Tips For Having a Successful Remote Visit With Your Loved One
For many of you, this has undoubtedly been a profoundly challenging time. While phone and video chats have helped ease some of the pain and allowed you and your loved ones to maintain contact, we recognize that there is no substitute for face-to-face time.
Throughout this time, the Syracuse Jewish Family Service staff have had the honor and the pleasure of helping make those connections. It has given us the opportunity to get to know the residents of the Jewish Home and The Inn and their families, who have helped teach us how to make the most of this more limited contact.
Of course, there is no prescription for this; every individual and family are unique, but our hope is that these tips give you some ideas for making visits satisfying for both you and your loved one.
GO FOR IT
Focus on sharing positive things going on in your life: These need not be big things! Simply talking about the flowers you see poking out of the ground, the birds you’ve seen or heard in your yard, something funny your cat or dog did, a kind gesture that you made or received recently, good news about a family member or neighbor… Keep a mental (or actual) list of these things as they happen throughout the week so you’ll remember to share with your family member here. Bottom line: what you share in your virtual visit will supply your loved one with much-needed stimulation and social enjoyment – even if they are unable to reciprocate with news and observations of their own.
Use props: Many families have been showing their loved ones plants, flowers, pets, or giving a tour of their home. This may be especially helpful for individuals with dementia.
Reminiscing: Remind your loved one of important or funny events from the past, such as stories about their pets from childhood, raising their children, their marriage, places they lived, or foods that they enjoyed eating or making.
Singing: If your family member likes music, try singing a familiar song (or more) together. This is a great way to bring some joy into a person’s day.
Sharing a gift: If you’ve dropped off something special for your loved one, you could ask our staff to provide them with the gift while you’re talking to them on a video chat.
Retain perspective: Remember that this format does not always make sense to your loved one. Even some individuals with no impairment may focus more on the strangeness (to them) of the video chat phenomenon, than on what you are telling them. Don’t sweat it. They typically love the experience of hearing your voice and seeing your face, even if they don’t really believe it is you, live, on the other end of a phone chat.
Multiple family members on a video chat: This might be fun and perfectly fine for some individuals. For others, such as persons with dementia or significant hearing or vision issues, this might prove frustrating and/or confusing. Take your cue from your loved one; if they appear to be getting frustrated or anxious, have people drop off the call and have only one or two people on the next call.
COVID-19 discussion: Some of our residents are watching the news and able to process this information. Like all of us, they may be worried or anxious about this. That is to be expected and we can’t shield them from the news simply because they are living in a nursing home or assisted living. But for some of our residents, especially those with cognitive impairment or significant mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, this may have a very negative impact on their well-being. Take your cue from your loved one: if they initiate talking about the virus, validate their concerns (“I know, this really has been scary for all of us”), while focusing the conversation on how things are being done to protect everyone. Emphasize that they are in a safe place, with people to help them stay well. If the person doesn’t bring up anything about the virus, there is probably no need for you to initiate this discussion.
Restricted visitation discussion: Gear your response to questions about why you’re not visiting around your loved one’s ability to understand and process this information. For people with significant dementia, you should avoid a detailed explanation of the virus. If they don’t bring up why you haven’t been around to visit, you can probably just leave this out of the conversation altogether – don’t apologize for something that they haven’t really digested in the first place. And for those who do keep asking when you will be coming, a simplified way to respond may be stating that you are holding off because there’s a bug going around and you don’t want to bring in any germs. Reassure the person that you will visit as soon as able. Then re-focus the conversation in a more positive direction, using the tips suggested above, rather than continuing to repeat this information.
The Quiz: It’s always best, and especially in your limited phone or video chat, to try to avoid asking questions of individuals that they are unlikely to be able to answer. For example, individuals with dementia may not be able to respond to questions about what they ate, when they last took a shower, what is significant about a particular date etc. Instead, give them the cues that will help remind them, e.g. “today is April 27th, it’s your granddaughter Susan’s birthday and we’re going to have you sing happy birthday to her.” Or, “today’s Wednesday, I saw that you were having your favorite breakfast of French Toast. I hope you enjoyed it.”
Under Duress: This is a tough time for many. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, it might not be a good time to have a conversation. Consider rescheduling for another time when you can be present for your loved one and be able to have a more positive conversation. Persons with dementia can pick up on non-verbal aspects of behavior, such as your voice tone or the way you look, and this might cause undue worry or anxiety on their part.
For more personalized assistance for having a successful visit, please feel free to reach out to your contact at Syracuse Jewish Family Service. If you have not received an assignment please contact Ellen Somers, Assistant Director, 315.446.9111, ext. 225