Skip to main content

Visiting someone with dementia

‘‘She is the most important person in my professional life. And we are good friends as well. Now my admiration for her also comes from watching her cope with this disease. We still share a friendship and I still respect her enormously. I’m going to try taking something to read to her on my next visit because she has always had such a curious mind, a great love of books and discovery. It is something we continue to share.’’

—Sonya, on her friend Claire

Spending time with someone who has dementia — either in person or on a video call — matters a lot. It's about being there for them and keeping that connection between the two of you strong. Providing emotional support can also have a real impact on their wellbeing.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time together. Some of this advice is specific to vising someone in residential or respite care, but a lot of it works for visiting people at their home, too.

Plan your visit

Before visiting, consider the timing. Some people living with dementia may be more active in the morning or around midday, for example. Plan to visit at a time that matches their comfort and alertness levels. Regular visits, even if they’re brief, can make a real difference.

You can also plan to do things or go to places that they’re interested in. Familiar places and activities they enjoy can help them relax and engage more when you visit.

Keep things routine

Establishing a routine during your visits provides structure and familiarity for your loved one.

It might also be helpful to introduce yourself when you arrive. For example, say: “Hello, Mum. It’s me, Elizabeth, your daughter.” This reminds the person of your name and connection to them.

It’s also useful to be consistent with your greetings and farewells when you arrive and leave.

Get to know the care staff

If you’re visiting a care home, tell the carers who you are and your connection to the person you’re visiting. Learn the carers’ names, too. This helps everyone feel comfortable and creates a positive environment.

Start a memory book

Create a memory book with important things about the person. This will help visitors and care-givers understand the person better. And it can also act as a communication prompt during your visit.

In the book, add details about their life, what they like and the people who are important to them.

During your visit

Be relaxed and yourself during your visit. Things don’t always go to plan, so a flexible attitude helps. And try not to rush — the person may need time to register who you are and why you are there.

Here are some ways to stimulate conversation and activities, and make your time together special:

  • Encourage grandchildren to visit: if the children are young prepare a visiting bag that contains treats to keep them entertained.
  • Bring along something fun: take things to do together, like looking at photos, doing an easy craft project, or planting seedlings. Flick through a magazine or complete a quiz. Share a special food or snack. Little things can make it easier to talk and reflect on the good times.
  • Listen or play music: play their favourite songs, or sing or dance together. Music can make people calmer and can bring back good memories.
  • Take a pet: visiting with a much-loved pet can boost the person’s emotional health and wellbeing. If the person is in residential care, check with the staff first.
  • Help each other: do things together like cooking, walking or fixing things. It makes your visit helpful and more engaging.
  • Help with personal grooming: wash, brush or style their hair, paint their nails, help them dress in a favourite outfit.
  • Communicate without words:  your loved one might not always understand what you’re saying, but your tone or body language still says a lot. A hug, holding hands or just being quiet together can make a big difference.

Visiting in the later stages of dementia

Find an activity that will draw in as many of the senses as possible — sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch. You could try:

  • a gentle kiss or hand holding.
  • massaging legs, hands and feet with scented creams or oil
  • a smile, a comforting gaze or a look of affection
  • playing music
  • reading from a book they like
  • visiting with friends and relatives
  • a stroll around the grounds, even if in a wheelchair.

There’s no right number of times to visit or amount of time to stay. The important thing is to make each visit as rewarding as possible


Leaving after a visit can be a very difficult time for both the person with dementia and their visitors. To reduce distress, try:

  • setting a timeframe when you arrive for how long you can stay. “I can stay for an hour but then I have to do the shopping”
  • taking something to do and being clear that once you have finished it will be time to go
  • asking the staff to distract them, or leaving when a meal is about to be served so they have something else to do
  • saying a quick goodbye and leaving straight away. It’s hard, but lingering, apologising or staying a little longer can make future farewells even harder.

Wanting to go home

People in residential care often say they want to go home. “Home” might mean the house they lived in before, but it’s sometimes a way to describe memories of a time or place that was comfortable and secure. It may be memories of childhood or of a home or friends who no longer exist. This can be upsetting for the person, and for you. To reduce this distress, try:

  • acknowledging the feelings behind their wish to go home
  • reassuring the person that they will be safe
  • touching and holding them to help them feel loved and secure
  • reminiscing by looking at photographs or by talking about childhood and family
  • distracting them with food or other activities such as a walk

Avoid disagreeing with them or trying to reason with them about wanting to go home. Even if what they want is impossible, trying to convince them of that doesn’t help.

Long-distance visiting

Phone and video calls can also help you stay in regular contact with your friend or family member, particularly if you don’t live nearby. Here are some tips to help:

  • Establish a regular routine. Try to call at the same time each day.
  • Don’t rush your calls. People with dementia may take time to become engaged or answer your questions.
  • Use video calls if you find verbal communication is becoming harder.
  • Take any information they give you with a grain of salt. Have a plan or strategy for dealing with a problem or crisis—whether it’s real and perceived
  • Arrange support and visits for your loved one with family and friends, community groups or counsellors.

After you visit, stay in touch by phoning or video calling the person. Sending cards or emails, photos or small gifts will also help keep you connected.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

Share or print
Last updated
5 February 2024