Tips for Visiting a Memory Care Patient

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

A resident at Eden Heights of West Seneca in Buffalo looks through a photo album with a visitor.
A resident at Eden Heights of West Seneca in Buffalo looks through a photo album with a visitor.

If your loved one lives in a memory care facility, visiting may seem intimidating. Perhaps you have visited before and the interaction did not go well. Or maybe you have not visited because you don’t know what to say or what to expect.

Planning ahead can make your visit more enjoyable for both of you. Call the facility ahead of time to plan your visit for the time of day that your loved one typically feels at ease. Call the same day to see how your loved one is feeling that day so you can visit on a “good” day.

Turning off the TV or radio can help the resident focus better, as can spending time in a place where he feels relaxed, such as his room or the garden.

Set realistic expectations.

“A lot of times, families have a prerequisite of how the person should be talking to them or how the conversation should go,” said Cheryl O’Brien, director of social services at Elderwood Senior Care in Buffalo.

“It won’t be the normal conversation that goes back and forth,” she added. “It will be more one-sided. The person with memory deficits will struggle knowing what’s going on, depending on the stage. They don’t understand the vocabulary and who you are. Each day is a new day.”

Get on eye level and slowly and clearly introduce yourself so he won’t have to struggle for your name. People in the early stages of dementia realize that activities and relationships they once enjoyed are slipping away. Don’t try to keep your loved one up-to-date on what he’s missing, unless he asks for this information.

It’s important to realize that especially in the mid to latter stages of dementia, people live in a different reality or think their stay is temporary.

O’Brien at Elderwood Senior Care recalled a 107-year-old resident who believed her parents were coming for her.

“I fibbed and said they were coming later,” O’Brien said. “One family brought in funeral cards to show that her parents and husband died. She began crying because to her, they all died that day. I have one woman who thinks her husband’s on a trip. He has passed away, but the family doesn’t think it will benefit her to know.”

dementiaPeople with dementia may latch onto different eras of their past that still remain intact in their minds. But that can change.

“You have to figure out how old they think they are the day you’re visiting,” said Terra DePasquale, a licensed practical nurse and memory care coordinator, Brompton Heights Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Independent Living in Williamsville.

She said that people with dementia struggle to hold on to thoughts, so let him interrupt as needed before a thought escapes. Since many people with dementia oftentimes have difficulty expressing their thoughts and understanding speech, asking yes/no questions helps them, along with using visual cues.

Some memory care patients ask the same question repeatedly, but visitors must remain patient.

“Having dementia is a form of brain failure,” DePasquale said. “They’re not attempting to agitate you by asking that question over and over. That part of their brain doesn’t work anymore.”

Dementia causes some people to experience changes in personality.

“Never argue or reason or confront them,” said Rachel Hughes, director of life enhancement at Mercy Nursing Facility at OLV in Buffalo.”Practice 100 percent forgiveness.”

She recommends using a family photo album, listening to music the patient enjoys, or bring in an animal (call first).

Talk about interests, current events or your surroundings, but don’t bring up any painful or embarrassing subjects.

Hughes advises visitors of mid- to late-stage dementia patients to avoid asking questions, but instead to comment on the immediate surroundings in order to relate to them.

Ashley Kasprzak, sales and operations specialist at Eden Heights of West Seneca in Buffalo, welcomes visitors to take part in on-site activities.

“Most communities plan activities well in advance and promote them through social media,” she said. “There is no greater way to show you want to be a part of a loved one’s new life than participating in parties and entertainment with that person.”

Sharing a simple game or craft project can also brighten your loved one’s day, as can visiting with pets or children. Ask in advance to make sure pets are okay, and only bring leashed, well mannered pets that are up-to-date on vaccinations.

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