Visiting a loved one receiving short- or long-term care in a skilled nursing facility can be a confusing, difficult and uncomfortable experience due to the unfamiliar environments and the realities of facing the aging of a loved one and others.

 

The well-being of patients and residents depends on family involvement and seeing familiar, caring faces. Family visits are one of the highlights in every patient’s or resident’s life, and these visits provide him or her with positivity, encouragement, hope and happiness that is invaluable to the processes of healing and living.

 

When visiting a loved one at a Life Care Centers of America facility or other care center, there are ways you can be prepared that will help ensure that your visit is comfortable, that you know what to do, that you know what to expect and that you know how to react.

 

When preparing to visit a loved one, follow any visitation hours or guidelines the facility may have established. You should also plan a short initial visit to assess how much time your loved one can spend comfortably with company (some treatments, medications or medical conditions can leave him or her easily tired). When you are ready to plan a visit, call your loved one before you arrive. Arrange a time that is convenient for him or her that does not interfere with scheduled medical care. If your visit is around a meal or activity time, consider asking if you may join in. Should you need to, bring a supportive friend or child that the resident or patient knows (be certain younger visitors know what to expect).


Upon arrival at the facility, there are a variety of sights, sounds and smells that may be unfamiliar, intimidating or discomforting. You will see people in wheelchairs, people using walkers and people lying in bed. Some will be happy and talkative; others may be in pain, sleeping or unable to respond to you. There will be medical equipment, feeding and oxygen tubes, nurses, dietitians, doctors and other family members visiting other residents and patients. Smells such as cleaning solutions, food, beauty salon chemicals and possibly even unpleasant body odors may be encountered. Finally, there may be sounds of alarms, equipment beeping, telephones, conversations and laughter, crying and shouting, and music and television.


Your loved one's room

When you reach your loved one's room, knock on his or her door and ask permission to enter - remember, this room is his or her home while at the facility. Once you enter, it's important to reassure your loved one with touch. Give him or her a hug, a pat on the hand or a kiss on the cheek. You may want to eliminate distractions by closing the door or turn off the television when you first arrive. Treat your loved one with respect and not like a child, acting calm and stress-free. If you are anxious or uncomfortable, your loved one will be able to tell, and it may affect his or her mood.


Initiating conversation with your loved one may be more difficult in the unfamiliar environment of a care center. There are some easy conversation ideas you can use to begin your visit. For example, you can provide meaningful or anecdotal information about a family member or a friend who lives out of town. Ask your loved one questions about the food, activities or other residents. You could ask your loved one for advice on a situation or about a hobby he or she may have expertise in, such as gardening or cooking. You might talk about your own family, job or goals and include your loved one in the conversation by relating certain things to his or her life or by asking questions. You may also relive the past by talking about weddings, jobs, school, most embarrassing moments or family history. If conversation still proves difficult, you could ask the facility's activities director for a daily schedule and join your loved one for a class or game.


Your loved one will appreciate you dropping by for short visits, as well as staying for longer visits. Regardless of the length of your stay, there are a variety of ways to spend time with your loved one:

  • Make or bring lemonade or coffee, and have a snack.
  • Read an interesting story from the newspaper.
  • Take a walk around the grounds, or visit another resident.
  • Look through a photo album or put new pictures in a scrapbook.
  • Collect notes or greetings from the resident's friends to share.
  • Feed the birds or bring along a bird identifier book.
  • Work on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle.
  • Write letters or birthday cards to family or friends.
  • Help the resident redecorate or organize a part of the room.
  • Ask the resident to teach you a skill he or she knows well, such as knitting, stamp collecting, playing the harmonica, etc.
  • Create an ongoing craft project to work on during every visit.
 
Relating With Staff

You can enhance your loved one's life by getting to know his or her caregivers. Just as there is an adjustment period for your loved one, the nurses, doctors, staff members and volunteers at the facility have to get to know and become comfortable with your loved one as well. Working in a care facility can be challenging, but the support shown to staff by the families of patients and residents can foster growth in the lives of everyone involved.

 

In order to make the transition easier for both your loved one and the staff, there are several simple things you can do. Provide staff with a photograph and short biography of your loved one that includes information such as likes and dislikes, hobbies, practiced religion and personality traits. Take a few minutes to exchange small talk with the staff members each visit, paying particular attention to those who are assigned to interact with your loved one. Learn their interests and ask about their families. If you are leaving town or if someone else will be visiting your loved one, let the staff know. Don't be afraid to privately ask the staff members questions about your loved one or for advice on how to handle situations concerning your loved one's care. Speak with the activities director and find out if there is an activity your loved one enjoys that you could volunteer to help with. This will even help you if your loved one has made friends or has a roommate, as it will allow you an opportunity to get to know them.

While many care centers have small general stores where residents and patients can purchase items they may need or want, their access to shopping centers or department stores is likely limited. Small presents can brighten your loved one’s day and make him or her feel appreciated and cared for. Here are some suggested gifts to bring your loved one:

  • Books of poems or works from his or her favorite author or genre
  • Subscription to a favorite magazine
  • CDs of preferred music
  • Artwork, green plants, potpourri or other items to make the room more comfortable and inviting
  • Items pertaining to a favorite hobby, such as yarn, sheet music, paintbrushes or colored pencils, instructional books, etc.
  • Personalized pillows or throw blankets
  • Large-print calendar
  • Stationery and envelopes with postage
  • Small flower pot with soil and seeds for planting
  • Cards from grandchildren or loved ones
  • A wheelchair or walker bag to hold personal belongings
  • Specialty teas, coffee or desserts (Check with your caregivers to ensure these items are not subject to any dietary restrictions.)
  • Favorite snack or non-perishable food item (Again, check with your caregivers to ensure these items are not subject to any dietary restrictions.)
  • Game or deck of cards
  • Craft supplies
  • Journals, tape recorder or digital camera to record memories
  • Audio books, e-reader or favorite movies
  • Hand lotion or grooming items like nail polish, clippers, etc.
  • Photo albums or scrapbooks

A time to celebrate

Making holidays and special days exciting can bring joy and anticipation to the lives of residents and patients. How you celebrate with your loved one can not only brighten his or her day, but the residents and patients around your loved one as well. Celebrating a special day or time of year can lead to your loved one sharing stories of your visit with friends at the facility, and it can lead to your loved one becoming closer to the caregivers and staff at the facility, too. Many facilities have private family rooms or private dining room areas that you can schedule to hold your party in.


Birthdays are a great opportunity to celebrate with your loved one at the care facility. You can bring balloons, decorations and a cake or favorite dessert. Invite other friends and family members to join you at the facility for the celebration. You can bring gifts and cards, watch old family videos and enjoy spending time with one another.


The different seasons can bring changes to your visits as well. In the spring, consider bringing an indoor basket of flowers for your loved one to tend and enjoy. If your loved one is a sports fan, bring snacks and watch your favorite sports teams together. There are also several religious holidays you might celebrate in ways your loved one does traditionally.


As summer arrives, you can reminisce about past vacations using old scrapbooks or photo albums. You can take your loved one on a picnic or have a cookout. Go for a walk around the facility’s grounds and sit in the shade with a fan. You can make lemonade with your loved one or reflect on patriotic holidays. Independence Day can be a wonderful opportunity to ask your loved one about military history if he or she has served, and to thank him or her for the service.


Autumn brings fall foliage, and you could take your loved one for a walk around the facility’s grounds to look at the changing leaves. You might bring your children or young family members who can discuss their new school activities and schedules with the patient or resident. As the weather cools, it’s a great time to bring your loved one a new shawl or sweater. Carving pumpkins or baking pies make good autumn activities, as well.


Winter brings a time of reflection and looking forward to the future. Activities perfect for winter include making calendars noting family birthdays and special occasions and making New Year’s resolutions. You could make eggnog, tea or hot chocolate with your loved one as you share past traditions and express your appreciation to the facility staff.


As Christmas or Hanukkah nears, help decorate your loved one’s room with familiar items from home or new things he or she would enjoy. Bring a CD of traditional holiday music and help him or her address holiday greeting cards or buy gifts for friends and family. Ask the staff if there is a holiday event for residents and patients, and if there is, help your loved one prepare for whatever that event entails. You can bake cookies with your loved one or participate in a charity such as preparing a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child.

The facility and your love one’s medical experts will make the final determination of if your loved one is physically able, mentally alert and cognizant enough to handle an outing. Like anyone, your loved one still wants to go places, do things and see things, even if his or her ability to do so may be less than it once was.


Your loved one’s care center will be happy to give you details on any procedures or rules for taking patients and residents from the buildings for short excursions. Some insurance programs may also have restrictions on outings. If an outing is possible, you will want to make sure you have contact information for the facility in case of an emergency, and you may want to discuss with your loved one’s caregivers any advice or tips they may have for caring for your loved one.


Depending on your loved one’s physical and mental capabilities, there are many outings you might consider:

  • Take a walk in the park
  • Plan a cookout with family and friends at your house or another familiar place
  • Visit a farmers market, a grocery store or a shopping mall to stimulate visual interest
  • Visit historical places that may bring back memories – such as a museum, a farm or a place they used to live
  • Take a drive through the countryside
  • Bring him or her to a symphony or a café with music

Should your loved one be unable to leave the premises, you could work with staff to decorate the dining hall like a favorite restaurant or special place. Coordinate with the facility’s activities department and make sure to include things that may bring back memories, such as big band music or pictures of people from a certain era.

Children hold a special place in the hearts of most older people. If your loved one has grandchildren, make it a point to bring them to visit, but be certain that you explain to the children what the resident’s or patient’s condition is. Be prepared to answer their questions honestly, and describe any medical equipment, bandages or signs of ailments that the children may see on their visit. Children always react more comfortably if they have an idea of what they will encounter before they arrive.


Younger children may withdraw from their grandparent if they do not understand the differences caused by aging or the effects of some medical conditions on their loved one. By doing simple activities together, grandparent and child can bond with the child having a clear understanding of why his or her grandparent is acting differently.


Some activities children can do with a resident or patient:

  • Look through photo albums
  • Groom a pet (Be certain to follow the facility’s pet visitation policy.)
  • Simple chores, such as folding laundry
  • Listen to music
  • Sing songs
  • Simple crafts or games

Making sure that children are aware of the possible changes in their loved one before the visit will help them be less anxious around the resident or patient and make them better equipped to continue developing their relationship with him or her.