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Preparing family members for a visit with a loved one who has dementia

Dementia and Family Visits: With Preparation They Can Bring Joy!

For family caregivers of loved ones with dementia, the day-to-day interactions and dealing with both physical and behavioral issues is something you have had time to adjust to. While your journey has not been an easy one, you are learning to read verbal and nonverbal cues and, generally by trial and error, knowing what to say and what not to say.

However, visiting friends and family members who are not in regular contact may find interacting with your loved one daunting. If they are not properly prepared, what was once a simple visit can be unsettling and even traumatic for more sensitive individuals. Sadly, the solution for many family caregivers is to drastically limit or completely avoid these visits altogether. Yet that deprives everyone of what could be a meaningful experience, especially for the family member with dementia.

It doesn’t have to be that way! With some planning and preparation, that visit can be less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.

Here are some tips to prepare your family in advance.

  • Educate them about the disease and what happens to the brain. Many people don’t realize that Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, not a behavioral disorder. Dr. Tam Cummings, a gerontologist and expert in dementia, has information and resources to help.
  • Explain your loved one’s condition. How has dementia impacted their daily life? What are the physical and mental manifestations? What can family members expect?
  • Be open to questions. Be patient as family members strive to wrap their heads around your loved one’s condition. How you approach their questions can make a big difference in their outlook.
  • Suggest an activity or outing during the visit. This can help foster more natural interactions that are less communication-intense and more relaxing for everyone.

Once you have laid the groundwork, here are five tips for family and friends:

  1. Introduce yourself. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it is important for family and friends to understand that an individual with dementia may not recognize their face. A short greeting with an explanation, “Hi, grandma. It’s Lucy, your granddaughter. How are you?” provides context to the greeting and conversation.
  2. Don’t talk down to them. Try to avoid the urge to “dumb down” your sentences as if talking with a child. They are an adult and deserve to be treated that way.
  3. Speak slowly. That doesn’t mean loudly. Try to sit close enough to establish eye contact. Speak slowly and clearly. Be sure to give them time to respond.  
  4. Resist the temptation to “quiz”. This is a natural reaction, especially for those who haven’t visited in a while. Don’t fall into a “don’t you remember” trap. Instead, focus on the here and how. Talk about the weather or comment on the flowers in the garden or music playing.  
  5. Don’t take their reactions personally. It is important to understand that it is the disease that is causing them to forget who you are or exhibit upsetting behavior.

By planning and putting these tips into play, you can help pave the way to a smoother, more enjoyable visit. And, one good visit will encourage more visits and social interactions which are so important to the well-being of your loved one and to your family.

Need more tips? Feel free to reach out to any of our Anthem Memory Care communities. We recognize the importance of family interactions to individuals with dementia. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and provide more insights to help make these visits easier.

You can do this! And we’re here to help.