Visiting your loved ones who are living with dementia, especially in a long term care facility, can elicit a variety of emotions. It can be a very rewarding and joyful experience, or it may sadden or frustrate you, depending on the response of your loved one, and immediate reactions to the environment. Visiting very close family members like your parents or grandparents might be challenging especially if they have trouble remembering you. You may long for the visits but may feel unsure about what to say and do during your visit with them. Remember, no matter what the situation and whether they remember you or not, your visits definitely do impact those living with dementia.

The effects of visitation

People with dementia can feel happier when a relative comes to see them even if they do not recognise the visitor, the Alzheimer’s Society has said after a poll showed many felt there was little point. The survey found that more than 40 per cent of people incorrectly thought dementia patients who failed to recognise them “won’t benefit a lot” from visits. But research proved that people retained an “emotional memory” despite the disease and that seeing loved ones could “stimulate feelings of familiarity, happiness, comfort and security”. Nearly 70 per cent said they would visit relatives with dementia even if their loved one did not appear to know them.

Despite these good intentions, the lack of awareness of how important emotional memory is may mean that in their busy lives, people don’t always follow up on their intentions and over half of those living with dementia are left feeling isolated. Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said “It’s so important for people with dementia to feel connected throughout the year and not only on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas”. Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don’t remember the event itself.

What to do during visits?

Social interaction has been shown to cut the risk of developing dementia in scientific studies. While people with the condition can forget negative and positive incidents, the feeling they produce can remain for some time. When visiting your loved ones we suggest you talk about the person’s past and childhood, enjoy listening to music together, go for walks in the garden, hold hands and really enjoy spending the time together. Whether or not your loved one remembers you or the fact that you visited them ten minutes ago, your visit will have had a positive impact. So keep on visiting, because each visit is doing them good.