How to Return to In-Person Visits when Dementia is Involved
3 Strategies to Have the Most Joyful Experience Possible
For most of us who have loved ones or friends living in residential care facilities, it has been a very long time since we have been able to be in the same room to visit with them. Most interactions have been restricted to window visits, phone calls, or video chats on the computer.
With the rising availability of vaccines, being together in person is starting to be a possibility again for some. However, when dementia is involved, coming together again after a long pause may unfortunately not be as easy as you might imagine. What are some strategies for easing the transition back to in-person visits?
1. Recognize that things will likely be different
Even though you may well remember them as they were before COVID-19 hit, factors such as social isolation, lack of physical and mental activity, anxiety, depression, or other pandemic-related issues may have contributed to changes in the individual.
They may have experienced physical, cognitive, or emotional changes, or a combination of all three. Also, it is important to remember that you have changed, as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in ways in which we may not even be aware.
With all of these factors, it may be necessary and helpful to adjust your expectations of the upcoming visits. Even though you may be overwhelmed with excitement to be able to visit them in person, try to remember that the individual may not react the way you want or expect them to.
Use your initial visits as an assessment of how your special person is doing at this point in time. If there are significant changes, try your best to grieve these changes later, rather than in front of the individual. Instead, do your best to focus on the positive by noticing the things they are still able to do and the ways they are able to connect, even if they seem small.
2. Go Slow
- If you are visiting them in their room or apartment, knock and then pause for several seconds before entering.
- Approach them, then stop when you are six feet away. With your open hand (palm out), held motionless next to your face, smile and say “Hi, ________(their name), it’s _________(your name). If you typically call them by another name (Mom, Auntie, Grandpa, etc.), you may certainly use that, but if they do not seem to respond or completely understand your relation to them, you may want to then switch to using their first name.
- Then, extend your hand to them and move forward slowly. If they are ready to connect with you, you will likely see a recognition in their face, a light in their eyes, and they will reach out their hand to yours. If none of these things occur, then they may need a bit more time, and you may want to pause before moving closer.