will come again (try to be as specific as possible)
If the person you’re visiting lives in a long-term care home, check first to see if it is possible to leave a visitor guest book in the person’s room.
Read some examples of guest book messages in the next section.
The visitor guest book: A tool to stay informed
A person with dementia may have many people involved in her circle of support; a neighbour who drops by regularly, family members and friends. As the disease progresses and the person receives more assistance, that circle may grow to include visits from service providers (such as social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, etc.) and volunteers. It can become difficult to remember all the comings and goings but also to be aware of who is involved and how they are contributing to the person’s day.
A visitor guest book serves as a reminder of who has come to visit in the home, as well as how they spent their time together with the person with dementia. It can be helpful as a conversation starter for other visitors and for the person with dementia to remember everything that has happened in his day.
We encourage people with dementia or their caregivers to purchase an inexpensive notebook or a journal to be kept in a central, obvious location in the home where visitors will easily locate it (such as by the front door). Choose a design that you like and feel free to be creative. Use the guest book in your own unique ways; add photos, wishes the person with dementia has expressed, describe your visit and your conversations, or draw a picture to highlight your feelings.
Though it is best if the guest book is made so the person with dementia can enjoy it to the fullest, we encourage the following information to always be included:
- The date of visit
- Visitor’s name
- How you spent your time together
- When you will come again (try to be as specific as you can)
If the person with dementia lives in a long term care home, check first to see if it is possible to leave a visitor guest book in the person’s room.
An example from a care provider:
Date: January 24, 2015
This is your home support worker, Anthony. Today, I came around 3:00pm to do the laundry and I made your favourite, mashed potatoes with broccoli and chicken for dinner.
It was nice talking to you today about your wife, Martha, and your dog, Pepper.
I will be coming back on January 26th, at 3:00pm.
See you in a few days.
An example from a friend or family member:
Date: April 12, 2015
This is your daughter Aisha; I’ve had a nice visit with you today at 1:00pm. We shared a tasty lunch together and had a good walk around the neighbourhood. We passed the convenience store where you told me that you used to buy your lottery tickets every weekend.
I will come on Wednesday, April 15th, for lunch time at 12:00pm. I will bring lunch so we can eat together at home. See you then.