Posts Tagged ‘activities’

Education is a Caregiver’s Friend

Library booksYou will repeatedly read about burned-out or stressed-out caregivers because stress is one of the most common features among those who provide care for their loved ones. The stress comes from many sources such as constantly worrying they aren’t doing enough or aren’t doing the right thing the right way. Also, it is the result of working long hours and feeling unappreciated. A prime cause of this stress is inadequate preparation prior to joining the ranks of family caregivers.

Caregivers must educate themselves on whatever medical conditions their loved ones have and learn as much as they can about nutrition, possible side-effects of prescriptions and how to motivate or engage people who may seem content to waste away. It’s vital for caregivers to discover all they can about local support groups and community resources as well as the challenges of aging and the demands on caregivers. It’s essential for caregivers to know their own physical and emotional limits. Burnout comes from many sources, so it’s important to know ahead of time, who will be available to help in an emergency and where to find daily comfort.

Hydrant

If you want to take a break without feeling guilty, enroll in a Red Cross CPR/first aid class. You’ll have a few hours to yourself, be able to socialize with others and learn or brush up on a useful skill. If there isn’t a local Red Cross office, call your fire department and request a class.

 

 

What is the cutoff point? Exactly when can you stop crying, stop caring and start getting your own life back?  There is no easy answer for this. Sometimes, the end of caregiving comes when the ones in our care recover enough to care for themselves, but more often, caregiving ends with the death of our loved ones. The fact that you are a caregiver means you can’t stop caring, even if you stop being a caregiver. You will never regain the life you had before, but when caregiving ends, your life will be richer for the experience. Years from now, you may long for just one more day, despite the sadness and anxiety you feel now. The key is to find ways to make your caregiving experience work for both of you. If you have a respite schedule set up, use it consistently. Step away. Seek help from family, friends or local agencies. You may need to make many phone calls or research online for hours, but help is available. Whatever decision you make, guilt should play no part. If you have to walk away from caregiving for a few hours, a few days or a few years there is no reason to feel guilty. You are doing the best you can and for that, you deserve to spend whatever time you need to take care of yourself.

Most often, caregivers are family members with little or no formal training on how to provide nursing care for their loved ones. They might feel guilty about illnesses or injuries that occur under their care. Education is an important element for caregivers. You don’t need to know everything about nursing or nutrition, just be open to learning about those who can provide the missing pieces of the puzzle. If you are a caregiver or contemplating becoming one, learn what options are available to you. Discover alternative sources for respite and get creative when you need guilt-free time away. Spend a few hours at the library researching respite agencies or schedule a visit with a nutritionist to discuss your loved one’s dietary needs. Take a day off to plan activities both you and your loved one can enjoy together by educating yourself to what’s available in your neighborhood. Check with your library and local hospitals for classes on health-related topics. Learn all you can, then relax and let the experts help you create a better life for your loved one.

Learn all you canKnowing that you don’t need to know everything is crucial to lowering your stress level. You can relax more if you simply coordinate experts who will care for your loved one’s special needs. There’s no need to hire a personal chef, but if you consult a nutritionist for menu ideas based on your loved one’s dietary needs, planning meals will be much easier. If your loved one needs physical therapy or has a regular hair appointment, you can use this time to take a short break, even if it’s a walk in the parking lot or a quick phone call to a friend. Sometimes, just putting space between you and the one you are caring for helps adjust your stress level.

Email your questions about caregiving to mary@marybrotherton.com

Do Over

There are many things I wish I could go back and do a different way, where providing care for my mother is concerned.

I can’t do over anything, but if I could, I would:

  • Move in sooner so I had more time with my mother.

  • Be sure I knew where all her documents were before moving in and avoid the needle-in-the-haystack searches.

  • Write a sort of contract with my whole family’s input so everyone knew our roles clearly. Know beforehand, who already had roles to play and what they were.

  • Include in that contract what I was able and willing to contribute and what I expected in return.

  • Set up a backup to the verbal respite plan. As good as it sounds when someone says, “Just call me if you need help,” and “I’m here for you,” I’d remember that words carry little weight at 4 in the morning or when busy schedules interfere with my need for time off.

  • Set up a backup to the backup so my breaks and respite care are ensured. Have an emergency backup in place before I need it.

  • Before moving in, take extra time to discover the family’s understanding of the situation. I’d include them more and make sure they included me, too.

  • Insist that all my siblings and their children take time to do a Four Generation photo sooner, rather than wishing we had.

  • Listen more.

  • Play more.

  • Dance more.

  • Sing more (even if it is off key).

  • Go more with the flow and less against the stream.

  • Clean less.

  • Communicate better.

  • Prepare for the finality of the situation. In other words, I would have a plan in place for when my job as HANC ends, rather than wondering what I should do.

I may have other areas I’d like to do over, but first, I’d like to hear from you. What would you like to do over in your life? Not just as a caregiver, but in your life in general or in your “other career,” what would you like to do differently, if given the chance?

Write me at marybrotherton@gmail.com

and let’s start a dialogue about change!

 

 

 

Put it in Perspective

My lifestyle isn’t the only thing I’ve adjusted since making the decision to become my mother’s caregiver. I’ve had to alter my attitude, which has not been easy. Almost as difficult, I’ve adjusted my sleep-habits to accommodate hers and fine-tuned my diet to make her mealtimes easier, because I discovered the difficulty in trying to get her to change – anything.

My perception of reality is in a constant state of change.

Time

I remember when I believed my mother was Amazonian in strength and fiercely independent. She was always honest – brutally so – but she was usually agreeable and understanding.

Cookie goddess

She is still strong-willed and sometimes she can be contrary, despite her desire to be compliant. Like mother-like daughter!

In her heyday, this woman could hear a muffled childish giggle and immediately know which of her many children was up to mischief. Today, her hearing is so compromised that she habitually stares at the television without understanding. This leads to boredom I can’t always counteract. One or two in every bunch

Normal conversations are frequently lost to her and she sometimes mutters, “I still don’t understand, but I guess I don’t need to.” Yet, if we raise our voices so she can hear, she thinks we are cross with her.

            She sometimes acts like a child, but we both know she is an adult. Her aging  must be harder for her than it is for us, though it seems we are the ones making all the adjustments. I remember telling my husband that we should try to keep things as normal as possible for her. Her normal life means ours must sometimes take an unnatural detour.

Skydive to the destination

Once we moved in, I had to accept that I could not move the furniture – ever – because that kind of change disrupts her reality.

furniture

Once, she scolded my husband and wagged her index finger at him, saying, “Listen here! I am going to have my way, because this is my house. You hear me? It’s my house!”

pointing boy

My brother later asked my husband, “Which finger hurts more, this one or this one?” while brandishing his middle finger opposed to his pointing finger.

We all laughed over that and we now refer to it as the finger incident.

loose point

Many days, my husband and I must remind each other of our reason for being here. It’s not for family estate or an immense reward. Nor is it for recognition or honors. It is for the love of the woman we call Momma.

Mother of many

There are days I wish I’d hesitated or made a different choice when my husband asked, “Why don’t we move in with your mom and help her?”

Then, I put things in perspective and adjust my idea of reality and truth. I know I am where I need to be right now and I’ll greet each day to see what comes next.

It boils down to love. It’s not that I love my mother more than my siblings do, but love drove my husband and me to choose this life – at this time. I’m not the family saint or any kind of angel. Despite the adjustments and sacrifices, I am the lucky one.

Clover

My mother and I are making memories that I will cherish the rest of my life!Enjoy life

Some Days Need a Tea Party

Today, my mother and I had a tea party. Just the two of us.women in hats

My sister, Bernie is the ultimate tea party hostess. Once she and her granddaughter brought an elaborate portable tea party to us, I knew I could never compete with that.

Mobile tea party

Still, today, I knew that only a Tea Party would lighten the somber mood that had taken over since the recent winter storm that did little but provide an interesting photo op for me.ice on leaves

Momma and I wore hats and toasted each other with wine glasses filled with orange juice – and we ate leftovers.

Toasting with Juice

We didn’t have a bouquet of fresh Spring flowers or pink lemonade in champagne flutes. We did have fun, though.

            Most days, Momma wants to eat half a grilled cheese sandwich or maybe some soup, sometimes, an omelet. She eats quietly and quickly and soon is back in her recliner, searching for words in one of her books – when she’s not channel-surfing and grousing about other people not calling her.

tv remote

Today, I decided we needed a tea party, complete with toast points and the mush that is leftover from porcupines, a meatball made with rice and hamburger. I knew I could get Momma to eat a few apple slices, but only if they were presented properly, and she tried a Romaine leaf with some cheese and sausage.

Party food

We giggled together and remembered when Bernie brought Gabby out for a tea party.

Child behind flutes of lemonade

Momma filled up on a variety of tasty tidbits and for a moment, she wasn’t bored or blue. I live for those moments.

Prepare Thyself!

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States of America, conservationist and creator of the National Park System, advised, “Make preparation in advance. You never have trouble if you are prepared for it.”

National Park System

EDC, Every Day Carry, refers to “small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies. In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.”

Handy when needed

Long before I became a HANC (Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion) for my mother, I knew the value of being prepared and the adage promoting “A place for everything and everything in its place.”Yellow leather bag

I am still working on the place issue and have abandoned a few ideals along the way. I’m learning how insignificant some of my personal quirks and preferences are.

It does not matter if the cups and glasses end up on the same shelf. If the teaspoons and tablespoons end up where I wanted the forks, who cares? Towels dry just as well from the third shelf as they would if they were placed on the second.

martini on a shelf

My mother often repeats a story she heard as a child whenever she wants to commend me on my preparedness.

Betsy often went with her sister who was a midwife. One time, the midwife was delivering a baby and discovered she had left her scissors at home. Betsy, who was not a midwife, pulled a pair of scissors from her basket and said, “Betsy’s ready. Betsy’s got her scissors.”

Metal Scissors

I might seem as if I am organized and know where everything is, but some days I don’t feel as if any amount of planning or preparedness training will equip me.

Everything in its place

            I haven’t been prepared to hear some of the things my mother has said to friends on the phone.

  • Oh, I never go anywhere.

I make a point to take her as often as she is willing to go to places she needs to go – stylist, doctors, church, family – and places she might find interesting such as museums, farmers’ markets or just driving to see landscape and homes.

traffic

 

  • I can’t go see her and she won’t come to me.

Now, I feel like a warden in a prison. I’ve recited names of family and friends I’d like to visit with her and she tells me she does not want to go see them, can’t make the ride that far, won’t be able to climb the steps into the home or they should come to her.

prison

 

  • Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy having them here, but . . .
  • I don’t do anything. Every day is the same. I just sit in my chair and do my puzzles.

I have scheduled my editing work around my mother’s day. I usually work long after she has gone to bed.

 

puzzle books

What’s a HANC to do?

Take a deep breath and realize that whatever happens between girlfriends on a phone call – even old girlfriends – is between girlfriends and shouldn’t be taken personally. Often, these calls, especially among the elders, are just for passing time together.

lifetime friends

Try to find reasons for those drives. Need milk? Bread?  Cookies?

C is for cookie

Do you have something to return to a sibling or friend? Turn simple errands into expeditions by taking a new route and look for streets with slow speed limits so you can take in the sights or discuss your surroundings.

Keep asking. Eventually, you’ll hear

Ear

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Make memories that might stick for future phone calls and perhaps one day, you’ll overhear:

            I’m not sure when, but she took me to the museum and we saw things that reminded me of my childhood. … One day, we went out to some parking lot and just gazed up at the clouds, just like I used to do with my cousin, but we stayed in the car instead of lying on Momma’s porch. … We went to the church festival and it was nice to see all the people there; I didn’t know so many of them missed me. … We do so many things together; she and I bake cakes and cookies and we go shopping together!

clouds above mountains

You might not hear these things, but it won’t hurt to make the memories for yourself – just in case.

            Take the steps necessary to prepare yourself for what awaits. Study, read, research and talk with other HANCs. Get ready for the good days and the bad and know there will always – and I mean always – be something you didn’t expect.

stairs

By all means plan and prepare. Just know when you become a HANC, you cannot plan for every contingency. Do your best and accept that your best is just right.tall flag at mountain

Reverse Kidnap

Caregiving

Some days, being a HANC is so damned difficult I don’t know what to do. Other days I think my duties are ridiculously commonplace. I have been a housekeeper and activities director since my first son was born. I’m aware of nutritional needs and don’t mind being my mother’s companion. Still, when we abandoned our former lives to care for my mother, I faced other difficult choices.

fire! Fire!

The possibility of a serious burnout scares the hell out of me. I resent being the only one who empties my mother’s potty. Yet I’m infuriated when I recall the foul odor that prompted us to put our careers and lifestyle on hold.

Time

I want to be inspiring and motivational, but when I’m frazzled and weary, it’s difficult to remain upbeat. At night, I often collapse into bed, exhausted physically, still reviewing things undone. After an hour or so, disturbing dreams or body aches begin, or I am awakened to attend to her needs.

Wine

Taking adequate restorative breaks requires advance planning and coordination. Gone are my days of spontaneity. I no longer come home from a hard day at work and announce, “Dinner’s on your own,” as I trudge toward a hot bath with a glass of wine and a book. Because of my mother’s condition, structure and routine are essential for a peaceful life.

Pituful man

Recently, I held my first serious pity party. After all, who knows how long this could go on? My siblings are confounded I have taken on this role, and trust me, today I was doubting my own good sense. When I felt my pending calamity, I called on five members of my large support system. My husband, two of four brothers, one of three sisters and a nephew listened and gave me their sense of understanding. One had an undertone of, glad I’m not in your shoes, and one promised to give me some relief – tomorrow.

What's in his hand?

When I mentioned my rising frustration to my nephew, I didn’t think he paid particular attention, but later, his dad approached me as I pruned a blueberry bush. He said he wanted to trade what was in my hand for what was in his, and he held out the keys to his car and a little cash.

He said, “I have half a tank of gas. Take it as far as you can and get a drink on me.”

Hand off

I accepted his gesture and his keys. No planning. No discussion. No procrastination and no collapse!

Walk through sanctuary

I told my husband we’d been reverse-kidnapped and we took my camera for a sunset walk through a nearby wildlife sanctuary, though the wildest thing we saw were some human snowbirds. As the moon rose, we ate burgers at a local favorite and then went for those drinks.

rose

Since then, I have renewed my promise to walk more, garden more and make more time for myself. The roses don’t have a chance. I plan to smell each one of them this year!

I am not a Nurse!

Uniforms and hats

I’ve worn some interesting hats over the years, but of all the hats I’ve worn, a nurse’s cap was never one.

             Ask my brothers and sisters and they will tell you that I am not a nurse. I’m the family erudite. As a child, I played school, not hospital. I pretended to be a teacher, not a nurse or a doctor.

            So, why did I volunteer to become a caregiver? Why am I my mother’s HANC?

Woman on scooter

She needed help with Housekeeping, because her limited mobility prevents her from doing all but basic cleaning and home maintenance. This same handicap, brought on by the fall that broke her hip and precipitated an entire shoulder replacement, controls the amount of Activities in which she can participate.

good food

Her dependency on a walker and her failing memory restrict her ability to prepare Nutritious meals. Although she has lived alone for nearly three decades, it was clear her limitations were preventing her from many social interactions; she needed Companionship.

            She needed a HANC, not a nurse.

woman on phone

Every day requires I employ my Housekeeping and Nutritionist skills, but the need for me to be her sole Companion changes if friends or family call or come to visit.

book

Her willingness to engage in activities other than watching television, crocheting or working word puzzles  is contingent on her energy levels. If her overall health declines, she needs a nurse, not a Companion or Activity director.

She’s had a few bouts of illness. Only one, so far, resulted in hospitalization. That’s when I realized I am not a nurse.

tray of medical items

Nurses run on schedules and panicked calls from patients. My shifts run twenty-four, not eight or even just sixteen hours. Some nurses taught me how to control her pain by adjusting her body and supporting it with pillows. Other nurses taught me the strength in a gentle touch and the power of a calm demeanor. Some taught me they care more for a patient prior to receiving discharge orders than they do for those eager to go home.

pain meds

One nurse displayed a preference for medication rather than providing attentive nursing care.

Unfortunately, I learned my mother respects a nurse’s authority more than her daughter’s opinion. Still, no matter how caring, compassionate and qualified a nurse can be, family is always better.

family photo

Even a family as goofy as mine!

Better you than me

busy as a bee

Being caregiver to an elderly loved one is similar to parenthood. The demands don’t end after an eight-hour shift. Downtime is minimal. Some days, no amount of expressed gratitude can compensate for the private sacrifices and personal exhaustion.

two bees

Married HANCs who choose to provide Housekeeping, direct Activities, prepare tasty, Nutritious meals and offer fulltime Companionship may find privacy especially precious. It’s vital to seize moments of intimacy and search for opportunities to be alone with your spouse while maintaining balance in your care-giving roles.

solo bee

Conversely, it is essential to find time to be alone, with friends and to seek personal activities that sustain and support emotional stability. This is particularly important for the solitary or single HANC.

bee duo

The role of companionship for yourself is no less important than providing healthy meals or stimulating activities and maintaining a well-kept home. Remember why you made the decision to become a HANC but don’t let the decision monopolize your life.

fuzzy bee

            From time to time, you will hear things that affirm your decision.

fat bee

A sister said, “Thanks so much for being there—1,000 times.”

Thistle flower with bee

When a friend learned of our move, he wrote in an email:

“I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I wish I could have been there for my father more than I was at the end.”

bee on flower

A business acquaintance told me, “You are doing a wonderful and selfless thing.”

Florida bee

A brother wrote, “Thank you again for your being there. I am so grateful to you for taking this leap in faith to move in with Momma.”

Marigold bee

A colleague wrote, “You have sacrificed a lot to be there for your mother.”

Pollen hunter

Yet one of the briefest and most profound statements came from my sister-in-law.

Better You Than Me!

Take a Break. It’s more Important than you Think.

Since becoming my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC) I face new challenges daily. In some ways, on some days, it’s as if I am responsible for an 85-year-old toddler. Without family intervention, her meals would be meager and lonely, her health dwindling rapidly.

woman in blue shirt wearing glasses

Joe plays guitar

 Prior to our moving in, my sister, Jane, or my brother, Joe, cooked for her, but they weren’t able to be on hand daily to ensure she ate what they prepared.

That’s my job, now.

When I told Jane of our decision to move in with Momma, she told me, “You have no idea what you are getting yourself into. It is much more work than you think it is and it’s not going to get easier.”

She was right. Being a HANC is a tremendous honor and an enormous responsibility.

Without my support system, I might have burned out quickly.

family

By far, my biggest supporters are my brothers and sisters. Each in his or her way has provided invaluable assistance. Some have taken us out to dinner.

tea party

Others have brought food or even tea parties to us. Some have helped with yard work.

All have given words of gratitude and encouragement.

Jane offered to give me and my husband one weekend off each month.

gift

What a gift!

I had no idea how important that would be, but Jane knew.

When we first moved in, I needed some time to unpack and assimilate. We all needed to adjust to the new lifestyle. We were here three months before our first weekend away, which meant it was all the more important.

We’d started planning a trip to Hilton Head, but something didn’t feel right about it, so we decided my husband would follow his instincts and use “the force” to direct us on our spontaneous adventure.

museum

We drove an hour to North Charleston, where he surprised me by taking me to the Fire Museum, a wonderful visual tribute to firefighters all over the world. That evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and sat outside our less-than-ideal motel room watching a feral cat colony.

library

The next day, we drove to historic downtown Charleston where we started making plans for a return trip.

A short drive to the Isle of Palms, where we toured the island and I took photos, took us past the Windjammer Beach Club and we modified our plans. We then drove us to Sullivan’s Island.

signbattle sign

 

My husband stopped as soon as he saw  the historical monument depicting the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.

Then we saw him.

ski on air

A young man was rising out of the water, a hose attached to a jet ski. He rode on a stream of water, hovering over the inlet. We watched him until he stopped his water and air show.

It was the highlight of our day.

Revived by his enthusiasm and athleticism, we returned home with great memories and hundreds of photos to share. We can relive the weekend with Momma, which should spark some stimulating conversations.

 

 

 

 

Hit the wall, but don’t let it hit back

It’s not uncommon for a HANC to hit an emotional wall at some point. Keeping a tidy house, directing activities, planning nutritious meals and providing fulltime companionship will take its toll. Wall with flowers

Doing all this while maintaining a career and relationships can add to the stress level of even the most well-balanced person, but to attempt the feat while caring for a beloved pet that becomes ill, relocating your entire household and “coming home” after nearly a decade-and-a-half away can prove exhausting.

wall corner pin and tan

If you don’t rest and take care of yourself, your body will give out in any number of ways and you will be forced to take a break. Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental state unless you want to suffer the consequences of fatigue, colds, headaches or other maladies.

small bricks

  • No move ever goes exactly as planned or expected, even when you have options for contingencies. Unexpected problems will emerge, such as the old air handler that fails to perform during unseasonably hot weather or the elevated utility bill resulting from the faulty appliance. Cars break down, oven doors fall off, pests invade, rain seems never-ending; yet you are the one who must hold things together for everyone else.
  • Expecting the unexpected can help HANCs cope with computers that fail or cell phones that break. Accepting Murphy’s Law makes it easier to cope and respond appropriately when things go wrong. Then the family has a sense of calm cohesiveness.
  • Problems arise when HANCs expect too much from themselves and are less forgiving of their own mistakes than they are of others. With so many responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember to take time for yourself, time to play, relax, to do nothing. Don’t be too stubborn to listen to the advice you give others.
  • Realize that the housekeeping aspect of your new job does not require miraculous transformation of a marginally kept house into a magazine cover shot. Take care of the necessary daily chores and reserve some of the deeper cleaning for another time, after you have settled in fully.
  • Perhaps the most important part of being a HANC is the activities director portion, but this does not mean you must plan every waking moment of each day. Some days, it means making no plans at all, but being open to what the day brings. If the weather changes, be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, an activities director needs only to provide simple conversation and gentle reminders about recent events. Too many changes and too much commotion can be overly stimulating and frightening. A good HANC knows where to draw the line between keeping busy and being a busybody.
  • Learn as quickly as possible how much activity the person in your care can handle at a given time and don’t push beyond that limit. A walk outdoors might be all you can handle one day, but the next day, a drive or shopping trip could provide interaction or the chance to meet old friends. Don’t rush and don’t put your desire to fill the needs of being a HANC before his or her need to do whatever is important at that moment.
  • If the person in your care has memory issues, don’t let your personal frustration drive you to impatience. Allow time and encourage memories by urging conversations with friends and relatives. Give hints and recollection prompts and know that the other person is more annoyed than you at the declining memory.

wall and pipes and sky

Can you tell Fran about what we did yesterday?” might be too generic. Try, instead, “Will you tell Fran what you thought about the farmers’ market?”

Don’t quibble over details, but help with dates and time management.

“Remember, we went to see Sally after you had your haircut. Yesterday was the day we went to the museum.”

reflection of wall

The activities you engage in are to help deter boredom and keep the mind of your loved one stimulated, not for your own entertainment. This can be difficult to remember at times. It can be harder to implement when you are also trying to maintain a healthy balance. If you feel you are close to hitting an emotional wall or at your physical limit, take a moment to collect yourself. A few minutes alone in the shower or a short walk outside might be all you need. Put some space between you and whatever is frustrating you. If your loved one is too demanding, make a promise to yourself to take a break as soon the current crisis has passed.  Keep your promise.

sunset wall

  • By providing a healthy diet for the person in your care, you are also ensuring your own nutritional needs are met. Just be certain your specific dietary needs don’t clash with medical needs. Don’t force anyone to adhere to your menu preferences. Introduce new foods gradually. Make suggestions, not requirements. Don’t preach about snacking, but make healthy choices readily available and be sure to set a good example with how you eat. Keep a water bottle handy, especially when leaving home. Don’t forget to drink water, yourself.
  • Companionship could well be the second most important facet in any HANCs position or life. By growing in communion with the one in your care, you may not add years to a life, but you will certainly add life to those years.

road walls

Knowing your job as a HANC means you understand the obligations, but does not lessen the responsibility to take care of yourself.

fence wall post

Enjoy the journey and stay off that wall.

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