4 Caregiving Essentials

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Working in the home care profession enables you to see certain elements of an elder's life that may fly under the radars of their doctor, their friends and even their closest family members.

The people caring for your loved one, home health aides, registered nurses, social workers, etc., witness some of the individual's most vulnerable moments as they handle real-time critical issues related to a senior's health and well-being. Here are some important lessons from home care nurses that can help you in care giving and beyond.

Routines matter

A daily routine will put your loved one in a better mood and keep their spirits high. For folks combating multiple chronic diseases—such as hypertension, Parkinson's disease or dementia—a morning ritual can help kick-start their motor skills, triggering their mind that it's a new day and it's time to get going. If you are having trouble getting into the groove of a routine, start with small steps. One home health aide started getting her patient up just ten minutes earlier each day to provide more time at breakfast. This type of thoughtful caregiving enabled the elder to avoid rushing through the meal, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. Learn more about the benefits of setting and sticking to a daily routine for dementia patients.

Subtle clues can be a lifesaver

When your loved one asks for a foot rub again and again, don't assume he or she just wants pleasure. There might be an underlying medical issue that is causing significant discomfort in their feet. Sometimes when patients ask to be massaged or rubbed, it is because they are experiencing pain, but do not want to feel as if they are complaining or being an inconvenience to their family members. Additionally, some people may not be cognitively equipped to express what they are truly feeling. So, be on the lookout for subtle messages!

Listen and take action

Home Health Aide Bonita Scott is no stranger to moderating family situations. She routinely sees family members not clearly communicating over difficult subjects, such as changes in their loved one's health condition or care. She shares an experience about a patient whose children would insist that their mother participate in their routine family nights that were held in the basement. The mother had difficulty making it up and down the stairs, and the children just thought she didn't want to participate. After witnessing the miscommunication and stress it was causing, Scott intervened and encouraged the family to put in a chair lift to make it easier for their mother to join them in their festivities. Discover how caregivers can listen with intention.

Stay connected, virtually or in person

Aging at home can be one of the best options in terms of comfort, convenience and privacy. It can also be lonely for those who live alone or do not have loved ones who visit frequently. All too often, nurses see lonesome older adults who wish they had more people around. Part of care giving is showing people how to stay connected, or get connected, via social channels, like Facebook, Twitter and online games. Additionally, caregivers help people find social groups in their community, whether it is a weekly bingo night, book club or game at a local senior center. Discover how online interactions can be a simple way to prevent senior depression.

Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). In this role, she coordinates patient care and manages a multi-disciplinary team of field nursing and home health care professionals in the clinical area of a VNSNY’s private care division.

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10 Comments

Thank you for the article, covering some helpful points.

In theory, the regular schedule sounds lovely. However, good luck getting a dementia patient up when (1) they don't want to and (2) they're drowsy from taking necessary meds the night before. Add to this an oppositional nature and failure is a reasonable expectation. In such circumstances, even trying to exert control is wishful thinking if not delusion.

What may be more practical is for the caregiver to exercise control where s/he can. Use the patient's down time to get other chores done and for self care. Of course being this flexible isn't easy, especially if our nature is to prefer an ordered, predictable life. But surrendering to the inevitable leads to better mental and physical health.
Good article.

I don't understand the suggestion to get someone up 10 minutes earlier so they don't have to rush breakfast. Why not just have breakfast start and end 10 minutes later. We are talking about aging at home, right? Why would there have to be a rush through breakfast?

When I found it difficult for my husband to get ready in time for his adult day health program pick-up without rushing, I changed his pick-up time.

I really get nervous when I hear suggestions about "just get up earlier," as if sleep needs were flexible and not critical.
I'm not sure I understand why you would get someone up 10 minutes earlier either. And while schedules and routines are great, I have found, my Mama (dementia) does best when I somewhat let her wake on her time. When I awaken her early, she is very confused and non responsive...whereas if I let her wake up on her own, which is usually around 8:30 or so, she is much happier, alert, etc. since we are home anyway, not sure why I would want to get her up earlier...Sometimes meals take a while anyway, and I just let her eat on her own pace and I do things in between if necessary...she finishes her meals that way and feels like she has a little control over her own routine.