8 Tips for Visiting an Alzheimer's Caregiver

ChristineKennard Oct 17th, 2014 (updated Nov 20th, 2014)
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People get worried about visiting caregivers. They are concerned about intruding or what to say or do in certain situations. But it is great when someone makes the effort and most caregivers find the contact and support of others invaluable. Here are seven tips to allay your concerns about visiting caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

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Don't put off visiting
Don't put off visiting

We are all good at avoiding or putting off things we fear may be difficult. We are not always sure if it will be appreciated, we might be fearful about what we will find or may worry we won’t be about to cope or be rejected. Mostly we will find a warm welcome. Telephone first to find out the best time to visit as this can often help. 

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Should you talk about their loved one?
Should you talk about their loved one?

You will soon know if your caregiver friend wants to discuss something. Often it is about listening and showing them that you want to support them. Listening is different to hearing. Asking questions that enable them to continue with the conversation often helps. It reassures them that it is alright for them to tell you how they feel.

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Asking open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions

These require a sentence rather than a yes or no answer gives them permission to expand on conversation themes or switch the direction to another subject.

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Knowledge is your friend
Knowledge is your friend

If you understand a little about the illness or condition the person the caregiver looks after you will be better equipped to support someone. This website provides a great way to learn about Alzheimer's and will help you understand some of the issues your friend or relative is experiencing and may talk about. You will then feel more comfortable if the person they care for is present.

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Feeling relaxed around someone with dementia
Feeling relaxed around someone with dementia

Alzheimer's is a slow progressive disease. People don't change overnight so by cutting them and the caregiver off suddenly and reducing contact will simply make your friend or relative feel even worse. Avoidance makes it harder to contact people later as you feel embarrassed and guilty that you have not been to visit. If you cannot visit give them a ring or Skype them.

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Acknowledging everyone's presence
Acknowledging everyone's presence

Don't talk in front of the person they look after as if they are not there! People with disabilities find people talking about them to others as if they cannot speak for themselves. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often do find communication difficult and variable. Observe how your friend the caregiver includes them, their volume and tone, and this will help you converse with them both.

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Expect change
Expect change

Your approach might have to change as your relative or friend's physical and mental abilities decrease. Their understanding, how they process information, express themselves and their ability to concentrate on tasks will change. 

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Providing longer term support
Providing longer term support

If you feel confident and want to provide added support you may offer to look after their loved one while he/she gets a bit of free time.You may want to find out about local clubs and activities you think they might both like and join them or offer transport. I would suggest you take your time before offering support more often. It avoids disappointment.