Senior Care for Total Health and Well-Being
I have been involved with senior care for many years, first as a pastor in a mainline church, then as one who has helped a friend care for her aging mother, now as a teacher of senior yoga and relaxation. It’s seems easy to offer help on our own terms, but it’s more rewarding (for us as well as for them) and ultimately easier for us to meet our older friends where they are.
Meeting an older person where he or she is means first of all being aware of his or her history. Whether paying a visit, taking care of someone in your home, or teaching a class, it’s possible and desirable to gather whatever information you don’t have. Depending on the situation, you can ask friends and relatives ahead of time, or you can just ask questions as you go. Older people, even those impaired with Altzheimers or some form of dementia, usually love to be asked about their past accomplishments, travels, family events, etc. To avoid the “interview” approach, you can even do this indirectly and allude to your own experiences to see what catches the senior’s attention.
With regard to forms of dementia or just lapses of memory, it’s best to speak to the older person in the style of language and the time frame he or she is using at the moment. In other words, if someone speaks to you as if it were 1972 in another part of the world, it’s because that memory has surfaced and is very real. There’s very little to be gotten at that precise moment from reminding that person of the actual year and place. Better to have a little conversation from their perspective, and you may be amazed at the shared laughter and liveliness that ensues. Not only will they feel better, but you’ll even feel more energized and perhaps learn some history!
Of course, it’s easier to relate to an older person who needs special care when you can come and go and more difficult if you’re the primary caregiver. I’ve learned that patience and humor are probably the two most important attributes of a caregiver. You also have to think ahead to what might be needed, like covering hard surfaces and gating stairs in case of falls. While a balanced diet is always desirable, it’s probably best to encourage the person gently into eating healthy foods rather than forcing. Sometimes it’s just good to let go of expectations and just eat ice cream for supper! As with conversation, more well-being is to be gained from laughter than from tears.