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A New Year Perspective on a Schedule that’s Getting Old: Encouragement for Caregivers

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With the changing of the calendar, everywhere you look people are talking about turning over a new leaf and pledging to start something different.

But what if you can’t?

Maybe you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and every day looks “same old” for you and Grandma as you care for her.

How can you add some freshness to your routine that’s starting to feel stale?

 

1. Make a List of What You DID—Not What You Need to Do.

Lists can be great. They keep us focused and ease the “have-to-remember-to-do-this” clutter that clouds our brains. 

But if all you do is make lists of things you need to do, you’re not recognizing all the work you’ve done.

Take for example moping the floor. You cross it off your list, done at 9am after breakfast. But an unsteady cup topples juice all over the linoleum—at 9:30.

This is when tally marks become your friend.

Start with a fresh piece of paper, titled “What I Did Today.”

  • After you mop, write it down and place a tick next to it.
  • If you have to clean the floor again, even with a washcloth, give it another tick.
  • Every time you help Grandma to the restroom, write it down with tally marks.
  • Every time you call the doctor or pharmacist to get her prescription filled (because you know it rarely takes just one call), write it down.

Notice this completely removes any guilt from adding things to the list just so you can cross them off. With a “What I Did” list, you’re supposed to add them.

At the end of the day, you’ll see you really did A LOT. And maybe you’ll even see patterns that you could tweak to save yourself some time tomorrow.

 

2. Celebrate What She CAN Do, Not What She Can’t.

If you’ve been reading the blogs here at Frontida, this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this.

Getting older can feel like a daily remembrance of what is no more. Everywhere we turn, society reminds us we aren’t young. Heavens, when I turned 30, someone told me I couldn’t expect to do something because I wasn’t 20 anymore.

Can we just agree not to do that to each other? Or to Grandma?

If she does seem like she’s suddenly doing less one day than the day before, check for hidden urinary tract infections. (Those UTIs can be “tricksy.”)

But generally, look for things she CAN do and encourage her to do them.

Which brings us to the next step.

 

3. Look for One Thing Today that You Can Step Back and Let Grandma Try to Do on Her Own

As she seems less steady, slower, or more confused, it’s easy to take over for her.

Just Say No.

The more Grandma can do for herself, the better it is for all of you. Even if it takes longer.

Obviously we aren’t talking about neglect here.

But if it’s something Grandma can do even partially or with a little support, let her try. The more active she is, the more she’s building muscle tone. The more muscle tone, the less likely she is to fall.

And falling, according to Chief Geriatric Doctor Juergen Bludau, is the biggest health concern for senior citizens.

Wouldn’t that mean it would be safest to just stay sitting? No, sitting destroys muscle tone.

  • So encourage her to get up and walk to the dining table.
  • Encourage her to get up and move to the living room when she’s done.
  • Encourage her to walk with you around the block.

You’re there when she needs you, especially if she gets dizzy or confused. But don’t cheat either of you by doing what she can do for herself.

 

4. Fill Your House with Living Plants and Have Her Help You Water Them.

You may be saying, “W-h-a-t?” Like why would you add another responsibility to your plate?

The reason is simple. Because living plants are signs of life. And both you and Grandma need reminders.

Bill Thomas, a physician and entrepreneur, proved it. Atul Gawande tells his story in Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Back in the 90s, Thomas became the medical director of a nursing home and was horrified to see all the residents sitting around with zero spirit or energy. Yes, they were severely disabled, but he believed it was more than that. All he saw was despair.

So what did he do? He brought in live plants. (And dogs and cats and birds. But, hey, you can start small.)

Soon the residents weren’t sitting around comatose. They were asking to help.

The living plants reminded the residents that they were still alive.

Do you already have live plants? Point them out to Grandma, especially when they bloom. Give her the watering can and let her water them. Measure their growth. Think about expanding your live plant collection.

And while you’re at it, put up a birdfeeder outside the window where Grandma can see the feathered friends come and go.

 

5. Find an Exercise Program Online that You Can Do in Your Living Room

You may not be able to leave the house to go to a gym, but you can bring the gym to you.

Taking care of yourself physically builds your own emotional health. And it will keep you strong when Grandma does need the support of your muscles.

While you’re looking for a program for you, look for exercises for her, too. It might only be something that lets her move her upper body and legs while sitting in a chair or holding on to a walker.

But movement is good for the body AND the soul. (See #3)

 

6. Try an Unusual Fruit or Type of Food Once a Week

Did you know that there are 2500 different varieties of apples grown in the U.S.? And many of those run around a buck a pound.

So to change things up, pick up a different kind of apple each week and share it with Grandma. See if you can find a new favorite. (If you haven’t tried a “Smitten” apple, it’s incredible!)

You don’t have to stop with apples. Try a new cracker, a type of cheese, a different kind of vegetable. Doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Just enough to enjoy a taste.

Unless, of course, you fall in love, and then buy as much as the two of you can eat.

 

7. Invite a Child to Come Play with You and Grandma

If plants can add life to a room, just think what a youngster’s laugh can do.

Yes, you will want to start small here, keeping first visits short to energize Grandma rather than wearing her out.

But when you find a good match, make it a regular date.

Some senior day centers have found such success in this, they’ve even started sharing space with childcare groups.

So it may work wonders for giving your time with Grandma a fresh lift.

 

Simple Ideas for a New Outlook

None of these concepts are complicated. In fact, many of them you could add today.

We’d love to hear which one is your favorite.

But if you’re past the point of needing something simple and you’re on the way to burnout? Check out this other post, The Survival Guide to Help You Overcome Caregiver Burnout.

The biggest thing to remember is, you are not alone.

Frontida is here to help.

 

Guest post written by Elizabeth Daghfal

If you'd like to see other topics related to assisted living and caring for the elderly, click here.

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