Many family members and carers of a loved one with dementia feel extremely down about the thought of visiting their loved one in an aged care facility. Often, the visits bring with them much sadness and overwhelm that often family members and carers dread them and put them off. The visits can result in family members and carers having to grieve the loss (once again) of their loved one with dementia who is "not the same anymore."
Having worked in residential aged care, I see first hand the distress that family members can experience when visiting their loved one with dementia. Time and time again, I see the visits gradually drop off and when family members once visited weekly, they now come monthly.. and then that turns to visiting only on special occasions. It is understandable that family members want to avoid the distress that comes with those visits, and to do that, this may mean reducing the visits all together.
But, what I want to stress to you all is... YOUR LOVED ONE APPRECIATES YOUR VISITS. They may not be able to remember your name or how you are connected to them, but they appreciate your company. Visiting your loved one and maintaining a connection with them is important for both your wellbeing and your loved ones, only if the experience is a positive one. So, how do we promote positive visits whereby you walk out feeling glad that you visited and excited for the next visit?
Firstly, be mindful of your expectations of your loved one. They may now be at the stage where conversation and finding the right word is difficult for them. So, instead of sitting around the table where you are forced to have conversation, can you add in an activity? Can you put a puzzle on the table? Can you bring the photo album out to encourage reminiscence? Having an activity as the means for connection can reduce the stress that your loved one may feel in having to "find the right word" and also can help you connect with them when words are no longer an option. You are generally sure to get a few laughs along the way! To help identify suitable activities, it may be worth speaking to the Occupational Therapist or Diversional Therapist at the facility.
Can you attend the facility during meal times? Maybe you can sit with your loved one whilst they eat their meal? Could you bring your lunch with you and sit with them and the other residents, conversing in-between mouthfuls! Food, for a long time, has been a way that people connect, just because someone has dementia does not mean that this form of connection should be lost.
Keen to brush the cobwebs out on those bowls skills? What about finding out what the lifestyle program have scheduled for the month and coming in on a day where there is a fun and enjoyable activity that both you and your loved one enjoy? Whether it's bingo, singing, bowls, art/craft activities, it's sure to be one way to promote a sense of connectedness. One activity that I strongly recommend for families is to listen to music with their loved one if music is something they find meaningful. The music has to be something from your loved ones era and something they enjoy. The act of singing and dancing together often promotes feel good endorphins and can turn your visit into a very positive experience.
Lastly, I want to talk about some DONT'S when visiting your loved one:
- Don't say "who am I?" or test them on the names of family members. It is likely they will not remember. Putting them in a position where they are likely to fail is good for nobody.
- Don't try to reason with them. "If someone with dementia believes something to be true, it is true in their eyes." Reasoning will not work with someone with dementia and us continuously correcting them will likely lead to feelings of distress and failure.
- Be mindful of the way you speak to them. It can be easy to fall into the trap of speaking to a loved one with dementia like they are a child. Remember, they are an adult and need to be treated like one.
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Let's continue towards creating a dementia friendly community and helping increase the quality of life for those living with dementia and their loved ones!
Brooke George, Occupational Therapist