20 December 2023
Visiting loved ones who live with Dementia in Aged Care
6 min read
Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life. If you would like to read more about dementia, we have a specific blog, here.
When a loved one moves into aged care and they are living with dementia, many people are either unsure of what to do, or want to stay very much involved with practical, caring tasks such as assisting at mealtimes or in social activities at the home. However, the level of involvement will vary with each individual.
With thanks to Dementia Australia, Estia Health have been given excellent advice to share on tips for visiting and staying connected with those you love who are living with dementia.
Visiting is usually very important to both the resident and their family and carers. It is often the main way that families and carers stay connected with people they have cared for, even though they may no longer provide the day-to-day caregiving.
The individual living with dementia may enjoy seeing other members of the family or old friends. Encourage grandchildren to visit. If the children are young prepare a visiting bag that contains treats to keep them entertained. If allowed by the home bring in a pet.
Visiting can sometimes be difficult, especially as the abilities of the person living with dementia decline. Try to find some ways to make visiting as pleasurable as possible.
What to try
- Bring newspapers and magazines to look at together
- Reading mail together
- Play games that have been enjoyed in the past
- Listen to music or a story
- Watch a well-loved video
- Look at photo albums together
- Help decorate and tidy the room
- Help with personal grooming – washing or brushing hair, painting nails
- Assist with writing to friends and relatives
“When I go and visit my partner in aged care we just sit together. Is there anything else we can do together?” The Dementia Australia Helpline Advisors suggested the following:
Dementia Australia Helpline Advisors suggested that “sensory and tactile activities are great for people living with dementia. One idea is bringing in hand lotion and give your loved one a hand massage. Some people enjoy food, perhaps you could bring some fruit or chocolates to enjoy together.”
“Simple puzzles can also be a good activity to do together. Or sorting through a deck of cards, separating into the hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. If you have an iPad or tablet you might enjoy Dementia Australia’s A Better Visit app. A Better Visit is a free app featuring a range of two-player games designed to enhance communication and facilitate positive social interactions between people living with dementia and their visitors.
“Even just sitting quietly holding hands is beautiful in itself but if you feel you want to do something more active you could go for a coffee and walk around the gardens at the home.”
“Introducing activities like a sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, find-a-word, or trivia quizzes. Anything that facilitates both problem solving and decision-making is great for their brain, their engagement and to create a fun enjoyable environment for visitors as well.”
Visiting in the later stages of dementia
Find an activity that will draw in as many of the senses as possible – sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch.
What to try
- A gentle kiss or handholding may be reassuring
- Massaging legs, hands and feet with scented creams or oils may be enjoyable for some people. The scent of perfumes and flowers may also be enjoyed
- A smile, a comforting gaze or a look of affection may often provide reassurance
- Music may provide comfort and familiarity. Or listening to a favourite book or poem being read may be enjoyable
- Visits from friends and relatives, even though they may not be recognised or remembered, can still provide stimulation and comfort
- A stroll around the grounds, even if in a wheelchair, may be enjoyable for both the resident and visitor. There is no right number of times to visit or amount of time to stay. The important thing is to make each visit as rewarding as possible
The individual living with dementia might enjoy an outing.
What to try
- A short drive in the car, perhaps stopping for afternoon tea
- A visit to another person in the facility
- A stroll or wheel around the facility garden
Leaving after a visit can be a very difficult time for both the person living with dementia and their visitors.
What to try
- Take something to do - once you have finished this it is time to go
- Distract your loved one - Ask the staff to divert the resident or leave when a meal is about to be served so that there will be something else to do
- Set a timeframe - Let the person know at the beginning of the visit how long you can stay and why you have to leave. For instance "I can stay for an hour but then I have to go shopping"
- Say a quick goodbye - Keep farewells brief and leave straight away as lingering, apologising or staying a little longer can make future farewells even harder.
Wanting to go home
A common phrase heard from people living with dementia in an aged care home, is “I want to go home”. This can be especially upsetting for family and carers. Wanting to go home may be caused by feelings of insecurity, depression or fear. It may be that 'home' is a term used to describe memories of a time or place that was comfortable and secure. It may be memories of childhood or of a home or friends who no longer exist.
What to try
- Try to understand and acknowledge the feelings behind the wish to go home
- Reassure the person that they will be safe. Touching and holding can be reassuring
- Reminisce by looking at photographs or by talking about childhood and family
- Try to redirect them with food or other activities such as a walk
- Don’t disagree or try to reason with them about wanting to go home.
Dementia Australia coordinates a large number of support groups throughout Australia. Many people find comfort and practical assistance by attending these meetings with others who know what it is like to care for a person with dementia. Families and carers may be looking after a person with dementia at home, or the person may be in a residential facility.
Support groups bring together families, carers and friends of people with dementia under the guidance of a group facilitator. The facilitator is usually a health professional or someone with first-hand experience of caring for a person with dementia.