5 tips for visiting family and friends with dementia

by KinCare — 16 January 2018

Tips for families, friends and carers

Visiting family and friends who are living with dementia is an important part of their overall wellbeing.  It’s important to understand that changes in their mood, memory, communication skills and health can make visiting different than times past as they usually are not able to initiate activities to ‘entertain’ you.

Remembering that being patient and flexible can make a big difference.  We all have high and low energy days and your loved one may be tired or more emotional making your visit possibly a little different than planned.  Try not to take it personally, your visit was still very important and a valuable part of their day.  Also be kind to yourself, visits like this can be emotional perhaps take a friend or plan a treat for on the way home.

The goal is to make the visit relaxed and stress free, to help we have compiled five tips for you to consider.

  1. Take something with you

Sharing an activity together can help with stimulation and reminiscence, both of these things are very important for your loved one.  Ideas can include reading a magazine or listening to music together.

Depending on how your family member or friend is feeling, you may want to take some old photos or postcards, perhaps a quiz or activity to share.  Other ideas could include taking a treat or some flowers or perhaps some note paper to write a letter to friends or family. Think about what would make them smile and you will be on the right track.

If you are sharing a food treat, perhaps organize a drink.  A lovely cup of coffee, tea or water will help with your friend or family member’s fluid intake, as well as general socialization by continuing to follow normal or old patterns of hospitality.

Is your family member or friend an animal lover? Consider taking a pet with you or including their pet as part of  your regular visit.  A short walk, or caring for the pet together such as brushing, feeding or walking the pet will have be a positive and rewarding experience.

  1. Consider sharing activities or tasks

There are so many ways to bring in regular activities or tasks into a visitation routine which bring with them many benefits.

Playing music, instruments or singing together will create relaxation as well as bring fond memories and feelings of calm and security.  There are numerous studies that highlight the benefits of music.

Other ideas include assisting with day to day tasks including food and fluids, or going for a walk.  These may feel like every day activities but are highly beneficial and will also help maintain your vital role in your relationship with them.

Are you both craft lovers?  Perhaps consider creating a scrap book of memories.  Sharing photos, newspaper clippings, accomplishments, goals and other mementos that help support nostalgia and conversation as well as creating a wonderful way to commemorate the life journey of your loved one.

Supporting carers to relax and recharge

Taking a break from your carer’s role can help you restore your energy, reduce stress and keep your life in balance. Our aim is to ensure you feel relaxed and stress-free while taking a break from your carer’s role.

  1. Understanding changes

It’s normal for those with dementia to become less talkative or perhaps withdrawn and as a result, you might experience more silence in your visits, however this is not a bad thing.  You don’t need to compensate with excessive conversation, instead, appreciate sitting together and looking at photos, a garden or books.

Physical contact can replace or complement conversation, perhaps try a hand or neck massage, or just holding hands. Contact is important in general and can bring feelings of well being.

People living with dementia can also experience higher levels of irritability, anxiety and depression.  These are normal behaviours and are often a result of confusion and fatigue.  Find out the time of day that they would be at their best to receive visitors, perhaps mid morning.

Try to create some consistency by visiting at the same time of day, and say and do the same things at the beginning and end of each visit.  This will help create some structure as well as help reduce anxiety during the visit.

  1. Help them feel comfortable

Maintaining empathy and normalizing memory loss can help reduce confusion and frustration.  Try not to ask ‘remember that time’ or ‘remember when’ which reinforces that your family member or friend should remember.  Instead, simply try to focus on specifics.

For example, instead of ‘remember the pet bird that our neighbor used to have?’ perhaps try to trigger memories in a more passive way such as ‘I think my neighbor has a very noisy pet bird’ and you may find the memory you were trying to evoke comes more naturally.

You may also find that you are subject to repetitive questions or stories, try not to get frustrated and reply ‘you already said that’ as they don’t know.  You can answer them then, perhaps try a distraction technique to focus you both on something else.

It’s important you try not to judge your family member or friend based on what they once knew or behaved, but rather be compassionate and try to deal with who they are today.

  1. Know your visit makes a difference

A recent survey in the USA showed that over 40% of people reported thinking that it was ‘pointless’ to stay in contact or visit someone with dementia, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth for both of you.

Research shows that even though someone living with dementia may appear not to recognize you, your time together has a long lasting positive impact.  Socialisation, contact and sharing memories or emotions will put your family member or friend in a better mood, as well as help them relax. Their emotional recollection of the visit will be long lasting even if there are elements that they don’t remember, these factors combined can help reduce depression, medication dependency and general health and well being.

It’s not uncommon to feel highly emotional yourself after a visit, perhaps prepare to have someone to talk to about your visit and how you feel.  It’s just as important that you take care of you!

If you want more advice, contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

If you would like to understand Home Care options for someone living with Dementia, or need Respite, please call KinCare 1300 702 319