Tips for holiday visits with a senior living in care

Throughout December BCCPA is running a series on the holidays, seniors’ care and family caregiving. In previous posts we have reminded our readers to take time out of their busy holiday schedules to give the gift of time – by visiting or contacting a senior living in a care home.

But how do you ensure that your holiday visit is a good one, when the senior in your life lives in care? We have come up with some tips for our readers.

  1. Keep visits short. Often, a short visit is the best visit. Seniors in care can become tired more quickly as a result of changes to health and cognition. While it might be tempting to make the most of your time together and plan a shorter visit, planning for 30-60 minutes is often best. Watch for cues which might indicate that it is time to end your visit.
  2. Manage expectations. Long-distance caregivers might consider asking care home staff, or the family member who visits most often, what they should expect. Have there been any big changes? What are the person’s interests right now? Is there anything that you should avoid, or expect on your visit? This can help to manage expectations and prepare for any changes that may have occurred since your last visit.
  3. Go with the flow. This tip is especially relevant for family caregivers who are visiting a person who is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. Come prepared to adjust to the person’s reality and above all else, try your best to never argue. You can brush up on your dementia-friendly communication skills by visiting the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
  4. Plan the best time to visit. Ask the senior or the care home staff when a good time to visit might be. Perhaps there is an event or activity which might be nice for you to do together? Or maybe there is a time of day where the senior in your life is likely to be resting and is best for you to avoid. Planning a good time for a visit can help to make your interaction the most enjoyable. Over the holidays care homes will often hold festive events where families are welcome. As a senior living in care, having a family member or friend there can be incredibly meaningful. When attending these events, consider including another resident who might not have visitors that day – it can feel very lonely for those seniors.
  5. Utilize music, touch and reminiscence. If you know the person’s musical preferences, a custom playlist can be a great way to connect. Do you play an instrument? Even better. Touch can also be a great activity for a visit, especially if the person you are visiting has trouble with verbal communication – consider a hand massage, painting the person’s nails, or applying some nice hand cream. Finally, reminiscence can be a great activity. If the person has dementia, focusing on earlier life experiences can often be helpful. Keep questions open ended – try something like, “what was your favourite Christmas gift as a child?” or, “what are your favourite Christmas treats.” Be in the moment and remember that there are no wrong answers.
  6. Have a good self-care plan for after your visit. Sometimes visiting a senior in a care home can trigger feelings of grief or guilt, especially if the person has experienced significant changes since you last visited. The holidays can amplify these feelings. Have a plan for what you will do after the visit if you are feeling down – options include treating yourself (eggnog latte, anyone?), connecting with an understanding friend or family member, or connecting with more formal support services such as organizations like the Family Caregivers of British Columbia or the Alzheimer Society of B.C.