Helpful tips for family caregivers
December 2018/January 2019
The close of the year brings a lot of festivities, a lot of disruption, and an opportunity for reflection. This month we offer insights about gifts for people who may have accumulated all they really need. We look at the problem of wandering among individuals with dementia (memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s). And last, we offer up a reflection exercise designed to help you become a more resilient family caregiver. Happy 2019!
Gifts for older adults
What to get for the “chronologically gifted?”
These age-friendly ideas address the special interests or concerns of persons in their later years.
Providing an experience. Don’t add to household clutter—give an activity! This way, you give the fun of anticipation as well as countless hours of enjoyment afterwards, remembering. Ideally, arrange the gift as something your loved one can do with someone—you or a friend. After all, “a joy shared is twice a joy.”
- A gift card for a favorite restaurant.
- A book of movie passes.
- Tickets to a theater or musical performance.
Supporting connection. If your family member has been outrun by the pace of technology, a simple device might be fun. But only if you can be the tech advisor to set it up and maintain it! Or can provide for in-person tech help as part of the gift. Consider:
- Fax-to-email converters. Your relative can write a note and put it in the machine to be emailed out to others. Conversely, a converter fax can receive emails to print out on paper. No computer or Internet required!
- Simplified phones and tablets. These come with a special interface that has large buttons and limited options. Without the whiz-bang features older adults don’t need, these devices let non-techies enjoy the connective opportunities of the Internet.
Honoring cherished memories. Over time, your loved one has doubtless accumulated many fond memories of people and events. Reminiscing is fun, even if your relative has memory problems. Help your loved one savor recollections of beloved people and experiences with:
- A puzzle made from family photos. Another, similar option is to have a blanket printed with photos of your choosing.
- A digital photo frame. Connect a “smart frame” to Wi-Fi and you can even upload new pictures remotely. (Again, be sure to include tech assistance as part of the gift!)
How to discourage wandering
It is natural to fear that a loved one with dementia may wander. Indeed, 60% of people with Alzheimer’s do get restless and head out the door.
As a family member, you can’t be watchful every minute. But you can take steps to reduce the chance of wandering.
The many triggers for wandering include anxiety, hunger, delusions, sleep problems, or the need to use the bathroom.
- Maintain a daily schedule. Familiar routines are reassuring. Routine also helps you ensure that basic needs, such as meals and toileting, are consistently addressed.
- Keep your loved one occupied. Boredom is a common cause of wandering. A person who feels purposeful or engaged isn’t likely to wander off. Offer simple, repetitive activities, such as folding clothes or sweeping.
- Store keys and coats out of sight. Catching a glimpse of keys or outdoor coats and shoes can trigger an urge to go out. Hide them from easy viewing.
- Put indoor locks on exterior doors. Install a slide lock up high or down low (out of the usual line of vision). NEVER lock your relative inside a building all alone. If there were a fire, he or she might be too disoriented to figure out a way to escape.
- Put signs on doors. A “Stop” or “Do Not Enter” sign can be effective on exterior doors. Similarly, “Bathroom” will help guide someone who is confused and simply can’t remember which door leads to the toilet.
- Build a fence around the yard. This allows your loved one some time outdoors without the worry that he or she will leave the premises and get lost.
Reducing nighttime restlessness. A dark room and a regular sleeping schedule with no daytime naps (or caffeine!) can help. Also, leaving water or crackers beside the bed can stem a search for a midnight snack.Return to top
A new year reflection
After the hubbub of the holidays and in the darkest nights at year’s end, nature seems to beckon us to reflect.
Rather than make a resolution about exercise or diet, consider looking at your approach to family caregiving and personal qualities you might nurture to become more resilient in this role.
Psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, studies resilience. He reports that resilience depends on three key strategies and the use of mental resources that support them. To cultivate greater resilience in yourself, review your past year while gently but candidly considering these questions:
- How did you manage the challenges you faced? What personal qualities supported a smooth or positive process? Did you listen well? Or perhaps you called upon your courage and persevered. Thinking about it now, were there approaches you took that exacerbated the problem? What might you want to do differently in the future?
- How did you take care of yourself? Did you say “no” when you reached your limit? Or maybe you didn’t say “no” and had a tougher time as a result.
- How did you access or cultivate resources? Were you inquisitive? Did you research your loved one’s condition? Perhaps you demonstrated compassion for yourself by reaching out for help. Identify people you can count on. Begin to build your support system. Are there people you’d like to thank or recruit?
Consider making a list of qualities that were helpful, things “done well.” Create another list of “not so skillful.” Everyone will have things they wish they had done differently. This isn’t about beating yourself up. Simply a constructive assessment. Make a symbolic break from the year. Burn, shred, or otherwise destroy the list of actions or qualities you’d like to let go of. Post the remainder—those you want to keep and emphasize—where you will see them often for encouragement in the coming year.Return to top