Roots & Wings: How to Have a Successful Visit with a Loved One (Part 2 of 4)

The philosophy of Roots and Wings is a dual approach of building both a sense of tradition and looking to the future. In part one of this four-part series, we explored different ways for seniors to share roots and wings with their grandchildren. In part two, we will focus on how loved ones can carry on traditions and look forward even when a senior parent or grandparent has dementia.

When someone you care about has dementia, spending time with them can be difficult at first. It’s hard to know how to react and interact with them, particularly as they progress into different stages of the disease and the person you remember transforms into someone you might not recognize.

“We can never say this enough: it’s important to remember that the changes your loved one experiences are due to the disease and are not their fault,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “While we can recognize this on a logistical level, it can be hard to remember this on an emotional level. But if you can adjust your thinking so that you realize these are symptoms of a disease, much like low blood sugar levels are a symptom of diabetes, you may find that it’s easier to interact with your loved one in a meaningful way.”

To help you do this, we’ve put together these tips for a successful visit with your loved one. 

1. Adjust to your loved one’s reality.
It’s completely natural to want to try and bring our loved ones into the “real world” when they’re experiencing a delusion or misremembering facts. But this is a counterintuitive approach, because it will only cause agitation and frustration for both parties. Instead, be open and adjust your perspective to live “in their world.” Dementia care specialist Vivian Green Korner states that “Conversations may become less intellect-to-intellect and more emotion-to-emotion.”

2. Be present in the moment and use prompts.
Visiting a loved one with dementia is all about engagement. Professionals who work with residents will tell you that living in the moment is one of the best ways to connect. For example, instead of asking, “what have you been doing, Mom?” (which she may or may not remember), comment on your surroundings or give her a compliment (“the colors of those flowers are lovely” or “your hair looks very pretty today”). Concrete objects, like nature, pictures and other items around you can be an entryway into a conversation. Consider bringing something with you to the visit – like a favorite book, toy, treat or photo – to prompt a conversation.

3. Use touch and eye contact to connect.
Nonverbal communication is our most powerful communication tool – even individuals in the later stages of dementia can react to a kind touch or a soothing tone. Smile at your loved one and look them in the eyes to show them they are important and to engage their attention. Holding their hand, patting their back or gently touching a knee can all communicate caring and security, and can help your loved one remain happy and calm.

4. Help your loved one feel comfortable with their memory loss.
It is very frustrating for people with dementia to lose their abilities and memory. Oftentimes, this results in anger, outbursts and other disruptive behavior. Your loved one may also be able to express, verbally, how hard it is to keep forgetting things, particularly in the early stages of the disease. This can be awkward for visiting friends and family members because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. Instead of trying to ignore it, validate your loved one’s feeling and empathize (you can even say that you have the same issue with forgetting things – who hasn’t had a hard time recalling an event?). If your loved one is reminiscing and getting details of a story wrong, don’t interrupt or correct. Just go with it. Being empathetic and making memory loss a “normal” thing will help you and your loved one accept this new reality.

5. Be kind and don’t judge your loved one (or yourself) too harshly.
People with dementia have good days and bad days (don’t we all?), and since the disease is progressive, it’s inevitable that you will watch your loved one’s abilities decrease over time. It’s hard, but try not to compare how they are now with how they were. It’s possible that your visit may not go as planned, or it could end up being a bit of a disaster. On the other hand, you could have a perfectly lovely visit with a loved one who seems “with it” because they’re simply having a good day.

It’s easy to think “I should do/say/think this” and beat yourself up over how you acted or didn’t act. We’re our own worst critics, after all. But just as you’re giving your loved one grace and understanding, be sure to do the same for yourself. Showing understanding and caring to everyone in your circle will help you and your senior loved one with dementia bond, nurture your relationship and have good days together.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.