It’s not always easy to know what to do or say when you visit a senior loved one in a senior living community. You want to be as positive and supportive as possible, but it can be difficult to know how to do that — especially if your loved one is struggling with the transition. Of course, if they’re doing great — making new friends and enjoying all the activities and amenities their community has to offer — you can also feel a bit left out.
You can make the most of every minute when you visit a senior loved one if you keep some important points in mind:
You’re helping by just being there.
Numerous studies have shown that feelings of loneliness and isolation are harmful for seniors’ physical and cognitive health, while strong emotional connections are beneficial. What’s more, by spending time with your loved one, you will be better able to spot any health or behavioral changes that may warrant a conversation with their care team.
Less might be more meaningful.
If you feel that you don’t have as much time to visit your loved one as you would like, or you have little to say when you’re together, don’t feel guilty. Visiting less frequently could mean your loved one especially looks forward to your visits. Plus, if he or she tires easily, a shorter visit may make more sense than spending an entire day. Also, since your visit is about your loved one — not you — it’s perfectly OK to spend time saying less and listening more. Try to get the conversation going with open-ended questions, then sit back and enjoy what your loved one has to say about his or her life and experiences.
Scheduling is important.
People living in senior communities have their own schedules — when they get up, when they play cards or go for walks with friends, when they eat, times when they take medications or require treatments and when they partake of the community’s amenities and entertainments. Try to be respectful of their schedules and talk to your loved ones — and their care team, if necessary — about the best time for your visit. What’s more, if you’re able to schedule your visits regularly (the first Saturday of every month, for example), your loved one can look forward to your visit and be prepared to enjoy it thoroughly when you arrive.
Although it’s important to be aware of scheduling, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every time you visit. Try to mix things up, think creatively and share different experiences with your loved one. For example, enjoy dinner together in the community dining room one visit, and prepare lunch together in their room the next visit. This month, you might take them to a movie and next month go golfing. Play games, put together a puzzle, bring along old photo albums to reminisce over, bring the grandkids or an old friend they haven’t seen in a while — variety adds spice to life at any age!
When seniors move into a senior living community, they gain the opportunity to make new connections with other residents. After all, an expanded emotional support network is one of the many advantages of living in a senior living community. However, no matter how many new friends they make, your senior loved ones still need quality time with you! Some thoughtful planning can help ensure that you both enjoy your visits to the fullest.