Published on: January 28, 2018
by Mark Harvey for The Daily World:
Some of us are “caregivers” — or we’re going to be.
Some of us recognize that word and some of us don’t. So I’ll provide Mark’s Standard Definition – A caregiver is somebody who is taking care of somebody who needs to be taken care of, whether they like it or not.
True, we may have started out being a wife or a husband or a daughter or a son or a grandchild … but, somewhere along the way, we became caregivers. That’s just how it goes.
One of the first things most of us do, when we’re being caregivers, is try to master the day-to-day stuff: manage the medications, figure out the “toileting thing,” do whatever else the doctor(s) said to do, and deal with food/nutrition, bathing and mobility. Then, we often get distracted by little things like paying bills, figuring out how to get our person to medical appointments, sleeping….
And as we get further and further into it, maintenance of the environment (house, apartment, room, basement, mobile home, whatever) gets further and further from the top of the list. We can live with a bit of clutter and a degree of disorganization as long as we’re able to get to what we need to get to, and use what we need to use, to do what we need to do: provide that care.
That is just how it goes.
But if we’re caring for a person with Alzheimer’s (or any kind of dementia, but we’ll just say Alzheimer’s), and that person is mobile (which is often the case), the environment suddenly becomes A Very Big Deal — because what was once a friendly and perfectly functional home can become a minefield, filled with threats that we never saw coming.
Because I do what I do, I get a lot of lists that somebody somewhere thought would be helpful to somebody, somewhere who was enmeshed in being a caregiver; often, they excel in overstating the obvious. It occurs to me, however, that “obvious” is a relative term, depending upon who and where you are, and how long you have been doing this caregiving thing.
Recently, I came across a list of suggestions from the U.S. National Institute on Aging on how to help keep a home as safe as possible for a person with Alzheimer’s. It seems pretty sane, so here it is:
• Clearly post emergency numbers and your home address near any telephone. (If you live via cellphone, I’d add: Put that info in big black letterssomewhere obvious, like a bathroom mirror or the inside of a front door. You’d be surprised how easy it is to completely space out in an emergency.)
• Install secure locks on all outside doors and windows.
• Install alarms that notify you when a door or window is opened.
• Hide a spare key outside, in case your person locks you out.
• Avoid extension cords (and those pesky piles of stuff) if at all possible. Either of you could trip and fall pretty easily.
• Cover unused electrical outlets with “childproof” inserts. (I put that in quotes because it’s not meant to be disrespectful; it’s just what those things are called.)
• Place red tape around floor vents, radiators and other heating devices to deter your person from approaching them. (Let’s face it: We canceled the Good Housekeeping photo shoots a long time ago. This is about what works!)
• Check all rooms for adequate lighting. (This isn’t just about tripping — it can also be about a mind misinterpreting what the eyes are seeing, and producing some very scary images.)
• Stairways should have a handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps. If possible, the steps should be carpeted or have safety grip strips. You also might consider putting a gate across the top of the stairs if there’s a balance issue or some other good reason.
• Keep medications and alcohol locked and out of reach (and out of sight).
• We already talked about clutter, right?
• Remove all weapons from the home, or lock them up.
• Lock up all power tools and machinery. (I confess that I’d never thought of this one.)
• Remove any poisonous plants from the home. (… or that one! Wow!)
I also know that caregiving is a full-time job, and there is just a physical limit to what any of us can actually accomplish in a puny 24-hour day; so just look at this stuff, prioritize what applies to your situation and do the best you can. None of us has ever “batted a thousand,” and none of us ever will, because this is all about approximation — doing the best we can.
Here’s one last thing that wasn’t on that list. Most of us learned it the hard way, and it’s the easiest thing to forget: Your person isn’t acting this way on purpose. They don’t mean to. If they could do better, they would.
Love doesn’t end.
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