AMES, Iowa -- A visit from family and friends during the holidays can make life better for older adults in care facilities. Barbara Dunn Swanson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, suggests planning ahead to make the most of these visits.
Swanson, who specializes in family life issues, offers the following tips for safe and healthy visits with older friends and relatives.
Start by planning ahead
“As you begin to plan your visit, call the facility and check the visiting hours before you contact your older friend or relative," Swanson said. "That way you will ensure that you’ll have enough time to visit with your loved one without interfering with medical treatments or other activities. This also gives your loved one time to anticipate and look forward to your visit.
“If you are planning to visit someone in specialized care, call ahead to make sure you understand visiting hours and regulations. They may differ from those in the rest of the facility,” Swanson added.
“Children add a special kind of cheer to care centers and hospitals, so certainly bring them along. But check with the facility first to make sure children are allowed and under what conditions,” Swanson said.
Prepare children for the visit by explaining what they might see and answering their questions. Encourage them to bring a favorite toy or book. Older loved ones may enjoy the experience of watching young children play, Swanson said.
Share the gift of fellowship
“Your visit is the best gift you can give someone in a care facility. During your time together, you can tell your loved one stories, read a humorous book aloud or share photographs of past holidays,” Swanson said.
Remember to sit close. Offer a hug or to hold hands. Touch has a tremendous impact on the physical and emotional need to feel connected to others.
“Pay attention and take cues from the person you’re visiting about how long to stay. If you leave too early, you may not hear their concerns or the visit may be forgotten. If the visit is too long, your loved one may become tired,” Swanson said.
Limit the number of people who are visiting at one time. Some individuals may become more confused or anxious with large numbers of visitors at the same time.
“A visit to the care facility is a wonderful gift, but when possible, plan a day ‘out’ suited to your loved one’s interests, health and strength, and your ability to handle his or her needs. If the excursion is well planned, your loved one may be able to enjoy a day away,” Swanson said.
She suggests that those who want to bring a gift for their loved one consider the following: a large, colorful calendar to help the person keep a sense of time; music the person would enjoy; personal toiletries, tissues or a decorative tissue holder; books or magazines in large print; flowers or a new plant; stamps and cards with pre-addressed envelopes; a gift certificate to the hair salon; specialized clothing, or socks or slippers with non-skid surfaces; a large-face or talking clock; a puzzle; or craft supplies. The care facility staff may have suggestions on gifts as well.
Always check with staff before bringing food. If it’s OK to bring food, choose appropriate and health conscious snacks.
Stay home if not feeling well
Care center residents and hospital patients can be at higher risk for infection. If children are sick or not feeling well, don’t bring them along for the visit.
“Likewise, if you have a cold or the flu, stay home," Swanson said. " In these instances, a phone call is a better way to let your loved one know you care. If possible, you can set up a later time to visit when you are well."