Check out these caregiving hacks from Eliza, who cares for her bed-bound grandmother who has dementia. These hacks were tested—and worked!— with her grandmother, but they’ll also work for caregivers and care receivers of all ages!
Do the hard stuff (sometimes).
It’s easy to shy away from activities because they seem too complicated or involved, would require too much explaining or would be too messy … the list goes on and on. I do this all the time.
Try not to shy away from these activities! Messes can be cleaned up; we can find a few extra minutes to explain something complicated and to help along the way. Every once in a while, do the thing you think you can’t do with your loved one, and see what you discover.
I made pretzels the other day, and considered having my grandmother help me roll the dough and twist the pretzels, then immediately came up with excuses. But as I was sitting with her while the dough was rising, I saw her staring blankly ahead the way she does when we don’t interact with her, and I thought, why not just try it? Even if it fails miserably, the failing will be more fun than doing nothing.
So I sanitized her table, cleaned her hands and under her nails, gave her some dough, explained over and over again what we were doing, helped her roll, reminded her what we were doing, showed her how to twist…reminded her what we were doing.
I was so much more exhausted than if I’d just done it myself in the kitchen. But she was so happy to have helped, and even HAPPIER to eat those pretzels, and the afternoon was an adventure instead of a drag.
Some days will be a drag because we can’t lead the adventure every day, but every once in a while, challenge yourself to do the hard thing.
Recycle household items into useful caregiving tools!
When you find yourself thinking “somebody should invent something that would help with ______” see if you can make one yourself! We use a toilet paper roll as a megaphone. This may sound funny (and it feels pretty funny, too!) but when you’re caring for someone who is extremely hard of hearing, you get desperate!
This hack has come in handy SO much more now that lip-reading isn’t possible due to masks.
If it gets to be the third or fourth time repeating something and my grandmother still can’t understand what we’re saying, and frustration is escalating from every direction, we pull out the handy toilet paper roll, have a good laugh, and can suddenly communicate so much better. Give it a try and let us know if it works for you!
*Just be mindful that when you’re using this trick you’re of course doing so in a respectful, helpful way that upholds their dignity.
A need for “selfless” self-care?
Try to find a form of “self care” that makes you feel good for reasons beyond surface-level contentment. Find something that makes you proud of yourself, or something that can be done for yourself AND others, or something that makes the earth better.
Still do the face mask and drink that hot tea until you’re filled with warmth, but also ground yourself in the dirt and plant flowers where others will enjoy them. Knead bread and get all your frustration out as you work your muscles, then give the bread to a neighbor. Break out the paint brushes you’ve let collect dust and paint something colorful to hang for your family to enjoy.
Invite those for whom you care to enjoy these activities as well, and let them in on the secret that this is for you AND for others! Let them in on that heart-filling happiness.
Self-care can (and should!) look like locking yourself in your room with candles and wine and a good tv show, but it can also look like something a little different. Just remember that the joy that comes from looking outside of yourself is also a way of caring for your own soul.
Lunchtime has been a struggle lately with my grandmother. Since most lunch foods are foods we eat with our hands, and since my grandmother’s eyesight and arthritis are pretty bad, lunch is always ending up all over her lap instead of in her belly! She loves sandwiches, but struggles to hold them so they don’t fall apart, so I’ve started using pita pockets instead of sliced bread. I cut one round in half and fill it, and the pocket holds everything in so she can still feed herself without her sandwich falling apart.
It’s a simple problem and a simple solution, but it has made lunchtime so much more of an independent time for her, which is the goal whenever possible!
You don’t always have to be the activities coordinator.
We know a bad wave of anxiety is coming when my grandmom says, “I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to do.” Everything can be fine, but as soon as she says that, with a furrowed brow and a sudden look of panic, we know to jump into action and find something to keep her busy.
Our most recent solution for her oncoming anxiety? A bag of my grandmother’s scarves. She’s always loved anything beautiful, and she loves to fold, sort, admire, and of course—adorn—herself with her collected pieces. This is a good way to let her take the lead in an activity, because this is her area of expertise. It’s also a good way to keep her happy as a clam, and to let us sit back and follow where she goes—instead of always being the activities coordinator.