Taking care of a senior loved one is an act of love. Nevertheless, it can be challenging at times and wear on your patience.
Dr. Aparna Kotamarti, Medical Director of the Senior Health and Wellness Center at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Forth Worth, says patience starts at home.
“Teach your children to be respectful to their elderly,” she said. “Let them interact with the seniors in the house. When they become young adults, have them participate at churches and volunteer in Assisted Living facilities and hospital outreach programs. Let them have as much exposure as they can so that they grow up with empathy and respect toward our seniors.”
Kotamarti has been practicing geriatric medicine for nearly two decades and completed her professional fellowship in Geriatric Medicine at Stanford University. She is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics and possesses extensive experience in primary care and management of complex conditions.
The United States is experiencing considerable growth in its older population. It is estimated that 83.7 million adults will be 65 and over by 2050. While this may be inspiring in many ways, this projected growth also presents challenges from all aspects of the spectrum, from policymakers, government programs and health care providers to businesses and most importantly, families. Patience will play a much bigger role in the lives of younger adults and even adult children when it comes to caring for and communicating with seniors who may be slower, forgetful, helpless or apathetic.
Connie McKenzie, a member of the Aging Life Care Association and owner of Firstat Nursing Services, suggests asking yourself if your house meets your senior loved one’s immediate and long-term needs. Take into consideration that as your senior ages, his or her needs will continually change.
Kotamarti recommends setting up a bedroom on a ground level so your senior doesn’t have to take stairs, thus avoiding the risk of falling. Keep the bedroom simple with a minimum amount of furniture and a nightlight to make it as safe as possible. It’s also important to have an accessible bathroom. The geriatric expert said she prefers showers with grab bars over bathtubs to avoid the hassle of climbing in and out. She also encourages family caregivers to have meals prepped so seniors don’t have any interaction with a stove. Having a calendar noting the events of the day is always a good idea, Kotamarti adds.
Once you’ve fully moved your senior in, begin the process of adaptation for everyone in your home. As for seniors, McKenzie said that “starting a new life can be tremendously overwhelming and is very probable that they feel a sense of loss of independence to the lifestyle they have been used to.” That’s why Kotamarti emphasized the importance of making them feel welcome. Be patient and empathetic as they adjust to their new surroundings and ask them often if there is anything you can do to make things more comfortable or home-like.
“If you decide to move your seniors to your house, make sure they’re happy about it,” Kotamarti said. “Ultimately, it’s their happiness. If they’ll do better with you, make them feel they’re in control of their choices and that you’re not really enforcing anything. Once in your house, you can help them by teaching them where everything is so they feel familiarized, giving them simple chores like folding the laundry and getting them involved in your daily routine. They don’t want to feel like they can’t do anything. Make them feel respected and valued.”
Both experts say it’s important to have a support system that’ll help you with emotional support so you can stay patient with your senior. Whether it’s an aging life care professional or another family member or friend, this person can visit on a regular schedule so you can recharge in your room, take an extra-long bath or escape for a weekend getaway so tensions don’t mount and harsh words aren’t said in a moment of anger.
“If we let people help us, we’re going to be able to tolerate it better” and ultimately be more patient, McKenzie notes.
Seniors often lose short-term memory before long-term memory and forget all kinds of things you may deem as important. Kotamarti said visiting a geriatric doctor after a senior turns 65 will give you an idea as to your loved one’s functional ability, physical health, cognition and mental health.
Seniors sometimes are aware of their memory loss and often become scared and saddened. They might repeat questions, stories and fond memories, causing frustration for kids, younger adults and even their adult children. Constantly reminding your senior of that memory loss can be hurtful and eventually stop them from sharing anything with you or the family. Instead, take a deep breath to calm yourself down and mentally reset. Do several lengthy inhales and exhales to lower your stress level and heart rate. Keeping a journal where you can decompress and express your feelings can also be helpful. If you are retired and at home all day with your senior, take up a hobby or go for a short walk if you begin to lose patience. If you suspect your loved one is repeating stories or questions more than usual, contact a geriatric physician.
Although it can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating to care for a senior loved one, cherish every moment with them and when you feel like you’ve truly lost every last bit of patience, read this touching poem reprinted from Alzheimers.net:
My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient,
but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through.
If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times,
don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago” ...
Just listen, please.
Try to remember the times when you were little
and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep.
When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me.
Remember when I had to run after you making excuses
and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl?
When you see how … I am when it comes to new technology,
give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way...
remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately,
getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life’s issues every day...
the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient,
but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through.
If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about,
give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient or arrogant.
Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you.
And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before,
give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked.
When those days come, don’t feel sad... just be with me,
and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love.
I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared.
With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you,
I just want to say, I love you... my darling daughter.
Sources: Huffington Post, Census.gov, Caregiver.com, SeniorLiving.org, WikiHow, Aging Care
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