Visits from family and friends are always appreciated by persons who live in a long term care facility ~ and your visits are very important. They provide an opportunity to stay in touch, to express emotions, to share experiences, and to simply enjoy time together. Above all, visits help reassure the person you are visiting that he or she is still an important family member or friend.
Should you plan ahead for visits, or just drop in? Visits on the spur of the moment are usually better than no visit at all. But keep in mind that many persons would prefer knowing ahead of time when to expect a visitor. That way they can enjoy pleasant anticipation of the visit. And they can be rested and ready, with no other scheduled activities or therapy to conflict with the visit.
A little preparation goes a long way. Each resident’s situation is different; and often a person’s interests, health condition, or mental status will change over time. So it is a good idea to develop a sense of why and how your visit can benefit the person you are visiting, as well as yourself. For example, think for a moment about the person’s needs and interests. What would he or she appreciate most in a visit? Will he or she enjoy:
- having someone to talk with?
- discussing what’s happening in the family, community, or world?
- being asked for an opinion or advice?
- listening to reading or music?
- sharing an activity or meal?
- keeping up past relationships?
- being touched or hugged?
During your visit, one quality will stand above all the rest. That’s the quality of being totally focused on your visit and the person you are visiting.
Chances are that your visit is one stop in a busy day. It is easy to be distracted . . . to think about where you were last, or what you’ll be doing next, or to share with the person you’re visiting just how busy you are. Try not to! Staying focused and attentive shows that you value your visits, that you enjoy them as much as the person you are visiting, and that you are not visiting only because you feel you must.
And when it comes to being focused and attentive, remember that your body language usually speaks louder than words. So set aside as much time as you can comfortably afford, then relax and give your time and attention at a calm and caring pace.
Should you bring a gift for the person you are visiting? From time to time, and particularly on special occasions, a small gift will be appreciated and can serve as a pleasant reminder of your visit after you’ve left. Remember, though, that space is usually limited in a long term care facility, so the best rule of thumb is to keep your gift small, simple, and personal. Here are some suggestions:
- a card . . . this can be one you purchase or one made by you or another family member
- flowers or a plant
- something to read or listen to
- stationery and stamps
- personal care items (such as soap or lotion)
- non-perishable food items (but check with staff first).
Ending a visit is sometimes difficult. Many residents and guests find that using the last few minutes to plan another visit, or talk about upcoming activities or events at the facility is a useful way to ease the transition and lessen the awkwardness of parting from a loved one. Staff can give you additional suggestions if saying good-bye is a problem.
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Let’s face it, powerful emotions are often involved as residents and family members deal with prolonged illness or disability and the need for long term care. A recent event or long-standing unresolved issue may trigger feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, fear, or loneliness ~ in you; in the person you are visiting; or in both of you. In a resident, resentment and difficult behavior can be caused by the medications he or she is taking, by fatigue, or by his or her physical or mental condition.
The important point is to understand and accept that some visits may be emotionally trying, or worse. That doesn’t mean that your visit was not meaningful or useful . . . and it certainly doesn’t mean that you should not visit again, or as often as you might otherwise. But if you are having trouble dealing with strong emotions or difficult behavior, be sure to get help. The facility’s social service staff can:
- Help you understand what is going on.
- Make practical suggestions, such as when the best time to visit would be, how long to stay, and so on.
- Suggest additional resources, such as a support group of families and friends.
As part of your visit, it is often a good idea to check in with staff. Your support and personal involvement will always be appreciated. And your knowledge of the person you are visiting helps the care team understand the resident and his/her needs and feelings.
- Participate together in a scheduled activity or day trip.
- Spend time reading out loud or listening to music.
- Work on a family photo album.
- Give a manicure or help with hair care.
- Share a meal together in the dining room or resident’s room.
- Help in organizing personal items or cleaning out a closet.
- Go for a stroll outside if the weather permits, or sit outside and talk if there is a patio or courtyard.
- Bring a younger family member or a pet (but check first with staff).
- Celebrate birthdays or other special occasions (check on the availability of a room large enough for a family gathering).
- Bring an old friend who probably wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise.
An excellent additional resource is the “Resident and Family Guide to Long Term Care”, from which this information piece was taken. To order, call 800-448-5213. Or order online at www.IlluminAge.com.
Copyright 1999 IlluminAge, 206-625-9128. Reprinted from the Resident and Family Guide to Long Term Care. Provided exclusively for individual use by long term care residents and their families. All other use, reproduction, distribution or adaptation is prohibited.