Posts Tagged ‘visiting’

Why You Should Visit a Loved One With Alzheimer’s – Even if They Don’t Recognize You

Monday, August 28th, 2017

There was a lady named Helen who had dementia. Every time her daughter, Heidi, visited Helen showed no sign of recognizing her daughter. Heidi was heartbroken. Time after time it was the same. She’d visit and get no response whatsoever, so finally she made the painful decision to stop visiting. It only upset her and she believed her mother felt no pleasure during her visits.

They May Recognize You but Not Be Able to Express it

It’s always possible, however, that your loved ones do recognize you but are just not be able to show it.

I had a personal experience which I believe demonstrates this. I volunteer to visit three ladies with dementia at a local memory care facility. One of the ladies I was assigned to visit was named Doris

Doris was so frail that just about the most I could do with her was sit and hold her hand. I also talked to her a little but she rarely said anything in response. In fact she rarely said anything to anyone. She showed no sign of recognizing me from my previous visits.

Then one day – during my sixth visit – as I was holding her hand she put her other hand on my arm and began caressing it. I had the distinct feeling that she remembered me. I don’t think she would have been so openly affectionate to a total stranger.

I wasn’t really surprised when I found out that Doris passed away just a few days after that visit. I was so happy I’d gone all those times and that she’d been so responsive during my final visit.

They May Remember How Often You Visit Even if They no Longer Remember Their Relationship with You

I was speaking at an Alzheimer’s family support group recently. A man there told me that he visited his wife, who had advanced-stage dementia, nearly every day even though she didn’t recognize him as her husband. He learned early on, however, that she knew when he’d missed a day. She’d always say, “You didn’t come yesterday.”  Once he realized that she did remember if he’d been there, he tried even harder to never miss a day.

They May Enjoy Being Visited, Even if They Don’t Know Who You Are

I had another personal experience which led me to this conclusion. Although I was fortunate enough that my loved one with dementia always recognized me, he had many visitors he didn’t remember. I was present during some of these visits and it was always perfectly obvious that he enjoyed spending time with them.

When these people were there he’d often hold hands with one of them the whole time. And he’d have a long, pleasant talk with them. It was perfectly obvious he was enjoying himself.

You May Feel Gratified That You’ve Given Them Pleasure

Although the main focus of your visits are your loved ones, you might find there’s an unexpected benefit for you, too. You may initially feel hurt or frustrated that they don’t remember you, but if you can get over that hurdle and if it was clear that they enjoyed the visit, you will probably feel gratified that you gave them that pleasure. You may remain in a good mood afterward, too.

Can anyone think of other reasons you should visit loved ones who don’t recognize you?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of ‘Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy,’ and co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of ‘Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers.’ Her website ( contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.

Why I Volunteer to Visit People With Alzheimer’s

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

I had just returned home from my weekly visiting and was sitting lost in thought. Lost in the memory of my just-completed visit to Ruth (not her real name).

She was quite confused that day. She told me that she had tried to rent an apartment that she liked very much, but before she could conclude the deal they fixed it up for someone else. I knew that wasn’t true but I empathized with her. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.

Then I changed the subject to something pleasant. “I see you have some Sees candy here. Do you want a piece?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Will you have a piece with me?”

“Of course,” I answered. “Gimme that box!”

When I finally told her it was time for me to leave, she got a pouty look on her face and asked, “Oh, do you have to go?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I have to leave now. I wish I didn’t, but I’ll come back and see you next week.”

Then she walked with me to the door. She put her arms around me and hugged me very tightly.

“Oh, I sure am glad you stopped by. I depend on you. You’re my friend,” she said.

“I love coming to see you,” I said.

“See you next week,” I told her as I went out the door.

“See you,” she said, smiling and very gently closing her door.

This is why I volunteer. I felt warm all the way home. And I’m looking forward to next week when I can “find” the candy and enjoy some. But mostly so I can see Ruth again and experience the warmth and love we have in our very special relationship.



How to Behave When Visiting a Nursing Home

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Do’s for Visiting Your Loved One:

  • Respect the resident’s privacy. This includes knocking before you enter the room and stepping out into the hall when personal care is being provided.
  •  Be warm in interacting with your loved one. Smile frequently and use therapeutic touch unless the person specifically does not want to be touched.
  •  Keep the conversation positive and refrain from arguing.

Don’ts for Visiting Your Loved One:

  • Don’t take unruly pets or children to visit. If the children are well behaved, however, they can provide extra pleasure to the patient. Take a pet if the person enjoys it, but check with the facility first to find out if they have a policy about pet visits.
  • Don’t wake up residents who are sleeping.
  • Don’t take food or beverages your loved one isn’t allowed to have. Check with the staff first if you have any questions about what’s permissible.
  • Don’t have large groups of family and/or friends visit at the same time. This may overwhelm residents or make them anxious. How many visitors are too many? This will be different for every resident. Observe your loved one’s mood and try to determine if there are too many people visiting.
  • Don’t stay too long. It may tire your loved one and interfere with the staff’s provision of needed care. How long is too long? That depends. Again, it is different for every resident. Look for cues that your loved one may be getting tired or stressed out.
  • Do not interrupt the resident’s activity time. Find out from the staff when activities are scheduled. It may be acceptable to sit beside them and just observe unless your presence distracts them from the activity.

10 More Tips for Visiting People With Alzheimer’s

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Here are 10 more tips for visiting people with Alzheimer’s:

  1. Make eye contact
  2. Only ask one question at a time
  3. Talk about the old days more than recent information
  4. Do not correct or argue with the person
  5. Use their name frequently while talking
  6. Don’t visit if you find they already have a visitor; wait until that person leaves
  7. Don’t even bring up topics that might upset them
  8. Arrange for a musician to provide live music
  9. Watch old movies with them
  10. Ask open-ended questions


10 Tips for Visiting a Person With Alzheimer’s

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Introduction: Many people simply don’t know how to interact with or entertain people who have Alzheimer’s. The following tips will help you improve the quality of your visits. With a little thought and visiting experience you may come up with more tips yourself. In my next post I’ll publish 10 more tips.

  1. Speak Slowly and in Short Sentences
  2. Don’t Ask Them if They Remember Something
  3. Keep Visiting Even Though They May Not Remember Who You Are
  4. If the Person Starts Getting Agitated, Stop What You’re Doing and Change the Activity or Subject
  5. Take a Pet or Child to Visit Them
  6. Take Art Supplies and Have Them Draw or Paint
  7. Play a CD of Music for the Person
  8. Take Them a Small Wrapped Gift
  9. Play Simple Games With Them
  10. Look at Old Photographs Together

How to Visit a Friend With Alzheimer’s

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Family members or other very close loved ones who are accustomed to visiting may have a set routine and may have learned some or all of the tips below. But if you’re a friend visiting for the first time, or if you don’t visit the person very often, you may feel awkward and not know what to do.

I have compiled these tips based on four sources, including an article of mine published on the Huffington Post, an article published by Carole Larkin on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and personal communications from Teepa Snow (05.30.13) and Tom and Karen Brenner (10.03.13)

When I reviewed the sources I discovered that several tips were found in two or more of them.

  1. Start off by looking friendly, making eye contact, offering a handshake and introducing yourself (Snow, Larkin)
  1. Be at their level physically – bend down if necessary – for example, if they are in a wheelchair. (Larkin)
  1. Talk about the old times more than recent information (Snow)
  1. Don’t ask if they remember something (Marley; Larkin)
  1. Speak calmly, slowly and in short sentences (Larkin, Snow)
  1. Ask only one question at the time and pause between thoughts or ideas to give them a chance to answer. (Larkin, Snow)
  1. Don’t correct them or argue with them (Marley, Larkin, Snow)
  1. Keep memories positive. Don’t bring up topics that could upset them. Turn negatives into positives (Marley, Snow, Larkin)
  1. Do something with the person rather than just talking to them. Bring pictures, CDs of music the person used to enjoy, or other “props” (such as items related to one of the person’s special interests), to bring up old memories. (Snow, Brenners)
  1. Tell them what you are going to do before you do it – especially if you are going to touch them. (Larkin)

Following these tips should make you feel more at ease and make your visit more enjoyable.

Does anyone have any additional tips for visiting a friend with Alzheimer’s?


Using Music to Connect With a Person Who Has Alzheimer’s

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Ed & the Violinist 1




It’s well-known that music often reaches people with Alzheimer’s in a way we cannot. But sometimes it’s better not to use it. Learning when to use music and when to not use it is the trick. Here are some examples.

My Romanian life partner, Ed, had always loved classical music. So I once put on a Mozart symphony and pretended to be conducting. I emulated the flashy type of conductor he loved. When I finished he looked at me with wonder and whispered, “What you did was so beautiful!”

Another way I used music with Ed was that I hired a classical violinist to come and play a concert just for Ed in his room. He was absolutely ecstatic

I visit several ladies with Alzheimer’s at a local memory care facility. Some just love listening to music – others don’t. I have asked each what type of music she likes and I have tried playing music for most of them.

Two loved it deeply. For example, Ruth (not her real name) loves big band music. When I play it for her she is transformed into one of the happiest people you’d ever want to meet.

Another lady (Carolyn – since deceased) also loved music – especially Tchaikovsky. So I played selections of the Nutcracker Suite every time. She smiled and tapped out the rhythms on her lap. And she thanked me so much for bringing the music

There are times, however, when it would probably be better not do so. For example, as much as Carolyn loved listening to Tchaikovsky, when her health deteriorated considerably she once told me that the music was confusing. I realized that I should stop bringing music for her.

This goes to show that while a person may love music at one stage of their illness, their desire to hear it may change over time, and it’s important to continually monitor their interest.

Another lady, Ethel, is a devoted Christian. So I took some hymns to play for her. She didn’t show any reaction to the music. She was far more interested in my portable CD player. So I continued playing the hymns, but it was to give her the pleasure of seeing the CD player, not necessarily hearing the music.

Still another of “my ladies,” Nancy, loved Elvis. But when I played it for her she became distressed. She told me it was so beautiful it made her cry. Consequently, I don’t play Elvis anymore.

When I asked Sue what kind of music she liked, she said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’d rather not sit around listening to music.”  She said this in a fairly stern tone of voice, so I don’t play any music for her either.

Does anyone have any stories related to using or not using music at your visits?


Denial May Deprive You of Joy

Friday, January 24th, 2014

One of Ed’s closest relatives – we’ll call him Alexandru – was visiting from out of town. One evening they had a long talk. The next day Ed had no memory of the visit, let alone what they had discussed.

I had been telling Alexandru for months that Ed had Alzheimer’s, but he never believed me. He thought Ed’s memory problems were just due to normal aging. In short, he was in a state of deep denial.

Alexandru spent all the rest of his time with Ed trying to refresh his memory of their talk. When it didn’t work, he left for the airport to go home, upset and distraught.

What Alexandru didn’t realize was that Ed would never remember that visit. It would have made more sense to spend their remaining time together discussing something else or interacting in some other way. They could have had a pleasant – maybe even joyous – visit.

All too often loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s are in denial. Hence they spend their time trying to get the person to “act normal.” Trying to get them to remember and do things they will never be able to remember or do.

This only leads to anger and frustration for the visitor (and often for the person with Alzheimer’s as well).

It would be so much better to look for ways to interact at the level of their loved one rather than try to drag that person into our world. Because they can’t function in our world. We can only reach them and enjoy them in their world – at their level.

If you feel that you’re in denial, try interacting in some way that focuses on the present moment rather than one that involves the person’s memory. See how that works. You may be pleasantly surprised.



Alzheimer’s Stories That Matter

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I went to visit Ethel one day. Before I had a chance to sit down she started showing me the quilt she’d made many years earlier.

“The binding is all frayed. I have to put a new binding on it.”

That was a perfectly “normal” thing to say and show me. But the thing is, Ethel shows me the same quilt and makes the same comments about the binding every week. She also tells me each time that she has two framed pictures of Jesus in her room, and she points them out to me.

In addition, she tells me that the two angels over her bed were supposed to have been centered but they weren’t because there wouldn’t have been enough room for her walker. (I never could understand that, but she always said it.)

As I’ve mentioned several times here, I volunteer to visit some ladies with Alzheimer’s. Ethel is one of my “ladies.” Since I’ve been visiting I’ve learned that most of my ladies have stories they tell me every time. My assumption is that these stories (and the events they depict) are deeply meaningful to them.

Perhaps Ethel’s story about the binding gives us a clue that sewing was very important in her life. Similarly, the pictures of Jesus belie her strong religious foundation.

Finally, I wonder if the story about the angels not only reveals her religious beliefs but perhaps also a streak of obsessive compulsiveness – wanting everything to be lined up and perfectly centered. It’s almost as though she’s embarrassed and has to explain the lack of symmetry to me.

Of course my ladies don’t remember they’ve told me their stories before; each time is like the first. And I always respond as though it’s the first time I’ve heard them.

If my ladies don’t spontaneously tell their special stories, I bring them up. Then they cheerfully tell me the details, which are normally perfectly clear in their memories.

The stories told by people with Alzheimer’s can teach us a lot about their lives. They also help us find important topics to discuss when we visit, which can make our visits far more pleasant and meaningful to the person we’re seeing.

Does anyone else out there have loved ones with special stories? Care to share?

Visiting Miss Daisy

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

“I’ve come to visit you, Miss. Daisy” I said in a perky tone of voice after introducing myself.

“Me?” she exclaimed – smiling, looking up at me, raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over her heart.

“Yes. You,” I answered, delighted by her excited reaction.

She had already won my heart. It was obvious she was thrilled to have me visit even if she had no earthly idea who I was.

Since retiring a few months ago, I’d decided to volunteer spending time with some local memory care facility residents who don’t have many visitors.

During our first visit I discovered her social skills are so good you’d think she’s volunteering to visit me!

During that first visit, I asked her, “What kind of music do you like?”

Without hesitation she blurted out, “classical!”

So for the next visit I wrapped up a CD of The Nutcracker Suite and gave it to her. She tore off the gift wrap and smiled real big when she saw what was inside.

But after a few minutes, her eyes became downcast, and she said “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you.”

To help her save face, I pointed out that she had some cookies on her table.

She laughed lightly and said, “Sure. Help yourself.”

When I soon asked if I could have another she said, “Take as many as you want.

They were some of the best cookies I ever tasted.

Then I put the disc into the slot of the portable CD player I’d brought along. It was immediately obvious that she was familiar with the selections. She smiled, moved in time to the music and used her hand to tap out the rhythms on her lap.

At the end of the visit she said, “I hope I see you again.”

“I’ll come visit you again next week.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful,” she said.

Then – as always – she insisted on walking with me to the front door. I moved beside her as she inched along ever so slowly, unsteadily pushing her walker down the short hallway. We shook hands then I left, feeling so happy that for that half hour at least, I had given her joy.