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Creating Fun for Caregivers and Frail Seniors

By Lynn Howe

(Page 1 of 2)

Your 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.

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