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Visiting Your Loved One in Assisted Living or a Nursing Home

Family members are often uncertain about the protocol for visiting their loved ones at an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility. They may wonder when, how long and how often should they visit, and what they should do when there. Every situation is different, but these tips and guidelines can help make the time spent visiting a loved one as pleasant and worthwhile as possible.

Visit Protocol: When and How Long Should You Visit


The first thing to do is to check with the community or facility where your loved one is residing to see if there are preferred times for visitors. For instance, you may want to avoid mealtimes or specific activity times. Frequently mid-mornings or mid-afternoons work out best since these may be the less regimented parts of the day.

The days of the week that you visit may be more dependent upon your own availability and convenience than that of your loved one’s. If your loved one seems to crave routine and predictability, it might be best to visit on the same days each week, as well as at a predictable time of day.

The length of your visit may be dependent upon your loved one’s physical and mental stamina. If you live nearby and can visit several times a week, then an hour is probably a good guideline. If you have to travel a greater distance and can only visit once a week or less, then you may wish to plan on a visit of a couple hours or longer. Check with the facility to see if you can make arrangements to eat lunch or dinner with your loved one. Or as an alternative, you can bring a cake or other dessert to share, especially if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or holiday.

Avoiding a “Guilt Trip”


Visiting your loved one regularly is certainly preferable than sporadic visits, especially if your loved one is prone to such mood disorders as feeling lonely and depressed without seeing you or other family members. In fact, research shows that social interaction has great benefits for the elderly.

However, visiting more than once or twice a week can be difficult if you are leading a busy life that includes work and raising children. If the assisted living community or skilled nursing facility has a caring and attentive staff and offers a full slate of social activities to keep its residents occupied, your loved one should be in good hands on the days that you don’t visit.

Don’t feel guilty or let your loved one lay a guilt trip on you for not visiting more often. Remain calm and explain that you’re doing the best you can and try to make the visit as pleasant as possible. If you are unable to visit as much as your loved one would like, coordinate with other family members (your siblings, your grown children, nieces, nephews, etc.) and friends on creating a regular schedule of visits to keep your loved one’s spirits up.

What You Should Do When Visiting


What you do in a visit depends upon the loved one’s cognitive and physical condition. Typically it’s best not to make the visit too overwhelming or overstimulating. If you plan to bring young children along, make sure they understand to keep their voices down and to be calm around their grandparent.

Have a plan of what to do or talk about before you arrive. Perhaps bring a gift, such as a framed photograph or homemade artwork, which may in itself prompt discussion or reminiscing. If conversation is difficult for your loved one, have a plan for other activities to do together. You can play a board game, read aloud from a favorite book, or watch a DVD together. If your loved one’s mobility permits it, you can take a walk together around the grounds. If your loved one is wheelchair bound, take the wheelchair on an outdoor path (weather permitting, of course) and comment about the trees, gardens, birds or other natural elements in your surroundings.

Sometimes just being with your loved one is enough. Holding your mother’s hand or sitting together with your dad as you watch a favorite TV program can be a meaningful experience for the two of you. The main point of your visit is to be there for your loved one. What you do is secondary to the fact that you cared enough to be there and share precious time together.

CHIME IN: Tell us about a memorable visit you had with a loved one in senior living. What made it special?

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