Knowing how to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia takes practice and, above all, patience. The Family Caregiver Alliance and others offer tips for visiting a friend or family member in memory care assisted living. Below, we’ve adapted these tips at the Lodge at Grand Junction Senior Living from our experiences.
Being present for an aging family member can take an emotional toll, but it can also be very beneficial for the individual with memory loss. Before visiting a loved one with memory loss, consider some of the common behavior and personality changes associated with memory loss. Memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s affect people’s brains differently, and how individuals cope with changing medical needs can be factors in how they connect to their environment and visitors.
Here are six ways to create a more meaningful visit with a senior in memory care assisted living:
1. Be positive and prepare your visit
The old adage “it’s not what you say but how you say it” plays a role in visiting someone with memory loss because those with memory loss can sense emotions and tone. Body language and nonverbal cues are important for maintaining a relaxed environment and productive conversation. Consider researching different conditions that lead to memory loss. Preparing in advance and knowing how to cope with frustrating situations takes practice. Consider these simple tips when you visit:
- Focus on being receptive and relaxed
- Maintain eye contact
- Keep your voice and body relaxed and consistent
2. Coordinate your visits with staff in advance
Memory care assisted living uses routines to create a stable environment for residents. It benefits everyone when you’re able to schedule your plans ahead of time and give memory care staff, and your loved one, an opportunity to prepare for your visit.
- Coordinate with the community and staff ahead of time to schedule the best time of day to visit your loved one.
- Limit the number of visitors to one to two people at a time. Large groups can be overwhelming.
3. Limit distractions in the room
It can be difficult to hold a conversation in a loud or unpredictable environment. Distractions like TVs, radios or children running around can be overwhelming for older adults with memory loss. Foster an environment that supports communication by turning off electronics, reducing the number of people in the room and finding quiet activities for children.
- Be okay with sitting in silence for periods of time, as this can be relaxing for some.
- Consider bringing an activity with you, like a book or photo album view and to stimulate memories.
4. Identify yourself and have a friendly approach
No matter how sure you are that your loved one knows who you are, make it a habit to introduce yourself and any other visitors at every visit.
- When you introduce yourself, don’t forget to give your relationship. Saying, “Hey, Uncle Pete, I’m Annie, your niece,” could help with emotional memories.
- Don’t be upset if a family member doesn’t immediately remember you — celebrate moments of clarity when they happen.
5. Be direct, concise and repetitive
We suggest you speak slowly, clearly, in an even tone and use simple words – with one or two syllables, if possible. Quite often visitors feel they need to speak more loudly. You don’t have to do this; just slow it down. In fact, using a lower-than-usual pitch in your voice can also help to focus your loved one’s attention. Don’t get frustrated if you need to repeat what you say several times. If the conversation gets hung up, move on to another topic. Adults with memory loss process information differently, so consider every way you can make yourself easier to understand.
- Repeat people’s names and their relationship to yourself and your family member when talking about a person. Avoid just using pronouns, since they can be easily mistaken.
- Give choices when asking questions, such as “would you like orange juice or water?” When there are two clear options, adults with memory loss are less likely to feel overwhelmed by options
- Be careful about providing feedback and avoid criticizing or arguing. One of the most frustrating questions someone with memory loss can get is, “Do you remember?”
6. Depart at a natural break in the day
When it’s time to go home, find a time or activity that would normally fit into your senior’s routine. Ending your visit around a daily activity, such as a religious service, meal break, or bath time can ease the transition back into a regular schedule in the residence.
The Lodge at Grand Junction includes 48 apartments, consisting of 36 assisted living residences, available as studios or one-bedroom apartments, and 12 memory care studios in a separate, secure neighborhood setting. Services and care plans are tailored to residents’ interests and needs, with an emphasis on resident-centered wellness that engages the social, spiritual and physical components of a fulfilling lifestyle. The community is managed by WellAge Senior Communities, a respected Colorado company focused on senior living.