What to Know When Visiting Mom or Dad in Memory Care

January 28, 2015

If your mom, dad or a family member has recently moved into a memory care unit, you’re no doubt thinking about visits – when can you get there, how often should you, and what the visits themselves should look like in a new setting. Let’s face it – it’s a transition to go from seeing mom or dad in familiar busy surroundings at home, versus sitting with them in a new community with lots of variables, including their mood. The good news is we’ve seen countless families make this transition, and yours can, too! Here are some ideas to help yours go smoothly.

First, there are expectations on both sides; take our advice, and set yours low. Your mom might be feeling unsettled and still adjusting, or even crabby and irritable; depending on her physical and cognitive health, she might not even be up to much of a visit on a given day. Arrive expecting little in terms of any kind of meaningful conversation exchange. Be ready to do most of the talking, and build in some quiet time to just sit and be together. Resist the urge to fill that silence with chatter – maybe bring a newspaper to glance at, to make it easier to just sit quietly.

If mom falls asleep during the visit, let her! Alert a staff member that you’re leaving and leave it at that. If she becomes agitated or even ornery, it’s OK to take a break and come back, or just cut the visit short and try again another day. Her struggles most likely have very little to do with you and more likely are due to something physiological or psychological – cognitive confusion perhaps, or a reaction to a medication – even frustration with an unexpected change in the daily routine. Don’t take it personally and take a deep breath instead.

If you’re able to choose the setting of your visit, pick a cozy, quiet space free from distractions – dad’s room, or a comfortable bench outside. If he’s physically and mentally able to accommodate other family members joining you, by all means bring them – but better to know beforehand what he’s in the mood for.

It’s a good idea to consider timing as well, particularly as it relates to the staff. If the community dad lives in has a staff changeover period during potential visiting hours, which may be a time to avoid. Employees are likely to be focused on finishing up their work and passing ongoing issues to incoming colleagues, and the noise and activity level is high. Better to arrive once that period has ended and things are more settled.

Finally, there’s frequency to consider, and this is completely unique to each individual. Your goal should be to visit as often as your family member needs, without limiting their potential social connections; in other words, if mom’s cognitively able to forge social ties in her community, you don’t want too many visits to get in the way of that process.  The elderly tend to thrive on predictable routine, so try your best to set a visiting schedule you can live with and they can rely on. And remember – there’s always a phone call if you can’t get there in person! Staff members are happy to fill you in on how mom’s doing, and let her chat with you. A well-timed call can certainly be a worthy substitute when an in-person visit isn’t possible.