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General Guidelines for Visiting Patients

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  • Arrive promptly, dressed in comfortable, neat,
    appropriate attire. If, for some reason you will be late or have to reschedule
    your visit, be sure to call the facility as far ahead as possible. Report to the
    area or staff member as instructed.

    • Be very aware of the patients’ right to privacy-
      the issue of confidentiality is an important one- all that is seen or heard
      stays in the facility, including patients’ names, condition, etc.


    • Before entering a patient’s room, knock before
      entering. If the door is closed, or bedside curtain pulled around bed, do not
      proceed, rather return later to see if the patient is available.

    • Remember, not all people like dogs, and some may
      be afraid of them. If that is the case, politely back off. Some people enjoy
      looking at the dog and may enjoy watching a "trick" or two, as long as
      they can avoid direct contact. Volunteers need to be very sensitive to this

    • If you are visiting a person in bed, you can sit
      the dog in a chair next to the bed, on your lap next to the bed, or train the
      dog to carefully put "paws up" on the bed rail or on the side of the
      bed. Be careful of I.V. tubes, dressings, tubes, etc. but don’t let these
      prevent you from a visit just by their presence. The patient who is bedridden
      may be just the one who most needs a friendly visit.

    • When you approach someone who is paralyzed on one
      side, bring the dog to the unaffected side, so the patient will be able to reach
      the dog easily.

    • If the person has an amputated limb, approach him
      from the other side, in many cases the affected limb may have a dressing on and/
      or be very painful, especially if bumped.

    • If the person you’re visiting is unable to speak,
      or their speech is either unintelligible, or difficult to understand, resist the
      temptation to say "yes", nod, or pretend to understand them if you
      don’t know what they’ve said. The appropriate communication strategy will vary
      considerably with the individual. Any of the treatment team members should be
      able to provide you with guidance regarding the best tack to use with the person
      you’re visiting.

    • Maintain a sense of humor and portray a positive

    • Never speak to a resident as if they are a child,
      always be respectful and an attentive, non-judgmental listener.

    • Many times dressing your dog in a colorful
      bandanna or a costume at holiday times will set the right sort of mood for a
      visit. This can also be an avenue of reaching a person who may otherwise be
      less responsive.

    • Dogs should not be allowed in dining or food
      preparation areas. It is helpful to find out what times meals are served and
      avoid visiting at these times. Don’t let your dog pick anything up off the
      floor- it may be a dropped pill or something else that is a hazard. There may be
      spilled food or crumbs on the floor, so you should teach him to "Leave IT!"
      It is generally not a good idea to encourage people to feed the dog treats. The
      dogs soon become focused on begging for or finding food and the visit begins to
      revolve around food rather than interaction with residents. If someone asks if
      they can give the dog some food, explain that "Fido" is on a diet
      which is comprised of his dog food and no "people food"

    • Don’t assume that a patient will be unresponsive
      to a visit because they are sitting in a chair or in bed with their eyes shut or
      otherwise apparently unaware of their surroundings. We have often been
      pleasantly surprised at the response a dog has received from minimally
      interactive patients. So, approach such individuals and gently encourage
      interaction. These may actually be the patients that stand to benefit the most
      from your visit.