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Visiting a Loved One in a Nursing Home

During the holiday season, nursing homes see an increase in the number of people visiting their loved ones—some estimates say that more people visit in the month of December than in all the other months of the year combined. In order to have the visit go as smoothly and successfully as possible, the Iowa Press-Citizen offers these tips:

  • Keep in mind the limitations of the person you are visiting. What are the person’s physical or cognitive limitations? Do they have a limited attention span, or do they tire quickly? If so, plan a shorter visit. If they have trouble recognizing people, it might be too overwhelming if you arrive with a large number of visitors.
  • Call ahead. Talk with the resident and the nursing staff to see if some days or times are better or worse than others. Some people with dementia need consistency, and breaking a routine by arriving during mealtime or other activity could be disruptive. Also, some people might have better energy or mood earlier in the day or after an afternoon nap. Better to know what is best for the resident than to have your visit cause problems.
  • Consider visiting during mealtime. If your loved one agrees, and if the facility allows, you may want to visit during lunch or dinner. Call the facility in advance to find out the process, how much they charge, and other details. Some residents like being able to introduce family to their nursing home friends while sharing a meal. Alternatively, offer to take your loved one out for a meal.
  • Don’t visit if you are sick. While having a cold might not stop you from doing your other daily activities, the elderly have weak immune systems. Something as simple as the common cold could turn into pneumonia, and could actually be fatal for some elderly people. Instead, make the visit by phone, and visit in person when you are totally healthy.
  • Even if you are healthy, wash your hands before you enter the facility, and after you leave.
  • Bring comfort food. Again, call in advance and speak with both the resident and the nursing staff. The staff can tell you if there are certain foods that are restricted for your loved one’s diet (for example, you wouldn’t want to bring salty foods to a person with high blood pressure), and the resident can tell you which foods he or she particularly likes or dislikes.
  • Ask if there are other items you can bring. Nursing home residents can’t just hop in the car and go get anything they want. Your visit could be a lifeline to favorite items, such as lotions, clothing, videos, music, soft blankets, etc. If you bring an item, consider putting the resident’s name on it.
  • Ask the resident how he or she would like to spend the time. Consider a hand massage, reviewing a photo album, listening to music, watching a video or TV show together, or making crafts. Some residents will be happy to see the gadgets you have in your pocket (cell phone, ipod, etc.). If you run out of ideas, ask the activities director.
  • Connect family members digitally. Call the facility to ask if wireless service is available. If so, you can bring a laptop or iPad to arrange for distant family members to say hello via Skype, FaceTime, or similar services.
  • Thank the nursing staff—many are working extra shifts or giving up holiday time with their own families to care for residents.

To read the full article in the Press-Citizen, click here:  Things to Consider When Visiting

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