Many people feel uncomfortable visiting loved ones in assisted living facilities or other long-term care facilities. There are many reasons for this discomfort – if you don't like hospitals, you might associate a long-term care facility with a hospital because of the nursing staff, for example. Or it might just make you uncomfortable to see a parent or other relative sick or in need of assistance with routine daily tasks. However, it's important to visit your loved ones, especially when they're transitioning to an assisted living or another type of senior residence. Loneliness is a real problem for seniors, and it can be very detrimental to their health. Research shows that loneliness can be as dangerous and unhealthy as alcoholism or smoking. Your visits can make an important difference in the health of your loved one.
Make A Plan And Stick To It
Schedule visits ahead of time. It's fine to pop in unexpectedly during visiting hours if you want, but scheduling visits gives your loved one something to look forward to. Give them a calendar and mark the date of your next visit. That way, if they're feeling alone, they can look at the calendar and know that you are thinking about them and planning to spend time with them. When you're getting ready to leave after a visit, mark the next date before you go.
Try not to cancel a visit at the last moment. Missing a visit can be very upsetting for your loved one, especially if they don't have many other visitors. If something comes up and you have to cancel, make sure that you call and explain, and reschedule as soon as possible.
Communicate With The Staff
If you let the staff know when you'll be visiting, they can help make sure that your loved one is ready for your visit when you arrive. Nursing facilities have their own schedules, and you don't want to show up in the middle of your loved one's shower time or while they're having a medical procedure done, like a wound dressing. If the staff members know you'll be visiting, they'll work around you. And if you want to take your loved one out to lunch, the staff will make sure that they are dressed and ready to go.
Also, if your loved one tends to be forgetful, the nurses or aides can remind them that you're coming. If you loved one tends to worry when they haven't seen you for a while, the facility staff can reassure them that they've talked to you and that you're planning a visit soon.
Developing a rapport with the assisted living staff can also help ensure that your loved one gets the care they need. Keep in mind that they may not always be able to give you specifics about your loved one's health status unless they have the patient's permission or you have a Power of Attorney. Your loved one is still entitled to medical privacy, even in an assisted living facility. But the nurses and aides can tell you if your loved one has seemed down and may need cheering up or whether or not they've been eating and sleeping well. And you can tell them things that will help them better meet your loved one's needs – for example, if you know that the patient loves to play cards, telling the staff can help ensure that the facility's activities director makes an effort to include your loved one in card games. This kind of thing can help your loved one avoid loneliness even when you aren't there. Making an effort to get to know the staff during your visits can pay off for everyone.
Observe Family Rituals
If you have always celebrated your birthday with your parent, that shouldn't end when your parent enters a senior residence. Or if your child's grandparent has always attended their birthdays, that should still happen if the grandparent now lives in an assisted living facility.
Being left out of family gatherings and rituals can be very hurtful to a senior living in a nursing facility. In many cases, if their health permits, there's no reason why you can't check your loved one out for a few hours for a birthday party, graduation, or holiday celebration. And if your loved one can't leave the facility, you can always bring the celebration to them. Most facilities have spaces designated for just these kinds of events. It's important to make an effort to ensure that your loved one is included in as many family rituals as possible.
One more thing to remember is that many seniors living in the same facility as your loved one may not have visitors themselves. If you can, make an effort to stop and talk to some of the other residents or include them in your visit from time to time. A simple chat can make a big difference to a senior who's feeling lonely.