Once a person with Alzheimer's moves into a facility, family and friends may find it difficult or uncomfortable to visit. Conversations may be strained and the visitors may not know what to say and do. Because visits are so important, here are some suggestions of how to make your visits more comfortable, and easier for you both.
If the person is still able to communicate, start a conversation and then just listen. Give the patient your full attention. Watch their body language to be alert to the feelings that may be expressed beneath the words.
There are a number of physical activities that can be stimulating for both patient and visitor and can make visits a positive experience.
You can "communicate" with a person with Alzheimer's many different ways by engaging their senses. Stimulate their sight by showing them large colored objects and bold forms. Try looking at clear family photos, a large calendar, posters, mementos, and picture books with animals, flowers, or birds, and children's drawings. Remember to put on the person's glasses if needed.
Connect through music. Try bringing a tape or CD player and listen to their favorite show tunes, tapes of children singing, messages from distant relatives or friends. Try dance if the person is ambulatory. Tell jokes, read poetry aloud, listen to birds singing. You might even make a long distance call to a friend while you're visiting. Many residents can no longer write letters but do wish to keep in touch with old friends. When visiting, you can also help write letters and prepare general cards as well as birthday or holiday cards.
Touch is very important. Most residents love hugs, kisses and handholding. Stimulate taste buds with the person's favorite foods and beverages as long as there are no dietary restrictions. Most residents with Alzheimer's disease love sweets and appreciate fresh fruit.
Many facilities have a dining room available for residents and their families. Having a meal together is a wonderful visiting activity. If the diagnosed person enjoys cooking but the facility kitchen is off-limits, the visitors may be able to use an activity room to prepare a favorite dish with the person. Perhaps the family and resident can prepare a batch of cookies and have the staff bake them in the facility's kitchen.
Smell is one of the most powerful evokers of memories and emotions. Bring perfume, powder, lotion, or tobacco. The smell of vanilla may remind the resident of baking; mint extract may bring to mind the mint patch in the backyard. Liquid smoke can evoke memories of cookouts or wiener roasts. Provide the fragrances of flowers, plants, incense, and air freshener to stimulate the resident. If possible, take him or her outside to smell springtime, autumn, rain, and snow.
Remember that whenever you visit a resident in an adult or nursing home you should bring joy and, if possible, laughter. It is permissible to cry all the way home if it helps you! Just keep in mind that when you walk into the facility, you want the residents and staff to be happy that you've come.