You hear a lot about how to prevent elders from falling, but what about the rest of their safety needs? Especially when they have memory loss. Much has been written about memory care for elders provided in continuing care facilities, but very little has been written about how to provide successful memory care in the home. All of the elements in the above article need to be created in the home by an adult child, home care agency and caregiver or Geriatric Care Manager.
The idea is that an elder’s memory loss will usually advance to the point where they are no longer safe to remain in their home. But, we know that most elders heal and live better in their own homes, especially when they suffer from memory loss. And that with a caregiver’s assistance, elders go on to lead happier, healthier lives at home. Home care is less expensive than facility care as well.
Below are some tips for how to keep an elder with memory loss safe at home.
It is important to never talk down to an elder. And to always ask them what they would like, regarding their care or what they would like for lunch. This gives an elder a say in all aspects of their care and eases the confusion and agitation of elders with memory loss who fear loss of control.
Speak slowly to elders with memory loss. Their brains are working slower, as well as their hearing and other functions. It takes longer to process less information than those without memory loss. Only discuss one subject at a time and limit the agenda for the conversation to prevent overwhelm. Introduce one subject at a time to prevent overwhelm. Avoid jumping around in conversation.
Ask the elder how they are doing. This creates the right flow for any conversation. Even if they say, “What do you care? I say, “But I do care and I understand if you don’t want to talk about it or talk at all.” Silence. Then, they talk about what they want to: “So, what’s new with you these days?” It is good for their social skills and for their brain, not to mention their hearts that are lonely and often feel no one really cares.
Be silent when you cannot think of anything to say. Be silent when you think an elder needs you to be. This creates trust with an elder and much needed silence, especially after talking when their brain needs to process information. If you keep talking, turn on the TV, or move to another task quickly, they will lose a lot of what was just discussed.
Write things down for elders with memory loss. Create a task list for the entire care team to use: elder, caregiver, family member. Provide them with a copy of it and assign tasks you know they can handle/prefer to handle. Ask them if you can call them on a set date to check in about the tasks and invite them to do the same with you as desired. Provide summary dictations of these meetings to elders as desired and summaries of doctor’s appointments provided by their offices at an appointment. It becomes a living medical and social record that helps combat their fear of being taken advantage of and they can refer to it as needed. This is a huge stress relief when you have memory loss. They color code them, apply their own notes to them. It becomes their memory.
Calendaring is where’s it’s at for elders. Calendar everything on a master calendar in the elder’s home that includes caregiver schedule, doctor’s appointments, visiting clinicians. Ask the caregiver to notify you if there are any changes to the schedule to prevent issues. Plan transportation around. When an elder insists on managing their calendar even though they are not capable of such, calendar with them in person to ensure accuracy. Or work with a competent caregiver to help them manage it at home with the elder.
It’s important to safety proof an elder in their home with a life alert pendant, home safety assessment, cell phone/charger if they or a caregiver are able to operate it for outings. It’s important to safety proof an elder’s form of transportation. What may be a stressful breakdown or flat tire for an elder without memory loss, becomes a mental breakdown for an elder with memory loss. Assess whether the elder is wandering. Make sure all emergency contacts are up to date and that contacts have copies of medical documents on hand to make urgent medical decisions.
Program phone numbers into cordless phones and cells, maintain a good address book for the elder, post an emergency contact sheet on the fridge. Make sure phone bases are working, stock extra batteries for cordless phones. Keep a calendar, pens, notepad by the phone to capture phone calls. Make sure mail is sorted correctly and that bills are paid on time to help with household maintenance.
A well-stocked fridge and pantry, good supply of Ensures, and excellent meal planning make all the difference for elders. A caregiver’s assistance with grocery shopping, home cooked meals, and eating with an elder all greatly assist an elder with memory loss in a host of ways. The benefits range from increased interest in food and intake, to necessary weight gain, to the many social benefits of eating with another.
Refrain from telling an elder with memory loss you know how they feel or must feel. You do not, unless you have had memory loss and not even then. Instead, you can say something like, “I am sorry you are suffering with memory loss. It must be so frustrating to not remember things. I know you said you are embarrassed by it and I want you to know you should not feel embarrassed around me.” Then, they will tell you about it.
It is no easy task to keep an elder safe at home. There are many types of safety that an elder requires but the sad truth is that most elders do not have the support they need, and also, most adult children do not have the training they need to keep their parents safe. If you continue to consult with articles like these, search online and locally, and consult a Geriatric Care Manager for an assessment of your elder, you will acquire the skills and tips you need to keep them safe.
The most powerful thing you can do for your parents is to encourage them to always call you, pick up the phone when they call and visit them in their home often enough to keep them safe. If you live at a distance, you can still do this with the assistance of great elder care providers. It is doable and manageable. And it’s important enough to give it your best shot. Your parents will always thank you for keeping them safe. And you will be able to sleep at night.
By Tara Bradley