Worried About Grandma Back Home?

Help for seniors that are left alone in cities without family to care for them. Ideas and tips by francy Dickinson

Keep Seniors safe at home

Living Safe and Living Long

Dear Francy; My Grandmother and Aunt live in my old home town- two states away from me. I have a family of my own and very little time or money to spend on their care. They do not live together but they talk each day. I am getting very worried about their welfare. Their homes need help, their gardens need help and they need help. Both are in their early 80’s and are able to be on their own, but they need an extra eye to look over them. Ideas?

YES! This is a subject that I am asked so often. It’s so hard on family these days with all the travel we do, the jobs and families that we have established away from our old home towns. I understand the worry, I understand your fears and I have a few ideas to help.

  1. Try to plan a trip back home once a year or every other year. Do not go home at holiday time…do it in the spring or fall, when life is not so busy. That will allow you to really spend a few days with your older relatives and get a feeling for their health and ability for self-care.
  2. If you can not go than ask a relative or old friend from your home town to do a security check. You can reconnect with a highschool chum that would stop in once a month and you send her a thank you note with a Starbucks card inside. Be creative; older folks tend to say; “I’m just fine” when they are not just fine.
  3. Get the legal stuff out-of-the-way right from the get go. You need a power of attorney for health issues and they can have each of their names on the POA as back up. That way if they’re in trouble you can call long distance to the hospital and get information. The world and laws have changed, privacy means, NO information will be given out without permission of the patient. If the patient is unable to give permission…you are stuck.
  4. Make sure even if you are far away you can call and talk without worry. Add a MagicJack to your computer. That will give you unlimited long distance through the Internet for $25 a year. That way there is no worry about multi calls each day or long calls to them or others in the town to make appointments.
  5. Add them both to your family cell phone plan. They will not use many minutes and its a safe way for them to call 911. If you are all on the same cell phone company then your calls to each other are usually free. So they can talk to each other and to you and no minutes show on your billing. Call your service and ask them what a good plan would be for all of you, then make the change. Keep updating your cell services, some companies have special senior plans and it really helps to have that phone in their pocket ( or in their bra- LOL) all day long so they are secure in case of a fall.
  6. Think like you would if you were close. Call their doctor and make appointments, they do not care where you live. You make the appointments and keep up with the information as it comes up. If you have lived well into your 80’s and you have low health issues, then keeping life simple and having check ups is the way to keep your seniors living on their own for an extended time. Every year they need to see eye, skin, family doctor, and any specialist that they need for their extra care. Don’t forget teeth, they will start to eat less if they have teeth that are missing or hurt. 
  7. If they begin to have health issues; ask them if they would consider living together. They could both sell their homes and put the money in a fund. Then move in together in a retirement situation that would provide care as they age. They would have a community around them and be more involved in their lives – instead of alone.
  8. If they want to be where they are for as long as they can….start to set up a group of people who will help them. Get a listing of repair people from the community colleges and tech schools that are inexpensive and help seniors. Get yard people from garden clubs or faith organizations that do a yearly clean up for free.
  9. Add on a care service or hire an occasional cleaning person. Even once a month, or every other month. Add a bath person once a week this is really a good way to check their health. The bath person is trained to see if they are losing weight, have bruises from falls, or other medical complaints. I think this should be #1 on your list.
  10.  Connect with someone who will pick them up once a week and take them both to the grocery store, get their hair done, and get a pedicure (every 5 wks). They can visit together get a lunch after the shopping and have an enjoyable day. Someone from a faith center will do the job if you simply give a gift to the program. Be creative.
  11. Food, if they need help with food then do the local ‘Meals on Wheels’ they will send out food for the week and little treats can be purchased on the side. Do not allow them to go one day without a protein drink. This drink can be covered on their health program if you ask the doctor to give them a prescription for it. Boost and other protein drinks give them vitamins and protein that they may not get each day with small or unbalanced meals.
  12. Call the local Senior Center and get them on their mailing list…get them involved with day trips to local sites, card days, lite exercise, movie nites. Senior Centers have lots of extra services and so do the YMCA’s in the area. Tech college that are training in-home care givers also can send students for safety checks and so can the local Red Cross and Senior Care Services.
  13. Professional in home services can be done by the hour and you can get a review of what is needed when you call a Senior Care Service in the area. I always find them online and check out the references. These services are varied like bath people, cleaning, food prep, care giving and nursing. You can figure out the amount of money you have in the budget and use them each week or only on occasion. Its good just to talk to them and have an evaluation so they are ready to go when you are in need. Remember Medicare will pay for one month of in-home care after a patient has been in hospital for three days or more. Or Medicare will provide a 30 day stay in a care center to recover from a hospital stay before the senior returns to their own home. Your insurance and local senior services will review what your area covers for in-home care so call and get the idea in your mind and written down, in case you need it.
  14. If you feel they are in need of help financially..with food or other things you need a social worker. The best place to begin is with a  trained person that is there for you…you can call the local hospital that is close to them. Ask for the senior social worker and start with that person. They are always in the know and it is a hospital community outreach to help the public.

It will require you to make calls and get your lists ready to go, but once you do. It will be like you are living right next door. Do not depend on relatives, they often say they will do things and then do not follow through. It’s better to have a service help you, pay for it if your seniors have money and/or search for local charity services if you don’t have funds. Once again, the key word is being creative. Think about how you can ask others to help you to give your seniors the best care…even if you are not able to be there for hands on help.

Thank you for being so kind to your seniors. Many elders find their lives closed in to just their own home. They lose their spouses, friends pass, children are out-of-town and who do they have to help them? So good to know that you care enough to be on the other end of the phone. Blessings, francy

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How to Bring Grandma Into Your Home

by francy Dickinson                         www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy: I have decided that Mom just can not keep living on her own and in a state of worry each day. Her health is not ready for nursing care but I know she needs to be looked after more than a drop by each day. How do I tell my husband and kids and where will I put her? I live on a thin budget and I am worried.

Now this is a problem that I can help you with because I did the same thing and I have helped so many others do the transition smoothly. Here are my ideas and tips:

Moving Elders into Your Home Tips:

  1. After discussing it with your spouse and getting their approval, you call a family meeting. You will not be asking their approval, but informing them of the situation and letting them know a new arrival means there will be changes that might not be the most enjoyable. Depending on the age of your kids, let them live in the elders shoes, explain why the change, why the elder is no longer safe in their own home that way the family has a base of understanding that this decision is how we treat and care for family. You make room for children when they are born into the family, you make room for elders when they retire into advanced family care.
  2. Make it clear to your family and to YOU that this is a change that is not going to just go away or get old. This is a commitment on your part and your elders that life will be together through thick or thin. If money gets low, or someone gets unwell in the family, or a move has to be made- the elder is now a part of your family and will be with you for good or bad family times. That is life making room for an elder is a serious decision that once made is made, not changed because of an argument. You do not throw out babies or elders because they are extra work or a pain to live with…so think this step out very carefully and inform all; that this is a commitment of heart and honor on both sides.
  3. Set up some rules of the house so every one can work within a fair basis of comfort living. Kids do not invite friends for an overnight if Grandma is using the living area for her bedroom. Things will change, but the changes do not have to be huge, just considerate on all sides.
  4. Plan your elder’s living area. They need their own room, even if your children have to share a room, that is better than an elder sharing a child’s room. If no extra bedroom is there, then take an area that can be shared like the dining room. Put the big table in the kitchen, living area, or storage. Put up a day bed that can be used as a sitting area during the day. Always give privacy from public areas, you can hang a curtain or a bamboo shade to enclose the privacy for the senior.
  5. Try to bring the senior’s favorite things with them. A good sitting chair, a side table for bed and chair, a little desk or bookcase, favorite books, family memory photos, jewelry, special mementoes and art that can be incorporated into your home. This is the time for them to distribute family things to their children and grand children, not at their death. Do not rent a storage unit. If your elder is going to move in with you and it does not work, they will be in a care facility with little space, so there is no going back to an apartment living for the elder, this is a life change, not a try out.
  6. Paint the area to match the elder if you can. If your home is high energy color reflecting an action family….lower the tones for the elder so they can relax and rest in their space.
  7. Decide on the bathroom the elder will use. You might have them use a half bath and just take a weekly bath or shower in the kid’s bath. Always make room for their personal products.  A basket with their bathroom items tucked on a shelf makes their things private. Young kids do not understand false teeth or Depends. Make sure your family respects the privacy of the elder and no teasing takes place, bathroom humor is not appreciated by a person making a big change in their life.
  8. Keep elder drugs in a place in the kitchen or laundry area. That way it is away from the kids and in a place that can be sorted and the weekly pill try can be filled as well as meds reordered correctly.
  9. Use a closet in the hall or a rack in the laundry room for elder’s clothes, plastic drawers can be purchased for clothing. Sort over elders things and take clothes that fit the lifestyle they have now, not the clothes they wore ten years ago when they were active or working.
  10. Keep the elder with their friends as much as you can. If they go to a faith center away from you, take them back to the faith center once a month to connect. If they have a favorite Senior Center or exercise group try to keep them there or let them visit and replace those activities close to your home. Elders need to know their life has just moved, not changed or gotten lost. Emotional problems often stem from elders losing their friends, spouse, home and all connections…so work on keeping them as connected to their long established lifestyle.
  11. If your elder is into gardening and you are not, let them at it, get them started redoing your front yard and enjoy that the elder is giving back to the family. If the elder loves to cook, let them do a dinner during the week or make the lunches for everyone each day. Figure out how to use their talents with your needs and make room for change on your part as well as theirs.
  12. Hearing impaired does not mean shouting or loud TV. It means getting them a headphone remote for the TV so they can hear it, or putting on the text feature to run text on the bottom of the TV screen. It means turning down music to a normal range and take time to talk facing the elder not on the run.
  13. Careful walking with elders that may trip means removing scatter rugs and use double side carpet tape on larger rugs. It means making sure there are lights to see well in the public rooms and dogs that are trained to love not jump up on people. Think safety. If your kids are older you may have left those safety thoughts behind a long time ago, now get your mind going again on what your elder needs to be safe walking around the house.
  14. If the elder wants to make alot of calls, get them a cell phone and let them  learn how to use it. Then they can call on their own phone without worry about family phone time. Get them their own TV if they need it and a radio or MP3 player with a head phone for music and talk radio listening.
  15. Do not be afraid to ask the senior for money to add to the family income. They can give you a couple hundred dollars a month for food and utilities, even if they are on a small social security income. They can pay for their own personal needs and medication products, specialty foods and clothing, too. Just be fair, do not take all their money and think they will not reflect emotionally to it.
  16. If your senior is part of your family…then you can take them off as a tax deduction. Ask your tax person how to do this before you take that action, but it can help you financially to do this. You can also get help with their house sales investment of money, or reducing their bills. Get help so you do not have to worry about funds for their care, talk to senior care consultants and let them help you with the legal part of your relationship. Remember their home sales will have to pay for their care for a long time, so be wise with the money. It is hard when you are limited on funds to care for an elder, but it can be done with advise.
  17. If the senior is unable to pay for their own medications ask the DR for help with pharmacy company programs. If you need to put the senior on state medical do so, they will pay for the medications and pay you to care for your parent if they are in need of more than just light care. Get a review, be in the know, so the money you spend on your elder is wisely spent.
  18. Make sure your senior has someone to talk to about you and your family living. A faith center person, a neighbor or other family member, that is a third party, should make a monthly visit. Get the elder to talk about their life. They may be afraid to say what upsets them, or they may be filled with upset and anger and need to vent it to make their life easier with you. Emotional health is often not understood until you live with someone, a doctor can also medicate to calm an elder, if you explain your concerns in a letter to him before your elder’s next appointment.
  19. Everyone has odd behaviors even you…so learn to live and let live, small things you have always done may need to change, that is not the end of any one’s world, it is just a change to make life easier for all parties. That is what makes living as a family work, you all have to adjust and talk and love and make changes to make sure each of you can enjoy life together. But elders find change upseting and hard and younger folks can adjust to change much easier, so that should set the tone when making family decisions.

Perfection is not the goal with a senior living with their family. But kindness on both sides is a must. Do not be afraid to have someone come in and talk to the family about problems, questions, ideas or concerns. Talking things out helps everyone. There is your way or the highway is not the way with a multi-generation family. Every one has to make way for privacy and for kindness for each other. Often the experience of grand parents living with children changes the child into a more understanding and caring adult in years to come. That means when it is your turn to need help, your own children will be more open to giving you loving care in your own older age.

Please do go to my website at www.seniorcarewithspirit.com for more ideas. I have a great e-book called Care Giving 101 Workbook that will help you with giving care in your own home or in the senior’s home. It has all the basic home nursing tips and gives you ideas to support yourself as well as your spouse or loved one. These books are very popular with care givers and I encourage you to buy one so you can feel more in power of your situation as the care giver. It can be very lonely out there all alone when you are giving care – I want to make the experience more comforting for you.

I write these blogs to share information that I have gathered in my many years of care giving. I am now tending to my husband with Alzheimer’s and my books and services are how I’m able to stay at home and care for him. Thanks for all you are doing for your own loved one,

blessings. francy

PS I am on Twitter @seniorcaretips and I would love to have you listen to my talk radio show on senior care issues just click the radio button on my home page. The show is on demand so you can listen whenever you have time.

Senior Ideas to Keep Kool!

by francy Dickinson                          www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy: Dad is in hospital, dehydration. His apartment was like a steam bath when I arrived, how can I get him to use the air conditioning and drink water!

This is what happens every time the temp goes up, seniors go down. Even young seniors get over heated. So, I have a list of ideas to try:

  1. There are great neck scarves that keep you cool and they are easy to make. Go to this site and enjoy the info – Make a few extras for senior friends and those that garden http://tinyurl.com/mea7vq
  2. Water is not a friend for seniors. They have not carried around water bottles everyday like we do. So to them, you drink water to take pills and that is a negative. So, change the water into the different power waters with flavor that you can find. They will replace the electrolytes and such and are used by runners and sports people. Add them to the list for your senior and keep it cooled.
  3. I also like to use a crystal lite type of drink that has sugar substitute and comes in flavors of peach tea and pink lemonade.
  4. If you want your senior to drink a protein drink make sure it is chilled. They taste sooo much better chilled.
  5. A small chill chest like the ones you take to work for lunch is perfect to place by the senior’s chair. I just have them put a new ice pack(keep at least 3 ice packs to rotate) in it each day and put their yogurt, protein drink and juice drink inside so they stay cool and easy to reach and use.
  6. I find that seniors do well with glasses with handles. So I look for a plastic glass that has a thermal lining and handles. It will keep your cool drink cool much longer and is easy for the senior to drink and carry around to refill.
  7. The air around a senior’s home has to be within reach of normal. You can find out what makes them feel good. I would say in the low 70’s. Now mother took a med that made her cold all year round. So she wanted a heater on in the summer. I removed the heater from her room so she did not have that choice. I put her over all room heat in the low 70’s and had her wear a sweater ( not a shawl to trip over)
  8. Fans are great and the newer fans that have a stand and fill with water are even better. Do not have the fan blowing on the senior’s chair. Just have it moving the air around the room. Be sure to cover the cord with duck tape so there is no tripping over the electric plug in.
  9. New portable air conditioners are wonderful. They run around $200 or less at the big box stores or online. You will find that they have wheels and move from room to room. They only need to have a hose sticking out a window.This is a new product and works so well that I know you will enjoy it, too.
  10. Open doors and windows are security risk for seniors. Make sure you have someone help you with ways to get fresh air and still have security. Even sliding doors have open set locks, so take a look at the hardware store and see what they have for the senior’s home to make it safe but cool.
  11. I found a standing air filter that had a chill feature at a small hardware store last week. It was one of those tower type of things and as I stood in front of it I thought how great it would have been to have had for mother when she was alive. So just get out there and take a look. There are also mist sprayers for the back yard and very small refrigerators that would fit into a care center room keep looking till you find the right match.
  12. Ask family to help with the expense or ask the state case worker to use their concrete funds to supplement the new air conditioner or fan.

Some times seniors just need a push from a child. I often asked mother to change a habit so I could stop worrying about her and get more sleep. I just told her I was not able to stop worrying about her being over heated and I needed her to work with me. She always responded well. Most senior parents would do almost anything for their kids if they sincerely ask them.

Stay Kool – Start with yourself, keep yourself cool and talk about being cool when you talk to your senior each day. Ask them what they are planning to do to keep the house cool? Tell them the heat is going to be high today and ask them if they have the fan on and how about their cooler drinks? Talking about it, makes it come up to the top of the senior’s mind. Plus, a doctor telling a senior to do something like drink water or juice and keep cool will go a long way. Seniors think of their doctors with a great deal of respect so keep the doc on your team.

I hope this has helped you with ideas. Please do go to my website at www.seniorcarewithspirit.com for more ideas. I have a great e-book called Care Giving 101 Workbook that will help you with giving care in your own home or in the senior’s home. It has all the basic home nursing tips and gives you ideas to support yourself as well as your spouse or loved one. These books are very popular with care givers and I encourage you to buy one so you can feel more in power of your situation as the care giver. It can be very lonely out there all alone when you are giving care – I want to make the experience more comforting for you.

I write these blogs to share information that I have gathered in my many years of care giving. I am now tending to my husband with Alzheimer’s and my books and services are how I’m able to stay at home and care for him. Thanks for all you are doing for your own loved one, blessings. francy

PS I am on Twitter @seniorcaretips and I would love to have you listen to my talk radio show on senior care issues just click the radio button on my home page. The show is on demand so you can listen whenever you have time.

Escape Stress and Constant Pain

By francy Dickinson www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy: I have a 10 yr old daughter and 83 yr old mother living with me. I am disabled and under continual pain. The stress level in our home is so high, it’s not healthy. I know we all feel it and react badly to it and I am responsible for changing it. But how?

Let’s just start with change, you can find change for you and that will affect both your mom and daughter. So, you are on the right track. I know that no magic wand removes pain or stress but you can learn to live with it in a way that does not do damage to you and others. I have a few ideas that I have used both for myself and for those I care- for I hope you will find some of them helpful for you.

 

Calming Pain and Stress:

  1. Pain can be controlled if it stays within an area that is workable. Pain clinics will help anyone with medications that can be used, but learning the timing of them and the additional over the counter meds is really important. Sometimes it’s not the Rx but when you take the Rx. I have been off pain meds for my back for years, but I still take Ibuprofen before I go out and do any physical chores. The before makes the difference. Timing, it is in the timing. So take note of this and talk to a pain specialist, not just your doctors. They have ideas that are terrific. Pain can be constant and still allow you to live a life, but you have to get it to a range that you can work with on a daily basis.
  2. Stress is a building situation. It will start small and then just roll downhill like a snowball during the day. To STOP it in its tracks, you have to know your own stress key. If you feel a slight head ache, if you hear your voice tone going lower, if you see the senior or family reacting badly to you- Take note you are out of balance. Take a break, walk away and always breathe three deep breaths. That allows the oxygen to come back into your brain.
  3. Pain will take you out, if it’s constant, even finding times in the day that it can ebb is important. So make sure you keep notes on your pain or stress and rank it from 1-5 during the day. You may immediately find clues to the ups and downs.
  4. Evening Pain when it is time to make dinner is always hard on everyone with pain. So my tip is to make dinner prep in the morning when you are doing your breakfast and lunch. Use the slow cooker a lot and then dinner is just a pickup.
  5. Pain every other day. It is an old trick of those of us that live with continued pain that we do certain tasks every other day. That way we do not overload our life, yet we live our life. One day you plan to dust and vacuum, the next day you stretch, rest or go for a walk. One day you sit at the computer for a few hours the next day you stand and the clean the kitchen. Changing daily tasks keeps your body from grabbing hold to pain in any one particular point.
  6. Pain/15 minutes break. My sister had a very bad back like mine and she developed a 15 minute rule. Like many that take a 15 minute break, she would take a 15 minute physical work time and then sit down and rest for a few minutes and start again. She was able to paint the inside of her home, work in the garden and clean, by just going slow. It takes a lot of discipline in these fast times of ours. But you would be surprised at the work you get done with very low pain received from doing it!
  7. Stress over what? If you do keep your journal and write about your pain or stress, you will be able to see the launch points. Words, deeds, multi-tasking what is your weak point that sets you off? You are the one that has to do the work to find that out. So you can avoid it or change your mind towards the event. Down load a Journal program for your computer and get in the habit of writing a little bit about you each day. It is a good habit; it will help stress and stress or pain. I use Star Diary and love it, I downloaded it and paid around $10 for it and it has been a gift to myself. (you can have a password to keep it private)
  8. Get away. I know it is easy to say and hard to do. But you have to remove yourself from your home or work. Take time with one family member at a time, or just alone. That means that you go to the grocery store and do not go right home. Stop at a coffee shop and just sit with a coffee or tea and muse at the others in the shop. Let time bring your stress down and go home relaxed, instead of exhausted from shopping.
  9. BE verbal. I would find myself on the edge so often when I had mother in my home for 24/7 care. I would just tell my husband; “I am sorry if I am not pleasant today, I just feel totally stressed.” He would usually go and sit with mom and get her calmed down and give me time for a bath, nap or just sitting quietly alone. I did not have to ask for his help, but I would have asked if I needed it. Talking to family and not keeping it to yourself is really important. I would tell mother I was taking a down day. She would then know that I was going to give her food and respond to her bell when she needed me, but I would be taking a nap, reading or be out in the garden and she was fine on those days. We just had to work together.
  10. Taking a trip from anywhere without travel. This is the real gift that I hope I can give you. During days of bad chemo time, I learned how to do a self hypnosis/meditation that helped me so much. I have moved it into my normal life pattern and now it is part of who I am. A simple start; just take a break anywhere and be quiet, close your eyes and think of a place you would like to be. It may be on the beach or hiking in the woods, or shopping at the mall. It is your thoughts that bring you to a place that makes you comfortable and smile. Be at that place and just rest there, feel the breeze, smell the surroundings and feel the warmth or cold. Be there in your mind, so when you open your eyes you have a feeling of renew – The more you do this simple exercise the better you get- the more places you go – the more relaxed and eased with your pain or stress.
  11. I have always got a book developing in my mind or a project that I am working on – inside my head. When I have quiet time, I think about it and I am right there looking at it and making it work. This will take me out of deep pain and deep stress. My mind starts to become involved in this complex dreaming state. Like remodeling a home step by step, creating a garden step by step, cooking a meal step by step. My mind goes through the steps and before you know it, you’re pain is lowered and your stress is dropping away.
  12. Finally, no excuses. I try hard not to give myself excuses for my behavior. I do apologize to others if I find myself difficult. But I do not explain why I am difficult. My pain, worries or stress is not their life, it’s mine. I have to deal with it, change it and move on. I do sit down and share my problems with family and friends but I do not dwell on it nor do I talk about it without end. There is a difference between sharing and getting support and driving family and friends crazy. We all have to know those lines.

Looking for help and finding others that have similar problems is really a good thing. Keep the sharing positive with ideas of support and change. Twitter, chat rooms and local support groups with similar situations as your own make a huge difference. But they are not places to go dump! They are places to ask questions, share experiences and ideas and give your own support to others. In return you will learn so much about your own situation and how to better it.

I love the fact that you take on the idea of change for good- for YOU and not change for others. That is really the key, only you can change you and that change, no matter how slight, will ripple out to your friends, family and co workers. Your investment in solving your stress and pain will result in your everyday world really improving in quality.

Thank you for writing to me. I would like to invite you to my web site for other information www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Thanks, francy

I am on Twitter @seniorcaretips join me!

Trees a way to calm and heal

by Francy Dickinson                              www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy; I am going to share a little about my self today because trees came up again this weekend. We live in the northwest and our trees are deep green and tall, we have lots of Douglas Firs, cedar and pine so we have a green mantle around us all the time. You may have a small tree in your back yard or a park close by, take a walk – watch a tree – see what happens.

My people are Tree people:

In the middle of the summer of 1969 I was living in New York City, dancing with a ballet company. I had a curvature of the spine and as I danced professionally it effected the muscles. The pain would come and go, the muscles would act up now and then, but that summer – I was in very bad shape. I simply had to take a break and calm down the muscles and I flew back home for rest. I went from the busy high rise city to the quiet tree filled lanes of my home town.

Home was in Tacoma, Washington where my parents had a lovely turn of the century Queen Anne home in the North end. When I arrived I was shocked at the advancement of my father’s cancer. He had been fighting throat cancer for a few years with only radiation to help keep it at bay, in those days. He was now at home, no longer working, no longer walking well, no longer able to eat food- he had a feeding tube. Mother was working at the college as a cook and she got up very early to do the breakfast shift and came home in the afternoon. So she would put dad in the living room facing the large bay window and arrange all that he needed before she went off to work. He had a commode, water, pre-mixed food for him to administer through his feeding tube, Kleenex, and a book. She then hurried off to work and worried about him all through her working shift. Around 9am a nurse from the neighboring nursing home would arrive and let herself in and give him a morphine shot, she would check up on him and give him anything he needed and then leave. Mother knew the owner of the nursing home and as a neighbor, he sent one of his nursing staff over to help with daddy as a kindness. 

That was what greeted me on my arrival and the all too quiet house. A big house that had always been filled with noise from four daughters and now their grand children. But Dad was way to ill, no one was visiting Dad. He sat alone, quiet all day, unable to talk because of his throat cancer surgery. Dad was a man that was exceptionally bright and gifted as an artist. He made furniture and upholstered for a life long living, he had been one of the first home decorators in our city creating things all his life…now he just sat, quiet.

I took over the routine of caregiver, I was 19 that summer. I had to put aside the embarrassment of the commode and learned how to assist him out of his wing chair that he sat in all day long. I learned the recipe for his food mixture and knew how to clean out his trachea tube, it was not pleasant, but when you have someone you love that is sick – the details of care, simply go away and you concentrate on making them comfortable and giving them ways to find happiness – even if it’s in small moments.

It was a few days before we both settled into a routine and I soon would sit by him reading and writing letters to my NYC friends. I had the radio on some times, but most of the time it was quiet. Dad wrote notes all day…funny notes, sad notes, mad notes, help notes…it was an odd way of communicating. Just recently I found a box filled with his notes that mother had kept for over forty years – I have not read them, I just closed the top to the box and remembered how sad that time was for all of us.

I was feeding him one day when I first saw the trees. You see his eyes were that wonderful light grey-blue color that can reflect like a mirror. As I stood by his side holding up the feeder tube, he was looking outside as he always did and I saw the trees reflected in his eyes. I finished the feeding and cleaned the area and when I returned to sit back down I stared outside and saw the large trees across the street. Horse chestnut is what we called them, they were swaying in the wind and had a quite a rhythm going as I watched them. I looked over at Dad and he was still just involved with the trees. It was his meditation point. I asked him about it and he wrote a small note back to me, “I live with them, when I’m gone I will be with them.” He smiled and I excused myself to go and cry in the back yard.

I was there all that summer and into the fall as the tree’s leaves started to turn. It was the 19th of September that he passed that year. Every few years I drive by that house and look at the trees, they’re still beautiful, I think Dad is taking very good care of them.

I was forty when my sister found out she had cancer. It was a strange thing, she had called me on the phone and told me she was going to the doctor and there was something odd about her voice. I asked her if she wanted me to join her and we could have coffee afterwards, she said a reluctant OK and came and picked me up. After her appointment she returned to the reception area and sat next to me waiting for the doctor to instruct her on her next appointment and he came out and stood in front of us. In the middle of other patients he simply said; “You have cancer” and walked away. We bothjust sat there, not able to speak, not knowing what to do, not even feeling really- just like a scene in a movie we sat quietly together. Until I broke the silence and told her we needed to leave and we walked out the door to her car. I drove her home and we sat in her beautiful backyard and drank tea. No tears, no words- just shock. It was a horrible time for us both. She was alone with no one to care for her, I was married and worked with my husband. She needed someone to help her through the massive operation and home care…and the only person that could do it without paying for it, was me. It was the second time I gave care to someone who was terminal. It was such a sad time, she had so many needs and I had to learn so many skills to keep her comfortable. I tried so hard to make her laugh, I tried to think of funny things about the meds and the procedures and we tried to laugh all the time. But it got harder to laugh as you saw her go down in her body’s ability to function. One day I brought her a plate of crackers and cheese and put it on the table next to her. She was sitting in a favorite chair of hers and looking out the window into the back yard. I glanced at her eyes to give her a smile and there they were…the trees reflecting in her light grey-blue eyes that were so much like my father’s – all those years before. I asked her about the trees, “Do they make you feel good?” She smiled and told me that when she looked at the trees it was like they drew her in to them. She could just sit for a moment and they called to her and she instantly felt relaxed and had less pain. They made her feel comforted and left her feeling “not so alone”.

I remember going into the kitchen and crying again. The trees; they were pulling her in – that seemed to mean that we were all connected to each other. You hear about connection to all things on earth, but it’s a concept so hard to really grasp until you actually feel a kinship withsomething like a tree. My sister lasted from day of discovery of cancer to her death only five months. So much of her time in those months were in pain. There she sat, in the quiet watching the trees in her back yard, her face relaxed and eyes reflecting the leaves and branches. I came to understand the connection and respect it.

It was not until 2006 that I saw the trees reflected in my mother’s eyes. She had been living with me for a few years as I gave her full time care. She had had a series of little strokes. Her mind was still strong but her body just slowly failed her. I had taken two bedrooms in my home and given her one for her sleeping room and one for her sitting room. It was in that sitting room that mother would sit in her automatic lounger and stare out the window. Our home looks out into a ravine that was filled with Douglas firs. We see the upperparts of the trees so the view is wonderful. They’re filled with birds and the swinging of the branches in the breeze. Mother started to stare out the window about two months before she passed. She would forgo her favorite TV shows and her books and just stare out the window at the trees for hours at a time.

Mother’s eyes are like mine, green and yet the sea of green branches swinging in the wind reflected just as well in those eyes than it did in the grey-blue eyes of my dad and sister. I knew she was leaving me. I suppose it should have made me sad, angry or afraid that she was spending time with thetrees, but it didn’t. I knew she was finding calm and quiet thoughts with the trees. I knew she was sharing things that are hard to put into words and I just let her float there during the day. She passed just shy of her 100 birthday, but in her 100thyear. I was ready when it happened and both my husband and myself were by her side. The trees swooped down and took her away like in a book of fairy tales- off to be with Dad and my sister…

I use the trees myself now, I sit up on roof top deck and I just relax into the trees around me. It calms me and I feel it allows my mind to be more creative and at times I feel close to my family that has passed.

My husband, Georgie is now fighting Alzheimer’s. If he has a day that is filled with confusion, I take him up to my deck and we just sit and watch the trees. He calms down and starts to hold my hand and I feel the Georgie inside of him coming to the top again. I guess we are all Tree People…we just take time to know it.

I encourage you to spend some quiet time with trees to find a calm and safe place to go when you are in need. I wish you well and hope you will visit my web site and see the other services I offer www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Thank you, francy

Gardening Over for Senior in Care

by francy Dickinson                       www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy; My sister is a life long gardener who has severe arthritis and is now unable to dig in her yard. She is heart sick, she looks outside on a daily basis to complain about what should be done. How can I help her adjust?

Gardens are such private things to folks. Some are barely kept, some are loved to lengths that are hard for most of us to understand. My sister was just such a gardener, she passed in her mid-50’s, leaving my mother, living above her, to look out in the garden and lament about it’s disarray. Mom was in her late 80’s and simply could not keep up with the complex gardening that was needed to keep everything in order. So, I have witnessed this sad event and a garden “going to sleep”  that was how my mother described it. It was like losing my sister all over again because that yard had been transformed by her spirit and hands.

First, making an “easy care garden” in close to the house – maybe a quick step to get your sister back to the earth. I’m sure you have seen the small raised beds. You take a bit of land and build a raised bed that is maybe 4ft square and have a seating bench all around it. So she could sit and reach out to plant and tend a small amount of area at a time. She could scoot around the bench or take a daily spot to dig. Remember the many special garden tools designed for challenges can be of great help to hands that no longer are pliable. Small veggies and bloomers could at least make her feel that she was still connected. The raised bed could be close to the house and really block the view of the rest of the garden that will be “going to sleep” with no care. So it would settle her mind on what is in the now, not what is being lost.

Too much? Add some containers and have her pot them up and just do a daily watering. Once again bringing color closer to her reach than watching the large garden.

Too much? Have her plan a way to break the garden down to a minimal area that can be kept with a garden service or someone in her family. That would mean taking out plants and clearing it down to just the larger perennials and spreading thick mulch to keep down the weeds. Think of this as clearing out a house when a senior has gone to a care facility. Have someone come and dig up plants and have your sister “gift” them with little tags telling about their history to friends & family. You could even put up a sign in the front of the house and say, “garden plants FREE for the digging” and have others that love to garden come and dig them up. She would know they had gone to a good home and be calmer about the change. Then her view would be just a landscape that was easy to tame and care for by others.

If gardening has been her life…she may have to make a move at this time, to a place that would benefit her health challenges and leave it behind. Some times – you can not hide the hurt and the constant reminder of something dying or changing in your life. Everyone is different. Some widows/widowers find that staying in their long time home that they shared with their passed spouse is more comforting. Some find that the memories are just to strong and they have to start a new. If that is the case with your sister, remember, moving to a new spot in life is easier the younger you are at the time of the move.

Retirement apartments and communities always have small spots to garden on a limited basis. A small balcony or patio can hold lots of potted containers and keep anyone busy watering. It may seem silly to think of a younger person “retiring” to a community but health challenges are only going to increase, best to get the big move done and sit back and enjoy life. Using all of who you are for the new beginning of your life. Doing different things than you did before. She might find that friends around her for card games and shared outings will soon replace her many hours of gardening to her own drummer. Better than sitting in front of the TV all alone and adding depression to the constant pain of arthritis.

Making changes is never easy. That is not the point, nor is the idea of not affording  it or where to go. Those things can be ironed out. Learning to “think” – I am going to be living for many years and I have to figure out the best place for me to do so, with my obvious challenges. That is the hardest part to tackle. Once the brain changes gears to thinking a new life pattern, that pattern falls into place. Its just getting your mind around change that is always the hardest part.

Even the strongest personalities resist change. Even the greatest dare-devils of their age, feel fear to the unknown future. Your job is to try to think of creative ways to present things to your sister, in a loving manner, that she can think over and choose to take action on – or leave on the table.

Getting older is never easy, but being a gardener does not go away. There are wonderful conservatories, public and private gardens and garden shows to attend. Wheelchairs and scooters are always welcomed at those places and keeping her involved in what she loves, but in a different form, is just as lovely.

If she is able to speak well, you will find that the Internet has “voice blog” sites that are free. What that means is that she could do a twice weekly mini- talk show on the net. She could talk about the time of year and ideas of how to tend to the listeners’ gardens. She would be handing down a lifetime of experience instead of mourning it’s lost. Creative ideas keep us going – that’s your only duty – to keep the ideas coming and let her choose something that fits her love and her abilities.

Blessings on you for caring for your sister, please visit my website www.seniorcarewithsprit.comand get more tips for senior caregiving.

Thanks, francy