When your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, visits to a care facility can be a challenge, and typical visiting rules won’t always apply. You don’t want to leave her alone, but what can you do if she becomes agitated by your presence?
Judy Berry, founder of Dementia Specialist Consulting, offers expert insight for families navigating the minefield of life after their loved one moves to a memory care community.
When Visiting Is Hard
“Every person with dementia is different, and moods can change rapidly,” says Berry. So if your loved one becomes agitated by your visits, try your best to not take it personally.
Instead, she suggests you do some problem-solving to get to the root of the issue.
“Try to identify the trigger—whether it is fear, anger, etc.—and if the person was already agitated before the visit,” she says. That will help you get a better handle on what’s causing the problem.
From there, Berry recommends walking away for a bit and then re-approaching your loved one, or even asking a staff member to come over and try to change the mood. If your loved one is still upset, it may be best to leave and come back another time.
Timing Your Visits
It’s no surprise that timing is key when it comes to visiting your loved one in memory care.
“Trying to avoid regular sleeping times will help,” says Berry. “But every situation is different, and each day or hour might bring different moods. It’s critical to remain flexible.”
She believes visits can be enhanced by getting involved in scheduled activities with your loved one, staff members, and other residents in the community. Plus, visiting when your loved one is engaged in the program can reduce your own stress, which can in turn reduce your loved one’s stress.
“Persons with dementia respond more to mood and underlying body language,” says Berry. “If you are upset, angry, or frustrated, they read that emotion even though your words may not express it.”
She recommends you bring “peace and tranquility” when you visit—and if you can’t do that, come back another time when you’re feeling more relaxed.
Of course, being flexible and relaxed is easier said than done, particularly when you’re working hard to connect with a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. But caring for someone with memory loss requires a degree of selflessness, even when it comes to your own emotions.
“You will have more meaningful visits when you are able to let go of your own expectations and needs,” says Berry. That includes your need to be recognized and remembered. “Visits will be much more enjoyable when you can join them in their moments and validate their emotions.”
As the dementia progresses, trying to bring your loved ones into your reality is often demeaning and frustrating to them, which is why Berry says you should never argue with a person with dementia.
“When their behavior appears to be unacceptable or troublesome, ask yourself, ‘Is their behavior a problem, or do my expectations need to change?’”
A Schedule that Works for Everyone
Emily Caldwell experienced these challenges firsthand. But after helping her mother move from assisted living to memory care, she developed a visiting routine that worked for both of them.
“As her disease progressed, I became less and less important to her, and there was even a time when my presence seemed to bother her,” says Caldwell, an Ohio State University media relations manager who has been blogging about her mom since 2009. “At those times, or when I reduced visiting because I just needed a break, I always knew she was surrounded by a loving and skilled staff that would keep me informed if anything seemed amiss.”
Though Berry recommends visiting your loved ones as often as possible, she affirms that daily visits are not always feasible.
“It’s important to take care of yourself and realize you do not have to visit every day,” she says. “All visiting should be guided by how the person responds, the timing of the visits, and the reason you want to visit—if you truly want to be there or if you feel the need to visit out of guilt.”
Though managing memory care visits may not be easy, it is infinitely worthwhile.
“I entered caregiving with a lot of dread and resentment,” says Caldwell. “Over time, that all fell away. It was an unbelievable relief.”