A devastating effect of the pandemic has been people not being able to visit their loved ones in care homes. While we fully understand and support the need to keep everyone as physically well as possible and the serious threat Covid brings, we have been extremely concerned for those that have spent months away from their family and friends. We have been doing everything we can to support the people we work with, both in care homes and in a home setting, from a distance, but we are absolutely thrilled that two named visitors are now allowed to go into care homes and spend time with their loved ones.
However, after such a long time, it’s completely normal for families and friends to feel a mixture of excitement, relief and also apprehension. With conditions such as dementia, there is likely to be some change, and maybe you are feeling nervous about how to approach this after such a long time. Questions of whether your loved one will recognise you, of what you will talk about and how the initial visits will go are bound to be on your mind.
So we thought we could give you some ideas that could help you reconnect with your loved ones now lockdown is easing. Obviously, every person is different and not all of these ideas will work for everyone, but these are a selection of approaches that Creative Companions that work with Plan with Care are using at the moment to re-establish face-to-face relationships with the people we support.
You’ll notice that they all revolve around talking in the here and now, rather than the past. It’s useful to remember that talking about the past can be stressful for people with dementia, so it can be good to start off talking in the present, and then see if the conversation progresses to times in the past.
Send something ahead of your visit
Over the past year, one of the ways we have stayed in touch with the people we support is to send them postcards using an app called TouchNote. You can read more about this in our story ‘Writing To Emma During The Pandemic’.
You could use this to send a postcard with a photo of something that will interest your loved one, with a little note on the back. Maybe it could be a photo of the grandkids, or of flowers from your garden that you know they’ll like. You can then use this as a conversation when you go in to see them, and it will also bring comfort when it’s displayed in their room. You could make a habit of doing this and build up a collection over time, revisiting previous postcards further down the line.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a postcard. It could be anything that would bring comfort and be used to spark conversation in the here and now. Does your loved one like leafing through magazines? Are they able to do puzzle books?
Listen to music together
Music is so powerful, especially for those who are living with dementia, and you can easily play it from your phone during a visit. Just sitting quietly listening to it could create a wonderful moment of connection. Or you might find yourself having a little jive together if it brings back memories of the local weekly dance!
Other sounds can be used too – not just music. As our story Revisiting Emma tells, Creative Companion Carrie recently used the sounds of birdsong with a lady who is now in bed fulltime. Birds are one of her passions, and, as she drifted in and out of sleep, she opened her eyes and they sparkled briefly as she heard birds tweeting away.
So have a think about what your loved one might like to listen to. A favourite song, band, composer… maybe the sound of waves for an old-time surfer?!
Take flowers or chocolate
It may seem simple but just taking flowers or chocolates as you might do if you visited a friend you haven’t seen for a while can create lots of opportunities for conversation, as well as providing sensory experiences.
Flowers are bright and mood-enhancing. You could talk about how they smell, look and feel, and about where you got them from. Chocolate can really help if your loved one is feeling anxious, as the oxytocin it contains has calming qualities. You can chat about the different flavours in a box, which ones you’re choosing and enjoy this over a nice warm drink.
Don’t leave treats on the side when you take them to a visit… get in there and enjoy them together!
Think outside the button box
Did your loved one used to have a button box? A box where they kept a collection of buttons from old clothes, just in case they needed them one day? Well, what about taking in a selection of buttons? Not only will this create a comforting memory as your loved one may remember theirs from the past, but it could also prompt lots of conversation.
Sitting next to each other, you could lay the buttons out and start looking through them. Conversations will naturally flow with questions such as, ‘Which ones do you like?’, ‘Do you like the colour of this one?’ or ‘Isn’t this a pretty pattern?’. You’ll also find that your loved one might be attracted to certain ones. When Carrie used this approach, she was delighted to see the lady she was visiting pick up a pearl button and start talking about her grandmother, who used to wear pearls.
As you can see, all of these ideas really promote talking in the here and how, which is a really great way to reconnect with your loved one after lockdown and re-establish a lovely relationship with them.
Care homes may have different rules about what can be taken into visits at the moment, so please do check with them beforehand.
We would love to hear if you try any of these ideas. And, if you have any questions at all, feel free to get in touch.