9 Tips for Visiting Elders at Home or In a Facility

Carol Bradley Bursack | July 23, 2015

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Loneliness can be a plague for the elderly and ill. Yet visiting with someone who doesn’t feel well, and may have limited cognition, can be tricky. Some nervousness or reluctance is natural, but a few considerations can help to make things go smoothly.

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Schedule Visits around Their Routine

A visit to an elderly person in their own home may be different than in a facility. Still, in either setting they will have some sort of preferred schedule. Don’t visit too early or too late. If you know bathing times and meal times, give them plenty of time to regain strength before you stop in.

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Smile and Identify Yourself

If the person has dementia, identify yourself even if you are family. Don’t be obvious, but say, “Hi, Grandma, it’s Anne!” rather than assume Grandma remembers you. Smile and say “I’m glad to see you.”

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Use Appropriate Body Language

Use positive body language appropriate to the relationship. Shake hands, hug or kiss, but always be respectful of what that person would welcome. If he or she doesn’t seem to want physical contact, respect that, too.

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Avoid Saying “Do You Remember?”

Avoid asking a person with dementia if they remember something. It’s better to say “I remember when you sang to me” rather than “remember when you sang to me?” Your loved one may not remember and that can be frustrating.

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Be Sensitive To Energy Levels

Be sensitive to your loved one’s mood or physical wellbeing. Ill or older people may have days where company is tiring. If they are having a difficult day just stay a few minutes and let them know that you’ll return.

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Encourage Them to Control the Conversation

Encourage storytelling by asking them leading questions about topics that they’ve discussed before. However, don’t ask for specifics because their mind may have moved on. Let them lead.

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Come Bearing Gifts

Bring along old photos from when the family was young or when the home community looked like it did when the person was young. Or bring a food treat that they are allowed to have. Know the person’s tastes. A stuffed animal is wonderful for some, an insult to others.

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Children and Pets Can Be Welcome

Small children and/or pets can be a lot of fun but they can cause anxiety for some. You don’t want to burden your host. Gain some knowledge from family members or facility staff about whether or not a young child or a pet would be welcome.

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Keep Visit Brief

Don’t stay too long unless you are there as a good friend or a caregiver. If the person is lonely and you sense that they want you to stay, that’s okay, but watch for signs of fatigue.

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Take Away

The person you are visiting is your host so follow his or her lead. Show respect. Be sensitive and pleasant. Help if you can. Then take your leave while you reassure them that you’ll visit again.