Have you ever encountered a time when the person you came to visit wasn’t contributing much to the conversation? We all know that a common way to get a conversation going is by asking a few questions –right? But after a few of your go-to questions, you just aren’t getting anywhere. So, you ask a few more questions...
Now you start feeling more like Barbara Walters than yourself and you’re wondering how she is feeling about all the questions too! Yikes! This is not the direction you hoped for. What to do?
Let’s step back and see what we can notice about this situation.
The person you are visiting may be more on the introverted side, maybe a little shy if you are new to her, or maybe she is feeling a little anxious because she’s having trouble finding the words to match her thoughts. Perhaps she is having a tougher day with more confusion and answers are harder to find. All of these can be challenging for her and for her visiting Friend.
Perhaps there are possibilities available that can direct a visiting Friend.
Sitting together with her in the common area of her care facility means there is usually a lot of different things you can look at together. People watching is always interesting. It can be a good way to engage in a variety of short and simple topics to observe, discuss and comment on. Pretty colors, stylish clothes, what others are doing to name a few. This can spark memories and open-ended questions. For someone introverted, it means the focus is not on her. For someone having difficulties expressing themselves, this can be an enjoyable activity that makes her feel included without the pressures of having to “know the answers”.
You can try an experiment like “going fishing”!
I’m not talking about bringing Hip Waders and tackle to your next visit. What I mean is to bring along something that is interesting and active –say knitting or a simple but repetitive craft. Something that involves action while being seated and some sort of materials. [This is baiting the hook.] Sitting at a table together in a common area, you take out this activity and invite her to join you. If she declines but is interested in what you are doing, that is fine! Keep doing it. You will find in a short period of time other residents will be attracted to your table. [Reeling them in.] They will be curious to know what you are doing. With these additional people around, the conversations will take off. You and the one you are visiting will be engaged and it will be on her own terms. The pressure will be off her and there will be lots to enjoy and take in. Including her in the conversation, gives others a chance to get to know her. Giving her time to speak up and share if she wants to, takes the pressure off, and makes it a wonderful and inclusive time for her, for you and the others. You are creating an opportunity for her to be part of something bigger. This is especially good if she was having troubles meeting others or was new to the facility.
So, save your questions, notice what cues and clues she is giving you and don’t be afraid to try some experimentation. A little creativity can open a whole new world for her and you both will have fun!
Figuring It All Out
So, who are you? A realist? And optimist? A pessimist? A creative? A butcher, baker or candlestick maker?
For most people, they will answer… “well, it depends.”
Sure, it does! It can depend on the time of day, your mood, the traffic, the current circumstances you find yourself in, your thoughts of how others are (or will be) when you interact with them later that day, and more.
As a family caregiver for an aging loved one, you probably have them “all figured out” –right?! After all, you have been with this person your whole life!
Consider that you have been with many different versions of this person your whole life.
So what? You ask.
So, if there can be many different versions of a person, then there is room for possibilities, for potential, for exploration.
Offering a wider range of engaging activities for your loved one, may spark wider interests, untapped capabilities, and new opportunities for them to thrive in. Most importantly, the added enjoyment in their day or even just in the present moment, does a wonder of good for their overall well-being and health.
Go ahead and explore or reinvent from the big ol’ tub of possibilities! Half the fun is in the journey to discovery! Need some help with this? Just reach out, there is a lot of “gold” we can find together.
A Meaning Full Life
What is a meaningful life? What a big question that is! Have you pondered it before for yourself or for your aging loved one?
Maybe you have reached an answer or maybe it still eludes you. If it has, I encourage you to keep searching for an answer that feels right for you. That feels right for your loved one.
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. Look to 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! This is the way to continue a Meaning Full life!
Recreating Past Events
Everyone wants to feel of value. They want to be included and they want to participate especially when they know they can succeed.
When a loved one is living with dementia or any challenge(s), at times they (like everyone else on this planet) may need a bit of help accessing something they know they can succeed at! Using a little creativity and a whole lotta playfulness (maybe a little muscle power too!) means that their contribution is absolutely what is needed to help out!
When a loved one is living with dementia or any challenge(s), at times they (like everyone else on this planet) may exhibit challenging or concerning behaviour. Having a curious mind and building your desire to understand what the person is trying to accomplish or... Click on the youtube video below to see more!
Deconstructing an Activity for Success
With the seasons changing from Summer to Autumn, the weather undoubtedly takes a turn too which means the time with your loved one switches from outdoors to indoors. Finding activities to do indoors can be challenging. When a loved one is living with dementia or any challenge(s), finding the right activities and presenting them in such a way so they are so they are fulfilling and successful. Watch my first "Facebook Live" where I talk about my own personal experiences when it comes to deconstructing activities for success.
Well Intentioned Plans
The last days of summer aren’t guaranteed.
I wanted to a do a little writing on this Sunday afternoon of the long weekend. The weather is pretty nice. Rather than grab a laptop and get it all setup, I opted for a simple pen and paper. After all, I’m just going to jot down a few notes outside in the backyard, in the shade of our tree.
I decide to let the dog and the cat out too. Our cat is confined to only our backyard and only when someone is outside with him. He likes to explore the garden and I’m sure in his mind becomes invisible or maybe he is satisfying some primal instinct of being a great hunter.
Anyways, this is the plan.
Procrastination has been on my mind lately and I notice an inner struggle. All the things that need to be done, take time to do and somewhere in all of that is the need to rest.
I’m practicing observing. Observing how I feel when thoughts come up. I’m also practicing detachment. Key word = practicing. This is so I don’t let a thought take me down a rabbit hole and bring along my feelings and emotions with it. Nope, writing will be good to do today, even if I just get a couple of topics or a few lines done. It will be a start and that will feel good.
I set up my chair in the shade of our tree. I notice the waterfall for our little pond in the garden is not running. That can be left for another day because I’m going to write and relax outside in my backyard.
Where’s the cat?
I get up to look in the garden and he is behind the pond. I see all the leaves in the water, which caused the pump to stop working. I see a dead baby bird in the water. My goodness, so sad. I bless it and decide that it can’t wait, the pond must be cleaned right now.
The baby bird didn’t have his eyes opened yet, just little. There are trees around but no nests. I assume it was dropped after a raid. I scoop him up and remove the debris. The water is sucked up with the wet vac. Fresh water is replaced and with a little work, the pump gets the water flowing again.
Where’s the cat?
Ah! Still exploring the backyard. I take the garbage to the alley and go in to wash up. I can’t wait to sit outside and do some writing!
I come back with a glass of water and put it beside my chair in the shade. The dog comes over. He would like some attention. Not now, I’m going to sit in the shade and do some writing. So, I grab his toy, a snack dispensing ball and get a handful of kibbles to put in it. He happily knocks it around the lawn hoping a kibble falls out as a reward for his effort. I don’t like the feel and smell of the kibble on my hand, so I go in yet again to quickly wash up. I’m so looking forward to sitting in my chair, in the shade to do some writing. I open the door and the cat is running my way. He’s ready to come back inside and that is fine by me. I get to now sit in the shade, in my chair and do some writing. It’s going to feel great!
I move my chair, yet again to ensure I will be in the shade for some time as the sun moves throughout this afternoon. I sit down and our old, secondhand lawn chair rips so badly that half of my bottom is right through the canvas. I look up and I laugh! Holding onto my pen and paper so they don’t blow away, I struggle to get out of the broken, reclined chair. I fold it up, put it aside and grabbed the other chair from the matching set. Yes, it did occur to me that the odds may not be in my favor, but I was going to sit in my chair, in the shade and do some writing this afternoon. And I was going to feel great!
The second chair holds! I am finally about to start writing and my husband, now home from work, opens the back door and greets me! I laugh again and he asks what’s going on. I said, “You have to sit here while I tell you what has gone on for the last 45 minutes or so.” We laughed and he goes back inside.
With the dog asleep at my feet, I now have been writing outside while sitting in my chair in the shade and it does feel great!
How does this relate to being a caregiver?
We know that well intentioned plans can sometimes get derailed –whether momentarily or for longer and that is ok.
Sometimes we need to keep trying despite obstacles and other times to just let go. Even though we know it is better to detach from outcomes, it can be hard to keep that objective. We may find ourselves down that rabbit hole without even realizing it, even when it gets silly and all you can do is laugh.
And lastly, taking some downtime just for you is necessary. To replenish your energy, stamina and take care of your needs for a little while. It is easy to look after one more thing, two more things, but before you know it the shade has passed, your butt is stuck in a lawn chair and the dog is wondering what the heck is wrong with you. The last days of summer, in the shade and all you can do is laugh at it all.
The time is now to preserve your loved one's teachings, stories, memories and more! As a living link between your parents and your children, you can keep your Dad's stories and jokes alive to share with your children and their children when the time comes. Don't break that chain!
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.
Stories also have a way of transporting us back in time. Imagine how your mom would feel getting lost in the wonderful stories from her life. Stories have a way of teaching us where we’ve come from. Imagine your future children or grandchildren learning and experiencing your mom and hearing her stories generation after generation. Teaching them a little more of where they come from.
Last month we spoke about the significance of capturing a loved one’s Life Story. It was mentioned that the key details from the story can be very powerful in building relationships and providing comfort in new surroundings, after a move.
Stories also have a way of transporting us back in time. Imagine how your mom would feel being lost in the wonderful stories from her life. Stories have a way of teaching us where we’ve come from. Imagine your future children or grandchildren learning and experiencing your mom and hearing her stories generation after generation. Teaching them a little more of where they come from.
The Life Story can also be beneficial in another way. Key details reveal qualities about the individual’s personality and preferences. How he expresses himself [“Call me Bill.” VS “You can call me Mr. Johnson”], how he sees and responds to circumstances [he was an accountant who prided himself on performance excellence VS he is a fine artist who focused on metal sculpture]. Insights to his preferences [“I would like a snack –something crunchy will do.” VS “It is time for my 2pm Earl Grey and biscuit."]. Access to one’s Life Story can provide great insight which is needed for positive and meaningful interactions-- increasing the quality of time spent together.
For the gentleman who prefers to be addressed by his surname, who values details and precision and who keeps to a defined daily regime-- he will have a different experience in his day, have different expectations from others and require a different approach than the laid back, artistic fellow who enjoys variety and the spirit of the unknown. For anyone wanting to be a part of someone's life, each person needs to be honored as they are.
Understanding your loved one's Life Story is important in building and maintaining a healthy relationship. Preserving those "Life Stories" is important too!
What sums up a life? What makes it into your Life Story? You’ve had so many experiences in life- some you would label good and others bad. Everything else is a measurement in-between. If you were to create your Life Story, what would make the cut? What moments have you forgotten? What lessons are so close to you that you can’t even “see” them anymore because they are so much a part of you now? And hey, what about the fact that you are still living? Essentially still writing your story! Who is to say that your biggest life lessons aren’t still to come? Who is to say that the biggest breakthroughs and “Ah-ha” moments aren’t ready to reveal themselves in the next few years, days or even hours.
One thing you know is so far, your life (or rather your experiences in life), have shaped you into the You that you are today. You are still being shaped regardless of your age. A person’s needs can change throughout their life. We wrote about Needs previously. Consider the experience of an individual of a certain age, who is moving out of his longtime family home to somewhere with more support for his current needs. The move is an adjustment to routine, with new faces, new food, new address and phone number- new everything! Change isn’t necessarily bad, but it is different, and it takes time to establish his bearings. It takes time to become comfortable while settling into the new space. Consider that this individual has some memory impairment. Building those new bearings and comfort can be more challenging.
Enter in the power of the Life Story. Imagine how would the staff at the care facility relate to this gentleman better when they knew key details that define (in his eyes) who he is in his life. Imagine the depth of relationship he would have with a supportive companion who knew that he prided himself as a community involved man in his younger years of retirement. Imagine the quality of their time together when it is evolved around more meaningful activities and conversations that encompasses and celebrates those key details from his Life Story. It sets up the opportunity to create the space for new experiences, learnings and exploration together even at this time of his life. Giving him the opportunity to continue adding more chapters to his Life Story.