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Caring for the whole person

05 February 2009
Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times - February 2009

We read so much about the isolation and loneliness of the caregiver. Friends tend to disappear, social activities are dropped and the world of the caregiver shrinks. Professionals encourage caregivers to join support groups, a safe place to share difficult experiences. Programs exist to provide respite relief to allow the caregiver to have time outside the small world of their home.

But what about the person with Alzheimer’s? Many will argue that home care is the preferred choice and that placement should be avoided if possible. However, in planning to care for a loved one at home, attention must be given to the person’s spiritual, physical, emotional, mental and social needs. Isolation and boredom must be addressed. I see too many people being cared for at home whose physical needs are well attended to but whose other needs are neglected.

Some individuals will sleep more than usual due to the disease, while others oversleep due to boredom. Interests and hobbies of earlier times are no longer appropriate and need to be replaced with meaningful activities. Think about the person’s interests pre-diagnosis: their occupation and hobbies. Incorporate new activities using this information. Someone who handled money may be content to sort coins; a housewife who was often busy doing laundry may find comfort in folding towels. It doesn’t matter whether these tasks are performed well, and activities can be repeated, since the person may not remember them.

I often suggest an activity table. I see beautiful homes in perfect order without anything of interest for the patient. An activity table, with puzzles, large blocks, coins, wool to be rolled, etc., should be on display for easy access. Caregivers may have to deal with having their homes look like day centres, but if a loved one is to stay at home, adaptations become necessary.

Busy caregivers may not have the time or patience to spend one-on-one quality time with their loved ones. Even paid caregivers are kept busy with cooking and cleaning – necessary tasks that take valuable time away from interacting with their client. Physical activity, from simple walking to chair exercises, is vital to keep the body limber. Soft touches like sharing in a game of cards or singing a song together are ways of caring for the “whole” person. Caregiving is an overwhelming job, but keeping up with the activities of daily living is not always enough. Everyone needs to feel meaning and purpose in their day.

If all of this is too much for the caregiver, and it often is, a day centre can be a great solution. Not only does it provide respite for the caregiver, but its trained recreational therapists will also keep your loved one active and stimulated. Day programs provide social interaction not always available at home, where care is often one-on-one. Isolation can lead to depression and apathy.

There are a host of wonderful day programs in Montreal worth looking into. A call to your local CLSC or Alzheimer’s association is a good place to start.

Asking the patient if they want to attend will usually receive a negative reply, so it’s worth presenting the plan in an exciting way, without discussing it too much in advance. Be prepared for some resistance beforehand and take the feedback with a grain of salt. When your loved one reports that they hated their day, did nothing, and didn’t have lunch, get feedback from the group leaders. You’ll likely find that the person participated readily and happily throughout the day.

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Bonnie Sandler

Residential Real Estate Broker, Housing Consultant for Seniors

514 497-3775