A lot of elderly people find themselves being moved into care homes as they can no longer look after themselves, perhaps as a result of physical or mental illness, or just plain old age and frailty. However, many elderly people also move into the homes of their children and grandchildren who are willing and able to look after and support them.
Either way, this transition is extremely hard and so it is important for caregivers to realise this fact and to know how to make this change in living circumstances as easy as possible for the loved ones they are looking after.
- Regularly highlight the positives of the situation
It can be a real shock to the system for people who go from being totally independent to being reliant on others and the situation can often be overwhelming. This is why it is important to focus on all the positives, especially in the beginning when an elderly loved one has just moved in with you.
Focus on how they are helping you around the house, whether they are washing up, cleaning, making your house feel more homely, babysitting the kids or even reading to them at bedtime. Make sure the loved one you are caring for knows just how much you value them living with you and how glad you are that they chose to do so.
- Make sure you consult and include them in decision making
When someone has lost their independence or no longer has physical control over their own care, it is important that they retain a sense of control over a number of other elements in their lives. Make sure that you give them the choice over what they want to eat, where they want their food or clothes bought from and try not to patronise, for instance telling them that they should go to bed otherwise they’ll be tired in the morning.
Every decision that involves them needs to be made openly and in close discussion with them, otherwise you’ll soon find that they become resentful or possibly even depressed. Having choice is something we tend to take for granted, so just always try to remember to give them a choice in everything that involves them.
- Encourage their individuality
It can be very easy to just start doing everything for your loved one, just as you might do for your children. However, this is a mistake. Even though they may be aging or suffering from an illness of sorts and unable to do as much as they used to, you still need to ensure that they retain some individuality. Otherwise they might start feeling as though they are in the way, or a burden to you.
It is very hard for humans, of any age, who have been used to cooking, feeding and cleaning themselves to go to having it all done for them by someone they love. It is crucial that you allow your loved one to retain their dignity as much as possible, as this will ensure that they continue to feel needed. Encourage and allow them to contribute wherever they can, for instance walking to the local shop to get the daily newspaper, looking after the children or helping the kids with homework. Engage them in conversation about their hobbies and what they enjoyed most about their career or time abroad perhaps, anything that makes them feel you enjoy their company and love them being with you.
- Pay attention to the little details
It’s really important not to let all the everyday care necessities, such as finances and medication get in the way of the little things, which may not seem as important in the grand scheme of things but which are very important to your loved one. For example try to make sure that you help them stick to their routine, especially if it appears to be important to them. For instance if they used to walk to the shop to get their paper and biscuits in the morning, do the crossword in the afternoon or have a snack at 4.30 pm and so on.
People always feel the most comfortable when they are doing something that’s familiar. Being uprooted from their home, even if they love living with you, is going to disrupt their routine, so it’s a good idea to find out about all these little things that can really make their life in your home as relaxed and content as possible.
- Encourage them to be active and sociable
Even though they might require your help with a number of activities, it is still important that you help them to retain a normal standard of living. This means that you should encourage them to go out whenever they can with family members or their friends. You can drop them off at bridge club, the cinema, the local pub, anything that gets them out of the house and keeps their minds active.
People who are dependant are at great risk of becoming depressed due to the isolation they can often feel from living in a house that isn’t their own and from no longer having total control over what they do and when they do it. Keeping them active and enabling them to go out and be sociable as much as is possible will keep their minds fresh and will also inject joy into their lives, making them a lot more content to be living with you, in your care.
James Harrison writes for the london home care agency Extra Mile Home Care. When he isn’t giving advice on how to look after the elderly and care for loved ones in their own homes, he’s out walking his dog and throwing his frisbee.