In a world that never sleeps, where more is perceived as better, where most things today are disposable and what others think of you online or in the all-too-rare “face-to-face” encounters, I believe a significant lesson can be learned from our more vulnerable seniors. The lesson is to slow down and make a conscious and deliberate choice to be present in the moment with not only yourself but also the other human beings around you.
There’s something unseen that’s exchanged when this happens. The experience can be with or without words and the activity itself is really secondary to the feelings that develop when two human beings really connect. I feel we, as a society, have forgotten this. It’s a wonderful experience to return to when we decide that it really does matter.
Another lesson (and there are so many!) we can learn from seniors is remembering to appreciate the small things. While visiting a gentleman in a Calgary facility, I couldn’t help but smile so wide, I was sure it was ear to ear the whole time I was with him. I took him out for a drive around the area and he was so impressed by everything he saw, it was as if it were the first time seeing it. The other vehicles on the highway and how far technology has advanced! The children at the playground and how inquisitive and smart they were! The size and architecture of the building he lived in – when we returned, all of it was amazing! He appreciated everything he saw without judgment and with so much gratitude for it simply being as it was! It was infectious and made a big impression on me and everyone he came in contact with. The world changes when we see things as miraculous.
Growing up in a small town in BC, I stayed close to my mom. I was pretty shy and timid for the longest time. She was one of those ladies who would stop in and check on individuals in town, visit, bring the church program if they requested it and just see how they were doing overall.
When I grew up and moved away, I would hear stories from her about how this person shouldn’t be living on their own anymore due to this reason, and this person’s wife was in the hospital and he was trying to manage on his own, someone else had a spouse move into a care facility and it was a huge adjustment for both, etc.
Fast forward many years later while walking our dog, I posed to the Universe the question: “If I could do anything and knew I couldn’t fail and had all the resources available, what would I do?”
Immediately mom’s stories flooded my mind. They led me to understand it was small obstacles (sometimes seemingly insignificant to a younger adult) that were in the way of many seniors being able to thrive where they live. As a naturally curious and creative person, I thought “how could such obstacles be minimized or removed altogether?”
Every senior is so different, every situation is unique. However, having another person, a friend, to help out in such a way that it didn’t seem like help could be a viable answer!
Whether it’s support at home or in a care facility, having that special Friend available to come in means it’s not all on the family. For mobile seniors, that special Friend gives them access to outings, which means the visit doesn’t have to stay on site. It means opportunities to get back into the community, to be seen, to be included. It means family doesn’t have to take time off work to bring their loved one to appointments. It means so much more to everyone.
It’s important to me that seniors are not only supported but feel valued and significant. Giving them a chance to escape from the usualness of the day, I see so much potential for access to creativity, fulfillment and active living with the support of a Friend. This is how we can ward off loneliness and isolation. This is how obstacles are identified then removed or reduced. This is how quality of life can be elevated, through friendship and one-on-one time together.
I’m a family caregiver myself, I know I’m able to understand things easier and support my mom better when I come from a place of ease, spaciousness and flexibility instead of from anxiety or annoyance or guilt. I do better when I feel better!
On an added note, if you believe in coincidence (or not), A Friend Indeed was created and in operation for six years before my mom started experiencing changes. To have the education, the experience and the wonderful friends in place to access in our time of need was true preparation from the Universe into our lives. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for it all!
A Friend Indeed is an invaluable resource to the family caregiver that specializes in uplifting the social and emotional quality of life for their elderly loved one through activities and outings.
Too often the bulk of responsibilities of caregiving and providing a social outlet for an aging parent rests on the shoulders of one person in the family. It can be because of physical distance, family dynamics, personal aptitude or a schedule that is a little more accommodating. It’s a big role to take on in addition to the many other responsibilities in life: raising children, work/career, travel, retirement, etc. Without a reliable support system to count on that follows through for them, many primary caregivers run the risk of burning out, being frustrated and then short with their loved one, causing the onset of guilt to intensify and feelings of resentment to grow.
Through regular scheduled visits by A Friend Indeed, their loved one has opportunities to escape from the usualness of the day. Having uninterrupted, one-on-one time to access and engage in meaningful activities with their friend promotes a feeling of fulfillment, a sense of independence and an opportunity for inclusion in the community again.
Their loved one is happy, and the family gets back time to renew and establish a feeling of balance in their lives and in this role. They can show up for their loved one as the daughter or son that they want to be without the pressure of having to focus on the never ending to-do list. The whole family gets reassurance and precious peace of mind as they know someone special is with their loved one even when they can’t.
Regular communication with the family lets them know how their loved one is doing and what we’ve been up to together.
Why Won't They Listen to Me?!
Whoa! Are we talking about teenagers here or an aging parent who is having some difficulties and clearly needs some supports in place? Unfortunately for the well-meaning daughter or son, their advice, demands, or pre- determined arrangements can be met with criticism, anxiety and down-right stubborn refusal! That doesn’t benefit anyone and it can hurt your relationship.
Take inventory of the situation. You learned from a previous article to document all incidences and struggles your loved one is dealing with. You may have arranged to speak with her doctor and/or Home Care to learn more about what she is dealing with and the range of supports available. You may have talked with other family Caregivers as well. You have educated yourself about the options and the question remains: Will mom be on board?
Turn the tables. Consider if you were struggling with something, would you be receptive to a family member coming in and saying “Hey! You need help and so I have this help set up for you! Oh, and it starts tomorrow!” There is a good chance you might be put off –not knowing the details and the impact on your privacy, on your life. You might be in denial that there is even a problem at all! You may think any “help” would be intrusive and make you look/feel incapable. That doesn’t feel good. No thanks!
A simple 3 step approach is better and it starts with initiating a relaxed conversation.
1. Choose a time that is good for both of you. Where she is well rested and neither of you are preoccupied with anything else.
2. Be curious and uncover what is real for her. Talk about different areas in her life and ask how they are working for her. What is not working/challenging for her? What stresses her out? Is she fearful of anything? Witness her and acknowledge her answers. Let her know you understand what she is saying and how she feels. This is not the time to “fix” but to listen and gather information from her perspective. This is a huge gift. [if you are unsure about that, turn the tables to see how you would feel to be heard this way] You may find this is also the opportunity to ask her questions about her experiences about when she supported her own parents.
3. Come prepared with the information you have gathered about one or two specific supports needed. (You can include options but for now, limit the concerns to one or two) Have your thoughts in order before speaking. Watch your non-verbal gestures and ensure they are in line with the goal of the conversation which is ultimately about her well-being. Share with her what you were feeling concerned about [one concern at a time] and that you wanted to be proactive and see what possibilities are available. Share with her the information you gathered in a short, concise manner so as to not overwhelm or confuse. Paint the picture of what her day would be like with this support, remind her of the concerns she had already expressed to you. Focus on the benefits to her and how they address those concerns. Decide together what the next steps are. It may be to call for a consultation from the company and ask questions or to do a trial run.
Working together, gathering accurate information and providing opportunities for open, honest communication helps maintain a healthy relationship. If tables were turned, wouldn’t you want the same consideration?
Life is More than Memories
I participated in a workshop held by Bethany Care in Calgary a few years ago. They discussed their philosophy of care which is called Supportive Pathways. The instructor spoke of how to look to one's own personal beliefs and how they relate to care for an individual with dementia. She emphasized the importance of providing meaningful activities for the individual, even if that individual wouldn't remember the activity later. She challenged a common question that I have heard several times in conversations with family and individuals while in this business, that question is "why go to the trouble of ______ (ie: getting him/her dressed for the weather, going out, bringing him/her to the coffee shop/ice cream parlor/wherever, only to have him/her not remember the outing?" The instructor clearly stated in response to the question "Life is more than memories." It may be true that the senior might not remember getting the specialty coffee/ice cream or whatever it was, but you can be most certain that in the present moment- they really, REALLY enjoyed it! Isn't that what life is really, really about?
As a family member who is now becoming a Caregiver, you have a lifetime of family history and dynamics with your loved one and you may wonder, how it will all work?
Your loved one may have been a difficult individual who has had the same behaviours, attitudes and outlook their whole life. They might not even realize or not want to acknowledge any past consequences from their behaviour or actions. Also, if there is cognitive impairment or delirium present, then that adds to the complexity of the situation. You may have feelings that had not been worked through and feel incomplete with them.
Recognize your loved one must initiate their own healing process, if they are able or desire to. They cannot be “fixed”. With some preparation, you can put together a plan that will give you better insight into the approach you will take to be a Family Caregiver and it may prevent or at least smooth the tougher times a little better.
Start off with spending some quiet time with yourself and check in for guidance. Use a notebook and write out the topics and incidents that set you off and caused you to react. Identify your hot buttons or triggers that caused you grief, anxiety or stress. These can include certain subjects, names, words or phrases and even non-verbal triggers such as attitudes, looks, moods and other specific behaviors. What you are doing it bringing to light the triggers so you can reduce your reactivity to them. If your trigger is hit, you will instantly recognize it as a trigger and be better able to follow through on your predetermined action rather than be swept away with your reactions.
Next, write out your boundaries. In a healthy relationship, boundaries outline how the relationship will work – what is acceptable and what is not. Factor in what you know about how your loved one expresses their self, consider the general mood they carry and the language they use. For example, a father who has always been demanding and loud may make his requests sound more like commands. The son may accept this of his dad but not accept swearing and verbal abuse. Creating boundaries ahead of time keeps you from reacting in the moment.
Don’t over complicate this process of creating boundaries, it will feel natural to you as you will be honoring yourself and your well- being. Your boundaries will be a measurement tool to help you determine if your role as a Family Caregiver will be a fit or not. If your boundaries are constantly being crossed, you will know that to continue will not be in the best interest of your health and well- being. You will be empowered to seek out other options. You can still be part of your loved one’s care but in the capacity that is sustainable and healthy for you.
Misadventures of being a companion to Seniors
One of the first visits I had, after starting up A Friend Indeed included an outing to a clothing store with my Senior Lady. She was excited to go out –who wouldn’t be, we get to shop for clothes! I wanted to give her an experience of fun and efficiency on our outing. Knowing her personality, she appreciated a run through of the strategy and route we would take to accomplish all that we needed. Once at the store, we browsed and gathered a few hopeful items and headed to the fitting room. For many of us out shopping, it is a common occurrence to find yourself undressed in a fitting room only to find that you need a new size or a different style and there is no one around to help you. I wanted to ensure this would not be the case for my Senior Lady! I was there ready and willing to act on her behalf and run to get what she needed.
Fast forward several minutes later – ok 30, and she was happy with the selection in her fitting room. Again, being the helpful and efficient companion, I offered to take away any items that didn’t make the list so that she could remain focused and be satisfied with what she was going to purchase. I cleared away the unwanted items and handed them to the clerk to be put back on the racks.
I waited patiently for my Senior Lady to get dressed, when I heard from behind the curtain, “Where are my pants?” GASP! I quickly scanned the room and with a question or two recalled what they looked like and assured I would be back immediately. Here I had picked up her own pants (complete with Kleenex tissue in the pocket) along with the unwanted items and given them to the clerk to put back out on the floor. Luckily the clerk was in the process of doing just that but was confused with this odd brand of pants the store didn’t carry. We had a good laugh and I brought the pants back to my Senior Lady who also had a good laugh (and relieved).
It was a memorable outing with a dash of unexpected and lots of fun for all!
We all have needs. They may change at different times of our life given circumstances, but there always seems to be a few core ones that never go away or lessen in our lifetime. If we pay attention to them and speak up and they are met (either by others or ourselves), then we tend to feel good, safe, secure or content. If our needs are not met, if we aren’t aware it is a need, if we are too shy to speak up- then we don’t feel good. We may look outward and blame, get angry or sad. We may look inward and think we are not worthy. When needs are not met, I am sure you would agree- that we feel bad.
What if you could no longer effectively communicate what your needs are? If you spoke and others who could help you, didn’t understand and so they didn’t/ couldn’t help? What if they did understand but didn’t know how to meet what you were needing? It would be like asking someone to scratch an itch on your back and they don’t get that spot even with your directions. It would be frustrating and most likely would cause upset. IE: Out of frustration you might think: Why can’t you understand? Are you stupid? Or outbursts IE: slapping a person’s hand away, leaving upset, yelling or sour looks. It would be agonizing and exhausting for both the person with the unmet need and the person trying to help.
Speaking up is only one part of the story when communicating needs. A person with dementia may not be able to communicate their needs verbally and so we need to look at the larger picture. Put your detective hat on and investigate the clues. In addition to what the person is saying, what is this person feeling? How is this person behaving? What do I know about this person’s life story? Consider too what was going on just prior to the upset. Perhaps there are additional clues and insights there.
Visiting another lady in a care facility, I was wheeling her through the empty dining room- we were just touring around to see what we could find. She started to become agitated and said “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” She was really stressed. When we passed through to a quiet area, I turned to face her. I knelt down and took her hands in mine looked her in the eye and with a smile said “There is nothing to do. We got it all done and thank you so much for your help!” I didn’t know for sure what caused her upset, but I had a hunch. Going through the dining room with all the tables nicely set with tablecloths, place settings and such may have triggered a memory or past feeling of preparing for a social gathering- I knew that was a big part of her life. Feeling like it was too overwhelming a task to do now, she expressed anxiety and upset. She needed reassurance, that all was taken care of and even acknowledgement of her contribution for a job well done. Her smile and softened shoulders confirmed my hunch was right and we both carried on.
Caring for your Parents and your Children
You wake up to another day much like the one before, thinking about your career or business and what is going on in your children’s schedule that week. Today is different though, you received a call from your dad and you learned that your mom had a stroke and is now needing some additional support.
Not only is this scary for you, after all it is hard to face your own parents’ mortality, but how will this all come together in an already busy life? Deep breathe, and take the next step.
Learn as much as you can about the situation at hand. What is needed and why. Just gather the details that are available at this time. Have a conversation with your siblings if you have them. Give everyone an opportunity to talk and be heard. You may find that one person is having a harder time with the news than another. That is ok and gives you better insight to their contribution and/ or how they may deal with future information. Allow some space for that to sink in and for ideas and suggestions to come forward, being sure to include the obvious choice- which is to let your parents step in and decide for themselves what they need and want.
Share the details with your own family, making sure they are able to understand what is going on. Let them know that their grandparents will be needing some extra time and care from the family. Allow some space for that to sink in and for ideas and suggestions to come forward.
Everyone’s role and responsibilities will shift and change to help one another out. At times it will be unclear as to what is needed or the share of the work is not balanced or you will be just too tired. It is helpful to be quick to express your appreciation and offer words of kindness while you are working things out. Kids can learn and develop new skills that help the whole household, parents can learn to trust a little more in their kids’ abilities and everyone can learn to rely a little more on each other. Deep breathe and take the next step together.
It seems like my loved one is losing her zest for life. What activities are beneficial?
What a big question that is! Have you pondered it before for yourself? Perhaps at various stages in your life. Maybe you have reached an answer and maybe it still eludes you. If it has, I encourage you to keep searching for an answer that feels right for you.
The answer that feels right for me is Meaningful Work. I believe that all humans have a deep desire for Meaningful Work. It can take many forms. It can be your career, your family duties, whatever and however you express who you are. There is a positive outcome because of your Meaningful Work and it usually involves or impacts another person in some way. It feels good to do something that another person will find enjoyment in or benefit from.
I don’t believe we ever finish our Meaningful Work. We don’t retire from it –it just changes form. Our desire for it never leaves but it can get stifled. Our expectations, our health, the people we keep around us, the environment we live in may impact our desire to do Meaningful Work. Sometimes we can change those elements that stifle it so the desire can be expressed. We can also modify our Meaningful Work to accommodate obstacles that cannot be changed.
Seniors are no different. Their obstacles can include not only health issues, transportation, encouragement from others to go for it, but also having access to the opportunity to do Meaningful Work. Seniors living in many care facilities and retirement residences have many of the household tasks done for them. While the benefits of having housekeeping and cooks is obvious, the seniors have to ensure their Meaningful Work is expressed in other ways. This takes some creativity and perhaps encouragement from others. It is too easy to “not bother” and have their world get a little smaller and their desires stifled.
Activities are needed to engage the mind, extend their abilities and keep them moving. Use your loved one’s life story to figure out what activities and topics of interest would be great to bring back into their life –even if they need to be modified a bit to accommodate their current circumstance. Explore and play. Ensure that your loved ones have access to express themselves through Meaningful Work. Watch them shine!