Guidelines For An Enjoyable Visit To An Elder Care Facility

By: Judah Gutwein, Regency Nursing & Post-acute Rehabilitation Centers

For residents of long-term care facilities, visits from family and friends are more than just appreciated, they are important for their emotional well-being. In addition to providing an opportunity to stay in touch with loved ones, relive memories, share experiences, and enjoy quality time together, personal visits help reassure them that they remain an important part of your life.  

Planning Your Visit

When planning to visit someone in a nursing facility, it is always best to let them know you are coming. Although spontaneous visits are better than no visits at all, keep in mind that most people would prefer knowing ahead of time when to expect a visitor. That way they can anticipate your arrival, be rested and ready, and not have to adjust previously scheduled activities or therapies to accommodate the visit.

Remember, too, that if you are planning to visit during meal times, you should notify the staff in advance so they can make arrangements for you to dine with the resident.

On the day of your visit, take a few moments to think about your goals for the visit and how to make it a positive experience for both you and the person you are visiting.

What are the person’s needs and interests? What would he or she most enjoy during your visit…

  • Reminiscing about the past
  • Talking about current events
  • Listening to music
  • Being read to
  • Sharing an activity or meal
  • Looking at family photographs
  • Being touched or hugged
  • Playing a board game

Another benefit of planning ahead is that you can come prepared with a variety of items, such as books, photos, games, CDs or even a musical instrument.

If the facility allows young children or pets, these “small visitors” can often engage even the most withdrawn resident and bring a measure of joy that adult interaction cannot.

Often, a person’s interests, health condition, or mental status will change over time. If you have not visited in a while, you might also want to talk briefly with his or her nurse so you will know what to expect.

During Your Visit

No matter what you have planned, or how little time you have to spend, it is important that you stay focused on the person you are visiting.

Chances are your visit is just one stop in a busy day, so it is easy to be distracted… to think about where you were last, what you will be doing next, or just how hectic your daily routine is. Try to remember that your words and body language can signal even the most unresponsive senior that your attention is elsewhere. Staying attentive during your visit demonstrates that you value your time together.

With this in mind, instead of rushing to visit on your lunch hour, or on your way home from work, set aside a specific day and time, and resolve to spend it with your loved one at a calm and caring pace.

Simple Gifts

From time to time and on special occasions, a gift will be appreciated and can also serve as a pleasant reminder of your visit after you leave. However, since space is usually limited in a long-term care facility, a good rule of thumb is to keep your gifts small, simple and personal. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A card you or another family member make yourself
  • Flowers or a plant
  • A book or magazine subscription
  • Stationery and stamps
  • Personal care items, such as soap or body lotion
  • Non-perishable food items (check with the staff first)

Ending Your Visit

Ending a visit is sometimes difficult, especially if you and the person you are visiting do not see each other very often. Here are a few simple techniques to help make parting easier:

  • Schedule another visit. (Be careful not to make plans you will not be able to keep, or will likely have to cancel.)
  • Promise to write or telephone more often. (Again, remember not to over-promise.)
  • If the resident has access to a computer, start an email correspondence. This can be a great way to send pictures, too.
  • Do not leave abruptly. Let the resident know what time you will need to leave and give a “ten minute warning” so that he or she can prepare for your departure.
  • Focusing on upcoming activities or events at the facility is another way to ease the transition of parting.

Dealing With Upsets

There is nothing like prolonged illness, loss of independence or persistent discomfort to spark powerful emotions, especially among family members. Even a pleasant visit can suddenly deteriorate when long-standing unresolved issues or recent disagreements trigger feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, fear or loneliness. Residents who are taking medication or dealing with fatigue, pain or sleeplessness may also be more prone to erratic behavior. As a result, visitors must be prepared to respond with kindness and patience, putting negative feelings aside. Try your best to resolve differences or simply “agree to disagree” before the end of your visit, so as not to cause lingering bad feelings.

It is important to understand that although some visits may be emotionally trying, time spent together as often as is practical will be increasingly meaningful for both parties.

If you continue to have trouble dealing with strong emotions or difficult behavior, do not try to handle it alone. Talk to a social worker or nursing supervisor at the facility. They should be able to:

  • Help you to better understand the situation
  • Make practical suggestions about how to improve your visits
  • Suggest additional resources, such as a support group

As part of your visit, it is often a good idea to check in with the staff, who can give you valuable insight into the resident’s current state of mind. Conversely, your input can help the facility’s care team to better understand the resident’s family background as it pertains to his or her behavior and special needs.

Ten Ideas for Creating a Memorable Visit

  1. Share in a scheduled activity or day trip.
  2. Spend time reading out loud or listening to music.
  3. Work on a family photo album.
  4. Give the resident a manicure or help with hair care.
  5. Share a meal together in the dining room or in the resident’s room.
  6. Help organize personal items or clean out a closet.
  7. Go for a stroll outside if the weather permits, or do a jigsaw puzzle at a table in the courtyard.
  8. Bring a younger family member or a pet (but first check with the staff).
  9. Plan to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion (confirm availability of a room large enough for a family gathering).
  10. Bring an old friend who otherwise would not be able to visit.

Remember, visitors are not only appreciated, they are vitally important. For residents, visitors are truly a lifeline to the outside world, and the time they spend is confirmation that the resident is still special in the eyes of friends and family. Even if you cannot visit as often as you would like, do not let guilt or self-consciousness stop you from making the effort to keep in touch and remain a part of the resident’s life.

2/16/2018 8:00:00 AM
Judah Gutwein, L.N.H.A.
Judah Gutwein, L.N.H.A, has many years of experience in the creation, implementation and marketing of high profile businesses to the online community. In 2012, he dedicated and channeled his passion to focus on the Healthcare industry and in 2017 he founded Sky Care Media, LLC. As a Licensed Nursing Home Administra...
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Posted by Shelia Wilton
Great article!
Excellent tips to making my visit more meaningful!
Posted by Peter F.
This article is very helpful, and beautifully written. It saddens me that my loved one just passed away a week ago - I'm sure these hints would have helped us during our visits. Hopefully others who read this will take the time to implement these loving, caring ideas. Don't wait until it's too late.
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