The Visitors’ Guide to Nursing Homes
Tips for a Good Nursing Home Visit
To help you get the most enjoyment from your time together, long-term care experts and a family caregiver offer guidelines for a successful nursing home visit. Here are some of their top take-home messages:
- Shared activities help break the ice. Working on a puzzle or adding photos to an album together can stimulate conversation.
- A change of scenery brightens the mood. Going outdoors or simply leaving a resident’s room to spend time in a comfortable facility lounge area can help lift their spirits.
- Kids can make visits more fun. Grandchildren or other young visitors add their own cheerful energy.
- Gifts are nice but not necessary. Bringing a thoughtful gift is a nice gesture – just keep space limitations in mind.
- Pets may be welcome but check with the staff first. Animals can bring extra happiness to visits – ask the facility about their rules.
- Other residents might like to chat. Say hello and be friendly to roommates and dining room table-mates who are eager to talk with you.
- Memory challenges may call for another approach. When visiting someone with cognitive issues or dementia, you can guide the discussion.
- Sometimes just sitting is enough. Sitting beside a loved one and holding his or her hand shows that you care without words.
Every Resident is Unique
What’s considered a successful visit may not have the same meaning from one resident to the next. Mary Ann, 89, a resident of Concordia at Villa St. Joseph in western Pennsylvania, is always happy to chat with visitors – whether they came to see her or someone else. “I’m a talker,” she admits, and says it’s nice to have a listening ear.
Mary Ann, who asked that only her first name be used, has family members who must drive in from a distance. When they can get together, she enjoys family meals, perhaps with a beer, at local restaurants.
There’s no need for visitors to bring a gift, Mary Ann says, pointing out that there isn’t much space for clutter. If you happen to bring something, give perfume a pass – she doesn’t care for the smell. Although others might be thrilled to receive jewelry, she’s not a big fan: “I don’t want to bother with it.”
On the other hand, “Chocolates are always welcome,” Mary Ann says. She also loves books of all sorts: “mysteries, westerns, you name it.”
As far as Mary Ann is concerned, there’s no need for visitors to call ahead. “I’m easygoing,” she says. People are welcome to drop by anytime, she adds, whether it’s a fellow resident or family member: “I have an open-door policy.”
What to Consider While Visiting
Because nursing home residents have unique personalities, tastes, abilities, and needs, best practices for their visitors will vary. Consider these general guidelines while taking your family member or friend’s situation into account:
Use activities to enhance togetherness. Listening to music or an audiobook, working on a puzzle or even sorting out greeting cards or folding clothes together can make your visit feel more natural, says Chris Gebhart, activity director and volunteer coordinator at Concordia at Villa St. Joseph. She suggests incorporating activities such as taking a walk outdoors or within a facility’s courtyard, or offering an impromptu manicure to a resident who’d enjoy it.
Personal touches add meaning. Bedding items, such as personalized pillows or blankets with sentimental value, make residents more comfortable while making them feel more at home, says Elaine Hatfield, regional director of nursing operations with UPMC Senior Communities in Pittsburgh. “Pillows in (facilities) don’t always have that same feel,” she says. Cards people can display in their room are always welcome.
Your presence is enough. Gifts, although thoughtful, are optional when your loved one. “One of my residents put it the nicest,” Weisbrod says. “She said to me, ‘I don’t need gifts; I don’t need items. I just need my son.'” What’s most meaningful is a visit, with or without gifts, that comes from the heart. However, trinkets and other small gifts can lift someone’s spirits when you know what they really enjoy.
Mornings can be hectic. Unless that’s the only time you can make, early-morning visits aren’t ideal in terms of routines, Hatfield says. Mornings are when people receive assistance getting out of bed, if needed, and with bathing and other care before they enjoy their breakfasts.
Communicate plans for a smoother visit. Although some residents enjoy a surprise visit from family or friends, other residents prefer a heads-up. “If you plan to take your parent out locally or to home, let the nursing station know,” Gebhart says. “Staff can make sure all their medicines are gathered or that they’ve already taken what they need.”
Advance notice allows extra time for residents to get ready, such as bathing, grooming and getting dressed. If the person you’re visiting lives on a memory care unit, it’s particularly important to make staff aware if you’re going outside the facility or even leaving the unit.
Visit often. Don’t be strangers – close friends and family members rarely wear out their welcome. “Put it this way,” Weisbrod says. “In my (about 30) years working at Hebrew Home, I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, God, my children visit too often.'” Mealtime visits (lunch or dinner) are great for seniors who like the company while eating. A favorite dish from home adds a nice touch.
Avoid a crowd. There is such a thing as too many visitors at once. It’s nice when people visit during holiday activities, Hatfield says, but large families can be overwhelming in limited room spaces. Instead, use lounge areas within the facility, she suggests. Private dining rooms are often available for celebrations like birthday parties.
Wash hands and watch scents. Infection control is always a concern in health and residential facilities. Visitors should wash their hands when they arrive, Hatfield says, and avoid visiting while they’re sick. Also, Hatfield says, go easy on the perfume and scented products, because people may be sensitive to these smells. “Just be socially conscious,” she suggests.
Respect roommates. In Hatfield’s facility, semiprivate rooms have two TVs. “Residents have pillow speakers, so they don’t have to blast the volume to hear it, especially if they’re hard of hearing,” Hatfield says. Before you crank up the TV while visiting, consider the person in the next bed. And knock before entering.
Shift the scenery. When people take residents out for lunch, Weisbrod says, the chance to go out in the community and eat in a restaurant is “amazing” for them. For that moment, they don’t feel like nursing-home residents. “You’re part of the family, and you’re doing what everyone else is doing,” she says.”
Be sensitive to memory changes. It’s great to bring photo albums along on a visit and reminisce. However, if your loved one has dementia or cognitive impairment, you may need to gently lead the conversation. You don’t necessarily want to press too hard with questions like, “Remember this person?” says Catherine Farrell, director of therapeutic arts and enrichment programs at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. If it’s difficult for the resident to remember, you could be inadvertently putting them on the spot. Instead, she suggests, bring up names of people in photos as part of the conversation. (“Oh, look, here’s your cousin Anne at Thanksgiving dinner.”)
Have patience. If you’re visiting someone whose memory has faded, you may notice conversations becoming repetitive. Peggy Cole, an author, and former family caregiver suggests simply going with the flow. It’s about “dealing with the redundancy of the questions you answered the last time, knowing that you’re going to answer them again the next time and maintaining a cheerful response – as if it’s the first time you’d been asked,” she says. If a parent repeatedly compliments the “new” hairstyle that you’ve had for decades, she adds, “All you can do is say ‘thank you’ and be gracious about it.”
Share feedback with staff. If you have any concerns about a family member or his or her care, speak with the nearest staff person.
Make a “soft” exit. It’s difficult to give a blanket amount of time for how long a visit should last, Farrell says. (An hour or so might be reasonable.) It can be a little heart-wrenching when it’s time to go. “It’s so hard for many residents to say goodbye to family members when they leave,” she says. Consider coordinating your visit with an upcoming facility activity. For instance, she suggests, you could arrive after lunch, spend time together and then accompany your family member to a scheduled afternoon concert or other activity. Once he or she is absorbed in what’s happening, your departure won’t feel so upsetting.
Your visit matters. Maybe your family member isn’t particularly demonstrative when you arrive, and you wonder if it’s worth it. Visits that go well are “uplifting” for residents, Weisbrod says. “They love to talk about it. They’re so proud that their family did come and visit. They really do feel loved and cared about and not forgotten.”
In some cases, a loved one with dementia may not be able to express their appreciation. Even so, your presence is felt. “It’s important to be in the company of your resident,” Farrell says. “Even if you’re not sure what to say; even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Just to sit with them and hold their hand is incredibly valuable to the resident, and incredibly meaningful.”
Source: U.S. News