Many of us know the value of having a pet in the house, many of us have experienced the joys of snuggling up beside our furry companions. But have you considered that having a pet could improve the overall health of your elderly loved ones?Read More
It’s rare for me to find someone who does not like to read. To be considered an avid reader, one does not necessarily read just novels. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what written words will attract one’s attention. Who hasn’t read the cereal box while noshing that important meal of the day? Ingredients, nutritional value, even where the manufacturer is located seems pretty interesting as we spoon those tiny oat circles into our mouth. Perhaps it’s the daily newspaper that partners with breakfast. Maybe it’s your favorite monthly DIY magazine that you can’t wait to read. As a Caregiver, I’ve seen seniors who read the paper with their morning coffee, browse a magazine with lunch and peruse a novel during the afternoon. I’ve also been a caregiver for seniors who don’t read at all due to lack of interest, poor eyesight or their mind no longer can focus to keep on task.
I would be a lost soul if I could not read.
To me, reading soothes my troubled spirit when my world is crazy. I thank God I was never a smoker but I confess I am a bookworm; I am addicted to reading. I often said to Rich, my late husband, “reading is my cigarette”. Sometimes I am reading three books at once. There’s a paperback I keep in the car (waiting in my car for a family member who has run into a store is not boring when I can read – it’s like a stolen moment in time!). Umm…maybe my pocketbook is on the heavy side because of the novel I carry. My bedside table always holds at least two to three books – I tend to read according to my mood of the night. The written word takes my hand and leads me into a land where my stress, troubles and fatigue magically disappear.
I learned to read in first grade when I sounded out the words in DICK, JANE AND SALLY. Mrs. Reed, my teacher, let us read if we didn’t want to play in the sandbox or with the make-believe kitchen. She always read to us at naptime – what an awesome way to fall asleep! Ms. Farrell captured the minds of my peers in fifth grade as she read CHARLOTTE’S WEB on snowy school days. Christie, my best friend since second grade, shares my love of the written word. We were both so intrigued with MERRY LIPS by Jean Dixon that we read it many times. That novel was about a little girl who dressed as a boy to get into the colonial Army to find her brother. I always wanted to own a copy. About ten years ago, I finally tracked it down online and bought it. Out of print and no longer available in libraries, I felt like I had found a lost treasure. I wanted my grandchildren to be as intrigued with little Miss Merry Lips as I was.
In seventh grade, I read GONE WITH WIND, probably twice, and then once a year until I graduated high school (and a few times since). I smile as I remember the Librarian at Stillwater Central School telling me that book would be too challenging for a 12-year-old because it had so many pages and was for adults. Not daunted, I read every chance I had and would lose myself among the hanging moss trees in the Old South, sashay down the winding staircase of Tara and yearn for a chance to be Scarlet O’Hara – if only for a day. My love of history was born with the reading of that novel – thank you, Margaret Mitchell.
I also journeyed with Auguste Rodin in NAKED CAME I by David Weiss. This fascinating novel opened my eyes about a rebellious sculptor from the late 1800’s whose passion was to create true-to-nature sculptures. Now that was a hefty book that took me more than a few days to read. I must say that the subject matter was not my “usual read” but it touched the rebel part of my heart and allowed me to identify feelings I hadn’t ever put a name to. That book is on my “must read again” list.
Caregiving gives me the opportunity to engage seniors in conversations about favorite novels – the ones I enjoy and the books they have read or are currently reading. It is interesting to hear their comments when I ask questions, such as “what’s the book about?” I smile at their answers -- “Oh, so and so wants to solve a mystery but I can’t figure out why” or “Not sure, there are too many people running all over the pages who confuse me”. The important part about seniors reading is that their minds are teased into remembering what’s going on in the book. They are able to lose themselves, as I do, in the world of others’ imaginations. They are stepping out of the humdrum of their now less active life and journey with the main character who perhaps has the adventures and lifestyle they once had, or wished they had lived. I smile when I think about Paul, a senior I cared for a few years ago. He had the most remarkable collection of literature about Abraham Lincoln, his favorite inspirational man. Paul often confused what day it was, or what we had done yesterday. However, his recollection of what the books that lined his den’s bookshelves were about – what era, what deeds were part of Lincoln’s life and what was his favorite part of the book -- was absolutely phenomenal. Paul would often spend his afternoons lost in the life of Lincoln. His eyes would shine and his body language reflected his joy when talking about that historical figure. I believe his collection outshone any local village library’s books about that revered man.
If you are a caregiver for a parent, you have an awesome opportunity to give them a special gift. Take some time from your caregiving and read to them – as they did to you at bedtime, so many years ago. Wasn’t it awesome to hear about Peter Pan and his home in Never-Never Land, or laugh at Huck Finn’s trick when he was told to whitewash a fence? Newspaper print may be too small for your Dad to read about his favorite sports team. Why not read him the article about the game and then engage in some banter about the sport? Not only are you engaging in conversation, but you are spending some time with your beloved parent – time that is so precious as their sun begins to set in the land of their life.
I’m about to begin reading THE SHACK to a senior I am presently caring for. I had been told that novel has been made into a movie that will soon be in theaters. That book was very, very special to my husband and me. I had first read it in 2008, and then my husband, at my urging, read it. It touched our hearts with awesome emotions. When my husband and I took a road trip from our retirement home in Florida in June 2009, he asked me to read him the book during our drive. He drove, I read. He became teary many times as though the words in THE SHACK were touching his very soul – they were. Unknown to us, this was our last road trip together. We reached our family in upstate New York and the next day my husband met with his former doctor of many years – Rich was not feeling well. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer stage IV and given perhaps a year to live. I lost the man who was the love of my life, for 43 years, six short weeks later. When we had driven back to Florida after the diagnosis, my husband shared that he felt God had put THE SHACK in his life to prepare him for his journey to Heaven.
When I told the senior I care for that THE SHACK was a great book and explained the subject matter, she became very interested. I asked if she would like me to read it to her (as it is in small print and she can only read large print), she said she would look forward to that. Voila! And so, we’ll soon be walking the path in the woods, smelling the flowers and enjoying the warm weather, as we look for the mysterious shack and discover what role that rustic abode plays in the lives of a grieving family. I will read and she will listen. Our minds won’t be focusing on the cold, snowy wind as it blows across the lake. We’ll be listening to the birds singing as we join a man searching for that old shack hidden in the woods. Perhaps Spring just might come early this year!
As I look out the windows of the sliders, the December wind escorts snowflakes that are falling onto autumn leaves. Layers of sparkling flakes hide Mother Nature's paintbrush strokes that turned greens into a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues. Another chapter in my Book of Life as a Caregiver has begun.
This is the second December I am a Caregiver for a beloved elder in my position with Abundant Blessings. This is my 18th month of watching the sun rise over the lake at dawn, and enjoying the sunset's pink glow in the evening. I believe conversation is a healthy stimulant for not only her, but myself. She enjoys when I reach into my childhood memories to share bits and pieces of my life. These tales may give her a better understanding of why I am the person I am today - or at least I like to think so. Lately, it's natural to focus on Christmas - "it's the most beautiful time of the year" - so the song sung by Andy Williams says. I realize, however, that I am giving myself a gift, bringing what is hidden in my heart to the forefront. While verbalizing about how Christmas was celebrated, I become the twelve year old who is now allowed to stay up "to help Santa trim the tree on Christmas Eve". That was the year my father whispered in my ear, "When the other kids are asleep, quietly come back downstairs". An hour after the eight of us had each opened the present that mysteriously had appeared under the undecorated tree, (a pair of new pjs to wear Christmas morning) and climbed the stairs to our bedrooms, I tiptoed down the stairs to see my father putting lights on the tree. Boxes of ornaments were on the couch and my stepmother was busy wrapping gifts on the dining room table. That was when I knew who Santa really was. Naïve? Maybe, but gloriously so! And oh how my heart is singing when I think about these times.
That magical night, my father placed the old foil Santa Claus face on top of the tree. It had been the same Santa that graced his childhood tree. My main job was to put the tinsel on each branch -- one piece at a time. Now, this wasn't tinsel that was new and shiny, but hefty pieces of shimmering foil that had been wrapped around pieces of cardboard and used year after year. Dad was like the "tinsel police" - watching that I did the hanging just right and admonishing me if I didn't. After what seemed like hours, my tinsel job was finished. I then helped my stepmother wrap gifts, mostly in green or red tissue paper, with Christmas stickers holding the pieces together. In a family of ten, scotch tape was a rare commodity, only to be used very sparingly. Those little stickers of candy canes, elves or angels barely held up through the night to Christmas morning.
On Christmas morning, my father would turn the tree lights on and have "the kids" come down the stairs in age order - youngest to oldest (me). I still see the joy on the faces of my sisters and brothers as they saw the now decorated Christmas tree and the orderly stacks of presents underneath. My Dad was there taking pictures with the old video camera. We'd sit on the floor and my stepmom would hand us each a present to open. I remember all of this to be orderly and not the harried ripping of paper that one generally sees nowadays. We didn't have many gifts, but what we were given made us smile. Money was always tight in our household. Both parents worked on the B&M Railroad in the neighboring town, and my father also held other jobs at the same time - Police Chief, Fire Chief, snowplower in the town trucks. I well remember the trees he would cut "way up north" and haul back for us to sell at my uncle's hardware store or in our side yard. My siblings and I gathered Princess Pine from the woods and made wreaths to sell. We shoveled walks and driveways till our feet and fingers seemed frozen. That was how we earned our Christmas money.
As I share my childhood memories with this wonderful lady I am Caregiver for, she, in turn, talks about her childhood Christmases. Her eyes light up, she laughs, and long forgotten names and places come out of that hiding deep in her mind. I listen with my ears, but it is my heart that is catching each memory she is reliving. There is no sadness, no tears of days long lost. There is only the gifts of sharing and caring. Laughter fills the air. Unlocking wonderful memories is like opening up the door of the past with the key of love. And so the night ends, and we watch the falling snow blanketing the lake. We both smile, lost in the peace of our yesterdays.
As we celebrate this wonderful time of year be sure to share your own Christmas memories and reminisce with those you love. What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?
Summer is rapidly approaching, are you racking your brain trying to think of things to do with your aging loved ones? We have some ideas to help you! First of all, think of things that your loved one would enjoy, eg: picnics, walks. Try to incorporate those into summer-time fun! Here some idea's on behalf of us:
Create a garden, it doesn't have to be big or elaborate, it could even be a garden box. This is a fun activity that come with a beautiful product!
Attend a baseball game, or town festival! This provides great entertainment for all!
Pick a new hobby, such as bird watching! Identify all different kinds of birds with your loved one, it keeps your brain busy, and you occupied!
Take stroll to your nearest beach, or lake. You and your loved one can cool off while catching a great view! Even just dipping your feet in can cool you off on a hot summer's day!
Go for a picnic in the shade. You and your loved one can prepare the food and pack the basket together, help keep their minds stimulated!
Go to the park and people watch. Let your loved one reminisce on being young and seeing the children play. Listen to their stories of being young, or having children.
Don't forget sunscreen and water for all!
We are all probably aware that exercise is good for us. It improves our overall functioning, both physically and mentally. It not only helps us live longer, healthier lives, but it also goes a long way in keeping us more independent as we age and allowing us to continue to participate in many of the activities that we enjoy. It improves our mood, and it feels good for our body. Exercise has found to be an effective treatment for many health concerns such as depression, diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure. It can prevent or delay the onset of other health conditions as well. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who are inactive are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease. They also have a higher risk of hospitalization and are dependent upon more medications than those who remain active throughout their lives.
It is easy for anyone to make excuses about exercising. We are too busy, too tired, unmotivated at times. As we age we have even more excuses at our fingertips. Aches and pains, lack of stamina, feeling the need to “take it easy”. These things add up and over time a lot of older adults become more inactive as they age, when it is actually a time in our lives that it is more important than ever to stay fit. There are many moderate endurance activities that are recommended for older adults such as walking, swimming, dancing, tennis, golf, and bicycling. Make your exercise program a priority, and to help with this try to keep it interesting and fun. Make it a social activity if possible.
If you have not been active in a long time, start slowly and build up your endurance over time. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program and ask what is safe for you given any medical conditions, or to learn how to modify certain activities to avoid any problems. If you smoke, are obese, or diagnosed with any chronic health problems such as heart disease or diabetes, your doctor can give you the best advice on which activities will be the most beneficial to you. Time is precious and we only get one chance at life, make yours the best that it can be!