Now that my mom is in a nursing home, how can I make the most of my one-hour visits with her?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 28, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...
I visit my mom, who's very frail after a stroke, for an hour every few days. She has dementia, but she's always pleased to see me. Still, I find that I'm not sure what to do while I'm there. We chat a little and then often lapse into silence. When I ask her if she wants to play cards or take a walk around the facility, she's willing, but she never initiates anything. I want to make the most of our time together, but I'm not sure how to do it.

Expert Answers

David Solie is an author, educator, speaker, and thought leader in geriatric and intergenerational communication. His book How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap With Our Elders is a landmark text that has been read and reread by legions of baby boomers searching for a better approach to working with their parents and other older adults.

It's often difficult for adult children to adjust to the changes in their relationship with an elderly parent, but it's especially difficult when the parent has dementia. As hard as it is to reconcile your mom today with the dynamic, take-charge person you once knew, she's still your mother, and she needs you now more than ever. It may be hard to believe when she forgets what you just said or hardly speaks during your visit, but you can be sure that she looks forward to seeing you and that your presence is a source of comfort and reassurance to her.

Having said that, it's important to have realistic expectations about your time together. As a middle-aged adult, you're used to making the most of every minute in your busy schedule and measuring your experiences in terms of goals met and tasks accomplished. Try to put your to-do list aside during your visits to the nursing home and simply enjoy your time with your mother.

Your visits can take a variety of forms, depending on the day and your mother's inclinations. If she's up to it, your mother may want to go for a short walk or a drive to get some fresh air and a change of environment. If she has trouble feeding herself, you may want to schedule your visits for mealtimes, so you can feed her. She may enjoy a backrub or foot massage. Or you could give her a manicure or do her hair. If your mother has always loved books, try reading to her.

Encourage your children to visit too, and to send cards and drawings. Bring photos of friends, children, and grandchildren, as well as pictures from the past. You can tell your mother what's going on in your life, but don't feel obligated to fill the time with idle chit-chat. You mother may be content to sit quietly with you without saying much, and that's just fine.

In the end, you can make the most of your visits simply by showing up and being there. It's time you'll never regret spending.

Community Answers

Jetbond007 answered...

I was only 53 when I had several strokes. After having MRSA and heart valve replacement, I was in a rehab hospital for a month. I could see and talk again, but they had to teach me how to walk. Anyway, I got very tired when I had too many visitors. Just having them there was comforting, but I didn't want to talk much. Listening was a lot easier. I, too, have dementia and forget things in even one minute still. It is frustrating, but having people understand WHY I have to get them to repeat themselves makes it easier for them. People in nursing homes are very lonely, and it helps them immensely just to receive visitors. I have had several relatives and friends in nursing homes. When I visited, their eyes lit up just to know someone cared enough to visit. Keep hanging on. My parents are both gone and what I would give just to be able to see and talk to them!!!

Ruth s-professional answered...

Thank you, Jetbond007! Excellent insight from someone who's been there! In addition to David Solie's excellent thoughts & suggestions, might I also suggest taking advantage of your mother's keen long term memory by "interviewing" her about family history and keeping a journal (video or written). There are stories in your mother's head that nobody else knows about. When she can no longer remember or speak, those stories will be lost forever. If your mother was particular to certain music (such as dance or church) bring in cd's & just listen to them with her, sing along with her. If you feel the need to "do something", use the maincure or hair brushing idea while you both enjoy the music together. Embrace your opportunities.

Jetbond007 answered...

You're right about making a video. We did that with my father. Also with a grandmother. There's nothing like a true story from someone who's been there. My sister used to come to visit me in the rehab hospital to fix my hair and paint my nails. Made me feel a little better to know I looked better.

Bearly answered...

As an experienced "child of a mother who had dementia", I'd like to share my more valuable experience as to the "why" to keep visiting "mom". My mother's decline was more like an up and down out in her dementia, eventually passing away. During those times, her memory regressed back towards childhood. At first, this bothered me greatly, but it gave me the opportunity to see this frail and confused woman as a person and not just my "mother". I saw sides of her I never knew existed. Some of her memories were from her teen years and even before. When she did pass away, I had no regrets, but my memories were warmer and still are.

Today I have no doubts about the extent of that love. And I am thankful, in an odd way, I had the opportunity to be with my mother as she shared some of her deeper memories, not as a memory recalled, but as a memory being relived at that time of the memory. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put my mothers love "over the top". Much of that based on her shared memory of life.

And yes, I spent up to 90% of the time just sitting there, praying over her, reading stories to her, and often time visiting with her and her more lucid roomate, who had very few visitations.

We determined my mom began her "forgetfulness" around age 75, had a debilitating stroke at age 82 and was hospitalized, then passed away at age 89, spending the last 7 years in the nursing home.

If your mom is one of those who drift between dementia and lucidity, you have this gift to be there when she is sometimes lucid. I found touch to be very important. Even when we think they're asleep, the touch is felt. A side bit of humor.Sometimes she'd get a visitor whom she did not want to see, and would feign being asleep. Upon hearing footfall leaving the room, she'd crack one eye open and ask "Is ,that person, leaving or coming back?"

I hope my personal experience helps you to make the decision that's right for you.

Have a great life,