Caregiving can often seem like a complex maze that you’ve been stranded in to navigate yourself. And when that happens, it’s helpful to get down to the brass tacks of what caregiving is at the core: figuring out what’s most important to the person for whom you care.
One way our family has done this while caring for AJ, my beloved grandmother? We think about what she used to enjoy doing for herself before she developed dementia—and before she was bedridden. We think about the ways she used to prioritize herself. Things that used to make her happy. Things that would remind us of her if we saw them in a store. These are good places to start.
Here are three specific ways we honor AJ’s personhood in ways that meet her where she is now.
We keep her in the loop of laughter.
AJ has always seemed the happiest to me when she is playful, joking, not being taken too seriously, teasing, and “in the know.” So none of my family members have let up on teasing her just as much as we tease each other. We joke with her, we’re sarcastic or goofy with her, we pull pranks on her. The only difference is that she can’t hear us laughing very well, so we have to be intentional about being more charismatic and less subtle with our facial expressions and laughter.
We honor her put-together preferences.
It was always important to my grandmother to appear put-together. Nails, clothes, hair, jewelry, lipstick, perfume. So we focus a good portion of her day on this, and it’s where we pull from for gift ideas or for self-care activities.
Something I noticed a few years ago when my grandmom began losing a lot of her independence? Our caregiving practices were making her complacent.
Mornings were rushed because we hadn’t yet found a good rhythm, therefore anything that would typically require an opinion was decided FOR her.
Clothes lost their excitement, jewelry lost its pizzazz, lipstick was forgotten. Everything that she’d LOVED her entire life was being shoved aside for time’s sake.
When we prioritized upholding my grandmom’s opinion was when caregiving became about more than survival mode. It became something of an art form.
Opinion-forming has now become one of the most valuable activities of the day: lipstick, jewelry, food, stuffed animals. If there’s room for her to choose between two things, we try our best to leave that up to her.
Caregiving often feels like a constant trial-and-error experiment. Always adjusting, always making mistakes, always looking for ways to make days easier and better for everybody. This simple switch in mindset transformed the way my family cares for my grandmom, and made caregiving more person-centered as opposed to time-centered.
We bring her opportunities for hospitality.
AJ always took pride in taking care of others. She loves hosting, nurturing, and comforting. This is a tough one to weave throughout her life now, since she is almost entirely dependent on others. But we try to invite friends in to gather around her bed with us; we set up goodies on her lap table for everyone to enjoy; if I’m feeling down I’ll lay my head on her lap and let her take care of me in that moment.
A few months ago, I invited some friends over to play and sing some of her favorite songs with her (as shown in the photo). Because she can’t go out, we bring the hospitality, hosting, and nurturing opportunities to her—and let her take it from there.
What are some things that are important to your caree? How do you implement those priorities and preferences into their life now? Let us know in the comments below!