Make the most of visiting

If the person you care for has advanced dementia, visiting him or her may feel very challenging. After all, how do you connect with a person who is unable to converse? You may wonder if it is even worthwhile to visit.

Research suggests that during late-stage dementia, a person’s core self remains. Much like in our earliest years of life, when we are preverbal, we perceive the world around us largely through touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste. At this stage we can still experience comforts and pleasures. These experiences contribute to our overall well-being.

In this light, visits are important! Bear in mind:

  • Words may not be understood, but the expression on your face and your tone of voice may be.
  • A quiet room away from noise and clutter is most reassuring. Make eye contact, but don’t force interaction.
  • Visits are best one person at a time. Children should be accompanied by an adult.
  • If your relative doesn’t want to interact, it’s about the disease, not you. Don’t take it personally. Thirty minutes later, tomorrow, or next week, things may be very different.

Try these options for happy connection:

  • Brushing hair or rubbing lotion on hands or feet. These simple gestures are reassuring and communicate love and care.
  • Playing music, especially from your relative’s youth, is an amazing way to connect. People who are unable to talk can still clap or tap along, and some can even remember lyrics enough to sing favorite songs or hymns.
  • Looking at photo albums, you might retell a favorite family story. Or look at a simple, colorful book and read aloud.
  • Sharing a favorite food. Easy-to-chew foods are best. Perhaps a familiar pudding or a cookie?
  • Cuddling a pet or stuffed animal. The touch of fur and the unconditional love of an animal—alive or stuffed—is often very comforting.