Wayne Newton’s hit song Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast was about a boy trying to keep up with a father too busy to pay attention to the young child scurrying to keep up with him. The other end of the spectrum is a caregiver walking ahead of their charge, be it a parent, spouse or elder employer.
Last week at the mall, a caregiver assisting a senior out of a car seemed diligent in securing the senior with his walker. Then he walked ahead leaving the elder to slowly maneuver the contraption from the parking space, up a ramp and down a walkway to double doors where the assistant stood waiting. How much safer, certainly more respectful, had the caregiver simply walked with the senior? Elders want independence but that can be given while still being accessible.
Many simple changes make life easier for elders who’ve already lost a lot compared to the active lives they once led. When assisting your elder, keep these simple tips in mind:
- Walk with your companion, not yards in front.
- When visiting a bed bound elder, listen to them and avoid guiding the conversation only in directions you’ve planned.
- Let the conversation flow naturally. Too many questions can be confusing.
- If a third party joins, keep your elder in the conversation. Avoid discussing things of no interest to them or ignoring them like they aren’t even there.
- I once found a facility housekeeper arguing with a senior. She failed to understand the resident’s mental state. Inform management of such disagreements.
- References like “The 36-Hour Day,” advise that those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t intend to be difficult. Individuals are unique at every stage of life. Some age with grace, others with great difficulty.
- If your bedridden mother is fond of a certain color, consider buying her bedclothes and linens in those shades. She’ll love the compliments she’ll receive.
- When the level of concentration diminishes, keep life simple. Select TV programming that is mentally challenging (within reason), easy game shows; style shows (if they like fashion); talk shows with upbeat hosts. Avoid violent programs which could cause nightmares.
- Should dementia or medication cause hallucinations, avoid telling your elder they don’t know what they’re talking about, there are no monsters, etc. Try to reassure them they are safe and you are there for them.
- Maintain a calm demeanor even when you’re stressed. When you’re a full-time caregiver, have a substitute sit with them occasionally while you take a much needed break.
Realize you’re giving a precious gift to another human being; understanding and respect are needed and deserved throughout life. Whether the person you care for is a relative, friend, or individual you’re employed to serve, combining care and respect is key to a better end of life experience for them and a rewarding situation for you. If you consistently feel overwhelmed, seek help from a doctor, counselor, pastor or responsible family member.
Patricia Dean Rogers is a free-lance writer in Palm Desert and L.A. County; certified by the State of California as an Ombudsman for the Elderly; retired Volunteer Coordinator for the Co. of Riverside; and former Instructor for Fit After Fifty. Mrs. Rogers can be reached at (760) 341-7235.