Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 6)

There's a lot of counting happens at this season. Have you noticed that? Advent calendars countdown until Christmas, merchants count the days until Boxing Day and then extend it a week or longer, and we count down to New Year's. All this counting can add a lot of pressure to our schedule as the deadline looms closer.

Care Partner, is anyone counting on time for you?

11. Take care of yourself 

This is an old drum I'm beating, but only because it's advice difficult to follow. All of your focus tends to be on your loved one, and it's hard to justify and even harder to ask for time for yourself. It may seem obvious, but we still struggle with care partner stress and justifying time for us, so here's a few reasons why it's important:
1) You're not a nice person when you're stressed. Patience wears thin and you say things you don't mean in a tone of voice you wish you hadn't used.
2) You don't enjoy the experience when you're worn out.
3) You tend to miss the magic moments--those special times where clarity and wisdom meet and you catch a glimpse of who your loved one used to be.
4) It's a short walk between feeling tired and unappreciated to depression. A walk you want to avoid.
5) Stress is unhealthy und can lead to all kinds of physical implications.

So, what's fun for you this season? Do you like to shop? I can't imagine it, but I've heard there are people who do. Do you enjoy baking, spending time with children or grandchildren or curling under the twinkling lights of the tree with a good book? Whatever makes the season for you and rejuvinates you, identify it and take steps to make it happen. Ask for an hour from visiting family or arrange for a friend to give you that gift of time. Don't feel guilty or apologise for asking. You are investing in you today so you have more to give your elder tomorrow.

12. Good things come in small portions

At thanksgiving this year, I cooked a turkey and all the fixings for our residents. The fixings included stuffing, cranberry sauce, two vegetables, potatoes and gravy. Even when serving small portions, plates were loaded because a little of each item added up to a lot. For some, it was overwhelming. Be aware that most elders have small appetites and pare the meal down to those essentials that make it enjoyable. Sometimes just a taste of a favourite is enough.

It's almost time. Gather all the ways of Christmas and create a memory together this year that all of you can hold close to your hearts. Merry Christmas, all!

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt.6)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 5)

On Thursday, we are making our annual trek to Christmas shop for the residents. Four of us commandeer two carts each and fill them with fuzzy socks, lap blankets, lotion, ladies' scarves and whatever else we can think of. This particular store is down a set of stairs, so watching us haul multiple bags up those stairs and through the mall is comical. We struggle them back to work and fill the gift bags with the articles, personalizing each present. On Christmas eve, Santa stops and hands out the treasures as residents drink egg nog and snack on sugar cookies. It's a lovely tradition.

As I stand in the store each year with my list, trying to figure out what would be the best gift for this or that person, I always have a moment of panic. Did I get enough gifts? Will they like them? Can we get them all home? There's no doubt that shopping for people in the last few years of their life is a challenge.

9. Look for creative gifts

Between birthdays and Christmas, I've given many gifts to elders over the years. As a care partner, you may get asked by family and friends, "What can I give them?" It's not an easy question to answer. Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • Elders often have poor circulation. Because of this, they may feel cold when others in the family are sweating. Socks, cardigan-style sweaters, lap blankets and shawls are often appreciated through the winter.
  • Lotion and more lotion. Make sure it's a good quality, as an elder's skin needs to be protected. The smallest crack can become a wound, so lotion is appreciated.
  • A notepad or blank book. If they can still write, this is a great gift.
  • A picture in a nice frame. Capture a shot of your elder cuddling a great-granchild or holding a new baby. Or by themselves in the garden or other great background. A good picture of themselves is never disdained.
  • Dates. No, not the edible kind. A gift of time is one of the most precious commodities to someone whose time is limited. A coupon for time together at a local coffee shop, lunch together or multiple coupons for visits during the year would be much appreciated. These can also serve as a gift of time for you as care partner to have a few hours of respite. 
10. Remember Christmas past

Some people's hesitation regarding spending time with elders is, "I don't know what to say." The answer to that is an entire blog, but suffice it to say that reminiscing is a fun way to spend time together. Even if they don't remember, you do. Don't begin with, "Do you remember the time..." They may not, and that may cause distress. Instead say, "I remember when..." Tell stories of times you spent together, especially funny ones or those that show how much this elder has influenced you. Go beyond Christmas and explore your family history together. Pull out old photo albums to spark more memories. Laugh. Perhaps cry. Remember.

Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you'll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time." Rick Warren 1



Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 4)

Have you ever thought about what gives you purpose? What makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning? What gives you satisfaction at the end of the day? Which moments in your day do you look back on and treasure, because of something significant?

Purpose is key for all of us. There may not be "aha" moments every day, but at some point, we need to feel that what we are doing is making a difference, contributing to the life of others or helping in some way.

This is truer than ever as we age. When elders need more care and are less able to "do," it's easy for them to feel that they have no purpose. No reason to be around. They don't want a constant diet of entertainment, they want to feel they have something to give. This is true no matter where they are in the ageing process.

7. Bring purpose to Christmas preparations

If you are keeping things simple and slowing the pace this Christmas as has already been suggested, there are many ways to do this. Look at your elder and ask, "What do they enjoy doing?" This answer may be different from last year or even six months ago. The next question is "What are they still able to do?" And finally, "What changes could I make in how we do things that might make the impossible possible?"

Here are a few examples:

Few of us send Christmas cards any more, but for the last generation, this was an important ritual. I remember my mother not only sent cards but wrote a personalized note in each one. She disdained Christmas letters even when some of her cards were sent Christmas eve. (Her daughters both send Christmas letters, and I am a big fan of the email variety!) If your loved one treasures Christmas cards and being able to send them, what can you do to make this happen?

  • one daughter buys and addresses all the cards, but her mother is able to sign her name to them.
  • "With Christmas cards, my mum still wanted to send them out, so I got her to write her name on a piece of paper. I then scanned, resized and copied them and printed them out onto computer labels. Mum helped me stick in a few of the labels so she felt involved, and I wrote the recipient's name at the top and did the envelopes. We did about 25 cards for her that year, and she would never have been able to write her name more than once."1
What about shopping? Many people enjoy giving, and there may be ways you can customize the experience to make it possible. Get a transport wheelchair (the foldable kind) to make the trip easier. Choose a weekday when the mall is likely to be less crowded. Scan the fliers together another day and make your list, and make sure to plan on only a few purchases per trip. One trip may be enough for some elders, with you doing the rest of the shopping on your own. 

Baking? Look together for favourite recipes and decide what you are going to make. Like other activities, don't think ambitiously. The experience is the important ingredient.

Be creative. There are many opportunities to bring purpose to Christmas.

8. Try something new

To this point, we've focused on the familiar, the traditional and what your elder always enjoyed. That's valid, but there's no saying something completely different won't bring delight.

After my mom died, my dad floundered for several years, trying to find his way without her. One of our Christmas traditions with my kids was to make a gingerbread house--the more candy the better. One year, on a whim, I invited my dad to come over on the night this creation was being constructed. My straight-laced, retired-pharmacist dad blew me away with how he entered into the fun, carefully choosing which candy would look best on the roof and which should go in his mouth. I have pictures, and they show the joy on everyone's faces. After that first time, it became part of the tradition that Bubba helped with the gingerbread house.

There are no boundaries or rules. Using your creativity and ingenuity, create a Christmas memory!



Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 3)

Friday is "decorating day" at work. In the Community Life office, where all things creative happen, red bags of Christmas trees line the walls and boxes and bins of glittering decorations are everywhere. At 9:00, staff who usually spend their day in front of a computer screen will join those of us who work on the first floor, and Christmas will gush forth in one gigantic splash.

I dread it.

I love it.

I dread it because there's no doubt it's a lot of work. And what goes up must come down.

I love it because residents love it. It doesn't matter if you're 9 or 90, there's a magic in the air when the lights go on the tree and Christmas music starts. Maybe I'll even put a Hallmark movie on the TV.

For the care partner, decorating for Christmas can seem like an enormous mountain to climb. We've already talked about choosing what's important. Here are a few more suggestions as you prepare your home for Christmas.

5. Spread decorating over several days

I've noticed people often post their christmas progress on Facebook.
"The tree is up."
"Shopping is done."
"Everything's wrapped."

When did Christmas become a race to the finish line?

How about spreading decorating over a week or two. A wreath here, and advent calendar there, the tree today and the mantle tomorrow. People with dementia can quickly be overcome by sensory overload, and elders often tire easily. Imagine what it would be like to take the pressure off. Complete one part of the decorating and sit and admire what's done. Look at the lights. Appreciate the miniature village. Exclaim together over ornaments and the memories they inspire. The Christmas tree might take a few days to complete, and that's okay. Your elder's participation and enjoyment of the experience is what matters. Realize there's going to be some boxes and confusion for as long as it takes to get finished, but allow yourself the luxury of time. Take mental, or actual, pictures of the joy and wonder as the decorated house slowly takes shape.

6. Be flexible and keep it short

This applies to Christmas day and to all social gatherings during the season. There are pros and cons to every event, and you need to take your best guess at what will work for your loved one. Have a plan A, but ensure B, C, and D are in your back pocket. Here are some questions when assessing what will work best.

a) What is their best time of day?
b) Does a nap help, or does it make them groggy and out of sorts?
c) Do they enjoy having lots of families around, or do they prefer small groups?

It may be that visits need to be spread over several occasions. One family had each group come for lunch over the season. Their loved one's best time was around lunch, and he was able to enjoy time with each of his children and grandchildren in intimate
./groups. When Christmas day came, one child hosted it, and the parents arrived mid-morning. Dad had a nap in the afternoon while mom visited with everyone, but she also knew that if he needed to, they would leave. She was flexible, realizing that plan A might not pan out.

It's rare to find someone who doesn't put pressure on themselves at Christmas. Be the smart care partner with realistic expectations and flexible plans.


Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas--(pt. 2)

Family time over the holidays can be fun and exhilarating--the stuff of which memories are made.

Family time over the holidays can be a disaster, a bad dream, and the birthplace of hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

All this can happen in the best of families. In the same family. Over the same holiday season.

If you are the care partner of someone with dementia, you'll need to figure out how to handle celebrations and family times together. A lot of changes occur in a year, and what worked last year probably won't be the best plan this year.

Way # 3 Communicate

The holiday season brings people together who might not have been with your loved one for some time. The daughter who lives out of town may phone, email or text every day, and you don't feel that she's out of touch. She talks to her dad regularly. The fact is, she hasn't been in the same room with him for months, and her children have grown and may be surprised and unnerved by changes in their papa. And she's one of the closer ones. Cousin Erwin and his wife, or your brother from down south are even more removed.

My default is always to do nothing and "see how it goes." Chances are, it won't go well, so resist the temptation to do nothing. Think back to who your elder was a year ago, or the last time most of the group attending spent time with him. How has he changed? Has his speech become more difficult to understand? How about his mobility? Did he need incontinent products a year ago? Did he have trouble using utensils when he ate? Make a list, including any stressors that you might not see every day, but which might be a problem in a group. Does the noise of children playing bother him? Does he tire easily?

Here's another point of communication: Have you always hosted Christmas for your family? As much as you may love the preparation and the cooking, it may be too much to do when you are looking out for your loved one. Do you have the courage to tell them? Or maybe you've always travelled to cousin Jimmy's house, but you know a car ride, even if just a few hours, will cause exhaustion and stress. Perhaps your elder won't remember the house and will want to leave the moment you get there. Consider what might work best for them, and have a frank talk with your loved ones.

Way #4 Teaching

Trying to teach your family and friends might seem patronizing, but it's fact that many people are nervous and afraid around people with dementia. They don't know how to talk to them or how to respond to some of the unusual conversations that can happen.

Here's an idea. Prepare a simple one sheet with some basics. Write it in the first person as if your elder was speaking to them directly. Here is a sample:

I'm so glad we are getting together for Christmas. My family is important to me, even when I can't remember who you are or where you belong in the family. You are my family and that makes you special. 

I like to think I have dementia but it doesn't have me, so I wanted to share some things that will help make our time more fun. 

Don't be insulted if I don't know your name, but don't try to get me to remember, either. Introduce yourself each time we meet, and tell me your relationship to me. 

I love to reminisce, but don't start with 'Do you remember?' because I don't. Try saying things like, 'I remember when you used to push me on the swing.' Even if I don't remember, I'll be happy that you do.

Don't be insulted if I lie down part way through our visit. As much as I love to be with you, it exhausts me. I'll come back in a short while. 

Christmas things I enjoy are staring at the lights and the fireplace, and singing carols. Surprisingly, I remember a lot of the words. These are great activities to do together. 

I cry easily, which is embarrassing for me but not something I can control. Don't get upset. Like a surprise rain shower, it's quickly gone and I've forgotten it.

Show me lots of affection. I understand 'I love you' best through a hug.

Merry Christmas,

Of course, you will customize it, but something like this will go a long way to fostering understanding. Send it by email with a note of explanation. Likely you will get feedback in the form of more questions, which can open a healthy discussion and bring understanding.

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 2)

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt.1)

Maybe where you live, the weather outside isn't frightful, but the calendar is moving forward. Hallowe'en and Remembrance Day are behind us, and our neighbours to the south are celebrating Thanksgiving next week. Black Friday, Cyber Monday--however you look at it, Christmas is coming. 

If you are caring for someone with dementia, Christmas takes a lot of thought and planning. It can be a wonderful time with moments of joy or a complete disaster. Which way things go often depends on the thought and preparation you put into it several weeks prior. Like, now.

Over the next several weeks, we will look at some issues, ideas and considerations you might not have contemplated. If you are a care partner, feel free to comment with your own thoughts. Here are a few preliminary thoughts:

What we always did probably won't work without modification. You may be able to have some form of your precious traditions, but they will probably need to change in several ways.

What we did last year, which was probably already a concession to your new reality, may not work this year. You may need to make plan B. Or F. 

So, start with a clean slate, and let's begin to plan.

Way #1--Decide What's Important

The problem with this is that what's important to you, or your extended family, probably isn't what's important to your loved one. 

Perhaps your family is used to large, crowded, boisterous family celebrations. People come early in the day, stay through the meal and beyond. The adults visit and reminisce, the children run around and play excitedly, carols are sung and everyone sits down to a huge meal together. It takes several hours for everyone to leave, and it's gloriously noisy and fun. 

Maybe in the past, your elder was in the centre of all the confusion, making jokes and presiding over the dinner table, and it would be easy to assume this is important to them now. They may even express how they want to see the family and how they love to watch the little ones running around. The reality is that elders with dementia find confusion and large groups of people overwhelming, long visits exhausting and noisy children, or a lot of noise from anyone, causes anxiety and anger. 

Maybe the Christmas Eve service has been mandatory to start the season, or maybe it's putting up the tree, or bringing out the nativity scene, or Christmas baking. To the best of your ability, figure out what makes Christmas for your elder. What would they miss if it wasn't a part of the season? 

Realize that you can't do it all. Once you have decided on a few activities that will be meaningful, think how you can modify them to suit your loved one's needs and abilities. The Christmas Eve service is always crowded, so perhaps you could have a family member save your seats. You slip in together just as it's about to start and stay seated until the crowds have cleared. Or perhaps you find a similar service on the television and watch it together. 

If trimming the tree is important, you can have most of it completed when your elder is having a nap, but save aside several significant ornaments for them to put on. Then you can dim the lamps and enjoy the Christmas lights together over a cup of hot chocolate.

Whatever it is, the principles are the same: What matters, and how do I need to modify it for where we are today?

Way #2--Reduce Expectations. Fight Perfectionism

Closely aligned to this are expectations. These may come from within in the form of self-talk. "The table would look amazing with Grandma's china and maybe I could make that table centre I saw on Pinterest. We need to have four vegetables and a variety of Christmas baking..." Even at the best of times, we can wear ourselves out with perfectionism, and this isn't the best of times. 

And if our own expectations aren't enough, there's the family's. "Mom, the meal has always been at your house. It's tradition. We'll help more, though, and it'll work out fine." No, it won't. Quietly sit down with family and explain why some of the traditions need to be modified. Trying to make things perfect and maintaining long-held traditions can be a recipe for disaster.

Many years ago, I worked as a cake decorator part-time. Christmas Eve was a busy day and I didn't get home much before six, but our family still wanted to go to the Christmas Eve service. My husband wasn't much of a cook, so we developed the tradition of having pizza and eggnog on  Christmas Eve. I would rush home and it would already be on the table. We would eat and be out the door in less than an hour. Over the years, that pizza-and-egg-nog tradition became an important part of our family history. 

Sadly, it doesn't happen any more. I don't eat wheat or sugar, and there's no one to enjoy it with. Although my children speak fondly of those meals, that tradition has been dropped. The reason for it is gone, the children are grown, and there's no purpose to it.

Look at how your family celebrates, and choose a few meaningful activities. Look for ways to make them work for you and your elder. Then celebrate!


Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday-- 5 Things Not To Say

She was a sweet lady, and not that old. Her dementia was vascular, and the changes in her in the last year had been profound. She'd come to live with her son and his wife because she could no longer cope on her own. In our little townhouse complex, I lived on one side of the park and they were on the other. The chances of running into her were high.

The thought terrified me.

A shy introvert at the best of times, I wasn't good at conversation. I'd never met anyone with dementia, and I was horrified at the thought that I'd say the wrong thing. Or worse still, have no clue what to say. 

Then it happened. I was at the park with my knitting and the little charges in my daycare when she came out with her family. As if drawn by an invisible magnet, she headed to the bench where I was sitting and plopped down. My smile was tremulous as I looked at her, and I dropped a stitch. What should I say?

She asked about my knitting. A knitter all her life, she didn't realize she could no longer follow a pattern. She asked to see my project, then reached for the pattern, studying it like a final exam. Did I have more patterns? I ran in the house to get them for her. She sat on the bench with me, turning over the patterns, exclaiming at the pictures and reminiscing about projects she'd made. When it was time to go in, she asked if she could borrow some of my patterns, and I gladly handed them over. Her son returned them the next day, but in those few minutes, we were two women chatting on a park bench about knitting. Normal stuff.

In this, my first exposure to someone with dementia, I acted on instinct. Thankfully, I got it right. In the many years since I've cringed to see and hear family members and care partners speak to people with dementia in ways that demeaned them and made them uncomfortable. They aren't bad people, and they don't mean to hurt anyone. They simply don't know.

Here are some things not to say or do:

1) "Do you remember my name?" Chances are, they don't, although they may remember that you are someone important in their lives. But a question like that sets them up for failure and embarrassment.
Better to say, "Grandma, it's your grandson, George. I was hoping we could have a visit."

2) "What did you have for lunch?" First, who cares, and secondly, no, he probably doesn't remember. I've noticed people ask this when they don't know what to say. Seriously, how many people do you ask if they remember what they had for lunch? It's lame.

3) "Do you remember--" Grandpa most likely doesn't remember who you are, so whatever else you are asking him to remember is just too much. Again, besides stressing him out because he doesn't remember, a question like that is guaranteed to make him feel stupid. Better to say something like, "I remember when we used to come and visit and you helped me earn Scout badges. You and I made a campfire together."

4) Don't talk about the elder as if he isn't in the room. "How is my dad doing?" Those are conversations to have privately.

5) Don't use condescending language. "We just had a nice lunch, didn't we George?" It's demeaning. Think to yourself, "Would I talk like this to anyone else in my life?

When I started working with people with dementia, I knew nothing, and I was as nervous as I had been that day at the park. I quickly learned, however, that they are generally the most loving, forgiving people with amazing stories.

Care Partner Wednesday--5 Things Not To Say

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Hallowe'en and Dementia

When my kids were little, I was not a fan of Hallowe'en. That's an understatement. I hated it. The spiritual implications, the cost, and all that candy put me off. I probably scarred them for life, but they got dressed up and we took them out to Chuck E. Cheese, where they came home with lots of prizes and a small bag of candy. Bah, humbug.

I've changed. Now I dress up, give out candy to the hordes of kids who come, and coffee, tea and hot chocolate to their frozen parents. It's a neighbourhood thing and I love the sense of community.

If you're a care partner to someone with dementia, the conversation in your head may sound something like this: "My life is difficult enough. I'm exhausted, my elder is unpredictable, especially after dark. The last thing I need is for the doorbell to be ringing incessantly and excited kids screaming. I'm going to turn off the porch light, take mom down the basement and turn on a movie--loud. Hopefully, it will all be over by the time she wants to go to bed."

Hallowe'en can be the best of times or the worst of times, and you won't necessarily know how it's going to go. Here are a few ideas that might help.

1) Watch the media--Over the month of October, malls can have some pretty scary displays. People with dementia sometimes have difficulty discerning reality from fiction and may get scared by the fake blood and gore. This is also true of the content on TV, especially as the date draws closer to the 31st. Try to keep mall trips to a minimum, and monitor television, stocking up on favourite movies to watch instead.

2) Know your elder--You know better than anyone if Hallowe'en will be fun or stressful. You can't predict everything, but if loud noises such as doorbells and children yelling "Trick or Treat" would bother them, find something else to do. If they tend to sundown and get anxious in the evening, it's probably best to look for a quiet place to retreat.

3) Have fun--One of the first characteristics I learned about people with dementia was that they generally love to have fun. Little children in costumes are a delight, and if you think the cacophony of the door in the evening would be too much, invite grandchildren to come over in their costumes or check out a program at a local library. Children in costumes are everywhere, and they do so love to be admired.

4) Dress up--It may not be everyone's thing, but I've been amazed at how many elders enjoyed putting on a feather boa or a funny hat when everyone else is dressing up. Take pictures, do silly poses and give yourself permission to laugh.

5) Give--One thing elders love, especially those with dementia, is to give. If they are up to it, have your elder give out candy. They may need a bit of help, but seeing the smiles on little faces will give them purpose and joy.

I give you permission if Hallowe'en is too overwhelming, to turn off the lights and go elsewhere. but maybe this is the year you grab your feather boa. And your camera.

Care PartnerWednesday--Hallowe'en and Dementia

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner--Maria

In celebration of my 300th blog, in the month of October, I will be featuring a series called "Who is A Care Partner?" Each week, I will interview a professional care partner. Different responsibilities, nationalities, and perspectives, but one thing in common--a heart for elders. This is the fourth in the series.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family. Where were you born, your family of origin, your family now.

I lived in the Philippines my whole life well into adulthood. My mother raised us alone and taught us the value of hard work. One of eight children, we were always poor and had to learn to be creative to put food on the table. My mother taught school, and even in her difficult circumstances, she impressed on us to never complain and always be positive. Those values are part of me today.

I attended the school where mother taught and later became a nurse. I worked in the community, in the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health. The work served the World Health Organization.

I met and married my wonderful husband, who was always supportive, and we had our two boys. When I married, we lived with my in-laws, my first encounter with elders except for brief visits from my grandparents, who lived in the States. Later, when father-in-law later became sick, his dying wish was that my boys live in Canada.

I was afraid. I didn't know anything but my home, and immigrating was a long and difficult process. I moved here, leaving the boys with the nanny they had known from birth. I took the required courses to upgrade and practice as a nurse in Canada, but my first job experience was horrendous. They treated me like a slave but I was afraid to say anything and jeopardize my family's chances of coming here. A  friend encouraged me to find another position, which I did, and at this one, I lived with my employers who were elders.  I was so much happier. One of my fellow students encouraged me to apply at Christie Gardens,  a continuum for elders in Toronto, which includes independent living apartments and life lease suites and a care floor. For a long time, I didn't, but when I worked in a long-term care home across the street from Christie, I'd look at the building and wonder about it. Then a position was posted and  I applied. I'm so thankful they took a chance on me. I have worked here ever since. I was able to sponsor my husband and our boys, so now our family is together again in Canada.

As a nurse, you could work anywhere. Why did you choose to work among the elderly?
I don't believe I made a choice. I think it is my destiny. Although I didn't grow up knowing my grandparents well, each step of my journey thus far involved elders and each of them taught me so much. I believe I'm where I'm supposed to be.

There is no denying it, some elders are more difficult to serve than others. How do you handle a situation when someone is challenging?
I think you have to look beyond what is happening. Often there is a reason, an unmet need, which is the root cause of the problem. Many are dealing with so much--losses in their life, sickness, pain. We have to listen with our hearts and look for why they are acting this way. Compassion, patience and active listening are important. Sometimes what they aren't saying is also significant.

Tell a story about how you served an elder and met their needs in a non-medical way.
When I was living with the elders in my second job in Canada, there was a sight-impaired family member. Because of this, her hair was cut crooked, as were her nails. She tried to vacuum, and it hurt me to watch. On my break, I did things like style her hair, cut her nails and help her keep her place clean. I told her she felt like family and it pleased me to do it.

 At work, there are so many non-medical things I can do. Simple things like helping someone with their socks and shoes, assisting them in the toilet and taking their tray back to the dining room. Nurses work as a team with all other care partners, and everyone can help.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I love when I'm able to make residents smile. If they are comfortable and happy with the care, they relax and appreciate the time you give them. They have so much to give. When they share their wisdom and knowledge with me, I learn from them. I respect them and their contribution to my life.

If a student is planning to work as a nurse in eldercare, what advice would you give them? 
I would encourage compassion and to provide caring as well as nursing care. Sometimes it can be unbelievably busy. You have medications to give out during a certain time and then maybe someone has a fever and someone else falls. Sometimes I feel like I am running in all directions. The important thing to remember is that they are people, and to really listen and give compassion with     the medications.

Another thing that's important to remember is to look after your other team members. No one can do the job alone. We need each other, and we have to care for each other to make that happen.

So much of what you do goes beyond dispensing medications and treating wounds. How do you develop relationships with the elders you serve? 
Trust is important and must come first. As residents get to know me as a familiar face, they relax and feel more comfortable. I always smile and try to spend some time chatting with them as I give their medications. I listen to what they have to say and I'm interested in their lives. Knowing who they are and sharing who I am, means we become friends.

What do you believe elders need most from their nursing care partners?
Compassion, active listening, genuine smiles and love. And a sense of humour helps, too.

This is what I have learned: Elders may not remember your name. They may not be able to say what you have done for them. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

Care Partne Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner-Maria

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner?--Lillian

In celebration of my 300th blog, in the month of October I will be featuring a series called "Who is A Care Partner?" Each week, I will interview a professional care partner. Different responsibilities, nationalities, and perspectives, but one thing in common--a heart for elders. This is the third in the series.

When Lillian talks about making appetizing meals for elders, her eyes sparkle, her animated face lights up and her fingers flit as she pours forth her passion. Lillian is a nutrition partner. She's a member of the dietary department, but so much more. An integral part of the team, what drives her is to make food tasty, pleasing and fun.

Tell us about yourself. Where were you born, what did your family of origin look like, when did you move here? Tell us about your family now.

I was born in the Filipines, the third of eight children. In my thirties, I moved to Canada and in my first job here, I worked in a restaurant. A few years later, I became a Canadian citizen, and could sponsor my parents and my younger sister to come to live here. My dad developed prostate cancer,
and received treatment, but he couldn't handle the Canadian winters. He went back home and passed away there about a year later. My mom, however, is in her nineties and lives with me. She doesn't like the winters either, but she loves to be with me. She's still able to do some things, but her arthritis is quite painful. I'm able to look after her and, of course, make her favourite foods. Caring for her has taught me how better to serve the elders at work, and I see her in them when I am here. I also have a son and two wonderful grandchildren.

How long have you worked with elders?
Twenty-two years ago, I started working at Christie Gardens, a continuum for elders in Toronto, which includes independent living apartments and life lease suites and a care floor. I started with part time work, and worked at various times of the day. I've served all three meals, and worked in different areas of the building. In the neighbourhood I'm a part of now, I serve lunch and dinner, and work with the team of care partners to prepare, serve and clean up from those meals for thirty people every day.

What part of working with elders makes you feel like you’ve made a difference in their lives? Tell us a story about when you went beyond the perimeters of your job in order to make an elder happy.
I try to do that every day. Often when people get older, their appetite wanes, and nothing sounds good to them. It's important to get to know them well, and find what kinds of foods they like, how they like it prepared and what makes it appealing to them. For example, someone may not like anything that's being served that day. Even though we have two choices of soup and four entrees, it may be that nothing sounds good to them. I might offer to make a fresh grilled cheese sandwich, or an omelet. I try to find something that appeals to them.

Also, when we have birthdays, I decorate a piece of cake with whipped cream, and garnish it with small pieces of orange and strawberry. Everyone in the dining room--residents and staff--sings for them, and it makes them feel special.

Sometimes elders are on special diets (minced or pureed foods) that are less appetizing. What do you do to help in these situations?
These are more challenging. One of our ladies has to eat pureed food, and giving her variety and tasty meals is important. Before she came to us, she was in a hospital where the pureed food was prepared ahead, and she hated it and lost significant weight. I show her the menu, and she chooses what she would like. I then puree it and she eats it immediately. It's much nicer for her and she appreciates that it's fresh and her choice. Another man is on a gluten-free diet. He enjoys salads, and I make them especially appealing with different colours and textures. We also supply gluten-free bread for him. We have a man who likes everything bland, 
which limits his choices. I try to find different options for him so he isn't 
having the same food all the time. Another person isn't able to handle utensils well, but enjoys finger foods. Sometimes I roll a piece of ham and put fruit with it and some bread to make a kind of salad, and he eats it all. You need to be creative and look for ways to meet their needs.

If you were giving advice to a care partner who was finding it difficult to make meals enjoyable for their elder, what would you suggest?
I try to make sample plates, so when the care partners are serving, they have an idea of the best way to serve it. I like to have lots of options ready, so there is something for everyone. 

What kinds of things do you do to make meals special and fun? Why is that important?

Presentation is important. You can't throw a spoonful of food flat on a plate and expect it to be interesting to a person. I look at the position of the main course, the salad or vegetable, and how the garnish looks. Sometimes I put part of the meal in a small nappie so everything isn't at the same height. I garnish with colourful things like yellow or red peppers, peaches, strawberries or orange slices, and a sprig of mint. Elders are thankful for the extra effort and are more likely to eat well when it not only tastes good but looks nice. Many of our residents love a scoop of ice cream, but unless they specifically want it plain, I put chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream on it. 

Every meal can be a celebration.

Care Partner Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner--Lillian

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner--Niala

In celebration of my 300th blog, in the month of October I will be featuring a series called "Who is A Care Partner?" Each week, I will interview a professional care partner. Different responsibilities, nationalities, and perspectives, but one thing in common--a heart for elders. This is the second in the series.

Niala Dookie was born in Trinidad, but her ancestors came from India. Her great-grandparents came to Trinidad as children to work on the sugar plantations for the British. Her large family includes eleven siblings. As her father died when she was ten, her mother raised the children, fulfilling the roles of both parents. Now her mother has Alzheimer's, and Niala looks after her.       
How and when did you come to Canada?                                                                                     
I came at 18 with my mom and four of my 
brothers. We came to live in Winnipeg as two
of my sisters already lived there. 
The rest of my family moved to 
Toronto, but I stayed in Winnipeg 
until 2011. My mom had a fall and broke 
her hip after her 80th birthday, 
and my family realized she couldn't live alone.

What made you choose to be a professional care partner?
I trained as a medical assistant, but couldn't find work in that field. I'd also worked as an office assistant. I cared for my mom already, so it seemed natural to decide to take the PSW (Personal Support Worker) course. When I graduated, I came to work at Christie Gardens, a continuum for elders in Toronto, which includes independent living apartments and life lease suites and a care floor. . I'm still here.

You are looking to change careers and serve elders in a different way. What made you decide to take this route?
Working as a care partner, I heard about the Eden Alternative, the philosophy of care that looks at the whole elder, and takes a person-centred approach. My desire was to do more than just help our elders get dressed or get their meals, I wanted to give them a voice. My passion is that each is treated with dignity, given independence in a personal and private manner, with safety foremost. This is how I treat my mother and all elders.

I decided to take the Activation and Recreation Coordinator Course in Gerontology at George Brown College. In my second year, I'm learning so much about people living with dementia.

You have some special challenges, as you aren't only a care partner at work but at home. Tell us about that.

It is challenging, but if you love what you do, it doesn't seems as much so. People laugh when I say I go to work to have a break from caring for my mom at home. A special woman who worked hard all her life raising her children without my dad, she is the only parent I know, and it's my duty to ensure she gets the best care possible. When I go to work, I use the same philosophy. Every elder is someone's mother, father, sister or aunt, and they want the best for them. I see my own mother in others, and it makes the job lighter.

The Eden Alternative talks about the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom in elders. Tell a story about how you adressed this at work.

Loneliness--Connecting with others is the key to fighting loneliness. I chuckle when I hear someone tell the same story over and over to her tablemates. They always act as if it's the first time they've heard it.

Helplessness--I like to offer lots of choice. What would they like to wear today, or eat of drink or do. It's also important to enlist their help when possible. It gives them a sense of purpose and helps them feel needed and valuable.

Boredom--I like to find out not only who they are, but what they enjoy. Knowing what they love to do makes it easy to engage them in meaningful activity. I also love to talk to them about their lives. There is so much wisdom to be gained.

Tell us about a day you went home feeling you made a difference.

Hopefully that's every day. When I help someone with their meal or make someone smile or engage in girl talk, I know I've made a difference to that elder. One day I went to help another care partner because an elder was refusing to have a shower. I had a relationship with this elder, and she allowed me to shower her. I felt I made a difference that day.

What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

When we lose an elder it's by far the most difficult aspect. Because we develop relationships, we form close bonds, and it hurts to say good-bye when they pass away.

What advice would you give to all care partners--professional ones like you or those who are caring for family or friends?

Do your job to the best of your ability. See each person as an individual, and care for them as you would want your loved one cared for. Doing your best for someone is the best gift you can give them.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

                                                  *picture of elder used with permission

Care Partner Wednesday--Who is a Care Partner--Niala

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner--Honeygirl

In celebration of my 300th blog, in the month of October I will be featuring a series called "Who is A Care Partner?" Each week, I will interview a different professional care partner. Different responsibilities, nationalities, and perspectives, but one thing in common--a heart for elders. This is the first in the series.

Honeygirl’s journey to her present job was a long and winding road which involved another job, a wedding and getting laid off!

 She’d always wanted to work at Christie Gardens, a continuum for elders in Toronto, which includes independent living apartments and life lease suites and a care floor.
Ten years ago she took a private duty position with a resident who lived independently but needed some extra care. This gentleman wanted to get exercise, so they walked together all over the building. One of her co-workers told her “a Filipino guy in the kitchen would like your phone number.” Her na├»ve thought was, “That would be good, because if I know someone, I’m more likely to get a job here.” That wasn't why he wanted her number. 

They were married. A few years later, she got a job at Christie Gardens, but later was laid off due to lack of seniority. She had her children, and two years ago applied again. I was a part of her interview, and we knew immediately that she was the kind of person we were looking for. She has been working part-time since, and just recently applied for and received a full-time position, which will be starting this month.

Tell us about your family of origin. How did your growing up influence your love of elders today?
 I grew up in Filipines. My Dad passed away when I was three, and in order to look after us financially, my mom had to work overseas. She worked in Hong Kong, Australia and England, and I only saw her once a year during the month of December when her employer would fly her home. Consequently, my grandmother took on a most important role in my life. She raised me, and I was closest to her. When my mom came home, I still slept with my grandmother because that's what was familiar to me. 

This influenced me the most because I wish I could be beside my grandmother. She lives in Vancouver, I call her when I have free time, and we do Facetime. She’s 88. She’s still active.

 Tell us about the family you have now. What do you hope your children learn from you regarding eldercare?
 I have a girl and two boys. I always tell them the story of my life back home. I want them to know what I’ve been through. I wasn’t beside my mom all the time like they are able to be, and I want them to understand. I explain to them what I do, and when they ask what I mean by “elder” I say, “Like Grandma.”

Eldercare to me is very important because I grew up with my grandmother, and I wish I could be caring for her. Each of the elders I care for are like my grandmas and grandpas. I don’t know what my kids will do when they are older or if they will have the same passion for elders as I have, but they know what I do, and I hope that will mark on their hearts. I will be old some day, and I’m not expecting them to take care of me, but at least to give the love and respect with elders.

What have you learned from the elders you serve?
It takes time to earn their trust. They have to get to know me and I have to get to know them. And patience. It can take months to have the kind of relationship with the resident where they trust me and care is easy. Many of the lessons I’ve learned with the elders I take home and can apply with my family. 

Then when they pass away, they leave a mark on me. 

The Eden Alternative talks about fighting the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom in elders. How do you help to do that?
 When I give care, and I talk with them and share myself with them, I become their friend, and that helps with loneliness. My residents are close to my heart. That’s who I am. There’s something in me that connects to them.

It’s such a good feeling if you did your job well at the end of the day. 

How were you able to serve an elder at their death?
Honeygirl was recently with a resident who lived with us for many years, and passed away suddenly. She wasn’t feeling well at lunch, so the care partners put her back to bed. Honeygirl was with her not long afterwards when she breathed her last. When we were able to get in touch with the family, they were sad that they weren’t there, but so happy when they heard Honeygirl was with her. They said it gave them comfort because it was like having a member of the family with their mom.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
 There’s lots of physically and emotionally challenging aspects of the job, especially working with people with dementia, but I have learned so much from them. I’ve learned how to help them, how to work with them, and how to make them smile and laugh. I’ve learned how important it is to help other people, not just elders. If we care for our elders, it makes their family happy as well.  

It’s also important to look after your co-workers, too. It has to be a team, like a family. 

What is your biggest challenge?
It’s hard when they refuse care, and it makes me feel sad, like I’m not doing my job. 
So, sometimes, I sit with them and talk a bit. Sometimes about this and that, sometimes about my kids. One time I was with a resident, and he seemed so sad. I said to him, “What makes you happy?” We talked a bit about his family, and then I asked him if he wanted to see pictures of my kids. He did, and he was smiling and we were talking. Then I said, “Do you want to get ready now?” and he said, “Yes.” Just a little talking, communication and connecting, and his whole attitude changed. 

If someone is refusing, I’ll give them time. I’ll walk away and come back after five minutes, and sometimes, something has changed. If not, then another try.

What advice would you give to all care partners?
I tell the students who work with us, “If you hear a negative thing from your co-worker or something, you can’t get sad or upset. It serves as a challenge for you. You have to stand up and do better. You learn from this one, from this one, from this one. There are four care partners in this area. We have different techniques. You apply, and it’s up to you to make it your own.

I just love to learn. I learn from the elders, from co-workers, from the families. That makes me so happy that I’m here. It’s like a home that you don’t even want to leave.

I’ve heard you say you love your job. Why?
 I always love to work with elders, and when I come to work, I know I have a purpose. I love what I do. Sometimes it’s kind of challenging, but when I’m here, I know I’m doing what I should be doing.

That kind of says it all, doesn't it?


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Never Say Never

"I'll never put my mother in a home."

I've heard these words many times over the years. They're often said with conviction and a
sanctimonious air that doesn't invite dialogue. There are many hidden messages in these eight words, and although not all of them may be intended, some definitely are.

In some cultures, it's considered dishonourable to not care for your elder in your home, and anyone who chooses a different route could be shunned by their relatives. Disapproval and anger may result. I understand that. I'm not referring to cultural differences, but the unspoken message in those words:

"If you put your elder in care, you are abandoning them."
"My choice is better and more honourable than yours."
"Caring for an elder at home is always the best choice."

Whatever the conclusion a care partner comes to, you can bet agonizing hours went into the decision, so let's stop judging each other.

When Home Care Is Best

Home care has the benefit of the familiar. The elder can stay in surroundings and with people who are well-known and not have the upheaval of moving. It works best when there is plenty of family, friends and other supports for the primary care partner. It's helpful to have a combination of respite care, such as a program or regular classes that the elder attends every week, or care that comes in. Help with bathing and other routines keep the tasks from becoming overwhelming. From the care partner's perspective, there must be plenty of support in various forms.

From the elder's perspective, they must not be isolated. This is one of the greatest hazards of home care. Often care partners still need to make a living, families are busy and the elder has no opportunity to spend time with their peers. Mobility and other health issues may make it difficult to get out, even with help. Their world shrinks and what was supposed to be the best possible choice becomes a prison.

As they come to the end of their lives and reach a palliative state, there are more challenges. Palliative doesn't necessarily mean they are end-of-life, but they aren't going to recover, and there are often multiple physical challenges. Doctor's appointments, specialists, treatments--how are these accomplished? Bringing in nursing care is exorbitantly expensive. As the bills and the worries mount, what is the care partner to do?

When Community Care Is Best

By community care, I mean living in a community in a situation where medical help is always present. This might be long-term care or a private care home. In this situation, medical support is always available, and your elder has the benefits of a community where they can connect with others of their generation.

Long-term care as I know it leaves a lot to be desired, but if this is the only option financially, the care partner can and should still be active. Advocate for care that is person-centred. Be there often to provide not only companionship but alternative activities. Get to know the professional care partners and join in with whatever is happening.

My dad chose to move from the home he had always known and the community he lived in for all his adult life and moved in with my sister hundreds of miles away in Manitoba. Although it was his choice, it wasn't the best one. He never saw his friends or many of his family again. I was only able to visit him once a year. My sister worked full-time, and although her family reached out to him, he was isolated. As his dementia and care needs increased, it became evident that this wasn't working. A new care home opened a few miles away, and she moved him there. She was able to visit often, and when I visited, I entered into the life of the home and helped peel potatoes for dinner! He was a favourite among the staff, and when he died in his sleep about a year later, everyone missed him.

The message is clear. Care needs and deciding what is best is complex. Sometimes the decision needs to change. There are many factors.

Don't judge.

Care PartnerWednesday--Never Say Never

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The Milk Police

"We've got a problem."

Megan's delightful British accent and belly laugh were my favourites, but she wasn't laughing today. She pulled me aside with a frown and confided to me in a low tone the seriousness of what they were facing.

Someone at their table for four was wasting milk.

She asked for a full glass of milk each morning, and only drank half of it. Every day. This was wasteful.

I understood that these ladies had lived through the depression. Two of them had come when they were children from Britain as evacuees and lived as guests among Canadian families. All of them knew how it felt to do without and to scrimp to make ends meet. I understood how waste annoyed and angered them. I also knew they were at a point in their lives which some people reach, where their worlds shrink and the minuscule becomes enormous. Still--

Perhaps the problem could be solved with half a glass of milk. Maybe she only wanted a swallow and we were giving her too much. We tried this solution, and the unthinkable happened. She asked for more.

I cringed, listening to the lecture. "You must finish it. You're wasting." This was said in a tone saved for only mortal sins.

When mobility falters and life is lived in one small room, some elders allow their worlds to shrink, and they become petty. They are interested mainly in themselves and their perception of how things should be. They can be difficult to serve and at times, difficult to love. They might isolate themselves and worry needlessly about the minutia of life. Families start to dread visiting as mom only wants to complain.

I'm thankful that this is a choice and not one everyone makes it. Tomorrow, I have the tremendous privilege of speaking at the service of someone who chose to live her final days in a different way. Although she could no longer see and her body weakened until she couldn't walk, she maintained her dry sense of humour and her adventuresome spirit. If something was happening, it just might be fun, and she felt she'd better give it a try. A great friend, she was kind to everyone. The staff who served her loved her and fought for her to have the best quality of life possible. Tomorrow I get to honour her.

Tomorrow also, I need to sit with the ladies before their friend arrives for breakfast and tell them, in the kindest and most respectful way, to lay off. That they're not the milk police. That their friend and how she's made to feel is more important than two ounces of milk.

But there's a lesson here. I can be petty when a co-worker annoys me or a family member snubs me. I can close my door and isolate myself rather than looking for new adventures. As I age, I have a choice in how I live and interact with others.

I choose to not be the milk police.

Care Partner Wednesday--The Milk Police

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--How to Love a Care Partner

Your family member has just moved into care. There is so much to do to get them settled. What will fit in the room? How should you set it up so they are comfortable? Meet the doctor and the nurses, get their clothes labelled, on and on...

For some, giving over care to strangers is a great relief. The burden has been enormous for too long. You can go home and sleep tonight, knowing they are cared for.

For others, it's a strain. How can these people possibly know how my mother likes her tea, which are her favourite pyjamas, and which piece of music calms her? Do they want to know?

In the myriad of tasks that crowd your time in those first weeks, put "Get to know the care partners" at the top of your list. These people will have an intimate relationship with your family member. Open communication with them will improve everyone's life.

Here are some tips to get started:

1. Get to know their names. There will be a full-time and part-time person for the day and afternoon shifts. There are people at night as well, of course, but you will probably never meet them. Get to know the names of the four care partners who give the regular care, as well as the nurses for both shifts. Write down their names and positions for reference.

2. Introduce yourself. Time your visits so that over a period of weeks you get to meet all of them.

3. Write down pertinent information about your elder. Don't write a book, but pick out a bit of history and some likes and dislikes that will make caring for them easier. Post it in the room.

4. Consult them. "I was thinking about getting mom some new tops. Do you think these would be easy for her to get into?"
"I was wondering if mom could handle coming home to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Do you think that would be a good thing or too much for her?"
"My sister out west wants to talk to mom, but mom doesn't seem to hear on the phone any more. Any ideas?"
As they get to know your elder better, they will be students of them and have all kinds of useful suggestions.

5. Give sincere compliments. The work these people do is difficult. Many find it rewarding, but it is wearing physically and emotionally. Like a piece of chocolate, which you hold in your mouth as long as possible and savour to the last drop, a sincere compliment is tasty and satisfying. Here are a few examples:
"You always help my mother to look so lovely. Earrings, makeup and scarves were important to her, and I appreciate how you honour that."
"Thank you for taking dad out in the garden today. He's always happiest in the garden, and it made his day."
(To a nurse) "Thank you for giving mom her medication in jam. I noticed you do that just for her, and she takes her pills willingly now."
(To a nurse) "Thank you for calling me about dad's fall. I appreciate how you keep me abreast of everything that's happening with him."

There may be problems. If it's a specific issue, try talking to the person in the most non-confrontational way possible. "Can you help me understand why it was done this way?" There may be reasons that you don't know that make perfect sense. If talking doesn't help, go to a supervisor, but don't go with "guns a blazing." Talk to them about the problem and look for solutions.

 If you are struggling with a personality conflict between your elder and their care partner, a supervisor will need to get involved and perhaps make a switch. Just ensure every effort has been made to make the relationship work. And make sure the problem isn't yours alone. If your elder and their care partner get along fine but you can't stand her, deal with it. Maybe you should go home and count your blessings!

We have had family members come back to visit, and the first thing they want to do is hug their favourite care partner. The effort you put into this relationship will benefit you and your elder every day.

You may find that you have found a hidden treasure.

Or made a friend.

Care Partner Wednesday--How to Love a Care Parnter

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Elders and Technology

"If I bring her computer down next week, are the proper cables in the room to get internet access?"

I looked blankly at the family member asking the question. Her mother had moved in last week and was getting settled. I was certain whatever cables she needed weren't in the room, and I had no idea who to ask to find out how to get them. It was the first time I'd had that question in my neighbourhood.

It wouldn't be the last.

Last week I overheard a conversation at breakfast. A resident who lives in another neighbourhood and eats in mine was talking to her friend. "You should get a computer. You can look up anything with it. You'd have such fun."

Although it's still true that most senior elders are not computer savvy, this is rapidly changing. And even for those with dementia or those who only know the kind of mouse you set a trap for, the computer age and social media have lots to offer.

I suggest a tablet rather than a laptop or monitor. Besides being easy to hold, and wireless, a tablet can be set up to be operated simply. Only those applications that are useful can be loaded, and it can easily be a shared activity.

Here are some suggestions:

Are there family members or friends who live out of town? Set up an email account for your elder, and show them how to type an email. If this isn't possible, help them write it, and you type it for them. Or, use your email. When the reply comes, sit and read it together and enjoy the news.

I have been using this for years with family members as they go on vacation. They send me pictures of their adventures with commentary and I print them off for their elder. One lady's daughter went on all kinds of journeys. Each time, I would get a file folder and fill it with pictures from their trip as she sent them to me. Each trip was several weeks, and it was hard to have her away for so long, but looking through the pictures helped.

One family with grandchildren and great-grandchildren in New Zealand have an innovative way of sharing with their grandma in Toronto. They upload pictures to a Canadian printing website who mails the photos directly to her door. The cost is reasonable, and Grandma is delighted to be able to hold the prints of her family.

Skype or FaceTime
A few years ago, a couple had a grandson who was living far away. Skype was new technology at the time and was certainly unknown to the grandparents. The family brought in a tablet and made the arrangements to meet in a quiet room so they could connect the grandson with his grandparents. Grandpa had dementia, but I'll never forget his look of wonder as he saw his grandson's face. When the boy said, "Hi, Grandpa," the tears began to flow, and not just Grandpa's. How beautiful that technology could bring this family together.

One of the great things about Facebook is connecting people who have lost each other. One of the groups I belong to on Facebook is from my old public school. My sister, who is 10 years older, belongs to the same group. People in their 60s and 70s are connecting with people they haven't seen for years. There are also conversations about buildings and businesses which are no longer there. "Did anyone used to go for milkshakes at Borden's Dairy?" Imagine the reminiscing and fun discussions this could spark. There are groups for everything. Universities, army regiments, church friends--the ideas are endless. They will probably need some help with this, but what a great activity to do together.

One of our neighbourhoods has Alexa and residents ask her questions every day. Alexa provides all kinds of fun and interesting facts.

There are so many instances when we say, "I wonder..." Google has the answer, and it's often fascinating. Our music therapist turns to Google for facts about well-known artists and shares them during her class.

Google Earth
Imagine looking up the address of your childhood home. Now imagine if you grew up in Germany or Italy, and you could look at the exact road you used to travel barefoot as a kid?


People who stay indoors most days are still interested in the weather. Is it hot? Is it supposed to rain? As I am helping with breakfast each day, I check my weather app and we talk about it.


There are many possibilities here. If your elder needs new clothes, look at websites together. It might be difficult at first to envision what the product will look like, but it's not that different from looking at a catalogue. Some stores have both catalogues and online ordering. What about buying a birthday present for that special grandchild? Or Christmas shopping? This is an excellent way to share the experience, and not only have fun but encourage feelings of connectedness and purpose in your elder.

Technology can broaden and enhance the world of our elders in so many ways. Have you used technology as a care partner with your elder? Have you an innovative use of technology?

Tell us!

Care Partner Wednesday--Elders and Technology