6 ways to make a care home visit enjoyable

Do you feel daunted or worried about visiting someone with dementia in a care home? Find out what might happen and how to make your visit enjoyable for both of you.

Could this be you?

You really want to visit your relative, friend or neighbour since they moved into residential care but

- You’re worried you’ll get upset and feel helpless.
- What will you talk about? The conversation could dry up very quickly.
- If they don’t recognise you anymore it could be very depressing.

These kind of thoughts are common and understandable, particularly if you don’t have much experience of dementia. But don’t let them prevent you from going to see a friend and making a difference to their day

Here’s what to do:

1. Do your homework

Find out what sort of care home the person you know is living in. For example is it a residential care home or a nursing home? There’s quite a difference between visiting someone in a nursing home (where most residents will be very frail) or a care home where you might find a much wider variety of people, many of whom could still appear fit and healthy.

It’s also a good idea to phone ahead of your visit. Ask what kind of times are generally best to avoid. For example, meal times are usually very busy, and if the person you know experiences sundowning you might want to avoid early evening too.

Tip: If possible, phone shortly before you visit as well, to check what sort of a day your friend is having. Living with dementia is all about learning to be ‘in the moment’ so if they’re having a particularly bad day (perhaps they didn’t sleep well the night before) it might be worth rescheduling your visit, especially if this is the first one.

2. Find a quiet place

Care homes can be busy, bustling places with lots of activities going on– which is good news for the residents but not so good if you want to spend one-to-one time with the person you know. So try to find a quiet place for your visit. It could mean going to their room, or finding a visitors room (most homes should have these) or sitting in the garden.

3. Keep it short and sweet

You don’t have to sit for hours trying to make conversation. It’s quality not quantity of time that matters. There are plenty ways to spark a chat with someone who has dementia and a 30 minute visit spent laughing and reminiscing could really brighten their day. And if you leave them smiling, it will probably brighten your day too.

4. Take some props

Conversation can become difficult quite quickly, especially if the person you’re visiting keeps asking difficult questions finds it hard to communicate verbally or forgets who you are.

So it’s worth taking something from the list below:

- Photographs albums so you can relive some happy memories.
- Reminiscence cards and books and magazines you can enjoy together.
- A scrap book to start doing some life story work.
- Once you’re feeling more confident, you could try taking simple board games, cards or jigsaw puzzles.
- Art and craft activities – there are hundreds to choose from, including colouring, painting, sewing, knitting.

Tip: Children and babies can receive a very warm welcome from someone with dementia, and prove a great distraction from daily life, so don’t be afraid to take them with you too.

5. Be realistic

Your aim is to create ‘moments of joy’ for the person with dementia – no more than that. Don’t underestimate the pleasure they might get from simply sitting with you and holding your hand, looking at some flowers in the garden, listening to some favourite music together or drinking tea and eating cream cakes with you

6. Don’t take it to heart

Despite all the effort you’ve made, the person you’re visiting may not be particularly responsive or grateful, they may even become upset or angry during your visit. Just remember, this is the illness talking, not the person you’ve always known and cared about, so try not to take it personally. Even if your visit is a complete disaster that doesn’t mean the next one will be the same. In fact, next time it could go really well. One of the only certainties on the dementia journey is that it can be very unpredictable! So whatever you do, don’t give up.