Eliza Brown is a millennial caregiver for her grandmother Aj. Here are her favorite ways to keep Aj engaged throughout the day. *Bonus: these ideas are simple, mostly free, and don’t involve a lot of prep work or planning.
- Meal prep: Invite those for whom you care to snap beans, peel apples or potatoes, or do other types of simple, hands-on food prep. Making a meal is time-consuming, so why not welcome some help from those around your table? Snapping beans doesn’t require good eyesight, good memory, good hearing, or even nimble fingertips! Make peeling a safer, simpler job by using a peeler instead of a knife. You can also provide a stack of napkins (paper or cloth, whatever’s your style!) for folding. If mobility allows, setting the table is another great way to invite participation and help at meal time.
- Folding laundry: Caregivers are busy, so leave the folding as an activity when you need your loved one to be quietly occupied while you take a breather. Put a TV tray or small table or chair next to where she sits where she can place the folded items, and put washcloths, hand towels, shirts, socks, etc. on her lap.
- “Pictionary:” Keep it simple, easy, and flexible. All you need is a white board and marker. Let the person who is drawing come up with what he wants to draw, and whoever guesses first gets a point.
- Decorations: Someone who spends most of her day in the same spot is likely to welcome any opportunity to host some form of celebratory event. Birthday, graduation party, baby shower — when an event is coming up, save some of the decorating and include your loved one in the festivities.
- Balloon Volleyball: Speaking of parties, once the celebration is over, don’t be so quick to deflate the balloons! The bright color — as well as the slow, gentle, nature of a balloon — makes it the ideal candidate for a quick volley in the living room. Perfect for all ages, batting a balloon back and forth will keep everyone moving and thinking, even if some have to sit in chairs while doing it!
- Make up a secret handshake: Okay, this one sounds silly. But it can end up being either a great memory exercise, or a good laugh all around. Keep it simple (at least at first) and see if everyone can remember it after a few minutes, hours, days, etc.
- Surround him with “time-passers:” If your loved one has to be alone for any length of time, make sure he has a few things nearby with which to occupy himself. If she’s hard of hearing, cannot get up on her own, or has limited vision, this one can be a little tricky, and requires some creativity. For example, if she enjoys primping herself, leave a mirror, makeup kit, and hairbrush nearby. If he can still see print on a page, a magazine or crossword puzzle might be fun. You could also try getting a low-maintenance pet to keep them company (such as a parakeet), but if a real animal is too much commitment (even birds can be messy!), try a stuffed animal or battery-operated plush animal that moves and/or makes noises. Caregivers cannot be attentive 24/7, so these simple independent activities can be great even if you’re just leaving to put in a load of laundry or to take a deep breath on the front porch.
- Spa day: This one is fun because it can work with anyone’s level of ability: all they have to do is sit and be pampered. This activity would work well on “shower day” but really can be done any day. You can do face masks (sheet masks work well for easy cleanup and can be purchased at most stores for only a couple dollars), massage their legs and hands with lotion, paint their nails, and more. Make sure to pamper yourself as well!
- Sing songs: Music has the incredible ability to stir memory, so if you care for someone who attends/used to attend church, camp, or anywhere where music was involved, see if they remember any of the old songs they used to sing. Even if they weren’t involved in any of those activities, see if they remember a favorite song of theirs from when they were younger, like a nursery rhyme. Sing with them, act goofy for them, dance while they sing, sing the song for them, do whatever you can to make them feel the joy of the music!
- Junk drawer sort: If the person you care for hasn’t rummaged through their dresser lately, take a drawer out and put it on their lap (if it’s small) or on a chair next to them. We might not consider anything special about this activity since we probably look through our drawers on a daily basis, but those small, perhaps meaningless belongings are personal, and being able to go through them connects us to ourselves. Jewelry boxes, junk drawers, scarf/handkerchief drawer: anything that holds small, collected items is sure to be a joy to rummage around in once again.
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