By Tiffany Seemeyer, Day Shift Manager, Valley VNA Senior Services

What do an old-fashioned toy, recipe cards, a tea set, a cheerful child, and a well-behaved pup have in common? According to experts, they’re all good things to consider bringing along with you on your visit to a loved one who lives in an assisted living community.

Visits can provide wonderful opportunities for bonding and learning from one another. Many of us avoid visiting our elders in their care settings because we fear awkward moments. Instead of delaying or avoiding your next visit, think about how to make the most of your visit for both of you:

Remember it’s not about you.

A long silence may feel uncomfortable, but set your own feelings aside and consider your time together as a gift to your loved one. Focus on enriching part of your relative’s or friend’s day at a difficult time of life.

Timing is important.

Call ahead to ask if you’re unsure about the best time of day for a visit. Sometimes sharing a meal can give you both something on which to focus. At Valley VNA, we can arrange to have meals prepared for guests. Just call (920) 727-5555 to make a reservation with our receptionist. Our chef appreciates 24-hour advance notice, and meal charges are typically applied to the resident’s monthly bill.

Share a warm greeting.

Sit down to talk at eye level, make eye contact, and share a warm hug or handclasp. Seek out the inner person you care about. He or she is still there, even if the outer package has changed considerably.

Tweak your communication style.

Raise your voice slightly, but don’t shout, which is actually harder to hear. Many older people rely on lip reading to help follow a conversation, so position yourself face-to-face and close enough to help. Move out of a room where a radio or TV is blaring.

Come prepared with a few springboard phrases beyond the weather and the food.

Look for topics in both the present and the past. Use phrases like, “Look what I found. . . .” Or “I’ve brought something you might like. . . .” This is when you pull out the old recipe card, photo, or toy. Babies and children can bring joy to a short (30-minute) visit. Older children who play an instrument can perform a short concert or share a special school or art project.

Go for a stroll.

Find the community’s garden or courtyard. Find a focal point, like a bird feeder, and start a discussion about it. Seek out the piano and play some music. Take a Sunday drive just for the scenery, without a particular destination in mind.

Give a gift of time.

Think twice before bringing a gift that may unnecessarily crowd your friend’s or loved one’s downsized living space. An entire box of sweets may be too much, so choose a small sample box. Consider putting some money into your loved one’s beauty or barber account, or buy a bird feeder or flowering shrub for the community’s garden. Remember, the gift of your time is the most precious.

Keep it serene.

Balloons, a birthday cake, and a crowd of 20 singing people may not be the best environment for your loved one to engage with his or her visitors. Plan multiple visits from one or two people to enjoy a quiet talk, hugs, and happy memories.

Don’t get intimidated by dementia.

You’ll need to be more patient with repetition and circular conversations, of course. But in some ways, this takes the pressure off: Find out what promotes a good time—music, looking at photos, a change of scenery—and run with it, visit after visit. Here are more tips from Rev. John McFadden, Valley VNA chaplain, on visiting people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We Take Reservations.

If a large group spontaneously takes over a common area without a reservation, it can be distressing to our residents. We’d much rather have a special room prepared just for you. To join your friend or family member for a meal in our dining room, or to reserve a room for a family gathering, simply call (920) 727-5555. We can also help you determine the best time of day to visit so you, your family, and your friend have the best visit possible. We look forward to meeting you!