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!