When your parent moves into senior living, you may have some questions about how best to handle your visit. How often should you visit? How long should the visit be? Is there a limit to how many people should visit at one time? What are some good things to do during the course of a visit? What are some things you can bring with you during your visit?
There’s not one specific answer to any of those questions, but there are visitor guidelines for senior living that can be helpful, depending upon various factors such as the type of setting your parent is residing in, your parent’s personality, and how far away you live.
Keep It Small
Usually small groups—up to three people—are best for visits to your parent in senior living. You can have better conversations with your parent if you try to keep it one-on-one or one-on-two.
If your parent is in independent or assisted living, then restrictions to number of visitors aren’t nearly as important. Use common sense, regarding how many people can comfortably fit in your parent’s living space, as a guide.
A larger group may wish to gather at your parent’s residence for a special celebration, such as a birthday or Grandparents’ Day. In that case, you can meet with your loved one in a setting outside their room or apartment such as in a lounge area or a room that can be reserved for family events and parties.
Short, More Frequent Visits
If you live in the same city with your loved one, then short but frequent visits are probably the best way to go. Rather than an hour-long visit once or twice a week, a visit of 30 to 45 minutes three or four times a week would likely be more appreciated. Visiting more frequently is a way to give your parent something to look forward on various days throughout the week. For those in memory care, a shorter visit may be less fatiguing than a longer visit.
As we’ve said in past blog posts, it’s not essential that you visit every day. On the days you don’t visit, you can chat by phone and make sure your parent is having a good day. When you do visit, pick a time that you know will not be busy. Late mornings or late afternoons are usually the best time, since activities are usually at a lull at that time right before the mid-day and evening meals.
If you’re coming from out of town, then you’ll want to make the most of your visits. When my mother was in a rehab facility and then later in a skilled nursing facility, it was a seven-hour round trip to visit her. Therefore, I usually stayed in town for two or three days, overnighting at the home of my sister who lived nearby. I’d spend several hours with her each day, chatting and eating meals in the dining room as her guest, sometimes playing games, participating in her community’s social activities, or watching TV—in other words, just experiencing her day with her.
I also had the opportunity to interact with the medical and caregiving staff, which was very helpful in understanding the type of care she was getting. Certainly visiting your parent’s resident on a regular basis is a great way to get a progress report on his or her health and well-being.
What You Should Do
Visiting your parent in senior living can get into a nice routine that you both enjoy, or you can vary it each time. If your vision-impaired dad enjoys you reading to him from the newspaper or a favorite book during your visit, then you should certainly do that every time. If your memory-impaired mother enjoys looking at photo albums or short videos of your family, then that’s a routine that would be much appreciated. If there are weekly activities such as family bingo night or classic movie night that you know your mom enjoys, you can stop by during that activity and participate along with her.
However, sometimes you might want to give your parent a reprieve from routine. For instance, try bringing in lunch to give your parent a break from the daily menu offered in the assisted living dining room. Perhaps Chinese food or a pepperoni pizza would be a nice change of pace. Go over the posted menu each week with your mom or dad, and ask which day they would prefer for you to bring in food.
If it’s a nice day, then going outside to enjoy your lunch or just a leisurely stroll through an outdoor courtyard could be a welcome diversion from the norm. If your parent’s well enough to leave the grounds, then an occasional outing for lunch, shopping, a movie or a theater performance is another way to add some variety to a visit.
The important part of any visit is to make a connection with your parent. Many times, you can do that in the way you’ve always done it before—by talking, sharing photos, or just being together. If cognitive or physical decline has made that more difficult, then sometimes just holding your loved one’s hand and being together are all that’s needed.
Use your loved one’s cues to plan a visit that’s meaningful—and those visits will become just as important to you as they are to this person you love so much.
CHIME IN: What are some of the guidelines that work for you when visiting your parent?