Visiting “Memory Care” Guide for Families

Fall and the winter holiday season mark the busiest time of the year in Memory Care / Assisted Living. Everyone comes to visit! From Girl Scout carolers to church youth groups to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to the out-of-state son who came into town for a holiday and hasn’t seen Mom since last year.

It’s the grandchildren and son that likely could use a little support and ideas on how to make the visit most successful. So here are Sunshine Care Community of Memory Care Home’s tried and true tips for Holiday visiting:

1. Consider calling ahead and letting staff know you are coming in with extended family. They will take a few minutes to help your Mom touch-up her hair, put on some lipstick, change her into a fresher or dressy shirt. At Sunshine Care we will set a private alcove with afternoon tea or hot chocolate and cookies if given a little notice.

2.  If family has never been  to visit, or it has been a few months, try to give them an honest and simple overview of how Mom is doing. And then give them some tips, “Mom is using a walker now. She sometimes repeats herself and she sometimes says she lives at the house we grew up in. Try using statements instead of questions. ‘Mom, it is so nice to see you today.’ versus ‘How are you?'”

3.  Take a minute to talk about the assisted living setting with young children. What types of things might we see? Walkers, wheelchairs, people who have trouble walking or talking. Maybe people who don’t have teeth. People who would love you to say hello and shake their hand or give them a gentle high-five. It is guaranteed when you go visit a family member you will visit and say hi to other residents.

4. Bring something you can share. Keep it simple— some family photos, a magazine with great pictures. Have the grandkids bring their favorite stuffed animals to introduce or make and bring homemade greeting cards. Bring a t-shirt you all have signed or put your handprints on or one that says “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas”. Something you can easily talk and laugh about.

5. Skip the cookies, candies and living plants! Sweets should be in moderation — bring three or four cookies, not two dozen. It’s a fact of life, living plants will die and it is especially likely when they are kept indoors. Unless you firmly believe Mom can water it herself, don’t waste your money. Even consider skipping cut flowers. Bring something that is inexpensive but will last and brighten her day each day of the season. A small fiber optic Christmas tree or plastic wreath for her room is perfect. Or a poster with pictures and notes from all the family. A seasonal themed necklace or bracelet that is from Target not Tiffany’s, so it’s no big deal if she loses it.

6.  Pay attention to your body language and pace. Remember silence is okay too. No matter what level of care needs a person has and no matter how much they can or cannot communicate, the one skill that is never lost is what we call “emotional communication”. Mom might not know what she had for breakfast, but she can sense when things are not okay. You and your family need to provide a feeling of love, calm and joy. Be prepared to slow  down, move at her pace, sit down and smile. Sometimes, after ten minutes, you run out of things to say. Try just sitting together holding her hand or massage some lotion into her hands and arms. Touch is very healing and speaks volumes.

7. Take pictures together. Ask the staff to snap some with your camera. Those multi-generational family photos are real treasures.

8. Keep the visit short, not more than one hour. Consider not more than 30 minutes with young children.

9. Keep your goodbyes simple. Keep Mom in mind and her comfort when saying goodbye, “Mom, it was great visiting with you. The kids and I have to go grocery shopping so we’ll see you later.”  It is recommended that you don’t give a return time. Keep it casual, as if you see each other all the time. Try your best, and encourage family, to avoid long drawn-out emotional goodbyes, “Goodbye Mom, I’ll miss you so much. I’ll see you next Christmas okay?” These prolonged goodbyes trigger fear, anxiety, confusion and frustration for Mom.  She is suddenly uncertain when she will ever see you again. Not a good way to leave her feeling. If you need support or Mom asks to go home with you, get a staff person to help with redirection when it is time to leave.

10. Debrief. Take a few minutes to talk about the visit with your family. Allow family that hasn’t seen her in some time to talk about the changes they noticed and their fears.  

We hope these ten steps will make visits more enjoyable for both you and your loved one in Assisted Living. They certainly have come in handy for us!


Know someone who needs “Caregiver Support”? For more information on our monthly San Diego Memory Care support group visit, or call the toll-free number at 1-800-811-9595.


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Categories: Memory Care

2 replies

  1. Wonderful tips, thank you so much, you just made some family members less stressed out and guilty by providing clear, simple guidelines.

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