Tom and his wife, Nancy, were going to visit George, one of Tom's previous colleagues at the University of Cincinnati. This was their first visit to George at his long-term care facility and they were quite nervous.
They didn't know precisely what condition George was in, and they had no idea how to interact with him. What they knew for sure, however, was that they couldn't visit the way they always had when the three got together.
Family members or other very close loved ones who are accustomed to visiting may have a set routine and may have learned some or all of the tips below. But if you're a friend visiting for the first time, or if you don't visit the person very often, you may feel awkward and not know what to do.
An entire book could be written about this topic. I'm going to list some of the most important things to do (and not to do) when you visit a friend with dementia either in their home or in a facility of some sort.
I have compiled these tips based on four sources: an article of mine published here on the Huffington Post, an article published by Carole Larkin on the Alzheimer's Reading Room, and personal communications from Teepa Snow (05.30.13) and Tom and Karen Brenner (10.03.13)
When I reviewed the sources I discovered that several tips were found in two or more of them. I discovered that the total of 25 items could be distilled down into 10:
1. Start off by looking friendly, making eye contact, offering a handshake and introducing yourself (Snow, Larkin)
2. Be at their level physically -- bend down if necessary -- for example, if they are in a wheelchair. (Larkin)
3. Talk about the old times more than recent information (Snow)
4. Don't ask if they remember something (Marley; Larkin)
5. Speak calmly, slowly and in short sentences (Larkin, Snow)
6. Ask only one question at the time and pause between thoughts or ideas to give them a chance to answer. (Larkin, Snow)
7. Don't correct them or argue with them (Marley, Larkin, Snow)
8. Keep memories positive. Don't bring up topics that could upset them. Turn negatives into positives (Marley, Snow, Larkin)
9. Do something with the person rather than just talking to them. Bring pictures, CDs of music the person used to enjoy, or other "props" (such as items related to one of the person's special interests), to bring up old memories. (Snow, Brenners)
10. Tell them what you are going to do before you do it - especially if you are going to touch them. (Larkin)
Following these tips should make you feel more at ease and make your visit more enjoyable.
Does anyone have any additional tips for visiting a friend with Alzheimer's?
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.
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