Saturday, January 3, 2009

Week of January 1st -- New Year, New Habits, plus caring for elderly

Happy Saturday!

Here's some inspiration from the Past: A WOMAN SPEAKS FROM THE 1870'S TO US TODAY:


" You must attain to it," I said, " or you will have a very unhappy married life. An acquaintance of mine, one of the most prematurely aged, fretted, worn-out women I ever saw, wrecked her home on this rock of Disorder. When I knew her she had six children; not one of the them had a drawer or closet for their own clothes; the stockings were mended or not, as it happened and when it happened; when mended, pairs were not rolled together, but the family supply tumbled into a basket or drawer, and at the cry, "I want a pair of stockings," came the reply, "to go and look for them," and the little ones wore odd hose as often as mates. Sunday morning was a scene of worry: buttons off, hats mislaid, shoes lost. The muff, last worn in early spring, was tossed upon a wardrobe, or on the spare-room bed, and found next fall dusty and moth-eaten; the parasols, used last on some Fall day, were stood in a closet, or behind a door, or laid on the bureau of the vacant room, and spring found them faded, dirty and mice-gnawed. Spasmodic house-cleanings availed little, as disorder began again as soon as things were put to rights. No one was ever contented nor sure of anything. The house-mother was always tired, never had time, was always in a worry and nervous. A good cook and seamstress, she accomplished nothing by her knowledge, for where she built up by "knowing how" she pulled down by disorder. Neither her husband nor children thought their home a 'nice place:' it was to them no center of their desires, no model, no 'dear nest.' whither they would always fly. I tell you, Helen, in a home it must be order or ruin. Order is to a home as morality to the human being- a sheet-anchor."

I've been inspired by reading many of your blogs and comments. A lot of you have already accomplished a lot in the first few days of 2009!

If you'd like to follow along with me, here are some of my goals for this week: Remember, we're putting away all items related to Christmas and New Year's -- unless you keep the tradition of keeping Christmas until the 6th of January. Also, we're evaluating and cleaning the area you enter your home through the front door.

Clean floors in this area, brush cobwebs away from ceilings and walls, give the furniture in this area a thorough dusting and possibly polish the furniture, as well. Polish metal lamps and other fixtures with the appropriate metal polish. Tend to the floors. Do what you can to make this area a bit of "welcoming sunshine" -- a place that's warm and cozy and makes you feel happy to walk in the front door. This can be a warm looking spot even if your front lawn is covered with snow and ice. While you're at it, you can do the same for other entryways to your home, as well. For example, if your family comes in through a side or back door, refresh those spots and make them welcoming, too.

Don't forget to do a bare minimum morning routine, as well as schedule an hour or two during your week to organize your calendar, plan menus, and handle any paperwork or correspondence that needs tending.

For those who are re-evaluating your household routines: If you're sailing along with a bare minimum morning routine (mine is make bed, get self ready for the day, clean toilet in master bath, sweep kitchen floor, clean kitchen, start a load of clothes -- not necessarily in that order.) you might want to consider a bare minimum night time routine: Here's an idea: leave kitchen reasonably sanitary, spend a few moments picking up living room and your bedroom, get ready for bed, allow from 5 to 30 minutes to do something relaxing before bedtime.

We're building little by little.

On a totally different note: Likely you and your children will be involved in loving and caring for an elderly family member. Perhaps, you will do this in your home; perhaps, your loved one will live in an assisted living center, a retirement complex, a nursing home, or some other facility. Or, perhaps, your loved one will continue to live in his or her home, but will require some assistance. Whether your aged loved one lives with you or not, he or she will still need love, communication, and perhaps assistance with the everyday matters of life. Also, as managers of our homes, we extend our arms to those in need. That might include elderly neighbors or elderly church friends.

James 1:27 tells us that religion God considers to be pure is to look after widows and orphans in their affliction. I Timothy 5:16 tells women to take care of any widows in their family so that the church as a whole can devote its efforts to widows who have no family who can meet their needs. These two verses particularly speak about widowed women, who -- whether they were aged or not -- would not have had many financial resources in that day. However, extending that spirit of love to the many aged men and women among us today can be an important part of our ministry as keepers at home.

One important thing to remember when dealing with elderly people is that their fives senses begin to decline. This happens at different rates for different people, and, even in one individual, each of the five senses declines at a different rate.

Have you ever thought about what it might be like if suddenly it sounded to you as if everyone is mumbling? (My generation's getting there earlier than prior generations did, because we subjected our ears to a lot of very loud music in our youth! What did you just say? Huh?). Likewise, how would you feel if food no longer tasted as appealing as it once did or if you could not see very well or if your hands constantly shook when you reached out to touch something?

These sensory changes not only affect enjoyment of life, but the ability to function, as well. As the senses decline, tasks that were once easy become harder.

Yet, there are ways to help an older person cope with these issues. Here are some ideas:

1) The older person is already having to emotionally cope with a reduced capacity to do and enjoy all of the things he or she once did. It will help an elderly person greatly if you remain patient, rather than becoming frustrated with them. It will also help if you treat them with dignity.

If the person in question is someone you've always loved and looked up to, you may feel sad or even angry to see the person lose ground as he or she ages. Especially if you are the primary caregiver, you may need to pray a lot and to talk to a trusted friend so that you can overcome frustration and handle grief in a positive way.

Be sure that your expectations of your loved one are realistic. Sometimes, we are too quick to treat an elderly person as if he or she is a child when they may still be capable of doing something; other times we push them harder than they can handle. Your loved one's health care provider can help you have a reasonable picture of what to expect.

2) Your loved one may require more light to see and a greater volume when watching TV. In general, he or she may need more sensory input to a sense organ in order to function at a normal level. There are many medical aids which can help with this. For example, TV ears allow an elderly person to hear the TV without having it be too loud for the rest of the family.

3) Don't just chalk up a decline in the senses to aging without getting a diagnosis from a qualified medical practitioner. Some damage to the senses might be from disease or injury, and it's possible that, with medical help, this type of sensory decline might be reversed. Similarly, don't assume that confusion and memory loss in an elderly person is senility. Again, there are treatable medical conditions that cause symptoms similar to senility. In fact, sensory loss is one medical problem that can masquerade as mental confusion. A person may appear to be forgetful and inattentive, when what really may be going on is that they simply cannot see or hear what is going on.

4) One visual change that you might not be aware of is the possiblity that your loved one will lose some acuity in sensing colors. There is a theory that a person's eye might yellow with age, causing everything to look more yellow or "warmer". Colors in the bluer or cooler spectrum might be harder for an elderly person to distinguish. For example, an elderly person might lose the abililty to coordinate different blues into an outfit; all blues may start to look the same to him. Or, he might not be able to sense blue-green flowers in a bouquet that has a lot of green leaves. The ability to see reds, yellows, and oranges apparently stays pretty steady in most cases. So, these would be great colors to include in a bouquet that you are taking to an elderly friend or great colors for papers on which you write notes for an elderly person. Of course, we need to stress again that aging is an individual thing. If you are helping an elderly person decorate a room in a nursing home or in your home, be sure to ask what colors he or she likes and show samples. That way, you can work with colors that your loved one can still enjoy.

5) Here's one I'm already experiencing, and I'm only in middle age. I used to be able to read or thread a needle in fairly dim light, and now I know why older relatives were always asking me to thread a needle for them. You simply need more task lighting as you get older in order to perform fine work. On the other hand, elderly people may be bothered by glare more easily than a younger person is. Investigate the many lighting options that are available. Good lighting can make life so much more enjoyable for your elderly loved one.

6) It's a no-brainer that large print books and Bibles can be a boon for those with aging eyes.

7) Provide materials with lots of contrast so that a person with aging eyes can see well. For example, if you have an elderly person over for dinner, he or she may appreciate a light plate against a dark background or vice versa. This may be easier for the person to see than a table setting that blends in. When writing notes, use large lettering on a dull finish (not shiny) writing paper. If an elderly person has come to live in your home, he or she may function better if there is some contrast between the risers and steps of a staircase.

8) Keep an elderly person's room free of clutter that might confuse the vision. However, remember that elderly people depend a lot on consistency to remember where things are and also to spot things if their vision is poor. If you do de-clutter an elderly person's room, ask first or at least tell them where you have moved something.

9) If an elderly person has poor vision and they are walking with you, graciously offer him or her your arm. If hey so desire, let them lightly hold your arm just above the elbow. In this way, you can walk about a half step ahead of the person. They will feel more secure than if you grab them. Showing respect to an elderly person in this way is wonderful skill to teach your children. Sons especially benefit from such training, as there are other instances in life when they may need to extend an arm in order to escort a lady.

10) Do you have an elderly loved one who has become quieter and more withdrawn during family gatherings? The problem might be that they simply cannot hear well enough to keep up with the conversation. As a person loses hearing, one of the first places where it becomes hard to distinguish speech is in a crowd or a group. This can lead to feelings of isolation from the rest of the family. Also, it can mean that your elderly loved one is not getting enough mental and emotional stimulation from family conversations. The family does not need to stop enjoying their happy conversations together. However, train yourself once in a while to specifically include your aging loved one in the conversation y asking a question or making a comment directly to the him. Speak with your face turned in his direction.

11) Elderly people first have trouble -- generally speaking -- with higher pitched tones. This means that women's voices may be especially hard for a person with hearing loss to follow, as the woman's voice is generally higher and softer than a man's. When speaking to a person with age-related hearing loss, look directly at them and enunciate as clearly as you can. You don't have to yell, necessarily, but do be clear and distinct in your speech. Also, keep your hands away from your face so that your hands do not block either the sound or the other person's view of your lips. Often, people with hearing loss rely partly on your facial expressions and reading your lips to understand what you are saying. Don't exaggerate your lip movements, but don't hide them either. Besides, it's good training in etiquette for all of us to remember to keep our hands away from our face when talking to anyone -- even if that person has tip-top hearing.

12) Often, older people deny they have hearing loss or simply don't realize that they have hearing loss. (Stop mumbling out there! It must be that you are mumbling, people. It can't be that I am losing my hearing at this young age!) Hearing loss may come upon the elderly so gradually that they don't understand what is happening. It may be so gradual that you don't notice it, either, though you will likely notice it before the person with the hearing problem does. If you notice a loved one speaking unusually loudly or unusually softly, if he continually asks you to repeat things; if he accuses you of mumbling a lot; if he has to turn their head to one side or the other in order to hear you; or you see any other signs of hearing loss -- suggest to him that he allow you to take him for an appointment to get his hearing checked.

13) If hearing aids are prescribed, be aware that your loved one may find them to be annoying or even embarrassing to wear. I learned too late with my father that it is best not to try out new hearing aids in a crowded place, such as in a dining room or a restaurant. The din of many different noises, such as silverware banging on a table, may simply overwhelm an older person. It's better to try them out in a quiet setting. Also, I learned too late that it is best if a person try out new hearing aids for very short periods of time. It is best to begin with as little as fifteen minutes a day and gradually work up to a full day's wear. Be patient as the older person adjusts to hearing aids. Hearing aids are improving in quality all of the time, so it is important to try them. Yet, do not be shocked if an elderly person finds in the end that he or she just doesn't want to use the aids. Alas, this can be quite an expensive discovery.

14) Do not be offended if your great Uncle Ted talks about how good food used to taste while picking at the seven course dinner you fixed him or if your great-Aunt Clara doesn't think that the cook at that cute little tea room you took her to is any good. Older people tend to lose their senses of sweet and and salt, though they may retain the ability to taste sour and bitter things. Often, they will use a lot of salt and sugar on their foods in order to taste it. This can be problematic if they are diabetic or need to follow a low salt diet. Your health care provider may have some ideas to help you prepare food in a way that is healthy, yet appealing to an older person. Also, as older people begin to lose their sense of smell, this affects their sense of taste, as well. You can actually add specifically made artificial odors to some foods to mimic the way food once smelled to an elderly person. Of course, this only helps if the older person still has some sense of smell.

15) Be aware that that the sense of touch may decline, as well. Some people become more sensitive to aches and pains, while many become less so. An elderly person may have a delayed reaction to the touch of your hand. He or she may also be oblivious to developing infections of the skin, particularly if he or she has insensitive tissue due to diabetes. You may need to check your elderly loved one for things like bed sores, etc. Also, in some situations, you may need to check an elderly person's bath water to make sure it is not scalding hot. You might even turn the hot water heater down so that the person cannot run water that is hot enough to burn the skin. Do not let an older person (or a young one, either) fall asleep on a heating pad.

Most of this is common sense. The key in caring for an elderly person is to treat him or her with the respect due to age and to also treat an aging loved one the way you would want to be treated if you were in his or her shoes. (It's likely that you will be some day.) Be as positive as you can. Don't be patronizing, even if the person seems to be acting a little childish.

Again, seek help for yourself if you become overwhelmed with the care of an aging loved one. It is not easy to be a caregiver -- especially a primary caregiver -- of an aging person. This is doubly true if the person has advanced dementia and can no longer bond with you. This is triply true if you are also are rearing children while you are caring for an elderly parent or relative, and you must balance everyone's needs. However, if you make sure you get the help you need, you can have many rewarding moments as you tenderly care for, sing to, and pray for your loved one. It's helpful to take each day as it comes and, other than planning as appropriate, to avoid dwelling on what might come next. Also, investigate Alzheimer's support groups and similar resources, as these types of organizations can offer a world of practical information about how to take care of an older person. They are familiar with many different types of family situations in which someone is caring for an elderly person, and they can offer tips that can make your own situation easier.

Look upon your aging loved one's sunset years as a time to enjoy the time remaining to you both. Yes, there is some sadness and some frustration that accompanies the aging process and the changing roles when a younger person steps up to care for an older one. Yet, this can also be a time of incredible closeness and tenderness. You may look back upon these days with great fondness.

Additionally, teaching your children to respect the elderly and not to fear caring for them (as is age-appropriate, of course) will greatly benefit their lives.

Much of the information in this article is based on a pamphlet authored by Oregon State University, as well as on my own experiences with my parents and other relatives.

Happy Home Management!


Blessed With 4 said...

Thank you for this very informative post. I am joining you with building a daily routine. I am redoing mine. My old one worked for a while but things change and so my routine has to.
It is hard with my 76 year old FIL living with us. We didn't really know each other until he came to live with us and our personalities clash. We don't really have a relationship with each other or bond. We are cordial but that is about all. I know if I continue to pray about it God can bring that relationship together:)
Have a very blessed day.

Elizabeth said...

Hi BJ: Having an elderly parent come to stay in a home is a big adjustment, even if you know the person well. It can be difficult at times, especially when ideas, expectations, outlooks, and schedules clash. My beloved father stayed with us while recovering from surgery, and, while I am so glad we had that time together, we had our moments of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. My thoughts go out to you. You're right, with prayer, God can bring the relationship together, and you may find yourself treasuring your relationship with your father-in-law. There are so many rewards for honoring our parents and parents-in-law in their older years. I'm so glad you're committed to loving your FIL even though it's tough.