Settling an aging parent(s) into an assisted living facility can often be challenging. There are so many emotions and pressures involved for caregivers and parents. Change alone is difficult for many. Fear, anxiety, and mixed expectations can exacerbate everyone’s reactions. As wonderful as they are, visits can contribute to the angst or set the stage for a smooth transition and a solid family future if planned well.
Here are some tips for purposeful and enriching visits to an assisted living community.
The First Visit is Just a New Beginning
The first few visits with your parent(s) might feel a little uncomfortable. Some adult children worry they’ll run out of things to say or activities to do. Don’t let this keep you away from visiting. Family visits are so crucial for everyone involved. This is a new beginning, a time for planning, learning, and adapting. Spending time together and adjusting to this change provides opportunities for bonding, growth, confidence, and occasions to simply relax and enjoy each other.
Plan Your Visit
Call ahead. Find out how your parent(s) is spending his or her time. Ask the senior living community about the best time to stop by. Residents adapt to their routines that can include mealtimes, social activities, classes, and quiet time. Make sure your visit is not a surprise, and you can join your parent(s) at the most convenient time. You may be pleasantly surprised when you learn about your aging parent(s)’ new social schedules. During social distancing periods, visitation rules can change frequently. Have a plan.
Be Present and in the Moment
Dedicate the time you visit for each other. That means no phone calls, texts, or unnecessary obligations. This is time to chat, to catch up, and reconnect. If you are used to confiding in your parent(s) and asking for advice, don’t stop. Feeling needed is essential.
Engage in Shared Activities
Planning your visit around a shared activity is a great way to break the ice and keep the conversation flowing naturally. Bring some items that you know will interest your parent(s), whether it’s a puzzle, a game, or new family photos or videos. Whatever interests you both. A digital tablet or mobile device is a great tool to connect with other family members. Get your parent(s) a tablet for seniors and help them with some family FaceTime. Again, make sure you plan ahead. You will want to make sure that the family you are virtually connecting with is aware and ready.
We can all use a change of scenery from time to time. Ask your parent(s) if they would like to go on a brief outing to a local restaurant, shopping center, park, movie theater, or museum. Maybe you could attend a live theatre or music performance together. Exploring a new place or neighborhood together can be a lot of fun. Fortunately, we’re located in the heart of Miami, so the choices are endless.
Communicate by Asking Questions
While you visit your parent(s), it’s a great time to learn about their new life. How is it? Find out what your parent(s) like or dislike. If you have any doubts or fears, make sure you connect with staff and determine a proper course of action. Ask questions about new friends, hobbies, and activities. Make time to meet with their new acquaintances and help to integrate your lives.
Step outside. Go for a walk. Here at Miami Jewish Health, we are fortunate to have sprawling acres of gardens, green space, and exotic wild birds. Take in some sunshine or just sit and relax. Read. Together, aloud or whatever works for you. Have an outdoor meal or snack together. Let your parent(s) show you around.
Try and plan your visits frequently and consistently. They don’t need to be long. 45 minutes to an hour is a reasonable length of time. The more frequent and repetitive, the more your parent(s) will know when to expect you, and everyone will have a sense of the new norm.
Don’t forget to call or video chat. Calls are just as important now as they were before the move to assisted living. Those daily check-ins are essential for everyone. Your parent(s) will not feel like they are missing anything if they stay informed and up to date with all the family news. If your parent(s) needs help with video chat, schedule a time with staff to make sure they can connect.
Bring Younger Children and Grandchildren
Bringing your children and grandchildren to visit your father or mother can be a positive, meaningful experience for all. Your children tend to keep your parent’s mind active with fun and spirited conversations. Time with grandparents is priceless, even if there are down days. Children learn from their grandparents and vise versa. It may be a good idea to bring some activities that kids can work on with their grandparents – like coloring books, storybooks or even video games for kids. Frame some of the artwork so these treasures and memories can be proudly displayed. Older kids can work on puzzles and word games, all of which are good memory-building exercises and great activities for the elderly.
Be Positive, Patient, and Understanding
Remember when you were a child and had to be reminded of keeping a positive attitude? Well, now you’ve come full circle. It’s time for you to keep your parent(s) positive. Your attitude, your smiles, and your compassion set the tone for your parent(s). Even when you are frustrated or agitated, you must stay positively focused. Your parent(s) trusts you and your responses. Your strength, empathy, and positive outlook can often make a big difference. Stay in the moment, and that will help everyone stay grounded.
Remember, the most important part of visiting your parent is being together, no matter what you do! By staying in the moment, you can bond with your parent and spend meaningful time together. Help your parent(s) live life better and stay more independent while deepening their family relationships.