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How to Have a Great Visit With a Sick Loved One or Friend

Margery Pabst Steinmetz - November 21, 2017 10:45 AM

Last week I was reminded again how difficult it can be to pass the time meaningfully when visiting a sick loved one or friend.  While silence is important, I often observe visitors sitting with a loved one or friend, saying nothing, the body language of both suggesting a combination of anxiety and boredom.  Even worse, allowing the television to fill the time during visits creates zombies of everyone.

I think most of us feel anxiety visiting someone who is ill.  In many ways, visiting a sick person is unusual, as the experience is, by necessity, filled with concern for the future, often thinking about what might happen next. What to do?  Can we plan for this visits?

Whether the visit is to the person’s home or at the bedside in hospital, finding ways to fill the minutes (which can seem long indeed!) can become a painful interlude as both visitor and patient struggle to find the right words.

“Been there, done that” you are probably thinking.  I share the following tips not to guarantee visits will be anxiety free but as reminders that, with some intention and practice, all of us can begin looking forward to visits with our sick family members and friends.

Before the visit:

-Change your mental perspective about the visit from one of anxiety to opportunity.

-Identify interests of your friend or loved one.  Put another way, what topics or activities will provide respite and cognitive engagement from the hum drum of illness?  
(Car racing, playing the violin, making holiday crafts, reading gossip magazines....the list of possibilities is almost endless.)

During the visit:

-Bring a tangible example and information about the person’s interest, such as a book, magazine article, or YouTube snippet.

-Ask the person if talking about their interest/s is appealing for this particular visit.

-Use your conversation as the bridge for your next visit.  For example, ask if talking about this subject/interest was fun or if another topic would be better. (For example, I can imagine a person requesting that next time you read from the book you brought.) It will not be long before visits will take on a natural flow from time to time!

A footnote:  I always try to begin visits on an up note by starting the conversation with something pertaining to the person’s interests.  Then later in the visit, I ask how things are going and how the person is feeling.  Usually, the response is better than if I had started the visit with, “How are you feeling?”  I usually find that your loved one or friend is feeling better after a meaningful visit which distracted them from the issues of day to day illness.

Margery Pabst Steinmetz is an author, speaker and eCareDiary’s caregiving expert.  Margery is also the host of “Caregivers Speak” on Tuesdays at 2PM Eastern. 
Consult Margery’s website, and

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