Questions to Ask Your Loved One During a Nursing Home VisitNursing Home Visit

Visiting a friend or relative in a nursing home can be daunting, because it’s hard to see someone you love dealing with health issues. You may worry that any conversation you make will either be too gloomy or too glib. Asking the right questions can help conversation flow naturally. And a good chat can brighten the day of the person you’re visiting and help you assess their wellbeing and overall mood. There’s a bonus to good talks, too — the opportunity for you to learn family history, hear new stories about a friend’s life, and better connect with someone you care about. If you find yourself needing an icebreaker, here are some great questions to ask during your next visit:

What have you been up to since we last saw each other?

Find out what your host has been up to since your last visit. Ask about outings, the community’s fitness and craft classes, religious services, and other activities. If the talk turns to other topics, go with it. Your friend or relative may need a sympathetic ear to vent about an annoying roommate or a pair of pants that no longer fits properly. Who hasn’t been there?

Apart from the give and take of friendship, these chats can show whether your host is engaged in the community or isolated. If it’s the latter, ask if she’d like you to attend an onsite class with her, where you can introduce yourself and her to other residents. You can also speak privately with the staff to ask their suggestions.

This approach worked when my 94-year old great aunt moved to a skilled nursing facility. Her sisters had passed away at that age, and she became withdrawn and anxious. The relative who had been her home caregiver chatted with staff members and met an outgoing 101-year old resident who was happy to befriend my great-aunt and get her out of her room — and past her fear of imminent death, which turned out to be unfounded.

How’s your health?

Casual visits are also a good time to drop in a few questions — not a barrage — about changes in your friend’s or relative’s health. Sometimes nursing home residents mention things to friends and family that they’re reluctant to discuss with staff members. They might also have questions about medication or therapy that you can clarify with the nursing home staff or their doctor. By making regular casual inquiries, you can serve as an unofficial liaison between your loved one and his or her caregivers.

Tell me about…

Telling stories is how humans stay connected, both person-to-person and across generations. Ask about the distant past, your friend’s childhood, their careers and children, or whatever you think they’ll enjoy sharing.  This is especially helpful for dementia patients who may not remember recent events but have a clear recall of things that happened decades before.

If you want to save these stories for other family members and future generations, ask if you can record them or write them down. Some people are happy to share their memories and family histories this way. Others prefer to leave the past in the past and enjoy today.

What can I do for you before my next visit?

If a resident has anxiety or memory problems, she or he may fear that you won’t return. To ease that fear — and to be a good guest to any nursing home resident — ask if there’s anything you can bring or do for your next visit. Perhaps she’d like some new magazines or wants to plan a trip to the grocery store with you. Find out, follow through, and keep asking the kinds of questions that will keep you connected.

Did you know May 10-16th is National Nursing Home Week? Why not celebrate by making sure to schedule a visit to see your loved one, and take some time to thank the staff while you’re there?

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

4 Comments

  1. Kael Drake December 28, 2015 Reply

    I really liked your post! My father recently moved into a nursing home, and I think that your tips are going to help me to communicate well with him when I go to visit! One of the things you mentioned that I really liked was to ask my dad to tell me stories when I visit him. Like you, I think that this is a great way for him to keep his mind off of his health problems while entertaining the both of us at the same time. I’m going to try this the next time that I visit him in the nursing home! Thank you for the great idea!

  2. Nash Rich June 6, 2016 Reply

    I think it’s good to ask lots of questions. I know if my parents were in a home, I’d want to know what’s going on, and how things are being done. I definitely think it’s good to ask about their health. That’s kind of the reason they’re there, so it’s good to keep up on that, in case something comes up.

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