We at ALTCP.org have always been steadfast in encouraging people, young and old, to secure coverage for their long term care needs. From providing easier access long term care insurance quotes to supplying vital information about care services, the organization has been taking steps in creating a one-stop hub for every individual.
We have always made it a point to make information accessible to anyone in hopes of making that talk with your families easier. After all, no one ever looks forward to that kind of conversation.
As part of our advocacy to help make the talk smoother, we have contacted industry experts to share their valuable insights and advice on one of the top worries that most individuals and families have: aging parents in long term care facilities. We have contacted a number of industry experts and asked them one question:
“What is that one tip you can share with someone who is planning to visit his/her aging parents inside long term care facilities?”
Let’s take a look at what our experts have to say:
As advised, this was taken from Caring.com: Remember that it’s not about you. It’s natural to feel self-conscious about how you’re “supposed” to act in a new situation. For some, visits dredge up painful sadness and grief. Consider it a gift to your loved one to set your own feelings aside. Focus on something larger than yourself, in this case enriching part of your relative’s or friend’s day at a difficult time of life. He or she likely feels sad and awkward, too. Move forward from there.
When visiting a family member in assisted living, a hospital, or any other type of senior care community, space out your visits and vary your arrival times. It’s important when evaluating the quality of care to see how things run during different shifts, and to get to know the staff working on the weekends and in the evenings. The same principle applies when considering a care facility: if you show up at 10 AM on a Monday for a tour, you’re likely to see things very differently than you would on a Saturday afternoon. If time allows, do both.
When your parent expresses dissatisfaction with something, write the comment down. Always respond to negative comments whether they are legitimate or not. Treat your loved one as an equal in the conversation. Try to listen to the emotions behind it. Pay special attention to verbal cues, body language, posture, and gestures. All can help you determine the seriousness of negative comments and the next steps of action. It is always an opportunity to make the situation better.
Whenever possible, visit your parent at different times of the day and on varied, random days. It would be good to get a firsthand account of what the residents are doing — whether there are proper supports for the residents, and who the different staff members are. It’s good to visit unannounced so that you can see business as usual.
Get to know all the people who are providing care and services to your parents. This does not refer to only the administrative staff, but the CNAs, RNs, social workers, kitchen staff, activities staff, etc. Developing rapport is useful, as staff will more likely remember who your parents are, and share useful information with you that they may not otherwise. Once in awhile, I brought baked treats or fresh fruit from my tree to show appreciation to the staff, as their jobs are demanding. I also acknowledged and thanked people whenever I had a chance.
Having worked for many years in long term care as a professional caregiver, my best tip for visiting your senior loved one, whether it is a parent, other relative, or friend, is to visit regularly!
Many seniors in nursing homes spend long days with very little to do, hoping for a visit from their loved ones. Come as often as possible and stay for a minimum of an hour. Unfortunately, many family members don’t come very often, and that can be disappointing for seniors.
Talk with them, ask them about what they have been doing, reminisce, bring conversation starters and just enjoy each other. If you are a long-distance family member, check in frequently via Skype, nursing homes will arrange this for your senior loved ones to be able to ‘see’ you often.
Carol Bradley Bursack
When visiting elders in long term care, let them lead the direction of the visit. If the person is tired, that’s okay. Offer to just sit and watch an appropriate program with them or listen to music. If they want to talk then, you need to listen. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard the story ten times, there’s always more to learn if you are open. You are not there just so you can say that you went to visit. You are there for their benefit.
Be sensitive to where they are that day — emotionally, physically, and mentally — and go with the flow. If the person has dementia, get into their world because that person can no longer live in yours. Don’t argue.
Listen, validate, and touch in a loving manner if that is natural to the relationship. As long as you let them lead the way you’ll do okay.
The most important thing is not to announce when you are coming. That gives facilities a chance to “stage,” or in other words, put their best foot forward. It’s the squeaky wheel syndrome, and when they know you’re coming, you’re the wheel. The element of randomness allows you to observe things as they really are 24/7.
These tips are from experience:
When visiting a person with dementia, realize that this may (or may not) be home for now.
After moving my father into a skilled nursing facility (SNF), he kept wanting to “go home.” When we brought him home, he had a vague recollection of the place. Later on, when he said he wanted to “go home,” it meant the SNF, where he sighed with relief to be home (in his room) and felt more relaxed.
When the first assisted living community opened in our area, we considered moving him for a more home-like atmosphere. But the SNF had become my father’s home. Moving him would have upset him and his familiar routine.
When visiting, it’s less about what we as family caregivers want and more about how our loved ones feel. When they feel comfortable then our visits will be likewise.
When visiting a loved one, check your ego and expectations at the door. Often, especially for those living with dementia, it becomes impossible for them to return to our world, but we can certainly travel into theirs. Find a quiet, distraction-free space, keep the conversation light, and never correct or argue with them.
Remember they are fighting for every shred of their remaining independence; never berate or talk down to them. If making conversation is difficult, bring along a photo album, puzzle, or favorite game. Weather permitting, take them for a walk or just sit outdoors and enjoy the fresh air together. Just being in nature can be very therapeutic and calming, especially if they spend the majority of their time inside.
Most importantly, treat them with dignity and respect and remember that while time changes many things, the person you have always loved is still there and needs your love and affection more than ever.
Plan on doing an activity or bringing something that you know your parent(s) will enjoy. Perhaps they like a certain type of music or game (i.e. puzzle) or you know they love fruit or cake. They’ll feel special that you took the time to bring or share something they love.
First, don’t worry about the length of time of your visit. It is the quality of the time together that counts; sometimes a short visit is better. Second, don’t quiz the person about the events of the day, just enjoy the present moment.
I suggest that families pack a small “visiting bag” so they always having something to do when spending time with their loved one. Your bag can include a deck of cards or a fun board game, dominoes, a small photo album, some favorite snacks, a shoe box filled with mementos from positive life events, a book of poems, devotions or affirmation, music CDs, or oil/lotion for a hand massage. Pack items you will both enjoy, and you won’t feel the stress of wondering what to do during your visit anymore.
Introduce yourself to the Executive Director and Director of Nursing. Thank them for their care of your parent. Tell them you are available any time of day should they need to reach you, and let them know how often you plan to visit. That in-person relationship will serve you well as problems arise or needs change.
Share a meal with your parent. Dining together is a great way to connect and interact like you would at home. You will also have the opportunity to see how meals are handled in the facility. How is the food presented? How does the staff interact with guests? How do residents interact with each other?”
“Try to visit early in the day,” suggests Paul Markowitz, Founder of Dallas-based Senior Living Specialists. If a loved one lives with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia, mornings may be their best time of day for visitors.
Late-day visitors may unknowingly cause the senior to become overtired just as the sun begins to set. This can contribute to “sundowning syndrome” and difficult behaviors such as agitation and restlessness.
Being present and having your attention is important to your family member. It’s why you should leave your cell phone in the car during your visit.
Robin Adrihan, the founder and co-owner of Smooth Transitions of the Valley in Phoenix, explains it this way: “When you visit, actually spend some time with your loved one – don’t just pop in and out. If physically possible, take your family member to lunch (even if it is just in the community’s dining room) or on a couple of errands with you. If the weather is good, go for a walk outdoors around the property.”
Brian Powledge, another co-owner of Smooth Transitions of the Valley, offers simple but meaningful advice. He likes to remind adult children and family members to “treat their loved one like you would treat anyone else. Don’t treat them differently just because they live in an assisted living community now.”
Staying connected helps older adults feel valued and appreciated, so during your next visit, ask about the activities they enjoy most and request to meet a few of their friends. Getting involved and taking an active role in a loved one’s life protect them from isolation and loneliness, two very significant health risks.
As cliché as it may sound, the best tip I can give to adult children visiting a parent in a long term care facility is to keep it simple. I’ve found that no two families are the same, so this may translate into different actions for different individuals.
- If your parent enjoys in engaging in conversation, that’s great, but take it slow and don’t jump from topic to topic. Stay in the moment and don’t try to solve the problems of the past. While we want it to be enjoyable for all, your visit is more about them than you.
- For those with parents who don’t want to engage in conversation, that’s fine too. Silence can be golden. Perhaps going through old photo albums, listening to music, or just munching on a favorite food that you’ve brought can be enough and enjoyable for both.
I wanted to give you a second tip that, while very different is equally as important as the other one I gave you. This tip is especially appropriate for the smaller ALFs (6-10 beds) where the extended families get to know or at least acknowledge on another.
Introduce yourself to the other residents who are around your parent and their extended family members. Acknowledge them whenever you visit with a hello and a smile. You’ll find that you serve as an additional set of eyes and ears for one another. When visiting, you may notice that their parent doesn’t look well or was exceptionally quiet, or they may notice something about your parents. Making the long term care environment part of your own life may result in better social interaction and general well-being for your parent. While the facility may have adequate caregivers, they may not see what you do, when you do.
When I visited aging relatives and others in a long term care facility, I usually was able to take my young children and later my grandkids. My sweet senior’s eyes would sparkle to see them, even if they had reached a point of extreme memory and/or communication loss. I know some people worry about taking kids, but mine were always fine going. We’d talk about it before and after the visit. The kids didn’t always understand, but they always loved back, and it brings sweet smiles to my heart to remember those moments, as well. Nowadays, many places may also allow beloved pets. Check first, of course, but if I had a pet that I could trust to behave appropriately, that would be another great option.
During your visit, focus on connecting with your older loved one on an emotional level. Remember to make the visit about them and not about your own needs or expectations. Depending on how they’re feeling, you might need to be flexible about activities. One day they may be chatty and energetic, but the next time, they might prefer to sit quietly and simply enjoy the companionship.
Dropping a loved one off at a long term care facility will never be easy. We have all felt that guilt, no matter how small or big it was back then, as we drive away from the facility for the first time. However, taking the time to visit regularly can help alleviate that. As all our experts say, these visits are important because an hour of your time can help them feel valued and genuinely appreciated.
Did these tips help you prepare for your next visit? Send us a message, and let us know your experiences when you visit your loved ones.
If you have feedback or comments, feel free to send those, too. We’d love to hear from you!