Thanks to the contacts app on my phone, I know very few phone numbers. But not everyone enjoys the convenience of a contact list with the caller’s photo attached. My husband remembers everyone’s phone number, so he answers calls based on number recognition. Granted, that doesn’t always work, but he refuses to use an app to identify callers. No matter how crazy I think it is, that is his choice.
And everyone has their way of doing things, no matter what the age. It is more prevalent in the elderly because time has turned lifetime practices into rock-solid habits. As a caregiver, we may struggle with trying to get a loved one to do something we think could be done better another way. Yet, if their system is not harmful, we would be better off letting them follow Frank Sinatra’s mantra, “I did it my way.” An Alzheimer’s patient, for example, may only want to do what is familiar, regardless of something new we may want to introduce to them. But for them especially, familiarity is crucial. Loved ones with other illnesses may live by patterns and habits that sustain them.
Energy spent trying to make others follow our way of thinking – usually so that life will be easier for us, actually causes us more frustration. So, I try to smile when my husband picks up his ringing phone, looks at the number, and wonders out loud, “Who is this?” Yes, life could be easier for him with a contact app. But life would also be easier for me if I didn’t let his system bother me. It’s his phone anyway, so I accept that he is just singing along with Sinatra.
Whenever they had a substitute teacher, my students proved that behavior change needs to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. My practice of hanging onto a checklist of behaviors and attempting to monitor nearly 30 students all day, every weekday, was tiresome. So, I changed tactics. Rather than trying to put a check by little Johnny’s name in the correct box that matched the misbehavior, I began telling a misbehaving student to “Check yourself.”
This new process meant that they were supposed to stop and consider what they were doing that was in conflict with the classroom rules. Having a few chances to self-correct taught the students to monitor themselves. Slowly, changes in behavior became more intrinsic and the classroom became a more peaceful place to be.
As caregivers, we may be waiting for someone else to come tell us what’s wrong when it feels like nothing is going right in our lives. But those are the time you have to stop and “check yourself.” You have to ask yourself where and how you have gotten off-kilter. When was the last time you were feeling hopeful or peaceful, and what positive things were you doing that caused it? What do you need to do to get back on track? You know your behaviors and patterns better than anyone else. Check yourself.
Sixth-grade students will yawn and look at you blankly when you try to teach them that a preposition is a word that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. Even telling students that prepositions help indicate, time, place, or position doesn’t bring too much light into their faces. But, when you demonstrate the definition by having students stand by their desks, near their desks, or away from their desks, it isn’t long before they are begging to stand on their desks!
Using the right preposition can change everything. You may have heard that the Bible tells us to give thanks for everything. Not so. There is no way we should be thankful for bodies or brains that don’t function in our loved ones. We are not expected to be thankful for the pain and suffering this life brings. The correct preposition in the Biblical directive is to give thanks in everything.
That means that as you face life’s difficulties, still be thankful for what is good and right in life. As caregivers we can, regardless of the pain, remain thankful that we have not been abandoned by God. He knows and understands what we experience, and He walks us through our valleys. And that’s another preposition that should bring a smile to our faces.
Caregivers sometimes go it alone, thinking that no one else understands or that no one else cares. No two situations are alike, but there are similarities in caregiving that can bring people together.
Try Googling ‘support groups for caregivers,’ and you will find many options to sort through. Find the group that best meets your needs and explore the options available to you. There is no need to travel this difficult journey alone. It’s time to become part of a group that cares.
Life has a way of ignoring your plans. Your agenda for the day sits there, nicely completed, and maybe even color-coded. At the very least, it’s in your head. You know what time you are picking up whom, what time you need to leave the house, and even when you expect to be back. But then life happens.
There are days that no matter how much you try to get back to your schedule, other things keep intervening. Like the voice on the GPS when the driver goes off course, you seem to repeatedly be saying, “Recalculating!” You may find yourself waiting in a line you thought would be moving faster – whether it’s in the store, in traffic, or behind a train. Then there is the person you can’t get off the phone. All of these are agenda busters.
There comes a point when we may have to ditch the agenda and go with the flow of what’s happening, as long as to do so is not life-threatening. What we see as an interruption may sometimes allow us to listen to someone who needed to be heard. Or it could be an opportunity to let the agenda go and rest for a moment. After all, you are already going a mile a minute anyway. So, take the opportunity to slow down, “recalculate,” lay the agenda aside, and live in the moment.
A recent conversation with a friend whose husband now has Alzheimer’s reminded me that caring for someone with this disease is like trying to navigate unchartered waters.
Since June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I encourage you to visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/stages (or send a friend there) for information on the stages of Alzheimer’s. This website also helps you search for access to local resources and provides related research. Your level of awareness can help calm fears for both you and your loved one.
When my son was young, I would periodically take him to an ice cream shop whose specialty was its 21 flavors. After he had spent a lengthy amount of time looking at all the options, he would select vanilla. It drove me crazy! But come to think of it, I always selected the one flavor I liked the most too. I wonder now if the selections were just too much to process, so he stuck with what was familiar.
Decades later when my mother was housed at an Alzheimer’s care facility, I watched how the staff helped the clients make food selections when they had an outing at a restaurant. First, they selected a venue that was elderly-friendly and understood the possible limitations of the group. The facility’s staff had the waitresses offer their clients two meal choices rather than give them an entire menu to select from. They realized that having too many decisions to make can be overwhelming to an Alzheimer’s patient.
Likewise, a caregiver can also become frustrated when their loved one can no longer make a selection quickly. You can lessen the frustration for both of you by offering a smaller pool of options, whether it’s what to wear or what to eat. Yes, your loved one’s world does become smaller, but providing limited options can give them the dignity of being able to choose for themselves as long as they can.
We all know the commercial that ends with, “You’re in good hands with___.” I remember a time when I must have thought my name went in that blank. My mother had gone from eating everything on her plate to eventually barely eating or drinking anything at all. I had been trying everything I knew to get her to eat or drink something even when she would close her lips or clench her teeth.
I was running to the nursing home both before and after work. One evening as I started toward the nursing home again, God seemed to say to me, “Why are you making these heroic efforts? If you trust Me, why are you trying to do all this yourself?” Others were vising my mother as well, so I realized that my extra efforts were just an attempt to control the situation. I was trying to make sure my mother was still alive because I was going to make sure she was eating.
The epiphany I experienced was that it was not God’s desire for me to be a caregiver who was frazzled, stressed out, or sick and still saying, “It’s in God’s hands.” We sometimes try to keep circumstances and results in our own hands, but the truth is we cannot sustain life. We care for our loved ones the best we can, but we have to realize that everything truly is not just in “good” hands, but in God’s hands. And He gives us the ability to step back and let Him take over.
I recently read an article that encouraged people to focus on what they can do rather than give in to what they can’t do. That may sound reasonable, but the truth is, there are just some things we don’t even want to do. The first time I had to take care of my mother’s personal hygiene, it was not something I even wanted to do. But it required immediate attention, so I dealt with it.
When I used to question my aging grandmother why she hadn’t completed what I (erroneously) thought was a simple task, she’d say, “Baby, I just ain’t got no mind to do that!” It was a strange answer to me, but time and experience have taught me what she meant. You have to have the mind (desire or will) to do something before you can even muster up the strength to do it.
I am reminded of the verse that says God works in us both “to will” and “to do.” The first part means He gives us the mind to want to do what is right; then He gives us the power to do it. As you face difficult tasks in your role as a caregiver – especially those you would rather not have to do – first ask God for the mind to complete those tasks willingly, then ask Him for the strength to do so.
As a busy caregiver, you may feel as though you don’t have the time to connect with old friends. But this consideration is not just for you, but for your loved one. Is it possible to connect them with an old friend? One Sunday afternoon I followed an unction to take Mom’s friend, Mrs. Foster, to the nursing home to see her. Mrs. Foster sat with Mom in the cafeteria and showed her love as much as she could by holding Mom’s hands, rubbing her arms, smiling and laughing with her, and encouraging her to eat.
Once back in the room, I rolled Mom’s wheelchair to where she could sit directly in front of her friend and left them to talk to each other for a while. As I walked out the door, Mrs. Foster again held my mother’s hand and reminded her of the good times they’d had together and how much she missed her. I’d like to think Mom had some moments of lucidity during the visit because there was a point later when we saw a tear escape from the corner of her eye and she made a face at her friend.
The next day my mother went into a health crisis that would lead to her demise within less than 3 weeks. I was so thankful her friend had been able to spend some time with her before that. Years later, Mrs. Foster was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; and since she was already my friend, it was easy to visit her throughout her illness and show her the same love she had shown my mother. I enjoyed being around her, and she always had a big smile for me because connecting with an old friend is always priceless.