There are few things more disconcerting than looking over at your parents and suddenly realizing they are growing older. Maybe new grey hair or deeper laugh lines that catch your attention. We pass it off, “Oh well, we’re all getting old.”
But there comes a time when you can no longer deny they have aged. Suddenly, they don’t move as quickly and are unsteady on their feet. They don’t hear as well at home let alone at a noisy restaurant. They are not reading as much even though it is a beloved pastime. This is when we must learn to slow down.
A caregiver’s “to do” list is endless. On limited time to get everything accomplished we rush in the house, asking questions as we try to get out the door for a doctor’s appointment. It doesn’t work.
Poor hearing and eyesight, stiff joints, muscle loss and a brain that simple doesn’t process like it used to means your loved one has slowed down considerably. As caregivers, we need to learn how to slow our pace and match it to theirs. It’s not easy and it will try your patience. But the rewards are worth it.
When you first arrive, take the time to sit down and catch up on what has happened since the last time you saw one another. Even if it was just that morning. This is especially important if you don’t see one another often. Your senior needs to adjust to your presence. After all, you are interrupting their routine in the same way your routine may feel interrupted.
Slower mobility means more time to get ready, more time to physically get out of the house, more time to get in and out of a car. It takes a long time to walk in a walker, to get in and out of a wheelchair. Add a buffer to your plans. If you need 20 minutes to get to an appointment, start getting ready 30 – 45 minutes prior to your normal leave time.
Slower brain processing makes concentrating on one task at a time imperative. Hold your questions until you have you loved one’s full attention. Give them the time to process the question and formulate their answer. If there is added stimulus like a TV, turn it down or off. If there is movement and noise from other people in the house, ask them to move into another room, find a quiet space, or hold your question until there are no distractions.
As people age, they don’t multi-task well. Multi-tasking diverts concentration and can easily lead to forgetting. Try to avoid asking questions or starting a conversation when your loved one is working on a task like taking pills. To combat forgetting, your senior will need to double-check herself and forgetting raises the fear; “Do I have dementia?”
Give them the time they need to perform tasks. It will take them longer to put away groceries, fold clothes or put dishes in the dishwasher. But continuing to perform as many activities of daily living as possible, supports their independence as it maintains skills. And these tasks serve a higher purpose. Through them, your loved one is contributing. Quality of life is important and that means contributing to life.
Yes, slowing down can try your patience. Walk out of the room if needed. Yes, this isn’t always possible when you are trying to leave for an appointment, or it feels like a safety issue. But giving them the gift of time often means getting a gift back. It is in these times, in the quiet moments that you will hear family stories, learn something new about your childhood or connect in ways you never imagined. On these times, you loved one feels empowered, accepted and competent. And isn’t that what we all want?
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