Nursing homes during the holiday season tend to see a little more activity than they do during the rest of the year, whether because of families coming to visit loved ones, or local groups or individuals bringing holiday cheer to residents who may not have family living nearby. Taking time to visit with nursing home residents during this time of year can be an immensely rewarding experience for all involved, especially if new or infrequent visitors keep a few simple rules of etiquette in mind:

1. Call the nursing home staff ahead of time to schedule your visit. This not only ensures that you won’t be interrupting any previously scheduled mealtimes or activities, it also gives the residents something to look forward to (and prepare for, if necessary.)

2. Be aware of what to expect. Some will have physical disabilities such as trouble with their hearing, eyesight, or ability to move freely. Some residents may have Alzheimer’s or dementia and may have trouble remembering people or conversations. If you aren’t sure how to respond in certain situations you can ask a member of the nursing staff for advice.

3. Knock before you enter a room. The residents’ rooms are their homes and should be treated as their personal and private space. It is polite to ask permission before entering a room or before handling personal objects on display, but residents will likely welcome queries or questions about photos or personal objects, and this is an excellent way to get a conversation started.

4. Be a good listener. Elderly residents have a lot of history and experience to share, and providing a friendly and attentive ear will be gratifying not only to your elderly friend or relative, but will likely be a fascinating experience for you as well.

5. Be aware of your host’s energy level. Nursing home residents can often tire quickly and 20-30 minutes may be a tiring visit for them. (On the other hand, if you and your host are in the middle of a conversation or game there is no need to rush through to stick to an arbitrary schedule.)

6. Bring photos, cards, or board games with you. Conversation will not always flow easily and freely, and having a back-up plan such as a deck of cards can dispel awkward silences. You may also consider offering to write or read letters for residents who may have trouble with these activities.

7. Don’t promise to visit again unless you truly intend to follow through and can even put it on your calendar right then and there. Nursing home residents may not get many visitors, breaking an appointment can be a heavy disappointment for your friend or relative.