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How Often Should You Visit Your Parents in Senior Living?

| By Margaret A. Wylde, PhD

The answer to the frequency at which you should visit parents in senior living depends on factors including health, living environment, schedules, and more.

If you have a parent or a loved one in a senior living community, you understand the delicate challenge of balancing your own life and responsibilities with being a reliable presence in theirs. While senior communities offer enriching and engaging lifestyles, maintaining strong family bonds is still crucial for the physical and emotional well-being of older adults.

Finding the Right Frequency of Visits

The “ideal” visit frequency depends on what works for your family. Factors such as individual preferences and your loved one’s needs should be considered. Some seniors thrive with frequent interaction. Others may prefer less frequent, but more extended, visits. Some families live too far apart for frequent-person visits and must find other ways to stay connected.

As you establish a schedule that’s works for everyone, it’s important to understand how visiting contributes to your loved one’s overall happiness and well-being.

The Benefits of Regular Visits

Margaret Wylde, Ph.D., Founder and Principle at ProMatura Group says visiting parents in their senior or assisted living community has emotional, psychological, and practical benefits for both you and your loved one.

For Your Loved One

  • Emotional well-being: Regular visits combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are common among seniors. Family presence can boost morale, lift spirits and provide a sense of security and belonging.
  • Mental health: Engaging conversations and activities during visits can help maintain cognitive function and ward off decline. Knowing they have a supportive and caring family can reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Physical health: Studies suggest social interaction can boost the immune system and even encourage healthier eating habits. Family visits can encourage participation in physical and social activities, promoting better physical health and mobility.
  • Continuity and identity: Visits help maintain a connection to familiar faces and past experiences, providing a sense of continuity and purpose.

For the Family:

  • Monitor well-being:  Frequent visits enable you to closely monitor your loved one’s physical and emotional well-being, and to promptly inform the staff of any potential concerns.
  • Strengthen bonds: Regular interaction fosters stronger family ties, reinforcing a sense of family unity and support. Visits also provide opportunities to create new memories and cherish old ones, enriching your family’s shared history.
  • Peace of mind: Knowing your loved one is happy and well-cared for brings peace of mind and reduces stress and anxiety about their well-being.
  • Advocacy: Families are often the best advocates for their loved ones and can play a key role in ensuring quality of care. Visits allow families to become familiar with the care facility and staff, enabling them to advocate for their loved one’s needs.

Planning Your Visit

A visit demonstrates a commitment to stay connected, and they are usually a welcome event. Knowing the impact visits can have on your loved one’s well-being, it’s important to make the most of them. So, before you visit, Dr. Wylde says it helps to have a plan in place to ensure your visits are successful. She suggests:

  • Familiarize yourself with the community’s visitor policies. Some communities have specific visiting hours, limit the number and duration of visits, and designate certain areas for visitors.
  • Before your visit, inquire if there’s anything your loved one would like from home—a book, extra clothing, photographs or a batch of their favorite cookies.
  • Plan your visit time to avoid conflicting with their daily routine or scheduled events. A courtesy call before you leave home not only reminds the resident of your visit but also allows them time to prepare.
  • Respect your loved one’s space—knock before entering if their door is closed. If you notice anything out of place, ask if it belongs there or if they prefer it elsewhere.
  • Be attuned to their mood and energy levels. If they seem tired, offer them the option to rest.
  • If possible, establish a visiting schedule to give the resident something to look forward to. If you’re unable to visit, a phone call can suffice. If they struggle with using the phone, inform the community staff so they can convey the message.

Making Visits Meaningful

How often should you visit your parent in an assisted living community? There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what works for both you and your loved ones. While visits can communicate how much you care about your loved one, sometimes the quality of each visit is more important than the frequency. Dr. Wylde offers some tips on how you can make your visits impactful and meaningful:

Engage in activities together, especially those you both enjoy. Participate in community activities (like happy hours, ice cream socials, classes, lectures and trips). Schedule visits when there are special events so you can enjoy them together. You can also help them engage with other residents, which can go a long way in enhancing their overall well-being and reducing any feelings of isolation.

Explore the community’s amenities such as walking paths for leisurely strolls, bistros for a snack or coffee, gift shops for shopping, patios for fresh air, raised bed planters for gardening and various recreational spaces including dining rooms, game rooms, libraries, fitness center beauty salons, barber shops, chapels and creative studios.

Take the time to get to know the staff and other residents. Building relationships within the community enriches your loved one’s experience – and yours.

“Most importantly, be present,” says Dr. Wylde. “Give them your full attention during the visit. Listen actively to their stories and concerns and engage in meaningful conversations.”

Make New Memories

If your loved one is living in a memory care neighborhood or community, keep in mind it might take time for them to get used to the new living arrangement. Be patient. Visit often and encourage friends and family to do the same. Extra care and attention can help make the new community a home. When you visit, share good memories. Plan an activity, such as looking at photos or taking a walk if the weather permits. Even a routine chore like folding laundry together can spark memories and feelings of comfort and contentment.

What to Avoid During Visits

To ensure your visits are positive, supportive, and enjoyable:

  • Avoid discussing subjects that might cause anxiety or stress, such as health problems, financial issues or family conflicts.
  • Don’t neglect their physical and emotional needs during the visit. Be attentive and responsive to their mood and condition.
  • Avoid staying too long. Respect their need for rest … older adults can tire easily, and long visits might be overwhelming.
  • Avoid criticizing or confronting the staff in front of your parents. Address any concerns privately and respectfully.
  • Avoid disrupting their routine. Be mindful of their daily schedule, including mealtimes, medication schedules, and regular activities.
  • Avoid bringing along friends or relatives without checking with your parent or loved one. They may not feel comfortable with unexpected visitors.
  • Don’t push them into activities they are not interested in or physically capable of doing. Be flexible and considerate of their preferences and limitations.
  • Avoid dominating the conversation or not listening to their concerns and stories. Active listening is key to a meaningful visit.

Staying Connected When You Live Far Apart

How often should you visit your parents when you don’t live close by? While you may not be able to visit in person as often as you would like, through a combination of technology, planning, and creativity, there are effective ways to maintain a strong connection.

  • Regular phone and video calls
  • Family group chats
  • Text messages and emails
  • Social media
  • Letters and cards
  • Care packages filled with favorite books or goodies.
  • Scheduled visits (long weekends, vacation, holidays)
  • Communicate with staff to stay informed about your parents’ well-being. They can also provide updates and assist with setting up video calls or other communications.
  • Engage in shared activities over the phone or video call, such as reading the same book, watching the same movie, or playing online games.

Dr. Wylde also advises establishing a clear emergency contact plan with your loved one’s community, so you can be quickly informed and involved in case of any urgent issues.

Navigating Challenges During a Visit

Sometimes, especially as your parents are adjusting to their new communities, visits spur up emotions that may dampen your time together.  So, before your visit, take time to mentally prepare yourself. Reflect on your feelings and set realistic expectations for the visit. While you’re together, stay focused on the positive. Celebrate small moments of joy and connection.

It’s also okay to set boundaries with your elderly parents. Establish emotional and physical boundaries to protect your well-being. It’s okay to take a break or shorten the visit if necessary.

Should you experience feelings of guilt, sadness or frustration, be kind to yourself and acknowledge that it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. Focus on what you can do to make your visit as positive and supportive as possible.

The Many Rewards of Visiting

The rewards of visiting parents are countless, extending far beyond the immediate joy of spending time together. These visits foster deep emotional connections, providing a sense of belonging and love that enriches the lives of both your parents and you. The emotional support shared during these moments can significantly enhance mental well-being, reducing feelings of loneliness and depression, especially for your loved one.

“Visiting parents is not just an act of duty; it’s a mutually beneficial experience that nurtures the heart, mind, and body,” says Dr. Wylde. “It’s an investment in family ties that yields emotional comfort, mental clarity, and physical vitality, making it a deeply rewarding aspect of life.”

Where You Live Matters is a free service to consumers. It is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

By Margaret A. Wylde, PhD

ProMatural Group, LLC

Margaret Wylde founded ProMatura Group, LLC in 1984. Under her leadership, ProMatura has become a global leader in senior housing research. Over her career, she has been fortunate to be a member of multiple professional associations in the US, UK, CA, MX, AU and EU. As a Board Member of the American Seniors Housing Association and past Chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Senior Housing Council, Margaret’s influence helped shape industry standards. Her contributions extend to boards of the American Society on Aging, the National Association of Senior Living Industries, the Seniors Housing Council of the NAHB and AMAR in Mexico. Margaret played a pivotal role in the development of NIC MAP in 2004. Margaret has always shared information for the betterment of the industry and has taught at the Erickson School of the University of Maryland in the Executive Development program and has frequently been invited to speak at conferences around the globe. She was awarded the 2007 Icon of the Industry Award from the 50+ Housing Council of NAHB for her enduring contributions. An accomplished author, Margaret penned five books and numerous papers, including Right House, Right Place, Right Time (2008), Boomers on the Horizon (2002), and Building for a Lifetime (1994). She is often interviewed by news and trade publications including The Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Overseas Property Professional magazine, and Senior Housing News. As ProMatura continues to advance initiatives to bring greater transparency and data to the industry, Margaret continues to mentor and provide insights to the next generation of ProMatura leadership.

Learn more about Margaret A. Wylde, PhD