We all enjoy visits from family and friends; people living with dementia are no different. Visits can be a source of comfort and a way to stay connected with loved ones.
However, uncertainty about what to expect may make some families hesitant to visit a person with dementia – especially if they have children.
Whether you are visiting someone with dementia frequently or just once in a while, a little preparation goes a long way to help you and your family make the most of your time together.
Here are some ideas to guide the young people in your life.
Before You Visit
It’s best to prepare children or teens for a visit with a conversation beforehand. Choose a neutral time of day like breakfast or lunch. Keep your conversation as simple, straightforward, and age-appropriate as possible.
A conversation might go something like this:
“On Saturday morning we are going to visit your Aunt Linda. Sometimes when people get older their brain gets sick. Doctors and scientists call this Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
When people have this disease they can get confused or forget people’s names. Sometimes they have trouble speaking, eating, and taking care of themselves.
In Aunt Linda’s case, she often calls me by her sister’s name. We won’t correct her because that might upset her, but we know my real name.
Scientists don’t know why people get Alzheimer’s disease, but they are working hard to find a cause so they can stop it from happening.
You can’t get Alzheimer’s disease from another person, like the cold or the flu. Just because someone in your family has the disease, it doesn’t mean you will get it.
Even though Aunt Linda may have trouble remembering some things, we can still enjoy spending time with her. I’m going to pack some fun things for us to do and look at during our visit.”
Looking for more resources to guide conversations? Check out this guide from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Find a Good Time to Meet
Find out the best time of day to visit. It may be during the middle of the day when the person you’re meeting isn’t tired. Make sure the length of your visit is appropriate. Every person with dementia is different, so check with caregivers or others who visit about what’s best.
During Your Visit
Children and teens often have a hard time just sitting and talking. Engaging in an activity together can make conversation flow more naturally. Consider packing treats, photos, scrapbooks, or games for your visit.
It’s a good idea to bring a few small toys, books, or puzzles for toddlers and preschoolers. Many adults find joy in simply watching kids engrossed in play. Plus, if your kiddos are occupied, it gives you the opportunity to focus on conversation with your loved one.
Simple, short activities are great for visits:
- Take a walk
- Put a multi-piece puzzle together
- Color or draw pictures
- Look at photos
- Play a simple board game
- Create a scrapbook page
- Read a favorite book or story
- Eat a picnic lunch outside
- Watch reruns of old TV shows together
- Listen to their favorite songs or fun music
After Your Visit
Keep the lines of communication open after your visit.
Answer Questions With Age-Appropriate Honesty
Your child may have questions after your visit. Tell your child it’s okay to ask questions. It’s important to be truthful and to respond simply with words that are easy to understand. Children are excellent observers and often pick up on far more than we realize.
Help Your Child Learn More About Alzheimer’s
Begin sharing information about the disease and its symptoms as soon as you can. Reassure your child that just because a person in the family has Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she or other family members will get the disease, too.
Let Your Child Know Their Feelings Are Normal
Young people need a way to share their feelings. Encourage your child to journal or draw a picture after their visit. Show your support by letting them know that those feelings are normal and that you have feelings, too.
Looking for more tools to help support a family member who has been diagnosed with Dementia? Download our free guide: Just the Facts: A Guide to Memory Care.