While visiting someone with dementia is very important, it can also present some new or unexpected challenges. Below are 10 tips on that may help to ensure a more successful visit for you and the person with dementia.
Educate Yourself. Knowing about dementia can help to understand what the person in your congregation is going through. Attend a Dementia Friends Awareness session as this will really help you to understand more about what the person living with dementia is going through and how to best spend time with them.
Understanding the illness can help you to connect with them more effectively and to understand the changes and challenges that ministering to them can bring.
Plan to do something meaningful It can be can helpful to bring focus to a visit by planning to do something specific together
Try activities such as
· sharing the bread and wine,
· singing some hymns together or just listening some,
· Have a short time of prayer
· looking at a photo album and reminiscing,
· having a snack together,
· taking a walk or a drive together
Get your timing right Speak to the persons primary carer and find out what time of the day is best to visit the person. Try to avoid visiting when other activities are scheduled (like lunch or supper or a time when they often have a regular nap)
In general, it is best to plan the visit for the late morning or early afternoon
Keep your visits short Regular short visits are always best
If you plan a longer visit, the person living with dementia may get tired or overwhelmed. They may need a break and time to rest
Meet in a quiet location Try to avoid large groups, events and places with lots of noise and distraction. These kinds of place can become confusing and overwhelming to someone living with dementia
Maybe, take a one-on-one walk somewhere quiet like a park
Be respectful. Remember that the person has a life rich with history, experience, relationships, skills, hopes and dreams.
Treat them with respect by trying not to talk about or over the person, even if there is someone else there with you and the person living with dementia does not seem to be engaged in the conversation
Listen. It is so important the person has time to feel heard. If they are feeling sad, let them express their feelings without trying make them feel better right away.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to just listen, and show that you care and that you are there for them
Use Clues and Cues. Use verbal cues, and gestures to help orient the person.
Introducing yourself or others by your name and connection can be helpful. For example “I was talking to Anne, the organist, yesterday”
Non-verbal signals such a touching or pointing to an item when talking about it can also be helpful
Use Touch. Gentle touch can be comforting and reassuring. Holding a hand and a friendly hug can maintain much needed connection. However, be guided by their carer as in some instances this can be distressing to the person with dementia
Self Care is Important. There are many issues around changing roles and losses that affect families, friends and carers of people with dementia. Your role in pastorally caring for this person is no different. Remember that your visit is important. It may even be the only contact that person has with the ‘outside’ world that day and will also bring encouragement and support their primary carer (often a husband or wife who is struggling). People with dementia need emotional support for their well-being. It’s important to take care of yourself. After a difficult visit, take time for yourself just to process the visit, to think about what went well and if there is anything that you could change next time. If you feel the visit didn’t go well, don’t beat yourself up about it. It will have been really appreciated.