Caregiving, like many other aspects of life, works by trial and error: finding out what works and what doesn’t. It only makes sense that in a community of caregivers these tips and tricks are shared! After all, though it often feels isolating, caregiving takes a village.
These tips and tricks are things that my family has tried when caring for my grandmother, whom we call Aj, and that have helped make a difficult task a bit more manageable. I hope you find one or all of these helpful at some point in your caregiving journey. (And check out our spring edition for more!)
Move decorations down.
If the person you take care of uses a walker, is bent over due to a compression fracture, or for any other reason can’t look up very far anymore, focus your decorations down low to be in their line of vision. We didn’t think of this until we put a tablecloth that my grandmother had made years ago on an end table, and now every time she walks by it she stops to admire it, and thanks us for putting it out. Adding beauty to everyday spaces is so important for some people (perhaps not for everybody) but we forget that as one’s range of motion is limited, so is his or her line of vision! Hang pictures lower, put vases of flowers on low tables, or paint baseboards a bold, fun color.
Be an accomplice, not a dictator.
Often, I try to think of things we don’t even notice that bring us joy or excitement that those with limited capabilities may no longer be able to do for themselves. It’s easy to get caught up in telling someone what they can and cannot do, especially if they have trouble remembering for themselves. So I’ve found it does wonders to shift gears with the person for whom you care and try to be on their side as much as possible. Pull off a prank with him, have an inside joke, help her sneak a taste of dinner before it’s ready to be served.
Growing up, while dinner was being prepared, my grandmother was always sneaking bites when nobody was looking. Since she is no longer able to stand on her own to get to the kitchen, she loves it when we bring her secret bites of something tasty. I like to hide it from Mom to make it more exciting, and we still catch a case of the giggles if she sees us.
Let her help with party planning.
If you’re hosting a party (family birthday, graduation party, baby shower, etc.), include your loved ones in the decorating and preparing for the party! Let them cut strips of streamers or ribbon, see if they can blow up a few balloons, ask them where they think signs should be hung or where the dessert table should be set up, let them stir the cupcake batter or arrange the cookies on a tray. The more they can be included in an important event, the better. Talk about the event a lot in the days leading up to it so they can get excited, and ask their opinion on things! It’ll make the day even more special.
Add artistic flair everywhere.
Art is truly therapeutic: whether you are creating your own art or simply observing, admiring, or interacting with others’, I believe art has the ability to calm, uplift, and re-center the mind. If the person for whom you care is no longer able to do much with her or his hands due to arthritis and poor eyesight, give him coffee in a mug or teacup that is intricately painted; give her some embroidery pieces to admire that she made years ago; put a bouquet of flowers arranged beautifully where he can see them. Try to incorporate into the monotony of life anything that has an artistic flair to it. Art incites emotion, and a closed-up household often lacks the thrill of emotion. Art is everywhere! So find a way to display it for those you help out — as well as for yourself!
Modify activities; make memories.
Being a caregiver changes the way you view the world. Instead of narrowing your view of what is possible, try to think of it as modifying it. Whatever used to be enjoyable before your loved one needed extra assistance, modify it to fit their capabilities now. If your grandmother used to enjoy going out for ice cream in the summer, have an ice cream sundae night on the deck: get her favorite flavors, some fun toppings, and use colorful, fun bowls or ice cream cones! Let her put her own toppings on if she is able.
If your grandfather enjoyed playing sports and being active, get a volley going with a balloon or a badminton racket and birdie. If your child enjoys nature, have a nature day every once in a while. Paint rocks, run around with butterfly nets, stomp in puddles after a rainstorm, pull the hose out into the yard and let them play in the mud, teach them about composting!
If your mother used to have a regularly scheduled pedicure, continue that tradition even when she can no longer get out of the house. Soak her feet in some warm bubbly water, then paint her toenails a color that she chooses. These special events don’t need to be often to make an impact, but when they are done, it makes a world of difference to someone who can no longer get out to do things on their own. And don’t forget to take pictures! These memories are priceless.
Get creative about hydration.
Dehydration is a huge problem in older adults that can lead to an even larger number of serious health issues. We’ve tried many things that have failed, but here are a few ways we’ve been successful with keeping my grandmother hydrated:
- Flavoring her water. This isn’t ideal, but this works wonders for us. We mix in some lemonade powder with her water, which sweetens it and gives it a bold flavor, both of which she loves. Miss Sweet Tooth gulps it down that way!
- Giving her a beverage in a fun cup with a straw. This way the drink won’t spill, and she drinks more than she thinks through the straw.
- Reminding her what time it is. She tends to think it is almost time for bed, so she doesn’t drink because she isn’t able to get to the bathroom on her own. She is more likely to drink if we remind her that it’s still early.
- Setting goals with rewards. This sounds silly, but for a stubborn southern gal like my grandmother, sometimes this is the only thing that works. Say how many more sips they have to take before they can have dessert, or before they can do the crossword — or even for you to stop nagging them!
- Making sure they can see you drinking. Drink throughout the day, and try to be very obvious about it. Especially during meals, I compare my glass to hers. A sense of competition seems to give her the nudge she needs.
Comment below if you find something else that works for you, if you try one of my hacks and it doesn’t work, or if you modify something and find that it works better. Let’s put our heads together and find the best ways to make our caregiving responsibilities as simple & stress-free as possible!