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Preparing for Visits with Loved Ones in Long-Term Care

Written by Legal Aid WV


This is a special section from our Ombudsman program.

For residents of long-term care facilities, a simple visit from a family member can really brighten their mood and lift their spirits, helping to stave off depression. Chronic understaffing and large resident-to-staff care ratios can lead to a lack of one-on-one time and feelings of loneliness for residents of long-term care facilities. There are a multitude of ways to make your visits more meaningful and fulfilling for your loved one, including reminiscing.

Reminiscence therapy is a “non-pharmacological intervention that improves self-esteem and provides older persons with a sense of fulfillment and comfort as they look back on their lives” (Klever, 2013). In psychosocial development theories, reminiscence is a normal process that occurs later in life that allows people to review their past while coming to terms with both their past and present. Reminiscence can also aid in the sharing of stories, wisdom, and traditions with younger generations.

As you reminisce with your loved one, remember these tips:

Bring family photos, scrapbooks, music, possessions, or letters that will awaken memories of your loved one’s life and take time to explore these items and the memories they incite with your loved one.

Asking questions may not always work for loved ones who have memory impairment. Consider sharing a memory of your own to facilitate a conversation of their own memories.

Allow your loved one to talk freely. It may be tempting at times to try to steer the conversation to a particular event or memory you would like to talk about yourself. While it is important to also participate in reminiscing, the focus should be on your loved one and the memories they wish to reminisce about.

Engage other senses. Reminiscing is more than just talking about memories and sensory stimulation through sound, movement, touch, and taste can help awaken memories.

Be patient. Reminiscing can be a lengthy process and it is not uncommon for one memory to come up repetitively, especially in the case of older adults with memory impairment. If there is a repetitive memory, it is important to listen genuinely and continue engaging with your loved one so they feel heard.

Make reminiscing a family affair. Include other family members such as siblings, children, grandchildren, and spouses of you and your loved one in reminiscing. This will help bring more value to reminiscing for all involved and help to build more memories with your loved ones.

Reminiscing can sometimes bring up unpleasant memories. Don’t be afraid to talk about difficult or painful memories—these are just as important to talk about if they come up but ensure you respond sensitively. Although, if you feel your loved one is growing increasingly distressed, reach out to a facility staff member or mental health professional to ensure they receive appropriate follow-up care.

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