Do you provide care for a loved one, or are you facing challenges as you age? This column is designed to bring support, education and encouragement for those who have questions about aging or care for loved ones.
I have been trying to be more aware of making quality of life moments for my father. I have been choosing activities that he and I always liked doing together when I was growing up, but I haven’t had much success. What can I do?
Don’t get discouraged. There will be times when our loved ones show no enthusiasm whatsoever, although we think we have the perfect plan.
Let me share a story when one of my great ideas was a total flop. One day at the farmer’s market I spied farm-fresh green beans. I immediately recalled a wonderful childhood memory when a farmer would come door-to-door selling his vegetables. My mom would buy green beans, and my sisters and I would “pop” them on the back patio.
I excitedly bought beans and couldn’t wait to get home and share this delightful reminiscent activity. Mom was bored – she didn’t remember the farmer or the beans or that popping sound that I still love after all these years. I looked at her and said, “You don’t like doing this, do you?” She diplomatically replied, “I like doing things with you!” After years of cooking, she was now happy dining in an Assisted Living, where her meals were cooked and served three times a day.
I realized I had been planning activities that we had enjoyed in the past. I should have been choosing ones that we could enjoy together in the present. This was the first inspiration to the creation of my Moment-Method!
My family was attending a special dinner and I had purchased a lovely new outfit for my mother. When it came time to get dressed, she adamantly refused to wear it. She insisted on her warm fuzzy blue sweater. This choice certainly did not fit my requirements as stylish or appropriate for the occasion! Although she has memory loss, I felt there was no room for discussion. It escalated into a shouting match. I didn’t mean to upset her; I just wanted her to look nice. Was that so wrong for me to feel that way?
As caregivers, it is our task to adapt to the declining behavioral changes of our loved ones. It is difficult, but we should avoid upsetting their balance as much as possible. In the scope of life, it doesn’t really matter if your mom wore the new dress or her favorite sweater. Although these combative issues will arise, in hindsight they will become unimportant.
In an ideal world, this intense situation could have been a success, if you had honored her choice and offered a self-esteem building statement. For example, “Actually Mom, that was a really good choice. You will be warm and comfortable in your fuzzy sweater.”
A caregiver’s goal is to allow their loved ones to make choices as long as they are able and to help them retain their dignity. Trust me, I am in no way suggesting that this is easy; after all, we are only human. Unfortunately, our job is one that will never cease to be stressful as well as emotionally and physically demanding. Learning how to add joy to journey is imperative for everyone! It is well worth the effort.
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Karen Cochran Beaulieu is the author of the book, Moments that Matter; a roadmap for caregivers and their loved ones with memory loss and spent 15 years as an activities director in all areas of senior living. Over the past 10 years, she has been a caregiver for two aging parents. Karen is a resident of Sumter County.