For this homebound edition of #CaregivingHacks, check out what Eliza has been sharing on our Instagram page to help with her grandmother who has dementia. These hacks were tested (and worked!) with her grandmother, but you’ll find these hacks can help caregivers and care receivers of all ages!
Set the scene.
It’s the small things that make caregivers so special, so integral. My grandmother went on hospice a few months ago, and a hospital bed was brought in to replace her usual bed.
After dismantling her bed—and before the new one was delivered—my mom (who is always thinking) worried the new empty space would throw my grandmother off. She usually sleeps in a recliner next to the bed. So Mom hauled in TV trays, extra pillows, ottomans, and stools to stage a “bed” that could fill the space until the delivery.
We laughed the whole time she was setting it up, but it worked like a charm! No worries from my grandmother, and we got a good laugh in for the day.
Rediscover (and redesign) their passions.
If your loved one gets bored or antsy, or if their memory seems sharpest when they have something to do, include them in what you’re doing whenever possible.
These were some “emergency” groceries I brought over one night: dish soap, flour, butter, milk, and soup for lunch when I’m not there. Before I put my own groceries away, I would just set them on my grandmom’s lap for her to look at while I got dinner started.
I include her in this part of my day because she used to love grocery shopping; she’d spend upwards of two hours at the grocery store really reading labels and contemplating every decision. This, in a very small way, allows her to connect back to that hobby of hers! I give her the private, quiet time to look at the things I brought over, the same way she used to do when she was more independent.
Think about the things your loved one used to enjoy, and try to incorporate that into their free time now. Did they find washing dishes therapeutic? Figure out a way to let them dry the dishes as you wash. Did they enjoy gardening? Let them pot some small plants at the table and really get their hands in the soil; let them water any indoor plants they can get to.
To be the best caregiver you can be, you need to think outside of the box every once in a while. It takes more energy on your end (so we can’t ALWAYS be using our creativity), but it is vital to your loved one’s contentment and comfort.
Feeling drained? Set a timer.
Sometimes this is all I have to keep me going. A few months ago, I had a day where I felt completely drained. I was stressed out from work, exhausted from sleepless nights of worrying, and I felt like I’d been rushing from place to place since the week started.
I was in my room after work to change before going to my grandmother’s, and decided I was tired of feeling like I didn’t have a minute to myself. So I set my timer for 15 minutes, lit a candle, sat on my bed in silence, bundled up in a blanket, and tried to completely silence my mind. And when I arrived at my grandmother’s house 15 minutes late, you know what happened? Nothing. It was fine. She was fine. And I was better equipped to pour myself out for her.
So, caregivers, when you feel entirely consumed by life, set a timer. Maybe even just for 5 or 10 minutes, and let that be your time. You need to be functioning well to care for others, so this is a necessary part of caregiving.
Ask for advice.
Ask for advice, no matter how young or old the person for whom you’re caring is. It is easy to fall into the dynamic of you (the caregiver) being in charge. You’re making all the decisions, you’re doing all the chores and making all the meals with the groceries you bought; you’re paying the bills and calling the doctor and picking out outfits. So it is only natural that you feel like you’re in control.
And the person for whom you’re caring picks up on that too, of course, because it feels like whoever is taking care of us is in charge. But try to break up that dynamic every once in a while; it’s a good feeling to be in control, and our loved ones deserve to have that feeling back when their lives seem to be rapidly shifting.
I wanted to borrow one of my grandmother’s shirts the other day, and initially just put it by the door. But then, I brought it out to her and put it on her lap. I asked her if she remembered it. She said it was pretty, and I told her it was hers, then asked if I could borrow it. She asked me if it was clean, or if I wanted her to wash it before I wore it. I told her it was very clean, but could she show me how to fold it?
It felt different asking her to do something for me, and I could see in her face how good it felt to be able to help. To be the one teaching, to be the one leading, to be the one in charge. And it felt good to just be her granddaughter again, kneeling next to her, watching her careful, gentle teaching movements.
If the person for whom you care is no longer able to sleep in a bed and instead sleeps in a recliner, a bed pillow might be too large; they might not be able to shift it around on their own according to their level of comfort. Try switching to a smaller pillow (we use a Pillow Pet 🐞).
The ability to move one’s pillow is important to avoid straining the neck and also to simply get a good night of rest, so it is helpful to be able to move it around with ease and independence.