Gift Guide For Seniors-Ladies Edition*

 

Gift guide for seniors who are no longer active #giftguide #seniors #ladies I’m painfully practical and would be the first to discourage anyone from giving stuff to people who don’t need it.

Since taking care of my aunt, however, I realize that she loves to receive cards, letters and gifts. I’m sure her joy is derived from being remembered more than the physical object. She’s been a giver all of her life.

So who am I to limit potential joy-especially at the holidays-for givers and receivers, alike? I think I have a pretty good perspective now and can offer some suggestions for gifts that are personal, economical AND practical.

Whether you’re loved one is independent, in assisted living or living with you or another relative, this list should give you some ideas for each situation.

1. Fleece Anything

Now that the temperature has dropped, fleece provides a measure of warmth and comfort no matter how old you are. I replaced the linens on my aunt’s bed with fleece sheets and a throw and she loves them.

She never knew such comfort existed and I’m insanely jealous every time she gets all cozied up in her bed. (My own fleece sheets need to be replaced).

Fluffy fleece socks are also a huge hit in my house.

Finally, you know how nursing homes are always SWELTERING? If my thermostat is set above 68°, I get too hot. This is a little too chilly for my aunt so a sweater and sometimes gloves, keep her comfortable. The gloves were my mom’s idea and I do feel a little guilty but I just can’t crank up the heat. If your loved one still lives at home, the cost of cranking the heat up could be an issue and the gloves might be a welcome comfort.

2. Easy-to-fix meal and a visit

If your loved one lives alone, proper nutrition and loneliness could be an issue. Recent studies suggest that the mortality risk from loneliness and decreased social interaction is comparable to that of smoking and twice as dangerous as obesity.

Malnutrition is a common problem among seniors. An estimated 60 percent of adults aged 65 years and older who visit an emergency room are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition and only 1 in 4 of those were previously diagnosed as malnourished.

One meal a week won’t cure the problem but dropping off 3-5 homemade, easy-to-prepare meals could make a big difference for both issues.

Multiple single-serving meals can be prepared and stored in containers, frozen or refrigerated with instructions for thawing or microwaving.

Committing to regular visits will allow you to monitor any sudden health, safety, mobility, environmental or cognitive issues that might need to be addressed with the person or family members.

3. Box of cards, stamps and personalized stationary

Although writing can be difficult as people age, many seniors love to keep in touch the old-fashioned way.

Providing a variety of cards for different occasions will minimize the need for excessive handwriting if it’s an issue but still allows a person to keep in touch with people they love and are thinking about.

A box could include addresses and dates to remember like birthdays, anniversaries and upcoming events like graduations.

If the person still has the ability to write more than a few lines and enjoys it, personalized stationary is a great gift.

4. Monthly Housecleaning Service

You can arrange this to coincide with a visit if the person is uncomfortable with strangers being in her home. You should always be sensitive to safety issues when arranging for any service providers.

If you don’t get a commercial cleaning service, you can ask around for referrals.

Most professionals will charge a little more for the initial cleaning (which can be a great gift, in itself) and then reduce the price for routine maintenance of the rooms/services that are most needed.

This is an ideal gift for anyone who has too much stuff unless it’s impossible to clean around. Then you should consider a visit from a professional organizer or purger.

5. Photo Gifts

Photo mugs and photo calendars make great gifts. My aunt drinks a cup of coffee every morning and she always pays extra attention to a mug with Kate’s baby face on it. I like the idea of the calendar because it’s consumable.

6. Classic Television Shows on DVD

We all know that nothing is on TV, yet it’s how most seniors pass the time. If operating a DVD player isn’t an issue for your loved one, consider a television classic like “Gunsmoke” (Is there anyone cooler than Marshall Matt Dillon?), “The Andy Griffith Show“, “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “Leave It To Beaver“, to name a few.

Maybe the person can handle something a little more dramatic, “Downton Abbey” is excellent and dramas like “The West Wing“, “L.A. Law“, “The Practice“, “Hill Street Blues” or “E.R.” are classics.

7. Lawn Care and/or Snow Removal

Whether provided by you, one of your children or a paid service provider, outside maintenance is a huge problem for many seniors who still live at home.

8. Single Serving Coffee Maker

I’m not a huge fan of the hassle and expense of individual serving cups but people love the convenience of those single serving brewing systems.

One of my aunt’s greatest pleasures in the morning is being able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in now that she doesn’t have to prepare and clean the pot. She just wasn’t able to manage it any longer when she was on her own.

Single serving type instant brewers involve less preparation and less clean-up than automatic drip coffee makers.

If you are going to gift this, make sure you also wrap up a healthy supply of coffee “cups”.

9. Rotating delivery of essentials

Admittedly, this is a weird one. One thing my aunt worried about when she lived on her own was running out of the things she used daily (paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, Efferdent, liquid soap, supplements and V-8, to name a few).

She kept a healthy supply of these things in the closets and called it her “larder”.

If you know a senior who also worries about running out of things and can physically manage a delivery (can get to the door and manage a package-my aunt wouldn’t have been able to handle a larger package), you arrange for Amazon to deliver these type of things to them. If not, you can make a weekly or monthly run yourself for her necessities.

If you’re planning to use Amazon, it’s definitely worth getting the Amazon Prime membership (for either yourself or the person you’re buying for) since shipping will be free for most items and there are other benefits that go along with it.

10. Handwritten Cards and Notes

Letter writing is definitely a lost art but one that everyone I know appreciates. If you commit to writing a letter to your loved one-say, once a month, you might be surprised that it’s just as much a gift to you.

 

*Disclosure: This post is littered with affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of the links, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I appreciate it. Either way, I hope you got some good ideas from the post.

 

Teens and Caregiving-Part One

caregiving tips for the sandwich generation #caregiving #teens #sandwichgeneration #generationgap

An estimated one out of every eight Americans aged 40-60 are caring for an aging family member while still raising children. Chances are the children of this “sandwich generation” are teenagers or close to that age range.

Three Generations Under One Roof

When neighbors and friends hear that I’m taking care of my aunt, their response is always supportive and encouraging. Most say what a blessing it is for the kids to have the example and unique opportunity to help someone they love that’s out of the ordinary. They say things like “they’ll remember this when they get older” or “they’ll always appreciate this experience”.

While all of these comments are well-meaning and hold some truth, they only acknowledge one side of the picture.

Everyone recognizes my sacrifice since I’m providing most of the hands-on care but most people don’t consider the major sacrifice my husband and children have made.

Below are some of the realities of our new life and how it affects the kids. My intention isn’t to complain, but to help others anticipate some issues to help better prepare for caring for an elderly family member while still caring for children at home.

Two generations that are high-maintenance

I know my children will benefit from this experience but I don’t take that for granted. Teenagers can be more needy than younger children.  It’s a notoriously emotionally-charged time with increasing demands at school and in their world.

I minimally prepared my own children for the change due to my aunt’s unexpected fall. I tried to keep them informed of the progress and timeline of my aunt’s arrival but they really had no input into the decision and in many ways, it turned their lives upside-down. Some of those changes have been drastic, others have been subtle.

We all knew the kids would have to shuffle room assignments but it was impossible to anticipate some of the other changes and demands on their time and privacy. Both of which are in high demand during the teen years.

Unexpected Responsibilities

I rely on all of the kids to keep my aunt company if I have to run an errand, make dinner or do work around the house. When this one or that one has a long day at school and just wants to retreat to their room, sometimes they really don’t have that luxury.

When teens help care for elderly relatives #elderly #aginginplace #teenagers

We set up my aunt’s room to include a sitting area with a TV and I really expected her to be in there all the time.  In her former life, she sat at the same table all day and watched her shows. Since coming to live with us, however, she prefers to be where the action is with the family. I think it’s great and a major factor in her improved overall health but it also puts a constant demand on our attention. It’s an unexpected reality of our new life together.

Although this is her home, my aunt’s mobility and cognition is limited so her choices of things to do to occupy herself is also limited. She’s only entertained by 3 shows (which we record for her) and EWTN. The kids are so sweet that they also limit their show selections to her favorites when she’s in the main living area. My aunt doesn’t demand it and tries hard not to interfere with their leisure time but they want to make her feel comfortable.

When the kids disappear into their rooms for long stretches of time, I let them. Luckily, there are enough of us to pick up where someone else left off and my aunt has nearly constant company after school and on the weekends. Giving them some space in this demanding situation is the least I can do.

Inevitable consequences of caretaking

Maybe it’s not a change but since I’m getting up through the night and my introverted self is primarily responsible for providing companionship for my aunt throughout a majority of the day, some days I reserve my patience for my aunt and there’s very little left over for the kids. I have a lot less tolerance for their dependence and I’m a bear if I don’t get enough sleep. You get the picture. In spite of my sometimes shorter fuse, the kids have all been very accommodating and understanding and truly forgive me for snapping at them on days when I’m particularly tired.

Suspended traditions

Our holidays will look drastically different. For one, the piano we got for my aunt is sitting in the only space for a Christmas tree. I have no idea where we’ll squeeze one in, but we will. I’m hanging on to a few abbreviated traditions but some will have to be suspended.

I usually host Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for my parents and any straggling brothers but this year, I won’t be able to. Luckily, my children are used to me cutting some of the clutter of the holidays but meals have never been considered clutter.

The only thing I can really do is talk to them about what the holidays might look like and ask what parts are most important to them. I’m sure I can’t accommodate all of their preferences but we can probably preserve a few.

The ultimate test of patience and selflessness

Finally, the kids have been so patient and sweet about repeating things that my aunt forgets due to her short-term memory loss. This is another minor thing but when it’s compounded with all the demands on their time and attention and the tsunami of change in their lives, both inside and outside of the home, it could potentially add to their stress. So far, no one has expressed anything but compassion and sometimes amusement when she asks something repeatedly. She really is so sweet that it’s nearly impossible to get frustrated with her.

Overall, my children have really risen to the occasion and have been patient and compassionate to a person who has loved them for their entire lives. The ways in which my children have served my aunt are humbling. I’m so proud of how they’ve handled everything from my limited availability to the physical changes to our environment.

They’ve been forced out of their bubbles of teen-ager-ness. Their reaction to the situation and the needs of an emotionally, physically and cognitively vulnerable person is an indication of their character. I still think it’s important to acknowledge the stress and to keep talking about it openly in order to identify times when it’s overwhelming and to find creative ways to relieve the stress for them. I’m sure I’ve missed opportunities to reassure them but I’ll just keep trying.

They get an unusual extension of grace from me. If our family wasn’t in this role, I’d have a lot less tolerance for their moody, self-oriented selves when it’s directed at me or each other. But I’m not lumping that on to their plates because they’ve shown over and over that they aren’t only thinking of themselves.

In the next post in this mini-series, I’ll share the very best piece of advice I received about caring for the kids when I was about to bring my aunt home.

Elderly Aids and Equipment-Furniture Blocks

I’ve been caring for my elderly aunt in my home since the spring and I promised to pass on things that I’m learning along the way.

One need that I didn’t anticipate ahead of time outside of a hospital bed, a wheelchair and a few ramps, was furniture.

Taller Furniture Please!

It isn’t uncommon for older people to have difficulty getting into and out of furniture. Height is a concern and arms are essential for leverage for most elderly people to boost themselves out of a chair. None of the chairs or seats in my home accommodated this limitation.

My aunt sat in a wheelchair provided by medicare for the first few weeks in my home. She would walk (with the aid of a walker) from room to room for the exercise and one of us would follow behind with the wheelchair so she would have a place to sit in every room. Not only did that become cumbersome, it didn’t provide her with much independence. I was determined to find sturdy chairs that were tall enough with arms. No easy task.

taller furniture

elderly aids, taller furniture, blocks #eldercare #caregiving

It turns out that my porch chairs are sturdy and wide enough with arms for leverage when my aunt wants to sit or stand but they aren’t quite tall enough. My mom suggested bed risers. They’re affordable, come in various heights and material and accommodate a variety of leg styles. I chose the 3 1/2″ wooden risers. They don’t compromise the stability of the chair at all. This has been a perfect solution and works very well for any chair that doesn’t need to slide or move (like one that needs to slide closer to a table for eating).

I also purchased an office chair for the table in her room. The wheels make this chair less ideal because my aunt either needs someone to hold it or she has to get the chair against an immovable object or wall in order to get up without it rolling away from her. It works better in her room than a chair on blocks because she sits at a table and can swivel around.

Believe it or not, the easiest chair for my aunt to get out of is her bedside commode. I used the seat height, width and arm height as the template for my chair search.

I would love to hear if you’ve busted through any furniture barriers without a lot of expense or an exhaustive search.

 

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting the blog.

Junior Tennis~Congratulations Luke!

Our Adventures With Junior Tennis Continues….

I’ve posted before about Luke playing competitive tennis. Although he had a successful high school tennis season in the spring, most kids at this level are playing for national ranking.

He’s been on the radar (meaning he reached a national ranking) about 2 years ago, give or take.

Competing at this level is a grind. It takes endurance and discipline in so many areas. I don’t care what anyone says, tennis is the most demanding all-around sport physically and mentally.

Luke hit a rough patch this summer by not competing as well as he wanted to but he definitely has goals.

He’s had big wins in the past but hasn’t enjoyed that for a while. He mostly suffered some unexpected and disappointing losses. I spent plenty of time trying to convince him that every athlete has those and he should expect them throughout his tennis-playing days. In my view, they signal growth.

Last weekend he finally won a sectional tournament at his home club. It was nice for all of us because he has lost some heart-breakers at home, too.

Hannah asked me to record the last game of the first set which he won 7-5. He won the second set in a tie-breaker. Surprising since I call Luke the “King of Splits” meaning he plays a lot of 3rd sets.

I’m posting a video both because I’m proud and I think tennis is such a beautiful sport to watch at this level. True poetry in motion! This blog is also a good repository. If it’s here, it might not get lost.

Luke’s in the foreground with the darker hair.

 

How to Create Boundaries for Visitors When Caring for a Family Member

Boundaries for Visitors #caregiving #elderly

One element of taking care of a sick or elderly family member in your home is the new (and seemingly constant) stream of visitors your family is likely to encounter. From old high school classmates to extended family members, the uptick in company can be both a help and a hindrance. The difference is in establishing guidelines and boundaries that balances independence of your loved one with your own family downtime and sometimes privacy.

It may take a few weeks (or even months) to figure out what boundaries will work best for your circumstances but you should be unapologetic about setting them.  You may need to change things up as your routine evolves, seasons change or schedules fluctuate.

I can share some limits and guidelines that work for my household (at the moment) but your unique family dynamics, routines and personalities will determine what works for you.

1. “Please Call Ahead”

This is pretty obvious but you would be surprised at how unaware people can be about the routines of others. Drop-ins sometimes interfere with meal times, rest times or other visitors.

In my case, my mom and cousin live on my street and I rely on (and welcome) them to pop in without calling just about anytime. That pretty much goes for any of my family members who aren’t offended when I can’t sit and visit with them or if I use their company to run a quick errand, catch up on some housework or just enjoy some alone time. If it ever became a problem, however, I would just send out a text or email asking these people to call ahead and I’m sure they wouldn’t take offense.

Others (extended family and friends who aren’t as close) have been great about calling to see when it’s a good time to visit my aunt and/or family.

If the family member you care for has a phone of her own, it’s important to let people know that visits should be scheduled with you. Although my aunt is almost always available, certain times and days are more convenient than others for her and for me, which she isn’t necessarily aware of.

In the first few days when everyone in my family wanted to see my aunt, they tended to come at once and I really didn’t want the responsibility of managing visiting schedules so I just let it happen. Even now, people occassionally show up at the same time or one after the other. It’s only a problem when my aunt kind of gets trapped for hours and can’t use the bathroom (because she’s a little self-conscious about struggling to stand). When that happens, I text the crowd and ask them to make an excuse to walk over to my mom’s house so my aunt can have a quick break.

Since my husband is an extrovert, he loves to greet extra people when he pulls into the driveway after work. This might not be the case for every member of your family and it’s important to be sensitive about their need for solitude, quiet or privacy. If you or your spouse (or children) need to unwind after a long day, create that buffer for them and restrict visits during the transition time.

2. Be specific about visiting hours that are convenient

What times work best for you will be different than what works best for my family. When people call, I’m clear about the window of time that’s convenient for their visit.

I try to be very specific. “It’s best if you come after 10:00 and leave no later than 1:00″ for example. If I say, “between 10 and 1:00 would be fine”, they may think that they can come by 1:00 and stay for a couple of hours after that. See the difference? Likewise on the other end of the day, I tell people, “I need you to say your ‘goodbyes’ by 7:30″.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be completely honest about your needs. It avoids so much conflict and resentment. This is not the time to worry about whether people will get mad at you or get their feelings hurt.

3. No need to host a party every time someone visits

If I felt like I had to clean or prepare a spread every time my aunt gets company, I would be resentful and worn out.

My house is relatively picked up (as much as it can be with 4 teenagers) and it definitely could be cleaner but I don’t worry about that when people come to visit my aunt.

It might seem rude but I also don’t feel the need to put out snacks and play hostess when people come. Everyone close to me understands this. I typically don’t keep sugar beverages in the house because they tend to disappear. My boys have no self-control when it comes to junk drinks so we don’t have them. There’s no way I can guess the personal preferences of different visitors so I don’t try. I offer water and even then, most people help themselves.

This might seem inhospitable but people really understand that because I’m providing round-the-clock care, I don’t need to host a party every time they want to see my aunt. If I felt like I had to, I would have to be more restrictive.

I hope these tips help. It’s impossible to predict how caring for a family member in your home will affect your routine and it’s best to be flexible to accommodate yours and your family’s changing needs.

I would love to hear what type of strategies you use to establish boundaries for visitors when you’re caring for a loved one in your home.

Help for Healing a Wound or Diabetic Ulcer

medihoney wound care #wound #diabetic #ulcer

I’ve been caring for my 78-year-old aunt in my home since early May. Since she isn’t bed-ridden and gets out of bed once or twice through the night, I didn’t anticipate caring for open wounds so soon.

Although my aunt’s a diabetic and in spite of being unable to properly wash her feet for an extended period of time, she didn’t suffer from leg or foot sores before she came to live with me (that we know of) .

She developed dermatitis on her left leg shortly after she came here and an ulcer appeared on her left calf shortly after that. She may have picked up a staph infection at the nursing home where she stayed for three weeks before she came to live with me. Not sure. I treated the sore with polysporin and dressings at first, which I did for a week or so. It wasn’t getting better or worse.

When she ended up in the hospital for a stomach virus, they sent her home with wound care supplies, including a substance called “Medi Honey” to treat the wound.

I read some information and reviews about it and by all accounts, it comes highly recommended by wound care specialists. According to her doctor, it minimizes the risk of infection and keeps the wound moist, encouraging new skin growth.

The discharge nurse at the hospital suggested that the dressing should be changed every 3 days (woo-hoo!). Depending on the form of “medihoney”, though (paste, pads, gel), dressing changes will vary.

The stuff looks just like honey and largely consists of it. It’s FDA-approved for all stages of wound treatment.

I learned that I was probably putting the stuff on too large an area and it was likely breaking down the healthy skin around the wound. I adjusted my method and it definitely helped. I’m still waiting for the wound to disappear but it has steadily improved over the weeks.

I learned that it’s available without a prescription and is relatively affordable if you just want to try it, especially if you’ve been dealing with a persistent wound at home. I ordered a tube of the paste to see if it had different results than the strips that the hospital gave me. I found out that the dressings needed to be changed more frequently (daily) which is fine but I can’t tell whether there’s a difference in their effectiveness.

Compared to the terrifying leg ulcers I saw on the internet, my aunt’s sore is relatively manageable and small. I don’t have before/after photos because, well, they’re gross. I do wish I had taken photos for my own use but overall, the sore has improved. It’s more shallow, the new skin looks healthy and it hasn’t increased in diameter.

If you’ve been dealing with a persistent wound or ulcer and haven’t tried medihoney, you might have some success. If so, please let me know.

 

 

 *Please note, this post contains affiliate links which means if you purchase a product through one of the links, I’ll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
*Disclaimer: The information in this post is about my experience using medihoney. Your results may be different.

5 Tips for Caregivers to Minimize Wasting Energy on Critics

Tips for Caregivers, Quieting the Critic #eldercare #caregiving

In my last post, I cautioned against wasting energy on people who don’t support your decision to care for an elderly family member.

Criticism or lack of support when you’re caring for anyone, especially an elderly family member, comes in various degrees and forms.

It can range from well-meaning family and friends who are concerned for your health and ability to take on a huge task to self-oriented people who seem to be concerned about how the change will affect them……and everything in-between.

Once you assume the responsibility, however, it’s critical to focus you energy on the person needing care, your immediate family (children and spouse) and yourself. Anything that distracts from that is a waste of emotional currency.

How can you combat the “tune virus” in your head that wants to justify your decision to take on a primary caregiving role? These strategies might help.

1. Limit or eliminate communication with (and about) the critic

Resist the urge to continue to justify your decision. Accept that you may never convince the critic or other unsupportive person that your intentions are good (assuming they are), that you’ve made an informed decision and that you believe that it’s the best option given the present circumstances.

Engaging with the non-supportive person unnecessarily will use up valuable time and emotional  energy better spent on keeping everyone under your roof healthy. Tempting as it is, don’t go there, I promise, you won’t be satisfied and you’ll likely churn up more conflict.

Best to be silent. It will allow your brain to move on to more constructive matters. There’s a lot of truth to “out of sight out of mind”.

2. Journal if you must

If you find that you spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about your critics, journal about it privately if you have time. Your caregiving responsibilities may not permit time for journaling. Dedicating a few minutes to it, however, will help you in two ways. Putting your thoughts on paper (or in a word doc) may quiet that self-talk and allow your brain to move on.  It will also be a record of what’s going on during what’s likely a stressful time in your life.

It might remind you of how strong you never thought you were.

3. Pray

Or if you’re not a praying person, meditate. Either practice will turn negative thoughts or energy into positive action.

4. Don’t take anything personally

Even if criticism is directed at you, the source of it likely has more to do with the other person’s unresolved issues or life circumstances. Now isn’t the time to guide others through their own emotional baggage. Again, best if you limit contact  (as much as is practical).

5. Don’t reread old emails, texts or voicemails

You may be tempted to reread old email exchanges or texts if you you’re doubting the course of events. Taking the time to reread old emails and texts not only distracts from your responsibilities, it puts the issue back in the forefront of your consciousness and recycles those same negative feelings. That trash icon is your friend. Unless you need the written communication to protect yourself legally, delete it.

Maybe you’re still receiving emails, texts or phone calls from a person who you know is still trying to have their way. That’s what Caller ID is for. Unless the person is abandoning their protests and extending an offer to help, I’d delete them, perhaps without reading or listening, with no reply.

“DELETE!” It literally wipes it off your “TO DO” list (don’t you have enough to do already?)

These strategies may seem harsh and are likely very different from how you normally respond to people and handle conflict. This is a time of intense self-preservation, though, when norms of appropriate social interaction are suspended.

Your closest family and friends will forgive you and are likely being proactive to protect you. In the next post, I’ll tell you about some strategies I’ve learned along the way to manage the stream of visitors when you’re caring for an elderly parent or relative.

Tips for Caregivers

#caregivers #elderly

NONE. Do you hear me?

There will be different forms of this and in varying degrees. But do not humor ANY of them.

I guess that’s good advice for any situation.

In the next post, I’ll give you strategies to combat wasting valuable energy and emotional currency on people who are not supportive.

Important Information about a Stroke

A tip for stroke survival

Image credit: Nemo on Pixabay

I have learned a lot since inviting my 78-year old aunt to live with us. Every time I learn something new, I think , I should write about this, I’m sure someone else could benefit from this information.

Although my aunt did not have a stroke, she was fighting a stomach virus that landed her in the hospital. When she was discharged, I learned something that might be life-saving or life-changing for someone who has a stroke.

Did you know that if you suspect that you or someone you know is having a stroke, you should note the time of the onset of symptoms? I never knew that and it turns out that it can make a big difference in protocol for medical intervention. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to know when a stroke is happening (for example if a person is sleeping) but if you’re able to give medical providers a time of onset of symptoms, there’s a window for certain treatment options that can make a difference in survival and recovery.

With all the PSAs and pharmaceutical commercials  publicizing the warning signs of stroke (droopiness of face, numbness or weakness in face, arms or legs, confusion, trouble speaking, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, severe headache are just a few), I’ve never heard this critical piece of information, so I thought I’d pass it along.


 

Disclaimer: I am not a physicican, this  article is published for information purposes only. If you think you or someone you know may be having a stroke, dial 911.

 

Why I Care for My Elderly Aunt at Home

How to care for elderly relative

The only thing I expected from my (maybe impulsive) decision to invite my 78 year old aunt to live with my family was the unexpected.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t proceed without substantial amounts of Grace (as in from God). I also knew that I couldn’t possibly envision what changes it would bring. It might be the scariest thing I ever did willingly. I refused to focus on that, though and trusted that each day would be o.k. That’s how I continue to approach it.

This kind of move happens when you simply don’t want to see a person suffer.

I barely consulted my husband who has been incredibly supportive and trusted that I could make it work.

My mom and I flew by the seat of our pants and put a plan together in a matter of what seemed like minutes but in reality was about two weeks. That term “plan” is used in the loosest sense possible. I should give credit here to my cousin who, in the eye of the crisis, helped my mom formulate the plan to get my aunt admitted to the hospital then hopefully to therapy to give us time to get ready in Pittsburgh.

Truth is, you can’t plan for this.

Rosaries

Familiar Rosaries on a familiar table

You can only manage as you go.

You can only try make the best decisions possible… with the facts at hand… as they relate to the primary person(s) and go from there. The information can change daily or hourly and you adjust (as best you can).

Here are some of the facts:

1. I love my aunt and she needed help.

2. She was unable to care for herself (personally or financially). When she was admitted to the hospital (after a minor fall out of bed which only resulted in a lost big toenail), she was severely dehydrated, had a urinary tract infection, bladder infection, open raw sores on her belly and a heart situation likely related to her compromised health. In short, she was a hot mess and likely wouldn’t have survived more than a few days or a week without intervention. To be honest, we knew she had declined considerably over the winter but having been independent her entire life, navigating the intervention stage was tricky. How do you convince someone who feels fine that she really isn’t? The signs were there but it was a delicate matter broaching the subject and our concerns. That minor fall was what saved her. Proof positive that what seems terrible can be a blessing in disguise.

3. I have the space in my house because we recently rearranged things here to allow my getting-bigger family to spread out a little. This recent rearrangement repurposed a living room into a bedroom on the main floor…perfect for Aunt Linda-NO STEPS!

4. I don’t work outside the home which gives me the flexibility to make things work as best I can. It’s tricky but we’ve managed so far. Sure, my life has changed drastically (and I knew it would, I just wasn’t sure HOW). I’ve tried to make the transition as easy on Mark and the kids as possible. They all have been supportive and in spite of the sacrifices, are glad that she’s here and safe.

5. I love my aunt like a 2nd, (3rd, 4th) mother (I’ve been blessed with many women who have mothered me-including my own “Mummy”).

6. She deserves to be taken care of.

7. She still knows me (It would be hard to take care of her if she were scared of me and didn’t really know me or the family).

8. She’s not mean. (I don’t know that I could bring a mean person into the house, even if the meanness was due to dementia).

9. She still knows and loves my children (in particular, she is smitten with my youngest, who’s only too happy to have the extra audience-God Help Us!-Sorry future wife). In spite of her short-term memory loss, she is very engaged and engaging (much improved since she’s been here) and is very interested in the kids’ comings and goings and enjoys their company.

10. My mom lives three houses away. (A big factor in my thought process), so does my cousin, the nurse.

11. My 4 brothers and 2 other cousins (who also love her like a mother) live in the same town or close by.

12. My mom couldn’t manage her sister’s care from 4 hours away. Believe me, she tried and it was exhausting-we made three or four trips in as many weeks and my mom ended up just staying for the duration of my aunt’s nursing home stay.

13. A nursing home wasn’t a good option when my home was available. My aunt was in one of the better ones and it was short-staffed. In 3 short weeks she became nighttime incontinent. Luckily I was able to convince her to wake me through the night to regain it but it was just one effect of understaffing. You always have the risk that a few employees can be rude or indifferent-even one of my aunt’s friends who volunteers there admitted that there were a few bad eggs. That’s intolerable in any situation but especially with a person as vulnerable as my aunt was.

14. This aunt should be canonized. (I tease her every time I cut her toenails or fingernails that I’m collecting relics- she laughs every time I say it-except when I draw blood then she tells me I’m making relics. Jokes never get old to a person with short- term memory loss).

So, those are the facts which led to the quick turn of events that resulted in moving my aunt into our home.

I didn’t anticipate how much I would worry about her minor health issues. When a kid gets a cold, the coughing might keep you awake at night, not necessarily the worry that it might lead to pneumonia.

I didn’t anticipate the resistance by some to a plan to place a never-married, 78 year old woman with no children of her own in a loving home surrounded by family that she still knows rather than a nursing home 4 hours away from that family.

The one person who I expected the most resistance from, a lifelong friend whose life would change the most drastically by the move and who is dealing with her own crisis was and continues to be so selfless and supportive, I am still humbled by it.

I find myself balancing options and outcomes often. A good life lesson.

I try to remember what I did expect when this plan began to formulate:

I thought there was a good possibility that my aunt would be bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound (thankfully she’s not).

I didn’t know whether removing her from her home would add to her confusion. We tried to minimize that by decorating her room with things from her own home. Even a few furniture pieces fit.

Since my aunt spent her days for the previous two to three years sitting at her table watching TV, reading spiritual books or praying for people, I thought she would be doing that here.

As it turns out, Aunt Linda spends very little time in her room, which I think is great but also adds an element of responsibility to keep her occupied and engaged.

Since my aunt spent no time outside, I didn’t expect that she would enjoy sitting on my back porch so much. Thankfully, the summer has been relatively temperate (even cool) and it’s her favorite place to be. She can see my mom’s place from there and she loves to see her white head bobbing down the walk toward our porch.

One challenge has been her need for companionship. I just didn’t expect it since she’s lived by herself her entire adult life. When someone isn’t visiting, I feel responsible to keep her company most days. The kids are also around and will visit with her. I know it isn’t absolutely necessary and she understands that I have things to do but I think it brings her a measure of security so I accept it and am grateful that I don’t have many obligations that take me away from the house for long periods of time. Also, when I think of the alternative (worrying and trying to visit her in a nursing home here or 4 hours away), I’d much rather have her here.

Overall, I’m happy to report that she is much more alert and lucid than she’s been for a couple of years. A few people have commented that they feel like she’s back to her old self (before any signs of dementia were apparent) and I agree. She’s witty, alert, engaged, thoughtful and I’m getting into the habit again of asking for her advice. When I run something by her, the answers have been thoughtful and spot-on.

The rythym of our days has added enough variety to hers that there’s something worth remembering. The relatively constant stream of visitors has also given her a life of her own that’s worth remembering. Where two or more are gathered…she thinks it’s a party and she enjoys it. It’s even more fun when she can look forward to it (like when we celebrated “Hugh Twyman Day” along with Mark’s and my mom’s birthday last week).

I know her being here is divinely orchestrated and an incredible gift to our family. The hard parts (getting up through the night, the extra laundry, feeling responsible for her engagement and worrying about her health issues) haven’t really been that hard. I’m surprised that I’m not dead tired all day but I’m not. I have an incredible support system and really feel that I can ask for ANYTHING I need. I promised everyone close to me that I would do that.

I’m learning so much about the dynamics and logistics of elder care that I hope to pass on some strategies and tips.