Importance of Having Visitors

Make a world of difference to someone: visit a nursing home resident

My fellow nursing home administrators estimate as many as two-thirds of residents don’t receive regular visitors, according to Volunteers of America (, which has a program called Caring Companions that matches volunteer visitors with nursing home residents.

I can’t tell you how important visitors are to residents. Our often elderly residents have generally experienced life-changing events that may have left them shaken: the death of a spouse, the loss of their own home, increasing health concerns and physical limitations.

Visiting before, during, and after the period during which a resident transitions into a nursing home and settles in is especially important. That transition may give rise to many painful emotions, insecurity about their environment, even feelings of rejection. They may need you to hug them and say you love them.

A visit makes a resident’s day and gives him or her something special to talk about with other residents for many more days. But one visit every six months—on Christmas and the resident’s birthday, for example—while nice, isn’t enough. It wouldn’t be enough for anyone, elderly or not.

I know many people don’t like to visit nursing homes. They’re disturbed by the sight of so many elderly people with disabilities. But look beyond physical appearances. Each one is an individual with a unique life story that so many are willing to share with a visitor. I learn things from our residents every day.

When you make the decision to visit, call ahead first, recommends the American Health Care Association ( It’s only respectful; you’d do the same thing if they were living in a single-family home. Ask what would be a good time to visit, rather than just show up unannounced. Not only does it let the resident anticipate the visit, which extends the pleasure, but he or she may have plans or feel more sociable during one part of the day.

Also, check on visiting hours and when lunchtime and bath-time are so you don’t interrupt these important periods of the day. Some facilities, like Arbor Village, may invite you to have a meal with your loved one, but before accepting make sure this is okay with the person you’re visiting.

When you’re visiting, be mindful of not promising things, like future visits, that you’re not sure you can deliver. Promising to visit and then not coming is hurtful to your loved one, but unfortunately many people feel pressured to promise things in the future when they’re visiting that they haven’t really thought through. So, if you plan to visit again, take your calendar and figure out a day and time that works for both of you, and mark it in your calendar.

Even if you don’t have a friend or family member living in a nursing home, consider joining a group like Caring Companions. You can make such a tremendous difference in a resident’s life by visiting him or her regularly.