In Patty’s family, the summer of 2022 will forever be known as the one when Nonno’s TV stopped working. It may sound trivial. But in reality, this technical glitch was anything but.
“We’ve been in the process of moving my parents into an apartment that’s literally next door to us,” Patty explains. “They’re closing in on 90 years old. It’s already been so much change for them. We’ve been working hard to preserve their routine and keep things familiar. But the TV? That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
As her parents’ primary caregiver, Patty’s intimately familiar with the flow of their day. That includes—in her dad’s case—time for specialty Italian-language television programming every evening. With so much about his world already changing, the sudden switch and inability to catch his favourite news program or soccer game became a meaningful hurdle for the octogenarian.
“We tried everything to sort out the channels at the new place, but it took a good 10 days to fix the issue and it destroyed my dad’s mood. It was almost all he could talk about,” she recalls.
Small things can add up to a big difference, especially as we age. On the one hand, seniors in Vancouver and Canada-wide have proven themselves to be remarkably resilient. Early in 2021, seven in 10 Canadian seniors reported very good or excellent mental health—even as they continued to be at the greatest risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19. The research mirrors American findings from earlier in the pandemic, which showed adults aged 65 and older were actually less likely to have anxiety, depression or trauma/stress-related disorders compared to their younger counterparts. Still, life changes—from the death of a loved one to a change in health or financial status—can affect seniors in major ways, no matter how resilient the baseline. Those upsets to the proverbial apple cart of aging can create obstacles for the senior at the heart of care, and the family or professionals who support them.
In Patty’s case, her dad was downright uncomfortable without this element of his routine. He relies on Italian language programming (as well as a host of other word games and activities) to keep his mind sharp. Absent those outlets, he struggled—and so did Patty.
“If you’d told me two months ago the hardest part of moving my parents would be the fact that my dad couldn’t get his news and soccer, I would’ve laughed,” Patty says. “But in hindsight, it really is those tiny little things that make my dad’s day and his quality of life so much better. It’s his ability to feel connected with the outside world. As his caregiver, I’m so exhausted from the big picture stuff and then to see the small things derail him, well, I just felt so guilty for not being able to fix it fast enough.”
With TV back up and running, and routines settling into post-move normalcy, Patty’s now aiming to bring renewed balance to her parents’ world. As their caregiver, she’s in and out of the new apartment frequently. Each interaction, she says, is an opportunity to help them focus on the upsides of the change they’ve all experienced, and keep the lines of communication open.
That spirit is something any family with senior caregiving responsibilities can seek to bring to the table on a daily basis. At Home Care Assistance Vancouver, we encourage families helping a senior loved one navigate change to do so while focusing on the positive. How so?
- Put the senior at the heart of the solution. Everyone knows the old saying about life’s best laid plans. That said, if you’re marshalling a senior through a change in situation, it’s important to build the plan not around what works best—but what works best for them, in particular. Create a priority list of the three to five aspects of daily living that are most important to your senior loved one, and then build the plan for change around those specific needs.
- Talk up the change regularly. Uncertainty can breed unnecessary worry or stress, especially for a senior who may feel like they’re losing autonomy or control over their own life. Talk about change in ways that seek to inform and comfort a senior. Nail down two to three key messages, and then deliver them consistently. For instance: We’re moving next week. I will handle all of the logistics. You’ll wait at home, and then we’ll drive you over when everything is set up. It’s going to be wonderful. Chat about change calmly and consistently to eliminate the fear, and focus on the benefits.
- Keep the routine rolling as best you can. Whether moving homes, meeting a new doctor or just about any other change in between, it can be helpful for seniors to know their routine will remain largely the same even as change unfolds around them. This is especially important for seniors who are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, who may be particularly susceptible to confusion. Keep the core elements of someone’s day in tact even while other things shift to set the senior in your life up for success.
- Take care of you. Caregiver burnout is real. No matter what you’re helping a senior loved one move through, put yourself on the priority list. Carve out time apart, breaks, chances for self-care and more. It’s absolutely essential.
If you remember just one thing…
Love it or hate it, the only constant is change. Being deliberate about the way you help seniors manage change can make all the difference in their short-term happiness, long-term quality of life and caregiving overall.