If I’d only known then what I know now about caring for the elderly, I wonder what a difference it would have made. My Gram moved in on the other side of our house when I was in my early teens. She didn’t move in because she had to, but she and my parents thought it would be a good idea after my grandfather passed away. When she first moved in she was very independent…she did her own cleaning, cooking, even took the bus to “downtown” to go shopping, etc. I would “help” with the fun stuff like baking, decorating and I always had someone to play canasta with. It was great having Gram next door.
As time went on, Gram started slowing down as we all do when we age. She needed a bit more assistance, she was stubborn and didn’t like to ask, but we noticed. My quick in-and-out visits became a little longer, just doing little odds and ends for her and she seemed to want to chat a little more. My mom would help her clean and at times help with her laundry. Dad checked in on her as well. Gram was still doing ok though.
Fast forward- I was now in my mid to late 20’s…Gram needed more help. My mom, dad and I had worked out a schedule of sorts to check in and take care of Gram. We were fortunate between all three of our work schedules, we were able to have coverage. Grams’ vision was deteriorating at a steady rate and one of the things she enjoyed the most was reading. Now she no longer could see to read. Her gait was increasingly unsteady and she became very unsure of herself. She now needed help with pretty much everything and she absolutely hated it. Some of the ways I helped her was taking her grocery shopping and to the beauty shop weekly. I would spend more time with her, prepare meals for her, make sure her TV was set for her favorite show, The Waltons. Her vision was very poor, but she sat right in front of that screen and watched that show daily. My parents and I were there for her, but I was only in my 20’s and I had lots to do…fun things, things young people do and boy, I was always in a rush.
Looking back now, I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with my Gram and that I was able to help her. I can’t help but think that I may not have always had the patience or taken the time I should have or could have with her. While my experience with my Gram has helped me here at Arbutus, my time working at Arbutus has opened my eyes to some of the things I could have done differently to help my gram. Simple things like establishing a routine, a consistent place where you put things that she would have used daily, keeping the conversation simple when asking her to do something, and various other “tricks of the trade” I’ve learned over the years. Above all, I have learned patience, patience and more patience. I have learned that elderly folks do not like to be rushed…but then who does? Right?
People don’t want to need help bathing, dressing, eating…none of this is on purpose. I’ve learned that aging is not a choice, that it is forced upon us, and no matter how hard we try to avoid it, aging happens and sometimes with a vengeance. It’s the kind of stuff you just don’t think about in your 20’s. The Golden Rule, “Treat others how you want to be treated” goes a long way in care for the elderly or anyone for that matter…because some day we all will need a little help. -mf
Contributor: Melinda Frye is the Activities Director at Arbutus