It was 1am. My being diabetic I visit the loo, often. That day it was not my urge to go to the loo, but I went out of my room, anyway. I was aghast seeing my 90-year-old mother sprawled on the floor. Instinctively I rushed to help her, but could do little, given her weight. I had to call for help and yes, she was made to sit and thankfully she had no broken bones.
Am I not lucky?
The elderly quite often like to say they are independent. They refuse to accept that the age, though just a number, is catching up.
My living with my mother, I have seen enough, learned quite a few lessons, and have faltered repeatedly. Each day feels like a new one, and there is something to learn and discover. Among the many, here are 5 rules I would like to share.
Rule 1: Let them say what they wish; be by their side anyway.
No, I do not mean you have got to stand guard all the time, but be around, or get someone trustworthy to be with them. Until of course you decide to move them to a care center.
Even then, they are your responsibility.
There have been times (many if not few) when I think my mother is a weighty liability. Getting help came with a hole in my pocket, so I have been her caregiver for many years now. I have a lot of thinking to do when I must step out, even for a short period of time. Loaded with self-pity, I often think, how long must this drill go on. No one can tell, so I carry on each day and am always prepared for surprises.
Do not leave them alone even though they will claim to be alright and careful.
Rule 2: Eventually they can hear less, so keep conversations to a minimum and keep that smile on your face going.
They begin to understand body language better; they lose their hearing capabilities and do not comprehend well enough to have a conversation. So, keep conversations to a required low and just show them you are around and that you care. If you hear them coughing, pass on a glass of warm water, if they talk about their past (which they do very often) smile that lovely smile, if they complain, let them, do not reason with them as it would only be a waste of your energy.
They usually resist doctor visits, so if possible, let the doctor come home and see them as they do not appreciate video conferences either.
Feed them, love them, and give them the dignity they so deserve, and remember soon ‘we will be them’.
Rule 3: Develop the important quality of Patience
Oh my God! I have struggled to be patient. I have said things I should never have said, like, “Oh, don’t tell me you cannot remember that”! Or “Didn’t I tell you about our friends’ visit last evening, you’ve forgotten so soon”? “Why do you repeatedly ask me the same things, I’ve repeated them a thousand times”! “Okay mom, you have to stay home, you’re too old to come with us”!
Gosh, I know how that would have hurt her.
I thought I was alone in the battle until I read an article about the challenges caregivers face, looking after the elderly. As I read more, I realized I can make those mistakes, but I cannot repeat them repetitively like I do! I then began taking a moment to react or I would tell myself to just stay quiet, anyway she cannot hear me. Yelling does not help, keeping them away does not either; cursing under your breath does not help as they pick up vibes ever so quickly, so learn to be Patient, its easy to lose it — do not — the importance of patience is really beyond what one can imagine.
Rule 4: Watch the way you Communicate.
I often thought shouting and ordering would solve my problems. She just got worse. The elderly hate to be dictated, they only shrink into their ingeniously formed cocoons.
And getting her out of there would only add to her owes.
Communication is the key. So, it is good to ask instead of giving them no choice, cajole instead of commanding, watch for signs of withdrawal before you rattle off instructions. We must remember, we are not waging wars; we are just people trying to cope with life.
Communication is a skill that needs to be practised hard when dealing with the elderly.
Rule 5: If ever there was one tough ask, it is asking for the caregiver to show Compassion.
It is not easy to be compassionate when you are a caregiver, being around the elderly most of your day.
My mother would play a game of arranging marbles in a certain manner, while removing one after every move — until finally there would be one marble remaining on the board. Earlier she would be able to do it, and very gleefully announce that it requires loads of intelligence to have just one marble on the board! Today she can have almost 11 on the board, her coordination has taken a dive, leaving her rather puzzled with the result of her game. I used to giggle and tell her she is growing old! Now I realize what compassion can do — she has gradually begun to gather it is her mind and not the marbles fault to stick to the board.
The older they get the more we need to care and be compassionate and let them know we are with them — whatever happens. I am unable to spell this out to my mother, but I let her know by my actions I am with her.
This can give them that warm security.
It is a sad decline to watch, and such incidents scream loudly, “don’t tread so hard, stop, watch and be compassionate; and show it — show that you care.