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Exercise is Key to Health Living!


When asked “how much do you exercise?” the answer is invariably “not enough!”  We know that we should exercise more, but do we know what the consequences are if we fail to exercise regularly?

 

Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke (as well as other many other illnesses such as diabetes and even dementia).  It is a risk factor that we have control over, so we should reduce our risk!

 

How much exercise do we really need?


The official guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic physical activity. That’s it!  That’s an attainable goal—within reach, even for people who aren’t accustomed to exercise. Even 10-minute increments of activity count toward the total of 150 minutes.


Asian couple smiling as they hike on a boardwalk with backpacks.


Of course, 150 minutes doesn’t need to be a limit.  More activity is even better.  The guideline is a base limit for how much activity adults (middle age, baby boomers, seniors, and even the frail elderly) require each week.

Which activities count toward your 150 minutes? 

The good news is that going to the gym is not your only option! Walking is a simple and easy heart-healthy activity and counts toward your minutes.  Even household activities can count—vigorous cleaning, gardening and yard work all elevate your heart rate and get your blood pumping, and that’s the goal of physical activity!

 

Read our blog on how you can disguise exercise for your elderly loved one.

 

older woman wearing a sun hat as she prunes pink flowers

 

I find it encouraging to measure exercise in terms of 150 minutes weekly because it allows for flexibility.  In contrast, if you measure exercise as ’30 minutes most days of the week’, the focus is on 30-minute intervals, and missing a few days in a week can feel like an overall failure.


For the frail seniors who are utilizing our Triple Vitality program, they appreciate the flexibility in measuring total minutes over the course of a week.  Ten-minute increments feel very accessible.  Frail seniors can manage 10 minutes of light exercise!  Thirty minutes may be out of reach when we first start, but 10-minute activity sessions throughout the day add up quickly!


Our clients are so encouraged by the progress that they experience.  You can feel the benefits of exercise very quickly.  Increased energy and stamina, renewed interest in activities, reduced stress, better sleeping and digestion, are all immediate benefits to exercise.  Knowing that you are contributing to improved overall health and reducing your risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses only increases the incentive to continue being active!


older woman in a navy shirt and a older man in a light blue shirt doing bicep curls with dumbbells


Be sure to track your minutes of activity this week and see how close you are to the recommended minimum of 150 minutes.  Remember that 10 minutes of activity at a time can count toward your total!

If you know someone who is elderly and they are unsure about how to become active, be sure to contact Warm Embrace.  Our Triple Vitality program is specifically designed for the frail elderly who need assistance to become active.  We love to make a healthy, proactive difference in people’s lives, regardless of age!

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Warning Signs to watch when driving with Dementia

 

Warm sunny weather brings more summer driving!

 

Driving is a very personal issue that involves strong emotions. For many seniors, driving is a privilege they’ve had for decades, and their personal sense of identity and independence is often linked to their ability to drive. When driving seems so second nature, it can be difficult for people to remember that driving is truly a privilege, not a right.

Elderly man wearing glasses smiling, sitting in a car with his hands on the steering wheel.

So, when is it time to give up the privilege of driving?

 

Oftentimes, the person who is suffering from dementia is the least aware that anything is wrong. They may not notice that their reaction time has changed, or that their judgment is off. The family are often the first ones to be concerned about driving, and rightfully so, as research shows that someone with dementia is eight times more likely to be in an accident than the average population.

 

Some warning signs to watch for if you have an elderly who is driving with dementia:

  • Damage to the car
  • Traffic tickets
  • Difficulty navigating familiar routes
  • Simple errands taking hours longer than necessary with no explanation
  • Mixing up the gas and brake pedals
  • Missing stop signs or traffic lights
  • Problems with lane changes and merging
  • Passenger input is required
  • Family refuse to get into the car

Consider the “grandchild question”: do you feel comfortable allowing the grandchildren to ride with their grandparent behind the wheel? If your answer is no, there are likely significant concerns about your loved ones’ driving ability.

 

elderly lady wearing a plaid shirt driving a car.

If you are concerned about your loved ones’ driving, you need to speak to their doctor. It is ideal to attend a doctor’s visit with your loved one; you may also write letters to inform the doctor of the changes your loved one is experiencing.

 

The family doctor is required to notify the Ministry of Transportation, and it is the MTO who will revoke the licence (not the family doctor). After being notified by the family doctor, the MTO will send a letter directly to your loved one (not to the family doctor). The letter will state whether they may continue to drive, they need an assessment, more medical evidence is required, or the licence is revoked.

 

What happens when their licence is revoked?

 

If the licence is revoked, it is HIGHLY advised that your loved one’s car be removed from the property. Someone with dementia may no longer remember that they are not allowed to drive. Disabling the vehicle is an option, though it is remarkable how handy and mechanically-minded many seniors from that generation can be, so the simple options of unplugging the spark plugs or draining the battery may be insufficient. The most ideal solution is to have the vehicle removed from the property altogether to ensure that your loved one is safe, and to ensure that others are safe as well.

 

It is important to understand how devastating the loss of a licence can be for many seniors. It can result in loss of independence, reduced social interaction, loneliness, lowered self-esteem, depression, and increased stress on family and friends. For all of these reasons, family doctors do not just send letters to the MTO easily; they must have concrete evidence of imminent safety concerns. To minimize the negative impact of losing a licence, family and friends can assist by providing alternate means of transportation and socialization.

Young lady helping a senior citizen out of a red car.

There are volunteer driving services that can be accessed through your local community centres or the Alzheimer’s Society. Taxi companies are often able to offer discounts to “frequent riders”. However, if your loved one is uncomfortable with public transportation, we offer driving services to help isolated seniors with grocery shopping, doctor appointments, personal appointments, and etc.  

 

If you are interested in learning more about our errands and transportation service contact us today!

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8 Tips to Stay Cool this Summer!

 

We are all relieved when the snow finally melts, and the mucky spring weather turns into the balmy days of summer. But do you know how to stay cool and healthy in the summer heat?

 

Many people are aware of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays, which can cause sunburns. Wearing sunscreen is always advised! But there are other concerns about heat, even if you avoid direct sunshine.

 

 

Heat exhaustion can occur from prolonged exposure to high temperatures and insufficient fluid intake. It can range from heat cramps to a severe form of heat stroke. Symptoms may include excessive sweating, cool, pale, and clammy skin, weakness, nausea, headache, dizziness, and elevated body temperature. If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, they need to be moved to a cooler place, have their clothing loosened or removed, and they need to drink plenty of cool liquids.

 

8 Tips to keep seniors (or anyone else!) safe in the summer heat:

 

1. Keep well hydrated! Drink eight or more glasses of water daily. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink! Avoid caffeinated, alcoholic and sugary beverages, as they may dehydrate rather than hydrate.

 

 

2. Dress Appropriately! Wear loose-fitting and light-weight clothing.

 

3. Air Conditioning is your best friend! Remain indoors in the extreme heat and utilize air conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning in your home, go to a public place such as a library or shopping mall. Even a few hours of relief from the heat can prevent heat stroke.

 

4. Electric fans aren’t always the best. Keep the house as cool as possible by keeping shades closed during the hottest part of the day. An electric fan may feel comfortable, but it does not prevent heat-related illness if temperatures soar into the mid-30’s Celsius.

 

5. Cool down! Take a cool bath, shower, or sponge bath to lower your body temperature. Don’t have the time? Then wet washcloths or towels with cool water and put them on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck.

 

6. Enjoy outdoor activities in the early morning or the evening when the heat is not as severe. Don’t forget to use the broad-spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and if it’s sunny wear a hat and a pair of sunglasses.

 

 

7. Stayed Shaded when you are outside. Even in the early mornings and evenings, stick to the shade so you aren’t as exposed to the sun’s rays.

 

8.Know the signs of heat exhaustion so that you can get immediate assistance. Some symptoms to watch for are throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, hot dry skin with no sweat, muscles weakness, cramps and trouble breathing,

 

Enjoy a safe and healthy summer!
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What's Seniors' Month?

 

June is Seniors’ month, and it’s the perfect time to recognize and appreciate seniors! Seniors prove that aging doesn’t need to prevent anyone from leading fulfilling lives, instead they outline that aging enhances life experiences.

 

                        

 

Every day seniors are breaking the mold by leading fulfilling lives! So, let’s put to rest those negative stereotypes when it comes to aging. Instead, we should all celebrate and appreciate the contributions that seniors are making in our communities.

 

Seniors are an important part of our community because they  contribute their wisdom, friendship and experiences. As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure that we create an environment where all citizens are valued and respected throughout the life process.

                           

 

How do we create that environment?

 

The key to creating this environment is prioritizing intergenerational opportunities, between the young and the old. When we create intergenerational opportunities, we are creating this space where seniors have the ability to pass along their wisdom and advice to generations. This environment then breaks down barriers between generations and puts to rest negative stereotypes that surround aging. When those barriers are removed, open and honest conversations are shared between different generations. When founded upon mutual respect, intergenerational learning can be deeply impactful for everyone involved!

 

Why is celebrating our Seniors so important?

 

When we celebrate our seniors, we are affirming that their contributions are ever so important to the fabric of our communities. Without our seniors’ accomplishments, our communities would not be what they are today!

 

                  

 

This June, in honour of Seniors’ month, make an effort to spend time with someone who is from a different generation than you—or maybe even two or three generations! Pause, and truly listen, and learn from each other and you will reap the rewards of intergenerational sharing.

 

Here at Warm Embrace Elder Care, we want to thank all of the wonderful seniors that we see on a daily basis. We are continually learning from you and are enlightened by your viewpoints. It is an honour to serve you!

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Grieving the Loss of Your Health

 

When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness or a degenerative disease, the diagnosis affects the whole family.  It is easy to overlook the ways in which other family members are also impacted by chronic illness because the focus is upon the person who is unwell. 


In the flurried rush of attempting to care for the person with the new diagnosis, families are often unaware that the emotional response they are experiencing is grief.  People sometimes assume that grief only applies if there has been a death in the family, but people experience grief from many types of losses.


Grief is our human response to a loss.  It is primarily an emotional response, but it can also have other dimensions too (physical, cognitive, social, spiritual, etc.).  When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, family members may grieve.  For many family members, the grief is complicated by the fact that they are still in the throes of family caregiving, and they may be expected to remain “the strong one” for the sake of the family.

 


Grief is not a linear process that moves predictably through various stages.  While there may be stages to grief, those stages are not sequential; there is no graduation from one step to the next.  Each individual may experience various elements of grief at different times and remain with one stage for a long time, or they may move through various stages rapidly all within one day. There is no correct way to grieve, and there is no such thing as “failing at grief”.  It is an individual journey and process for each person.


There can be triggers for grief, and those triggers are as individual as the grief process.  A trigger could be something like hearing a favourite song that you once danced to with your spouse, and grieving that your spouse can no longer dance.  A trigger might also be a daily routine that has suddenly become difficult, and grieving the loss of ability or independence that changes gradually. 

 

For many families, there is grief over the loss of a role within the family.  It might be the role of primary provider if employment is reduced; it might be the role of fix-it-man around the house and no longer being able to operate tools; it might be the role of coordinating family events and family members feel scattered and disconnected. The change of roles and responsibilities can be a difficult transition and grieving those changes is a normal—even healthy and expected—response.

 

 

Grieving is an action.  It requires effort and work.  The goal of grief is not “to get over it”.  Unfortunately, many families feel that the message from friends and sometimes even health care professionals is that they should “get over it” or “get back to normal.”  When a family member is coping with a chronic illness, returning to “normal” is no longer an option. 

 

The previous version of normal doesn’t exist.  Illness has redefined what normal will be like.  The goal is to adjust to a new normal—adjusting to the illness as a new reality of life, and recognizing that this will alter many aspects of life.  Once families have begun to adjust to their new normal, they can begin to see hope for a newly defined future.


Instead of looking for a reason that the illness is present within the family, seeking meaning can be a lot more helpful.  Seeking meaning is looking for a silver lining—acknowledging that a difficult situation is the reality, but perhaps there can be some wonderful moments that are significant. 

 

 

While this may seem like a subtle shift in mentality, it can result in vastly different feelings.  Looking for reasons suggests that someone had to experience the illness in order to learn a certain lesson; looking for meaning is acknowledging that the illness has happened, and finding glimmers of hope will make the journey more meaningful.


How can you best support someone who may be grieving because of an unwell family member? 

 

The most important thing you can do is to remain connected.  Family caregivers constantly report that their closest friends and even other family members distance themselves because they don't know how to help, or they don’t want to impose. 

 

One gentleman laments that while his wife was palliative, she had so few visitors.  She felt the greatest relief from pain while a visitor was present, and her husband expressed this to friends and family, but few visitors came to the house because they did not want to impose.  Visitors weren’t seen as an imposition, but as a welcome relief. 


The greatest thing you can do is to ask how you can best be supportive, and then LISTEN!  Truly listen.

 


Allow family members to tell you what they need and what they want.  Most of all, they will appreciate a listening ear who acknowledges their challenges and validates their feelings and experiences.  Pre-judging or assuming what someone is thinking/feeling is not helpful. 

 

A woman remarked that the comment “but you look so well!” (or that her husband, for whom she cares, “looks so well”) to not be helpful.  While it is intended as a compliment, it shuts down any conversation about how she is truly feeling.  She would prefer that someone just ask her how she is feeling, and be open to a conversation.

 

To best support someone else, be a listening ear and don’t distance yourself.  Remember that the person with the illness as well as the whole family is adjusting to a new sense of normal. 

 

Be wary of judgmental statements such as “things happen for a reason”, and instead help others to see some of the meaningful moments that have touched you and might also touch them.

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Connecting Online During Covid-19

 

Everyday communication is important for our elderly population, certainly more so during these isolating times. Bill Walsh from AARP said: “At this moment in time, we’re not just combating the coronavirus, but we’re combating fear and anxiety and social isolation as well. So, it’s important to stay in touch with your loved ones and let them know that they haven’t been cut off or somehow marginalized.”

 

 

A quick traditional phone call is always lovely but why not introduce unique devices or new apps to your loved one? Your loved one’s interest in technology might surprise you. A study completed in 2017, discovered that 70% of seniors are now online and from 2013 to 2016 tablet ownership in seniors doubled. I know when chatting with our clients, I am always surprised to find out how many of them use Facebook, Facetime, Apple apps, Furbo, etc.  

 

There are unique ways you can virtually connect with your loved one! We have compiled a list of the four best ways to virtually connect.

 

1) Videocall your loved one

 

If your loved one has a WIFI connection, a smartphone and an email address, they’re already three steps ahead! There are several apps you can use to video call your loved one – Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Google Duo, WhatsApp – just to name a few. I recommend keeping the conversation at a maximum of three people. It increasingly becomes difficult to hear with additional people, especially if people are talking at the same time!

 

 

Traditional phone calls are wonderful and always appreciated but video calls are more interactive. In a video call, you can see your loved one’s facial expressions and body language. You can even get creative with video calls! On a call, you can virtually share a cup of tea, you could try puzzling together, or you could even start a craft together. It doesn’t have to be a traditional conversation it could be a time to engage your loved one in a fun activity.

 

2) Play an online game with your loved one

 

If your loved one doesn’t want to be on video but wants to interact virtually, you can introduce online games. There are apps where you can compete against your loved one, such as words with friends, chess, scrabble, billiards, etc. There’s an endless amount of options in the Apple store and in the Google Play store. You are bound to find a game that looks interesting and fun!

 

3) Watch a movie together

 

Who doesn’t love movies?! Pop some popcorn and watch a movie with your loved one. Netflix released a new feature called Netflix party for desktop computers. It allows you to synchronize video playback and adds a group chat between yourself and your loved one. This is a great tool for a fun family gathering! You can add the grandkids to the party as well, and it can become a weekly ritual.   

 

 

If your loved one doesn’t have Netflix or a computer, you can always video call your loved one as you both watch the same TV channel or DVD. Another option is simply calling your loved one on the phone. Even though watching a movie is generally done quietly, it’s comforting knowing that you are with someone and sharing the moment with someone you love.

 

4) Visit a furry friend on Furbo

 

Furbo is a camera that’s designed for dogs. It’s a neat device that allows owners to check in on their pets remotely. There is also a microphone so dogs can even hear their owner’s voice commands.

 

 

We have a client – let’s call her Jeanie - who loves receiving visits from her daughter’s dog Buddy. When chatting with Jeanie, I was happy to discover that she’s been visiting her daughter’s dog virtually on Furbo. Through the app on her smartphone, she is able to talk to Buddy, see what trouble he is up to and throw him treats by clicking a button.

 

Throughout my conversation with Jeanie, I could sense how happy she was to have the chance to interact with Buddy.  Even her regular caregiver mentioned how Jeanie brightens up after interacting with Buddy on Furbo. The moments she is interacting with Buddy not only make her laugh and smile but they also provide Jeanie comfort and peace.

 

It might take a few tries to get your loved one comfortable with technology but the time and patience to teach them is worth it. Your elderly loved one will thank you for giving them the opportunity to connect. During this difficult season, we might have to socially distant but we don’t have to socially isolate.

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Are you doing everything for your elderly parents?

 

You’ve been managing your own household, your parents’ household and now your in-laws need some help too.  You already feel stretched too thin, and your parents’ needs keep increasing. You need homecare support for your parents, but they refuse to even consider it.

 

Your father says he “doesn’t need a babysitter” and your mother declares that she can “do everything just fine myself”.  And by that, what she really means is that you are doing everything just fine for them!

 

Your parents think they’re managing just fine because you’re filling in all the gaps.  They don’t realize just how much you’re doing. They just benefit from the fact that everything gets done.

 

 

For years, you’ve been trying to follow your parent’s wishes.  You respect their decisions and do your best to help support them in those decisions. They keep saying they don’t want or need any help and you’ve been trying to respect it.

 

The problem is, they not only need the help, but they are also already receiving help.  The help is coming from you, and it’s now more than you can manage on your own.   It is okay to acknowledge that you can no longer provide all the assistance that they need.  You aren’t failing to respect their decision, you are making a decision that is necessary for your own health and wellness.

 

You can explain to your parents what you are able to do, and outline the tasks that are now becoming too much.  You can outline options for how your parents can fill the remaining gaps and empower them to make a decision that best suits their needs. For example, you are willing to do the weekly grocery shopping and visit with your parents after putting all the groceries away, but it is no longer feasible for you to be cooking dinner for them every day.

 

You can then outline meal options for them.  They could order Meals on Wheels or another meal delivery service. They could move into a retirement home where meals are provided. They can have a caregiver cook meals together with them in their own kitchen, using their own preferred recipes.

 

You can help outline the pros and cons of each option, and how each option would fit into their lifestyle.

 

 

Stepping back and acknowledging what you need for yourself does not take away your parents’ ability to make their own decision. It just eliminates one of the options from the list—the option of you cooking the meals daily.

 

As long as you continue to be the primary option, as long as you continue to cook dinner daily, your parents will not seriously consider any other option on the list.  You need to clearly articulate what you can and cannot do, and then guide your parents through the decision making process about how to solve the remaining gaps.

 

Homecare can address many of those gaps and provide the individualized attention and assistance they are accustomed to receiving.  Homecare is not always just about the senior client; it is often about alleviating family members who have been doing far more than is sustainable. 

 

A wonderful caregiver—or team of caregivers—can take care of your parents’ to-do list so that it doesn’t all fall on your shoulders. 

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A Love Story: Violet and Lawrence

 

Violet and Lawrence have been married for 68 years. After a lifetime of hard work, travelling through early retirement and most recently relaxing in retirement living together, they are now separated.  Lawrence’s dementia progressed and he began wandering at night. He could no longer be safely cared for in retirement, and he moved to long term care.

 

Violet had been very physically healthy and she had been caring for Lawrence for years within the retirement home where, together with staff, she could handle his needs. But once he began exit seeking and leaving in the night, even Violet had to admit she couldn’t manage his needs safely. 

 

It ripped her heart out to have him move to another location across town.

 

Now, Violet attempts to visit most days.  She wasn’t a confident driver, to begin with, but she is attempting to drive across town every day and stay with Lawrence throughout the afternoon and dinner.

 

She fears that he won’t eat unless she is at his side, so she remains for both lunch and dinner. She worries about how she will visit every day when the winter weather begins. She never drove in the winter and at 89, she isn’t keen to start winter driving.

 

You can see the toll it is taking on Violet. She appears to be withering before your eyes. She has lost weight and she looks exhausted. She suddenly strikes you as rather frail. She is probably stretching herself too thin, but she wants someone to be with Lawrence through lunch and dinner.

 

Violet needs Warm Embrace to provide a caregiver for Lawrence.  A Warm Embrace caregiver could visit Lawrence through lunch and dinner and keep him engaged in activities throughout the afternoon.  Of course, we can’t replace Violet’s visits, but we can supplement her visits.

 

We can provide a regular schedule so that Violet does not feel obliged to visit every day. She can take some much-needed time to relax and rejuvenate herself.

 

Warm Embrace caregivers can visit Lawrence on set days of the week, and on those days, Violet can remain at the retirement residence, eating her meals in the dining room with her friends.

 

She can rejoin the social activities and events that she participated in for all those years and not become disconnected from her peer group. But she can do so with the reassurance that Lawrence is not alone. He is with a dedicated caregiver who will ensure that he has the best afternoon possible.

 

By recommending additional support for Lawrence, you may actually be saving Violet’s health. She needs the support—possibly more than Lawrence does—and your recommendation to alleviate her stress could make the difference for Violet.

 

We’d be happy to improve the quality of life for each of them by providing a dedicated caregiver when they need it most. Reach out to us today!

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The Art of Disguising Exercise for Seniors

 

At what age is exercise no longer important?

 

That’s a trick question—there is no age when exercise isn’t important.  Just because someone is elderly doesn’t mean they’re exempt from exercise!

 

 

It does mean the exercise needs to be modified to match ability level and possible injuries or conditions such as arthritis.  What qualifies as exercise also shifts as someone ages.  When someone is young, it may take a jog or run to get their heart rate up, whereas an elderly senior may increase their heartrate just by walking. The important thing is to increase the heart rate and to get the blood and oxygen flowing.

 

Sadly, many seniors lead highly sedentary lives.  All too often, the lazy boy recliner becomes the centre of seniors’ worlds. They settle into the recliner first thing in the morning and watch television for a significant part of the day. They nap in the chair…they may even sleep in the chair all night as a surprising number of seniors tend to do.

 

The most activity they get is a few steps to the washroom and back.  Even then, I’ve met many seniors who intentionally limit their fluid intake to reduce the number of washroom trips required!  Going to the washroom may be the only activity they’re getting, and even then they’re limiting that.

 

 

A senior who has become accustomed to such a sedentary lifestyle will need to reintroduce activity gradually. Compared to their currently sedentary day, it does not take much effort to suddenly double activity levels! Simply getting up and out of their chair becomes a form of activity that cannot be taken for granted.

 

If you’re visiting someone who tends to be overly sedentary, encourage as much movement and activity as possible.

 

As a precaution, you might avoid suggesting “exercise”.  Calling it “exercise” may be a barrier to some elderly people. If they don’t have the same context as you do for prioritizing fitness and exercise, they may not be inclined to want to “exercise”.

 

Instead, integrate basic activity into your visit.  Suggest sitting at the kitchen table together for a bit. Ask them to show you around. Step outside into the backyard.  While it may not qualify as exercise for you, it is most definitely an increase in activity for them. Be mindful to not push too hard too quickly, but continually suggest more and more activity—and increasing lengths of time out of the lazy boy chair.

 

 

When you’re in the kitchen together, ask them to reach items out of the cupboard. Bending, stretching, reaching are all basic movements that are necessary to maintaining a range of motion.  Ask for help folding laundry and putting it away.  The “excuses” you use to call your loved one into another room, or get them up and out of their chair are only limited by your imagination.

 

Before you know it, you might start getting a little devious in the creative ways you encourage more activity during your visit. The better you can disguise the increased activity as anything other than exercise, the more successful you’ll be!

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The Gift of Purpose

 

The holiday season has busy and joyful energy to it.  It often feels like there’s a buzz in the air where everyone is rushing somewhere or hurrying to do something.

 

Many people with dementia are sensitive to the energy and emotional state of those around them. They will often pick up on this energy of hurrying and they may want to help. They’ll want to join in the activity and be part of the buzz of energy.

 

 

Human nature desires a sense of purpose.

 

We want to feel productive and we want to provide meaningful contributions.  This sense of wanting to contribute and be helpful and productive is not impacted by many forms of dementia, so people very much want to be involved and be helpful. When someone with dementia can sense that everyone else around them is hurrying to complete tasks, they will want to join in and assist too.

 

If someone’s functioning level has been impacted, it may be difficult for them to contribute in the ways they did previously.  In the past, your father may have gone to select a Christmas tree and cut it down himself, then tie it to the roof rack, drive home, and set the tree up. That may no longer be possible for him to do entirely on his own. Perhaps he doesn’t drive anymore; perhaps his physical strength or sense of direction is impaired.

 

Even though he cannot complete the task in full, is there a way that he can still be involved in the process?  Can he be part of the trip to select the tree? Can he manage some of the cutting? Or hold the tree steady while a grandson saws away?  Continuing to involve him in the process will be important to his sense of self-esteem and his need to feel productive.

 

 

Many forms of dementia interfere with the brain’s ability to sequence an activity. 

 

Many tasks are actually a series of separate, smaller tasks that must be done in a particular order.  Baking, for example, involves many separate tasks that are all sequenced in the right order. Perhaps your mother-in-law baked countless cookies and squares during the holiday season. Now, she makes toast and tea, but not much more. Expecting that she can bake a dozen varieties of cookies is not reasonable, but involving her in a few favourite recipes will help her to shine.

 

When approaching a complex task like baking, break down each step into a separate task. If there are any tasks that can be a stand-alone job, get your mother-in-law to be in charge of that step. Maybe the walnuts need to be crushed for one recipe. You can get your mother-in-law set up crushing walnuts. It may be faster to do it yourself or tempting to use the electric food processor, but the purpose isn’t to be fast and efficient.

 

The purpose is to involve your mother-in-law in the traditions that she founded.  It’s pretty likely that she didn’t have an electric food processor when she first started baking that recipe.  Breaking the walnuts by hand is likely a familiar task from years gone by and something which she can feel successful contributing.

 

 

All too often, someone with dementia will say “what can I do?” or perhaps “I don’t know what to do…” and well-meaning family members will respond “you don’t have to do anything! You just relax and sit over here.”  In some cases, if someone is overstimulated and needs a break, that might be the kindest option. But in most instances, the person with dementia is genuinely reaching out and wanting to feel productive by contributing something meaningful to all that is going on around them.  By finding a task that matches their ability level, you are helping to meet that fundamental human need for productivity.

 

Remember that the task might not be about doing. It might be more about being—being close to you, being part of the action, being a contributing family member.  If many tasks are just too difficult or overwhelming, perhaps they can be involved in a being type of way.

 

Maybe the dog is overly excited by all of the activity and you can ask your father to hold the dog on his lap and pet the dog to keep him calm.  He is being a comfort to the dog…or perhaps the dog is a comfort to him, but either way, they are both content.

 

 

Perhaps you’re wrapping presents and the roll of tape keeps disappearing under all the wrapping paper and boxes. Your mother-in-law might like to be the keeper of the tape as you’re wrapping. She’s right there with you and she’s involved in her own way. You may even get to chuckle about how you lose the tape and she’s keeping you on track.

 

It may take more effort on your part, and it will definitely take more time and some creativity to find tasks that match ability levels and provide meaningful contributions, but the rewards will almost certainly be worth it!

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