If you recently helped your parent or senior loved one make the move to a senior living community, it’s tempting to think your job as a caregiver is done. However, nothing could be further from the truth. You may no longer be responsible for your parent’s personal care tasks, but your presence still has a positive impact.
Maintaining frequent communication and visiting with the senior loved ones in your life can help them ward off detrimental cognitive and physical problems as they age, according to research in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of visiting for you and your parent, the meaningful interactions you can look forward to, and how regular visits can strengthen your parent’s team of caregivers.
A senior who has relocated to a senior living community needs to adapt to a new social structure. In the midst of figuring out how to make new friends, building relationships with the caregivers and staff, and maintaining relationships with existing friends, they’re also dealing with a shift in family dynamics.
According to researchers from the University of Moncton and the University of Alberta, relocating can significantly disrupt relationships with family and friends. Taking the time to visit can reinforce family ties and shows your loved one that you can still spend time with them even after they’ve moved away.
Many senior living communities have a robust activity and events calendar but also incorporate “third places” designed just for leisure and entertainment, such as courtyards, movie theaters, lounges, and game rooms. Research on empowering senior citizens shows these venues can be an essential component of healthy socializing. Third places offer a fresh change of scene outside your loved one’s room where they can engage with others, have fun, and relax on their own terms.
Seniors can also feel empowered through social interactions, such as joining a club. Let your senior loved one introduce you to their friends — not only will you get a better idea of how they spend their time and what they enjoy, you’ll also help increase their self-esteem as they share everything they’re involved in.
A senior living community can offer peace of mind and hopefully enable your loved one to maintain their independence for as long as possible. If your parent lives in a senior apartment or independent living community, they may eventually need a higher level of care. Likewise, a senior in assisted living may need memory care or skilled nursing care in the future.
If your parent lives in a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC, changing care levels may be relatively easy. However, even in the most complete communities, sometimes a move from one unit to another may be necessary. Visiting while your loved one’s needs are seen to by a community’s staff can allow you the necessary time and space to spot any concerns early. Ideally, this can leave you the time to bring your observations to your parent and discuss the care they need.
In addition to examining your parent’s physical health, pay attention to your parent’s mood. Do they seem more down than normal or are they detached? Are they cheerful one moment and angry the next? Depression and anxiety are common in seniors, especially during the holiday season. Additionally, mood swings and personality changes can be a sign of dementia.
The hope of course is that you and your parent are more than satisfied with the senior living community they call home. You will get to know your parent’s team of caregivers — if they live in assisted living or memory care — and understand all of the services and amenities they may receive. Visiting can help you make sure that your loved one’s care is consistent from one caregiver to another and that the care plan is being followed.
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Visiting can also alert you to any signs that your parent’s care is not working out. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a reality for some seniors, whether they live at home or in a senior living community with other residents. Not all abuse is easy to spot — neglect and emotional abuse, for instance, may not be apparent immediately. It’s important to notice any signs of abuse, no matter how subtle, and report them quickly.
Now that the caregiving duties you may have been responsible for are out of your hands, you can devote your time and energy to your relationship with your loved one. Seniors who attach a strong importance to family bonds experience an increase in morale with more visits, according to research in The Gerontologist. Incidentally, seniors with more frequent visitors may receive additional attention from staff.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the importance of visiting seniors who can’t remember who you are. Although it can be a struggle to interact with someone who has dementia, these visits still provide benefits. One-on-one socialization offers the most engagement for individuals with dementia, as noted in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. You may want to bring your loved one items or photos with personal significance to help them recall cherished memories.
You can also engage your parent in an activity that you both enjoy. A study conducted in the journal Nursing Inquiry looked at the positive effects of reminiscence in men with dementia who like football. Researchers observed groups in nursing and care home settings, where caregivers, family, and interested residents would discuss football and other general life interests. The residents showed positive outcomes and anticipated these visits, which ultimately improved their moods.
Distance, busy schedules, and health concerns can make visiting difficult. For those times when an in-person visit isn’t possible, consider staying in touch with distanced and virtual options. This will reinforce how important your loved one is to you and let them know you’re thinking of them.
Depending on your loved one’s preferences, they may appreciate a mix of these methods:
Each senior living community has their own protocols and rules for keeping residents safe and healthy. Try to balance the importance of visiting your senior loved one with any health concerns. If you’re unwell, consider rescheduling your visit. Some communities may ask you to take precautions while you’re there, such as wearing a mask or taking a Covid-19 test before your visit.
From checking in on care to sharing in your parent’s daily life, there are many benefits to visiting your parent in their senior living community. Perhaps most importantly, you’re reinforcing and strengthening the bond you already have with your loved one.
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Cohen-Mansfield, J., Marx, M., Dakheel-Ali, M., Regier, N., & Thein, K. (2010, April 1). Can persons with dementia be engaged with stimuli? The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Dupuis-Blanchard, S., Neufeld, A., Strang, V. (2009, September). The significance of social engagement in relocated older adults. Qualitative Health Research.
Gaugler, J.E. (2005, March). Family involvement in residential long-term care: A synthesis and critical review. Aging & Mental Health.
Greene, V. L. & Monahan, D. J. (1982). The impact of visitation on patient well-being in nursing homes. The Gerontologist.
McCabe, M. (2014). Impact of family presence in the healthcare setting. Liberty University Digital Commons.
Meshram, K. & O’Cass, A. (2013, May 24). Empowering senior citizens via third places: Research driven model development of seniors’ empowerment and social engagement in social places. Journal of Services Marketing.
Tolson, D. & Schofield, I. (2012). Football reminiscence for men with dementia: Lessons from a realistic evaluation. Nursing Inquiry.
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