Visiting a friend or relative with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, whether in their home or in a care facility, can mean a great deal to that person. But you may be unsure of what to do during the visit. Our traditional view of “visiting” someone is based on conversation and it’s common language skills deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. However, if we view a “good visit” as any get-together that’s positive on both sides, the possibilities are limitless.
Here are a few ideas that may help:
- With Alzheimer’s and dementia, recent memories tend to go before old memories. So, try to talk about fond memories from the distant past. For example, talk about things associated with their old job, previous pets, hobbies, or favorite music/songs. Note which elicits positive responses and focus on those.
- Explore familiar objects that have personal meaning to the person. Look at old photos, discuss memorabilia, or listen to music that she/he liked.
- Use the senses of touch, smell, and taste to try to trigger old memories.
- Engage in activities with meaning to the person. Bring activities that you and the person can easily share and that is appropriate for her/his level of ability. For example, if the person enjoyed knitting or painting, try those activities together. If she/he enjoyed gardening, bring some flowers or a small plant and spend time pruning or arranging them.
- Persons with dementia can be very sensitive to other people’s moods, tone of voice, and body language, and can easily feel frightened or threatened. So, position yourself at their eye level and maintain a relaxed posture. Put on a warm smile and try to create a calm atmosphere.
- Use short, simple words and sentences. Keep your tone positive but avoid “talking down” to them.
- Try to avoid criticizing, arguing, or correcting the person. Focus on feelings rather than facts. As memory loss progresses, the person may develop false memories or beliefs. Because she/he believes them to be true, it is usually not productive to try to convince her/him otherwise.
- Listen with interest and maintain eye contact. Show respect. Be patient and don’t interrupt or try to find the words for the person. If she/he is having difficulty communicating her/his thoughts, try to offer comfort and reassurance.
- Get moving! Look for ways to encourage exercise appropriate to the person’s physical ability. Take a walk outside or within the home or facility. If the person is not able to walk, try simple sitting exercises.
- Try to awaken the senses of the person. For instance, take a walk outside and encourage the person to appreciate the pleasures of the outdoors by pointing out sights, sounds, and smells, and by giving her/him opportunity to touch and smell the flowers. Talk about these outdoor wonders and the joy of sharing them together. Verbalize the delights your person may no longer be able to express. Do not test the person by asking for answers she/he may no longer be able to give (e.g. “What kind of flower is this?”). She/he may not be able to say, “That’s a beautiful rose,” but may be able to feel good about agreeing with you when you say it.
Remember that the loved one you are visiting has had a life rich in experiences, relationships, hopes and dreams—and that there are many ways to connect with her/him.