|Making Nursing Home Visits Meaningful
By Sarah Wood
Oftentimes, as nursing home residents decline,
they lose the ability to communicate. Sadly, this is
a time when families stop visiting as often because
they donít know what to say or how to make the
visits meaningful for the family, as well as their
loved one. Sometimes, just being present can be
Here are some tips for the families.
- Visit with your loved one in the facility
- Prepare for the visit ahead of time. Bring
items of interest with you. For example; if your
loved one had a love of pets, you could bring
your family pet to visit. If he or she had a
love of a certain kind of music, bring a CD to
play while in the room.
- Talk with your loved one about events going
on in the community or family. Donít assume they
canít understand. Just hearing your voice will
bring comfort and keep them connected with the
- Bring their favorite foods and spices for
the visit, but make sure to adhere to the diet
recommended by the dietitian and physician.
- Reminisce about past life experiences. Bring
in old family photographs. They may enjoy just
listening to your memories. If they are able to
respond, this may spark a memory.
- On their calendar, take a highlighter and
mark the date of your next visit. This will
remind them that you will be returning soon.
- Personalize their room. Now is the time they
need the most stimulation. Look how you can make
their room pretty while at the same time
reflecting their personality. You could put up
sports banners, add family photos, put pictures
on the walls, a CD player at bedside with
favorite CDs, plants, decorator pillows and
pretty afghans, knickknacks that are meaningful
to them, lotions and perfumes or colognes, fake
fish tanks (real ones if someone can take care
of it), wind chimes over the bed.
- Bring a book of their favorite author and
read to him or her during your visit.
- Bring flowers from your garden.
- Try aroma therapy. You can purchase candle
warmers and electric aroma therapy machines. Use
smells that they would like, but be aware that
medications can make them nauseous. Light scents
such as lavender may be preferred.
- Provide hand massages and back rubs.
Oftentimes, the only touch they receive is by
the facility staff. Having a massage can be
really uplifting, especially when being touched
by a loved one.
- Include children in the visit. Bring things
for the children to do. It could be a childrenís
book that the child can read to the resident. If
there are animals or bird cages in the facility,
plan your visits there.
- Donít be afraid to laugh and share humorous
stories. Bring funny cartoons and funny stories
to share. Itís ok to laugh.
- Bring cassette tapes or CDs of the religious
services from their local church. Share the
church bulletin with them.
- Bring the local community paper and read
what is happening in their local community. It
will help them still feel connected.
- Share events happening in your family.
- Read poetry.
- Share a meal with them. Many facilities
allow families to purchase a meal and eat with
the loved one in the dining room.
- You could do a makeup session or fix their
hair. You can bring pretty nail polish and do a
- Share a scrapbook or photo album.
- Go for a stroll together. Nothing is like a
visit outside. Many facilities have lovely
- If your loved one is able to take a drive in
the car, go on short outings. Suggestions would
be: a ride around the community, zoo,
restaurant, park, church, local store or a pet
shop. Call ahead to make sure the destination is
- Bring to family gatherings, such as
weddings, holiday dinners and religious events.
- Bring games they enjoy, cards, checkers,
chess, word puzzles.
- Bring crafts they enjoy, such as yarn or
- Bring a video of family events such as
weddings, graduations, baseball games, dance
recitals, or share a video with them of a movie
- If they like to read, but now are unable,
purchase books on tape.
- Begin a project that you can work on each
time you come. For example, if they loved to
garden, you could begin a flower press book and
dry the flowers. Once they are dried, you could
make a collage together and hang the picture on
- Assist your love one with writing a letter
to a friend or relative.
- Help fulfill their final wishes. It may be
contacting a long lost friend, or giving away a
valuable. Listen to ďwhat they wantĒ and donít
make judgments. There are organizations that
grant last wishes of the elderly. It may be a
hot air balloon ride or a dinner with all of
their loved ones.
- Exercise with them. There are several video
tapes for elderly in wheelchairs. It could be
simple arm lifts, walking or hand exercises.
- Place calendars in their room with large
clocks. Donít assume they canít tell time.
- Hug a lot.
- Create a tactile blanket with different
textures and items of interest to touch
- Bring items related to the season, such as
pumpkins, poinsettias, spring flowers.
- Decorate their room for the seasons, with
decorations and scents specific to the holiday
or season. Take down old decorations.
- Bring fresh fruits and vegetables.
- If the facility has a community kitchen,
cook a meal together. Some facilities have
activity rooms where you could have a large
- Follow the nursing homeís schedule for
visits. Generally, it is better to visit in the
afternoon. In the morning, many facilities are
busy providing care and getting residents
dressed. Phone ahead to let staff know you are
coming. Follow through. If you say youíre
coming, please show up when you said you would.
Always knock before entering the room. Always
state who you are. With dementia, they may
forget your face. Feelings are the last to go,
they may feel terrible if you say, ďMom, this is
SallyĒ. But instead, you could say, ďHi Ruth, my
name is Sally and I came to visit with you.Ē
- Get to know the staff. Find out whatís new
about your loved one.
- Let your loved one express their feelings
and accept them. They just need someone to
listen. You donít have to have all the answers.
Your presence is present enough. Enjoy the time
you do have and the tender moments together. Try
to leave negativity at home. Make your visits
joyful and pleasurable. Donít rush in, act
bored, put down the resident, make them feel
guilty about their health, or act like you would
rather be somewhere else. They know!
If you plan what you will be doing before your
visit, you will have a successful and rewarding
Sandra Stimson is the
Executive Director for Alternative Solutions in Long
Sandra has had more than 13 years of experience in
the healthcare field and has run caregiver support
groups for many years. She has held several
positions as Activity Director, Assistant
Administrator and Dementia Unit Director. Sandra's
expertise is in the area of dementia unit
development. Sandra is also the Executive Director
of the National Council of Certified Dementia
which advocates that all healthcare professionals
are trained in the area of dementia, with a minimum
training of 8 hours, and ongoing training while
working with dementia clients.
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