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!
Now that you've decided to reach out and ask for help (not only for your loved one but for you indirectly as well), isn’t it interesting how you go about your day to day business and until you are placed into the role of family Caregiver for your aging parents/loved one, you don’t realize that there is a whole world of information and resources available to tap into. It wasn’t in your radar before and now it is.
First of all, how do you know what supports you need now and what can come later? Sometimes it will be obvious. You may get specific requests from your loved one. You may just observe the challenges your parent is facing. It will be pretty straightforward –most of the time.
Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper on your own to uncover any issues. Start off with giving your loved one a hug! During the hug, gauge her level of strength –it is strong or weak than expected. Has she lost weight? –is she eating enough and are they healthy choices? Use your nose –is personal hygiene compromised? Have a look in the fridge. Is there a variety of food that is still in good condition? Is the mail piling up? Start by opening a casual conversation and check in with your loved one and see what she says. These are a few simple checks you can do without feeling like you are imposing.
When you (and your loved one) recognizes the need for some additional support, you can choose to make an appointment with her family doctor. You can discuss the concerns and receive guidance as to the next steps. Depending on the concerns, the doctor may have additional questions or request a test or two, just to rule out other reasons that might be capable of causing the concern. It is good to rule that out so you can focus the right kind of support.
You can also choose to contact Home Care to request an assessment. An appointment will be arranged by the Home Care Nurse who will come out to talk with you and your loved one. You will have the opportunity to share your concerns even if you aren’t sure yet what the solutions are. She will give you a list of local resources that you can tap into. She will be a great resource for both of you going forward. There is also a wide range of resources available here.
These are a few starting points to tap into when you find yourself wondering “what do I do next?”
I'm feeling overwhelmed with this Caregiver role and it is impacting the other areas of my life. Am I being selfish about this?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
It's important we revisit this topic every once in a while to remind ourselves it's ok to make time for YOU and it's NOT being selfish. The bottom line is you can't pour from an empty cup!
You are a family Caregiver. You love your loved one- there is no denying that. The fact is, Caregiving, in all capacities, takes a lot of time, effort and physical and emotional energy. It is easy to become overwhelmed and anxious when you feel like it is all on your shoulders. It is crucial to take good care of yourself.
One way to take good care of yourself is to watch your thoughts. Caregiving is one of those roles where you do the best you can and all the while need to be diligent and ensure your thoughts “won’t take you out”! I’m talking about nagging thoughts like “you’re not doing this”, “you’re doing too much of that” along with the dreaded “What if…?” Check in with yourself when you notice these thought patterns coming up. Use your awareness of their cycling as a trigger to stop. Catch it in the act and redirect to thoughts that are more useful, peaceful and energy restoring.
Another way to take care of yourself is to take time for yourself. It is not selfish. Start by building a Support Network around you. Take inventory of all the people you know. Reconnect with them and share what you are looking for, what kind of support you need, the time commitment and if they are someone you could call in a pinch. Let them know that you can provide the guidance they need to be able to be a successful support with your loved one. Next, research the community supports and services in your area and phone them. Ask questions and get information specific to your situation. This research will help you know who is available and how they can help you and your loved one. You can build a schedule around the needs of your loved one.
Building and using a Support Network will give your loved one new interactions and experiences to enjoy while you can have some time to go out and see something new or rest and recharge. There is no prize for doing it all by yourself but huge rewards to both you and your loved one when you keep yourself well. Reaching out and accepting help is essential for you and your loved one’s well-being, after all, Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint.