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.
I titled this article after that song by The Beatles. It is an uplifting tune and injects hope through the lyrics to the listener. That is what I wish for you if you find yourself feeling a little down at the moment. If you are feeling a little tired. If you are feeling a little disappointed by something that is not as it should be.
You are a Caregiver. You bounce, you bend, you flex and you adjust to all that comes your way. It can be exhausting and being exhausted isn’t conducive to problem solving, making you less able to respond the way you want to. But feeling it can be a helpful indicator- a reminder that something needs to change. Either permanently or for a temporary basis. Something needs to shift when you catch yourself exhausted.
Take inventory. Step back from the routine knee-jerk reactions and responses to what the moment is throwing you. Take a breath or two. Yes, it is so easy to just do it yourself (because you are experienced and know better and…), ask yourself “is this the best use of my energy?” Don’t get me wrong, if in that moment you are faced with something that would jeopardize the safety or well-being of your loved one, of course step in and do what you need to do. What I am encouraging you to consider- and act on- is to expand your Circle of Support so it is not just on YOU.
What is a Circle of Support? These are the people, systems and services that work with you in your Caregiving role. They benefit you and your loved one. They can be family members, friends, services in the community, systems created by others who are in your shoes. Not just anyone will do though. You have certain criteria that they need to meet. Approach your family members and friends and inquire about their availability- the time (days/ time of day) that you can count on them to do what you need them to do. Having that preset schedule in place allows you that respite time to truly unwind or to know that what you need is going to get done without reminders or micro-management from you. Be clear on what you need and how they can best help you and what that means. If family or friends can provide only casual assistance and not the firm commitment mentioned, then consider checking out a few local services in your area. Learn about them- how they operate, who would be coming, and that they are clear about what it is they will be doing. That understanding will really and truly be helpful to you and to your loved one.
Expanding your Circle of Support will be as uplifting as that tune. It will inject hope and create a feeling of balance back into your life.
Please click the link below and take a moment to watch and really listen to these wise words. Enjoy!
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?
For more information about Supportive Pathways, please click this link.
What activities are beneficial? It seems like my loved one is losing her zest for life.
What a big question that is! Have you pondered it before? 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 desire 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!
How do I know what Senior Supports my mom needs and what kind of supports are out there?
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- is it strong or weaker 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) recognize 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.
These are a few starting points to tap into when you find yourself wondering “what do I do next?”
How can I help my mom without taking away her independence?
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?