Six strategies for managing traffic when you care for a loved one

6-tips-manage-visitorsWhen you care for a sick or elderly family member in your home, one effect can be the new (and sometimes constant) stream of visitors through your home. Whether it’s extended family members, professional support or well-meaning friends, the increase in traffic can be both a blessing and a curse. Establishing boundaries early on will help your family with the transition, minimize resentment and help balance your privacy with the social life of your loved one.

A few basic guidelines will prepare everyone for more restrictive limits as your needs change or if the health of your family member declines.

1. Please Call Ahead!

This might seem obvious and there may be a small circle of family members for whom this rule does not apply but you should be insistent on this basic courtesy. Your first priority is your family’s schedule and privacy and imposing this simple rule will help minimize the impact of your new situation and create a buffer by giving you the option of saying “no” if it isn’t a good time.

Even if you have definite times for visits, unexpected company within those times could interrupt another person’s visit. One-on-one time is easier for most elderly or sick people and it’s usually more meaningful for the guest, as well.

2. Make sure people know to call you directly

This tip is related to the first but if the person you care for has her own phone, insist that people arrange visiting times with you (or another designated family member who understands your needs). Your loved one may be home all day and wanting to see different faces at any time but unaaware that certain visiting times could interfere with your family’s schedule or disrupt important tasks related to her care (therapists, dressing changes, toileting, rest times or meal times).

If your loved one suffers from any degree of dementia, she may not remember when or if someone arranged a visit with her. Most people will be aware of this but if they haven’t seen her for a while in person, her cognitive decline could be a surprise to them since it isn’t always obvious on the phone.

3. Be specific about visiting times.

It may take a few weeks or months to figure out what schedule and limits will work best for your situation but you should be unapologetic about establishing them.

If you let everyone know from the beginning to follow a few basic guidelines, when you implement specific limits, they’ll be prepared and more accommodating. Your limits may have to change as your schedule or seasons change and as your loved one settles in to her own routine.

Be very clear about when a person can come and by what time he should leave. For example, you might say, “It’s best if you come any time after 10:00 and leave by 1:00.” If you’re not clear about when they have to leave, they might come just before 1:00 and stay for a couple of hours.

Once you give them the window, ask what time you should expect them if you need to. Uncertainty can be stressful on you and your loved one and can interfere with your plans.

You can also impose a time limit if longer visits are difficult for your loved one, even if they’re unaware of this factor themselves.

Finally, if certain days of the week are off limits, perhaps because your whole family is home, block that time off for your family.

4. Restrict the number of visitors if necessary

Although it might be convenient for your visitors to converge on your house at once (if they belong to the same immediate family or are from the same group of friends, for example) it might not be ideal for your situation.

Space is a common issue in some houses, especially if you’ve made space for your new resident. Bigger groups can be cumbersome and make it difficult to converse in a comfortable configuration (“hey Grandma, can I sit on your cool potty chair?) Larger groups can also make it difficult for you and your family members to go about their business.

Too many visitors can overwhelm a sick or elderly person, especially if he suffers from dementia or haven’t seen someone for a while. Sometimes it’s best to arrange one-on-one visits or suggest that the time will be more enjoyable for everyone involved if you restrict the number of visitors.

5. Don’t feel obligated to host a party every time someone visits

Chances are you are managing and providing round-the-clock care for your loved one in addition to caring for your own family. Cleaning the house top to bottom and adding hostess to your role every time someone visits could mean a party once or twice a week in your home and add unnecessary stress to your days.

It’s difficult to anticipate the personal tastes of various guests so it’s best not to try. Water is an acceptable refreshment for everyone and although people are accustomed to noshing while socializing, it’s not necessary.

If you’re loved one has diet restrictions, it’s also best if your company doesn’t try to throw a party either.

This might seem inhospitable and probably goes against your nature but it’s perfectly acceptable to suspend normal rules of social etiquette during a major life change. Most people want to help and only need you to be honest about your needs and boundaries.

6. Plan to use the time productively

Prepare people ahead of time not to take it personally that you probably won’t be visiting with them. Most people will accept this without explanation and you can use the time to run an errand, get something done in the house or just take a break.  This will also give your loved one some privacy and a sense of autonomy that they likely haven’t enjoyed since they left their own home.

It’s best to be honest from the beginning about your boundaries. Most people want to be helpful and don’t want to impose on your family unnecessarily. If they don’t know your family well, they’ll be unaware of your routines so be clear about your needs and concerns in order to make visits more enjoyable for all concerned.

Written by Beth Phillips
Beth Phillips lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and 4 active and engaged teenagers. They recently welcomed Beth’s 78-year-old aunt into their home when her health and mental condition declined to a point that she was no longer able to care for herself. Although the family provides full-time, round-the-clock personal care and companionship, Beth is actively supported by her mother, 4 brothers and 3 cousins, all of whom were loved their entire lives by this wonderful woman. “I’ve always thought the experience that caregivers have, the tips they learn, the hoops they jump through would be so beneficial to others but realize that when they’re in the thick of it, they’re often too tired, stressed or overwhelmed to record or share it. When it’s over, they’re too bereaved, vulnerable and exhausted to revisit the most demanding days parts of it. I decided to share my experiences in real time since my aunt’s health is not grave or intensely demanding but as a full-time caregiver, I experience many of the same issues as others.”

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  1. No visitors here…. not even family!

  2. I haven’t read the article yet, however, I read the headlines. …I was thinking how to handle traffic. ..sorta made me giggle, maybe the first month you have visitors…but. 4 years later, we rarely see anyone, my husband is terminally ill, I think all of our old friends and family think it’s contagious…a very lonely life…but you learn early on…who you real friends are.

  3. I never had this problem with family members…They might have felt they would have to actually do something for someone, other than doing for themselves….but I did have many therapists coming and going every week.

  4. These are some great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Exactly, no problem with that!

  6. Excellent tips. BUT…be prepared for backlash from those who don’t “get it” and refuse to understand what is going on. This can be especially true of relatives who want to think everything is just fine and insist on showing up whenever or wherever they feel like it. Don’t be afraid to disconnect your doorbell, put up a note saying “we’re not accepting visitors today”, leave the knock unanswered and to stand your ground that it is your home and your right to say who and when people come and go.
    Speak up about what is and is not appropriate for you and your loved one. Be firm when it’s time to leave.
    You may need the rest or are busy. Sometimes visits or certain people and the way they present themselves can disrupt routines that are crucial to someone with dementia or other illnesses and cause behavior issues. You don’t need that added headache. Caregiving is tough enough. You and your loved one come first.


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