Visiting a friend or relative with memory loss can be daunting. What will you say? What if she doesn't remember you? What if he is inappropriate? If you are taking your child, will she be nervous or scared around the other residents? What about the smell? There are so many potential barriers to a simple visit.
So, take a deep breath, and relax. PLEASE GO VISIT. Period. Perhaps I should change that- exclamation point is better- GO VISIT!! Or pick up the phone, and at least call, if they are able to talk on the phone. Ultimately, that friend or relative will have a better day if you visit. Whether they can carry on a full conversation with you about your high school high jinks together or they have no clue what you are talking about, they are human, complete with the full range of emotions that we all enjoy. Sadly, loneliness and boredom often occupy much of your time when you are suffering from memory loss. People treat you differently, talking to you as if you were less intelligent or perhaps deaf. Even if you don't catch a punch line, you can share a hearty belly laugh with someone.
So, here are a few suggestions for an easier visit:
1. Bring pictures, especially of you and your friend together.
2. Use technology- iPhones, iPads, and laptops are wonderful for sharing pictures or for finding images of special places and events (think the Grand Canyon or the Olympics) to chat about.
3. Music- again, the MP3 players are terrific for finding a tune or a snippit of a song.
4. Avoid food that requires utensils, but finger foods like french fries, or a small ice cream cone can be a delight to enjoy together if conversation is a challenge. (Obviously, check with your friend's caregiver for appropriate food choices.)
5. Consider a "Sunday drive". Often folks enjoy simply getting out and about for a short car ride. Pop on the radio or seasonal music and cruise around for a half hour. Yes, this is expensive in gas dollars, but often well worth the price for the sense of "escape" from the residence.
BOTTOM LINE: Visiting someone with memory loss (dementia) need not seem so stressful- relax, smile, hug, laugh...and your friend will, too. And hopefully, when we are the one with memory loss, our friends and families will return the favor.