Visiting your loved ones who are living with dementia, especially in a long term dementia 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. The pain of walking into a room and having one’s spouse or parent not recognize you can be hurtful and trigger some strong emotions. Sometimes, adult children especially, will ask, “why should we visit them? Why go through the pain of sitting there, when they don’t even know who we are?” 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.
A person living with dementia and Alzheimer’s can still feel. Depending on the person, they may respond well to physical touch, laughter, good tone of voice etc. Treating them as functioning human beings, no matter what their condition is of the utmost importance when visiting your loved ones.
If your loved one no longer recognises you, you can still try and connect with them. People living with dementia and Alzheimer’s still have emotional memory, remembering how an event has made them feel after forgetting the details of the event. A great way to do this is by playing some of their favourite songs or participating in their favourite activities alongside their carers. Here’s a great article about helping your loved one with dementia reminisce. According to Very Well, Validation Therapy is something to be mindful of as well. If your loved one continually refers to you as someone else (maybe their parents) ask them to tell you about that person, what they miss about them, what they looked like, what they did as a job, and what they loved about them. Give them the opportunity to share their memories, rather than try to force the issue and make them identify and remember you.
We understand how heartbreaking visits can be, but don’t give up on your loved one. Some research has found that positive feelings after a visit with someone living with dementia remain long past their memory of that particular visit. Remember that if dementia causes your loved one to not be able to recognize you, spending time with him can still be beneficial and uplifting to both of you. If you are in need of support or would like to chat about the skills needed to interact with someone living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, we encourage you to attend our events and join our online dementia support group on Facebook.
The most important things to remember and constantly tell yourself before, during and after a visit are:
- I understand that my loved one has dementia and this is the disease talking
- It’s no longer important that they be grounded in reality
- I will accept what they say and not argue
- They may not remember me, but I remember them
- I will remember their love when they can no longer remember
- My feelings are real