Joe (names changed to protect privacy) had been a very attentive caregiver to his wife, Martha, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
He struggled for a long time with the idea of placing her in a nursing facility. Therefore, when he finally did bring her to our facility, we were all a little surprised when he never came to visit.
The nurses reported that when he did stop by, it was only a matter of moments before he left in tears. When I contacted Joe and asked what the problem was, he explained to me he had no idea how to interact with Martha in the nursing home. At home they could talk about their daily routine and look at family pictures together, but now she had practically stopped talking at all, and she didn’t seem to remember him. All he could do was hold her hand for a few moments before his grief forced him to escape.
Joe’s problem is not an uncommon one. Chances are if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you, too, have struggled with how to make your visits meaningful. These simple suggestions may help.
1. Time your visit to coincide with a meal or an activity. This will give you something to do with your loved one. Joe started coming around the lunch hour when he could feed Martha.He was proud that she ate more for him than for anyone else. Another family I worked with started bringing their loved one to our weekly choir practice. She was so proud and happy that her family was there to hear her sing.
2. Bring old pictures or letters. Bring some of your loved one’s favorite pictures or letters received long ago and talk to him or her about them. Your loved one’s memory is often better for distant events (things that happened years ago) than for things that happened today or yesterday. Share some family stories and see if you can spark your loved one’s memory.
3. Play music, or sing your loved one’s favorite songs. One woman I worked with came alive whenever her husband put on her favorite Elvis CD. A resident who had played the organ for his church loved being allowed to play his favorite songs on the facility’s piano. In fact, he was a little taken aback when he developed his own groupies!
4. Bring a Bible or another favorite book. Read her favorite verses, or perhaps a few lines of poetry or a few chapters of a much-loved novel. 5. Bring an activity. Perhaps you could paint your loved one’s nails or fold clothes together. Joe found that even though Martha’s memory was poor, she could still play a mean game of gin rummy. Another client spent hours with her visiting spouse stacking dominoes in patterns that made sense only to her. Visiting a loved one with dementia can be a challenge.
It’s so easy to see the changes and focus on the things your loved one will never do again. But the truth is, there are still many things your loved one can still enjoy. With a little planning imagination and planning, your visits can be times of joy rather than of sorrow.