Q: I was part of a group that visited long-term care facilities during the holiday season. I would like to continue visiting on my own this year but feel inadequate in relating to the residents. Are there any do’s and don’ts that would make the residents and me more comfortable during visits?
A: Visits of this type usually make most people a little apprehensive at first, and you are to be commended for wanting to continue your visits throughout the year.
Before you make any individual visits, you should to talk to someone on the staff to see whether your visit would be welcome and find out which residents would appreciate and benefit from a visitor.
When you visit, you will likely find many residents in their rooms. Even though the doors are open, their rooms are now their homes. Knock and ask permission to enter before walking in. This courtesy will be appreciated and provides the resident with a little control over the visit.
Once you are invited into the room, introduce yourself and ask for the resident’s name. Do not use the first name as some residents come from backgrounds that were more formal about names and still prefer to be addressed as Mr. or Mrs. Residents who would like to called by another name will likely ask you to call them by that name.
As you probably noticed when you visited, residents will likely be in bed or a wheelchair. Because looking up for any extended period of time is uncomfortable, your visit should be conducted at the resident’s eye level.
You should place yourself so that you are facing each other. You should not be between the resident and the window as the glare from the window will cause you to be seen only in silhouette. Never sit on the edge of the bed unless invited or given permission to do so.
Your first visit or visits, because you will be getting to know the residents, should be fairly short. Sometimes just a few words will be sufficient. A comment about a pretty blouse or acknowledgment of a photograph or trinket you see on a bedside table will be enough to start a short conversation.
Be an attentive listener, don’t ask personal questions, and keep the conversation light and general. Be on alert for signs of fatigue, and be ready to end the visit should that occur.
When leaving, do not promise to come back if you know you cannot or will not keep that promise. If you set a date and time to return, arrive when expected. If you must break an appointment, call ahead and make sure the message gets to the resident.
Always treat the residents with the dignity and respect their long years deserve and respect any confidences made to you.
With these things in mind I’m sure you will feel more confident and comfortable in your role of visitor. Remember your visit is a ray of sunshine for those you will be visiting.
Q: At the end of your column you provide information on how to contact you. After your email address you ask senders to include their telephone number. Why?
A: Most questions are complex and need more than a general response. With a telephone number, I can call to ask more questions to help the reader. This eliminates the need to email back and forth, allows a timely response and is a warmer way of responding to a reader.