Preparing for care home visits are a vital part of ensuring the wellbeing of a care home resident. However, to make care home visits go smoothly, it is essential that you know what to expect and how to prepare. Armed with this knowledge and by taking a prepared approach, you can ensure that the visit is worthwhile and enjoyable for both the care home resident and the visitors.

When to visit

Care homes often have designated visiting hours. These are determined around the routine of the home, ensuring that your visit takes place when your loved one isn’t busy being washed, dressed, eating or enjoying a scheduled activity.

You will need to establish the best time that works around your loved one’s needs and your schedule. However, for those with dementia, morning or middle of the day visits work best. At this point, your loved one is likely to be most alert and refreshed and able to engage more easily.

Be aware that evening visits may be characterised by agitation. If this is the case, speak with the care staff about how this can be managed.

Emotionally prepare

If you are emotionally preparing for care home visits then they are usually better for you as the visitor. Try to have low expectations and be flexible with your plans. If your loved one has dementia then it can help to be aware that visits may be very inconsistent. Sometimes they may recognise you and sometimes they may not. This is not a reflection on your relationship. There is often still value in a visit, even if your loved one is confused.

Try to come when you are calm and refreshed, and plan something nice for to do afterwards, even just a hot bath or a cup of tea.

Let them know you’re coming

Call the care home and let them know the time to expect you. This ensures that carers can plan assistance around the visit timings. If you are visiting at lunchtime, they may be able to ensure you and your loved one can share a meal together, for example, but also, they will make sure your loved one isn’t in the bath or having their hair done!

Letting the care home know you are coming has the added benefit that they can tell the person being visited. This can make someone feel cherished and that they have something to look forward to. It can also help residents to feel that nothing is being sprung on them.

What to bring

Usually, you don’t need to bring anything with you for a care home visit. However, depending on who you are visiting, there are things you can bring that will be appreciated and make the visit easier.

Consider bringing photos from the past, artwork done by children, jigsaws, puzzles or basic games to play. You can even bring small jobs that the resident can get involved with such as planting seeds or preparing vegetables. Favourite foods and fresh flowers are also often appreciated.

During the visit

Consider how best to greet your family member or friend. Depending on their cognitive state it may or may not be beneficial to greet them by familial terms, e.g. ‘mum’. Speak to their carers to find out what is best.

Keep the visit quite short. Short and sweet is best and will ensure that it is a pleasurable experience not negatively affected by fatigue.

Allow the person you are visiting to lead the visit. Ask them where they would like to sit, offer a drink, or ask if they would like you to accompany them for a walk in the grounds. Ensure only one person speaks at a time and try to keep background noise to a minimum.

Enjoy a drink or a meal together. Where in keeping with your relationship and the comfort of the care home resident, hold hands, hug, or use touch to convey care and love. It is often one of the most important aspects of care home visits for many of our residents.

Preparing for care home visits with children and grandchildren

Visits from children can really make a loved one’s day, so do consider bringing them along. However, it can be helpful to take some extra steps preparing the children and preparing for the visit.

Explain to the child what to expect and how they can make the visit nice for their family member.

Maybe try to combine the visit with a special event at the home. Many homes organise family days when there are activities for children and their great/grandparents to do together, such as petting animals or enjoying craft. Even if it’s not an organised event, it may be possible to visit when there is an activity planned that will appeal to all generations.

Bring along toys or activities to keep little ones entertained, but try to avoid noise-making toys as these can be confusing and disturbing for residents. Instead consider age appropriate board games and puzzles that may even be played with the person they are visiting. Likewise, it often works to bring along traditional stories and fairy tales that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Consider bringing a small treat for the care home resident to gift to their younger visitor, or even share with them. This is often an opportunity to build cherished moments for both parties. In turn, encourage the child to draw a picture or make a craft to bring along to show love to their elderly loved one.

Where possible, take advantage of the care home’s grounds. Little ones often enjoy having the space to explore and play and the fresh air and change of scenery is beneficial for the resident too.

Preparing for care home visits during Covid

Restrictions concerning care home visits have changed and are now largely determined by the care home directly. Check out the policies that apply to the care home you are visiting. The focus should always be on keeping residents safe while doing everything possible to support important visits.

You may need to follow specific precautions, such as wearing a mask, gloves and apron during your visit. Additionally, you may be required to take a lateral flow test before your visit and bring along evidence of a negative result. It is strongly recommended that those visiting care homes are fully vaccinated.

Always avoid visiting if you have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus, or any other highly infectious illness. Postpone your visit if you are feeling unwell, even if you have tested negative. It is always best to be safe rather than sorry.

If there is an outbreak of coronavirus in the care home then visits will be temporarily suspended or there will be stricter rules for visiting in place. If you are visiting someone near to the end of their life then you should expect greater flexibility to allow visiting.

The value of care home visits

Care home visits are enormously valuable for both residents and their visitors. If you are unsure about any aspect of visiting, or want to know how to make it as beneficial as possible for your loved one, speak to the care home for support and advice.