For many, the holidays mean a time of traveling to visit with loved ones. It is a chance to catch up, spread some cheer and enjoy each other’s company. So much can change over your time apart and sometimes those changes are having a significant impact on your loved one’s quality of life. If you do notice such changes during your visit, what can you do? How do you bring up the subject while maintaining the peace? You will need to know what to do if you notice such changes.
If your loved one lives on her own, the first (and best) thing you can do after you arrive, is to give her a big hug! Not only will it feel great for both of you, but you can learn so much. Feel the level of her strength –is it stronger or weaker than expected. Has she lost weight? Use your nose –is personal hygiene compromised? A simple hug can uncover so much information quickly without anyone feeling like you’re imposing.
During your visit, have a look in the fridge. Is there a variety of food that’s still in good condition and not expired? Look around, are there any differences from her normal standards? Is the mail piling up? Are items put away in unusual areas of the house or is everything where it should be?
If you notice some changes or something unusual, this is reminder to continue to remain calm and simply put your detective hat on to investigate a little further. Avoid the twenty-question interrogation. You want to start by having a casual and relaxed conversation to simply gather more information while being her confidante. From her point of view, you may find out what the difficulty really is. You can then research solutions or services available and arrange for added support so she will feel more empowered in her home and less stressed trying to manage it all.
If your loved one lives in a Care Facility, when you first arrive is a great opportunity to talk with the staff. How is she doing day to day? Is she participating in the activities and spending time out of her room? How is her sleeping and eating overall? Has she made friends with other residents? When you arrive to her room, how does it look? If your mom has always preferred a neat and orderly environment and you see piles on every surface, something could be worth investigating.
Using the communication cues mentioned above, you may uncover the hidden source of stress that is compounded by the clutter and you can advocate a solution or work around. If she tends to stay in her room a lot, a relaxed conversation may reveal she feels overwhelmed during group activities. Perhaps having the option of one on one activities and outings would be better suited.
Coming together during the holidays can be a very important time for you and your loved one. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and to learn so much about each other, which can mean so much more than you may already know.
Happy and safe travels this holiday season!
Currently we visit seniors living in Calgary, Airdrie, Didsbury and Olds. My vision is to expand A Friend Indeed through Western Canada and beyond. Too often I hear the words, “If only you were in Edmonton/ Kelowna/ Victoria" (to name a few).
We are intentionally and creatively building this business in such a way that we will be able to enter new areas easily and swiftly to begin and maintain the high level of service we have today.
One day, if we’re fortunate enough, we will be seniors ourselves. This will be one contribution towards improving the lives of both the seniors and their families now and in the future.
Starting a business from scratch is a big endeavour. In the beginning, there are so many hats to wear, decisions to make and things to do – seemingly all needing to be done at once!
My biggest challenge when starting A Friend Indeed was identifying who my customer really was. I know it sounds funny but it was true. I knew I wanted to be in the lives of seniors, to be of service to their needs. I knew how I wanted them to feel while working with us. But the result of my efforts at that time seemed to be off the mark. I made a few inquiries with several seniors and then with their families. I soon realized in many cases there was a huge difference in perception, to their loved one’s situation. (Now I reminded myself that every family, every senior and every situation is unique and the inquiries I made are not all inclusive.)
From one point of view, life was good. “Everything more or less is taken care of and it’s nice to see my daughter or son when they come by to help or to take me somewhere.”
From another perspective, that daughter or son is feeling pretty stressed. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, enough days in the week to get it all done because of work, the kids, the commute, appointments and other responsibilities that are in daily life. Stress, along with another prevalent factor- guilt, is what these adult children carry with them like an old backpack. Their efforts to help and be company for their loved one comes from a place of good intentions, but the fact is we live in a very busy world. We have to pick and choose where our time, effort and energy goes and if we don’t take care of ourselves, then it’s a downward spiral that affects everyone.
I understood that my customers are the adult children. What a feeling to be spending time and serving seniors as we do and causing a wonderful and positive impact in the lives of their adult children as well. The ripple effect is enormous!
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!