Even without the visiting difficulties of the last year, knowing how often you should visit elderly parents is often a topic on the minds of adult children. This can feel like a particularly pertinent question if your elderly parent lives alone or is in a care home.
Even if your family member lives nearby, your dependent or immediate family, career and other commitments can sap your time leaving very little to spare.
Yet feelings run high on this matter. Infamously Pope Francis stated that not visiting elderly parents was a “mortal sin” in 2015. We don’t feel it’s anything like as clear cut as this, or fair to place this moral burden on already stretched members of the ‘sandwich generation’, but it does go to show how important an issue it is.
There is no standard answer to how often you should visit elderly relatives. It is a very personal situation and one which is difficult to quantify. Many factors come into play such as distance, childhood experiences, sibling dynamics and more. Here we look at the benefits of visiting an elderly parent, and how to ensure quality visits, so that you can determine the right visiting frequency for you.
The benefits of visiting an elderly individual are quite broad. It’s important to remember that there are benefits for your elderly parent, but there are also benefits for you too.
1.9 million older people often feel alone according to Age UK. Loneliness is an enormous problem for the elderly, as we’ve discussed previously. It has even been shown to have the same physical health implications as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness can be a factor in developing depression.
Visiting an elderly parent goes a long way towards reducing any loneliness they may be experiencing and, therefore, positively can impact their mental health.
It works both ways though. Your parent’s company is also important for you and your wellbeing.
For those living with Dementia, visits can help to ensure the connections of particularly relationships are refreshed and invigorated. Research from the Alzheimer’s Society has showed that even if your elderly loved one no longer recognises you, the visit will still bring a positive effect. Emotional memory – how the visit made them feel – is incredibly important to calm and wellbeing.
It is very common in older age, particularly if infirmity sets in, for an individual to feel worthless and unimportant. Visits promote a sense of belonging and can help to ensure the individual feels valued and important. Visits help the individual stay engaged in life, and particularly within the family. In short, visits remind your elderly parent that they are loved – it’s a physical and tangible expression of this.
If your elderly parent is in a residential home, you should be able to trust that they are receiving a high standard of care. Unfortunately, some homes are less scrupulous than others. If you visit regularly, you’ll be able to check that your parent is being well cared for. This will bring you peace of mind. Your relationship with their carers too can help them to have a better understanding of your parent. This can help them to tailor their care to the whole person, past and present.
Reminiscing can help your parent, but they can help you too. Additionally, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren can form their own memories of the relationship with their grandparent. Visits can be cheerful and happy times, cherished by everyone. They can be opportunities for family members to get together and spend time with one another across the generations.
Importantly, visiting your elderly parent can help to reduce some of the guilt you may be experiencing if they have gone into a residential or nursing home, particularly against their will. Guilt is a common emotion in adult children of care home residents. It is probably misplaced and not ‘fair’ but it’s a tricky emotion to deal with. By visiting regularly, you can help to offset some of the guilt you may feel.
It’s common for many adult children to think that they aren’t visiting their parents enough. However, we always find it is most helpful to focus on the quality of the visits rather than simply the frequency. There are many ways in which you can make individual visits worthwhile. Particularly if you are separated by distance or other life pressures, it is important to focus on the quality of the visits over the quantity.
Put your phone away, and try to minimise any jobs that need doing and instead focus on interacting with and communicating with your parent. Chat about things they’ve read or things going on in your life. Talk about shared memories.
Many elderly people don’t get much physical touch which is hugely important to wellbeing. Sit holding hands and give a hug or two.
Whether it’s playing a card game together or talking about the latest antics of a grandchild, try to have fun and laughter together.
Take a small thoughtful gift to leave behind, if you can, something as simple as a posy of flowers from the garden or an old photo you found. This ensures that even when you are gone there is a tangible reminder that you came and that you cared.
Visiting your loved one in person is often a chance to chat with their carers and find out if there are any concerns, or pick up on any uncomfortable dynamics.
Goodbyes can be difficult as you may sense that no matter how much time you spend with your parent, it’s not seen as enough. Identify a natural break, such as a meal time, so that your loved one is getting attention from elsewhere after you go.
Knowing how often to visit is hard and there are no hard and fast rules. It will take some thought to work out what is best for you and your elderly parent. If you’re not able to visit as often as you’d like, you can still make them feel important. Check out our guide on How to help a loved one feel cared for when you can’t visit.