Category Archives: pets

Creating Fun for Caregivers and Frail Seniors

By Lynn Howe

_1571741_origYour confined-to-home (or assisted living or nursing home) parent, just wants to have fun! You are focused on their safety, finances, medical treatment, medications, privacy, nutrition and therapy. You busy yourself with monitoring their progress (or decline) and doing everything in your power to keep them comfortable. You worry about their reduced energy level, increasing fatigue, physical weakness and variable mental status. But do you know how important it is for them to just have fun? To laugh deeply, live in the moment, to briefly not be just old and frail, to forget pain?

OK, so what can you do? I know that you are thinking, well, they can’t do that much, but you might be surprised at all the options. Too often thoughtful families accommodate so much to their senior’s weakening state that they overlook how much they can do and enjoy! While it’s good to try to bring the world to them with visits, letters, phone calls and email, it’s also important and possible to keep bringing them out in the world. Of course, it may involve more work for you — transporting walker or wheelchair, assisting in/out of cars and doors, walking slowly, negotiating steps carefully, finding bathrooms, keeping him/her dry, warm (or cool) — so be prepared for a different pace and smaller goals. And some cajoling might be needed to just get going.

Mini-field trips

Seniors look forward to having a day out, but as they age, they don’t have the stamina or mobility for trips to fascinating museums, over-stimulating casinos, monster malls, giant sports stadiums, wooded parks, loud modern restaurants, etc. But they may be able to go out for an hour or two. My mom adored a simple trip to the supermarket — colorful flowers, fanciful balloons, acres of fresh, bright produce, bakery smells, energetic families with huge carts. She pushed her walker along, senses on overload, straying down enticing aisles. We didn’t buy a thing. But it was an hour that she talked about for days – a new topic of discussion with her nursing home buddies.
Another day we drove one short mile to a local antique shop. “I had those gold Fostoria glasses,” she pointed out. “Your dad and I would stop at the Fostoria factory store on trips to see my brother in Washington, DC.” Talk about the glassware led to reminiscing about her deceased brother, until she0interrupted herself; “Look at the quilts – just like Grandmother’s.” And so on, pushing her walker forward toward the next memory. After about an hour, she had had enough and home we went.

The first trip to a small local department store just before Christmas involved a little arm twisting. But once there, lights, perfume, soft velvety fashions and just ahead a decorated Christmas tree, worked their magic. She wheeled ahead, touching, smelling, exclaiming. Onward through silky lingerie, cute children’s clothes and glittering jewelry. At about the hour mark, like Cinderella, she was done. She relived it all week.

Recently she and I went to a small jewelry store 10 minutes from her home – she had favorite rings that needed resizing. Instead of just taking them for her, I invited her to come along. For the first time in a long time she became the customer, the center of attention. Soon she asked for a chair, her shopping done. But for her it was a big accomplishment, an errand, like in the old days she so misses.

My father-in-law loved an afternoon drive looking at properties we were considering purchasing. He was curious about these houses we described, their yards, their roofs, the neighborhoods. Since we didn’t even bring his wheelchair or get out of the car, it was like a guided tour. “I’ve been in that house” he’d say. “This was always a good neighborhood” he’d remember. “Let’s see what they are building on that hill.” Other mini trips for him were to the cemetery where his wife was buried, their first house in that area and a volunteer organization they founded. He remembered being a neighbor, a businessman, a father and a contributer to the community.
Other ideas might be a quilt shop for a former quilter, a hardware store for the ardent handyman, the library, bakery, family style restaurant, plant store or flower shop.

Fun at home

You don’t have to go out to have fun of course. Opportunities are right there in their home (or facility) to have fun and fight boredom.

  • Stage a sing-along to his/her favorite music. Play the music loud and clear.

  • Get all dressed up and take some photo portraits – use them for family gifts.

  • Rent/borrow movies for slow afternoons – old ones, funny ones, scary ones.

  • Have a deck of cards on hand and play the old familiar games – gin rummy, hearts, war.

  • Scrabble is great fun with grandkids.

  • Keep a puzzle going if you have a spare tabletop – people coming in always get engaged and stay to talk

  • Get out of the room – visit other residents, attend sing-alongs, presentations, craft sessions, chair exercises lunch groups.

  • Pull out a family album – get them to identify the older ones you may have forgotten and take notes or audiotape the stories you hear. Family photos trigger floods of memories.

  • Pick a theme for the week or month. Decorate his/her room and door. It will bring people in to check it out and or conversation.

  • Rearrange furniture and pictures – just for stimulation.

  • Order in or pick up some favorite foods that aren’t on the regular menu – hot dogs for my mom, milkshakes for my husband’s dad.

  • Manicures and pedicures are a special treat too. Have candy for drop-in guests and gifts for visitors – order online; think about birthday and holiday gifts and ‘shop’ on line.

  • Make up a Christmas, holiday or birthday wish list from the web – send it to family members. So think about what your loved one has always enjoyed, listen to what they talk about, look around your neighborhood and give it a try!

Call Raleigh Geriatric Care Management at 919-803-8025 for a FREE 15 minutes phone consultation. lwatral@rgcmgmt.com       www.rgcmgmt.com

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, aging life care association, aging life care professional, Alzheimer's Disease, anxiety and the elderly, care giving, care planning, caregiver burnout, caregiving, dementia, Depression and the elderly, elder care raleigh nc, eldercare, family meetings, Geriatric Care Management, Having a conversation, humor, laughter in caregiving, NC, Nursing Homes, nursing homes and assisted living, pet therapy, pets, Raleigh, respite, Sandwich Generation, senior care, sibling relationships, support groups

A Caregiver’s Best Friend

cat-and-dog-ftr

by, Dave Singleton

Caregivers are going to the dogs. And cats. Even a few birds. Maybe a rabbit. Everyday is a good time to celebrate the positive impact our four-legged friends – and even finned and feathered friends – have on millions of caregivers.
If ever there’s a group of people in need of those benefits, those who help the aged and infirm are it. Caregiving is one of the noblest – and loneliest – jobs. Your days are devoted to taking care of someone, but just who exactly is taking care of you? My own experience has taught me how easy it is to focus solely on the caree and neglect yourself.
Whether it’s a happy dog greeting you at the end of a long day of tending to a parent, a warm cat perched in your lap while you take a few minutes to relax, or a beautifully lit aquarium full of fish taking you away for a few minutes, pets give caregivers a much-needed boost.

Benefits of Pet Ownership for Caregivers

The benefits of having a pet aren’t just a hunch. During the last decade, many studies have focused on how pet ownership improves human cardiovascular health, reduces stress, decreases loneliness and depression, and facilitates social interactions.

As Dr. Edward Creagan of the Mayo Clinic Medical School shared with Everyday Health, “If pet ownership was a medication, it would be patented tomorrow.” Creagan cited a study of patients who survived longer after heart attacks if they had pets.

A recent University of Buffalo Study found that a pet dog or cat controls blood pressure better than an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor used to treat hypertension. And in other research, Alzheimer’s patients still living at home with pets had fewer mood disorders and fewer episodes of aggression and anxiety than did non-pet owners – which is important to note for those caring for Alzheimer’s sufferers.

In addition to the clear physiological benefits, having a pet helps caregivers:

Stay on track. You may spend much of your time taking care of someone else’s world. But having a pet offers a way to stay connected to your world, and that can translate to a renewed sense of purpose and focus. “Having a pet keeps you on a schedule when you may have lost a sense of a regular schedule,” says Susan Kurowski, Executive Director of Pets for the Elderly, an organization that’s placed more than 64,000 animals with people 60 and over. “For example, people take better care of themselves when (a pet) is counting on them – they exercise, they eat right.”

Increase social interaction. Caregivers sometimes miss out on seeing friends regularly and attending social gatherings they might have frequented “B.C.” (Before Caregiving). Pets not only offer companionship directly to their owners, but also may lead to more social interaction with neighbors and acquaintances. If you’re tired and feel withdrawn and not talkative, sometimes a pet can bridge that gap and draw you out. In some cases, they might even get you a date. “A lonely widower walked into the shelter and bonded with a fluffy little poodle,” says Kurowski. “He grinned at staff as he walked out and said, ‘I’m going to be a real chick magnet now.’”

Come as you are. A warm, constant companion can be life-changing. Animals accept their owners “as is”– it doesn’t matter if you’re emotionally drained after dealing with caregiving challenges, sad, or angry. A pet is there for you regardless, and many people report how their pets – especially cats and dogs – have a sixth sense about when their owners are in pain. During lonely periods especially, a pet’s unconditional and nurturing love can be a lifesaver.

What Kind of Pet Suits a Caregiver Best? Caregiving can take up so much time that many wonder if they can manage a pet. It’s a fair question – one that caregivers should consider carefully before committing to a new companion. Since dogs require a lot of care, the good news is, your pet doesn’t have to be a pooch for you to reap the benefits of pet ownership. Cats, rabbits, birds, fish – all can bring similar therapeutic benefits and combat feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression, with considerably less care.

Which type of pet is right for you? Consider the pros and cons:

Dogs

Pros: They wag their tails every time you’re near, you can pet and hug them, and they boost your activity levels. After a long day helping a loved one, your energy may be renewed when you walk in the door, only to be met by a wagging tale and eager eyes. If your exercise routine has evaporated in the wake of your caregiving schedule, walking a dog for even a few minutes a day can provide cardiovascular benefits as well as foster social interaction.

Cons: They require a lot of maintenance. If your caregiving work load is extensive, a dog might actually add to the stress, rather than ease it, when it gets older or sick. Caregivers may find it difficult to balance the needs of the caree with the care of an aging and infirm dog.

Cats

Pros: For a busy caregiver, cats won’t tie you down. “Dogs require more care, but they get the older people out and circulating,” says Kurowski. “Cats require less care, but have an ability to sit in a lap and provide physical contact.” Cats provide stress reduction, too – cat owners have lower risk of heart attack than non-cat owners, according to University of Minnesota research. And cats are also able to entertain themselves during times when you need stillness and space.

Cons: They likely won’t help with your exercise needs, since they require no walking. And as a species, they tend to act on their own timelines, not yours, so you may not get your needs for immediate affection met. One friend of mine described her grandmother’s cat as “friendly sometimes, but definitely not on call.” So if you’re the kind of caregiver who wants a pet to “lean in” for petting and snuggle time rather than keep its distance, a cat may not be ideal.

Fish

Pros: Every caregiver needs their down time. Whether it’s watching mindless television or staring into space or disappearing into a magazine, you need an activity that will help you decompress and regroup. Watching fish colorfully and gracefully glide around a bowl or aquarium can reduce stress. “There is something to fish in an aquarium being soothing,” says Kurowski. “So much of what’s on TV is jarring.” And other than feeding and cleaning their bowl or aquarium, they’re very low-maintenance.

Cons: Unfortunately, you can’t pet a fish or hold it close when you need comfort. And their life spans can be shorter than other pets.

Birds

Pros: If they’re small enough to manage in a cage, birds provide companionship and a bit of chatter if you want a chirpy companion to take your mind off of your challenges. Bird noises can be especially important for caregivers who spend so much time cloistered inside, since they provide a sense of being outdoors. Many birds can be trained to sit on an owner’s hand or finger, and provide the comfort of touch. In one study, older adults experienced a reduction in depression and improvement in quality of life when caring for a canary for a period of three?months.

Cons: Chances are you won’t spend a lot of time cuddled up with your bird on the sofa, like you might with a dog or cat. Not all birds talk, and they can be messy.

Whatever type of pet you choose to bring you companionship and comfort – whether four-legged, finned and fine-feathered – the pros will almost definitely outweigh the cons.

For a free 15 minute telephone consult with a Certified Geriatric Care Manager, call: 919-803-8025 and go to www.rgcmgmt.com.  Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, Raleigh, NC

Leave a comment

Filed under aging life care association, aging life care professional, care giving, care planning, caregiver burnout, caregiving, elder care raleigh nc, eldercare, family meetings, Geriatric Care Management, laughter in caregiving, long term care planning, pet therapy, pets