It can be difficult to make time for our parents or grandparents when we have such hectic and busy lives ourselves, but we owe it to our elders to look after them in the same way that they’ve spent their lives looking after us.
Keeping older people in their own homes for as long as possible is beneficial for both them and the NHS. Below are some simple tips to care for your family members to improve their quality of life, whether they are still in their own home or have moved into a care home.
It’s important to ensure your loved ones feel supported while maintaining their independence. Involving them at mealtimes is a great way to do this: ask them to help you lay the table so items are familiar and accessible to your loved one. Or give them simple and safe tasks to help prep meals to make them feel helpful.
Variety in daily activities
When a loved one becomes less mobile or less lucid, getting out of the house can seem too difficult, but studies have shown that keeping active can slow the progression of dementia. Where you can, try to have a change of scenery and enjoy some fresh air to help to break up the day for you and the person you’re caring for.
Maintain their habits Many people will have been proud home-makers throughout their lives, and helping them to continue this if they choose helps encourage independence. Encourage your loved one to participate in household chores including tidying up after dinner and hanging out the washing - the scent of sheets that have been billowing on the line can be very nostalgic too.
Positioning of items It is important to consider your loved ones’ environment, particularly if they have recently moved in with you, or moved to a more accessible room in their own home. Look around the room and think about whether they are conducive to a restful night, for example, using black-out curtains or blinds. Is there an annoying ticking clock nearby, or does the room tend to get too hot or cold? Taking some simple steps to make the right sleeping environment can help both you and your loved one get the rest you need.
Help them remember
For people living with dementia in particular, memories from times gone by can be easier to access and talk about, with different pictures and objects sparking memories and conversations. Listen to some of your loved one’s favourite music, create a photo scrapbook, or have a film afternoon watching some black and white classics.
Bring in home comforts
Take photos and music they enjoy and help them pick out soft furnishings to make their room their own. They may be able to bring their favourite piece of furniture and even their own bed if they’re not in a nursing home.
Help them find their way around
Help them find their way around the home. It can take a while to get our bearings, so offer to show your relative where the garden or dining room is until they feel more confident in walking around alone.
Talk to staff
Along with your relative, talk to staff about their routines. If they like to eat lunch in their room or have a lie-in at the weekend, staff should aim to fit in with this rather than the other way round. Let staff know about their favourite meals too, and likes and dislikes.
Attend relatives and residents meetings. Many care homes offer these sessions to talk about any issues affecting residents. They may also have a regular newsletter. If you want to, you can ask to be involved in the person’s care, such as helping out at mealtimes. Find out how the home encourages residents and carers to enjoy activities together.
Visit when you can and try to take your relative out for day trips if possible, to give them a change of scene. Even when you’re not able to visit, staying in touch is really important. It may be possible to install a phone line in your relative’s room or help them use a simple mobile phone to call friends and family.
We’d love to hear stories about how you are coping with looking after a family member or loved one.