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Practical Caregiving

Remember to Remember

By Jean Donahue

My parents were older when they had me, so they had different experiences than many of the parents of my friends. My father didnít serve in the military because he was either too young or too old when there was a war.

Dad talked about his experiences here, in the United States, during World War II. The government gave people ration stamps which they needed to buy any food and gas. Jobs were also hard to get. One summer, Dad learned he could get work as a carpenter on a blimp base if he could get to Tillamook, Oregon. He went to the ration board and asked for enough gas stamps to drive to Oregon, which they gave him. At that time, the normal speed people drove a car was 40 miles per hour. Can you imagine traveling the 1,800 miles to Tillamook at 40 miles an hour?

That summer Mom and Dad were having a picnic on the beach (along with other people) when they saw the periscope of an enemy submarine. Mom said she wondered what the men in the submarine thought as they watched families having picnics on their enemyís shore.

Those times were good times for Mom and Dad, and I enjoyed hearing about them. Quite often, a caregiver tries to do too many things in too few hours, neglecting moments and opportunities to talk with their loved one. They neglect real communication about things that are important to them. Those things are probably experiences from their past because the present isnít what they would like it to be.

The times my parents talked about were important to them when they lived them, and they were important again at the end of their lives. They enjoyed remembering the good times. They enjoyed remembering the tough times. They enjoyed remembering coming out of the bad times. They did NOT enjoy remembering the bad times.

Mom had Alzheimerís disease and didnít remember her past, but she enjoyed hearing about it and was always pleasantly surprised at the various stories Dad would tell. I enjoyed them, learned more about my parents and became closer to them by listening. Taking time to talk WITH your loved one instead of talking TO them will be well worth it, and you will cherish those moments the rest of your life.

One problem with talking is that your loved one might not be able to communicate as well as they used to. They may be hard of hearing or have some other problem that makes it difficult to carry on a conversation. Here are some tips that might help.

If your loved one is hard of hearing, insist that they get a hearing aid. One might be all they need, and insist that they wear it when you talk with them. Of course, make sure the battery is good and that it is turned on and adjusted. Sit down in front of them so they can see your face. Sit at the same level as them. Speak distinctly and not too fast. Eliminate background noise as much as possible. Sit calmly and donít rush the conversation.

If your loved one has had a stroke, their hearing and speech may be impaired. Talk normally. If they say something you donít understand, be honest and tell them you donít understand what they said, and ask them to say it again. If they canít say or think of the right word, let them try to come up with it for a time before completing their sentence. If they donít understand you, give them a hug to reassure them, comfort them and let them know that you love them.

If your loved one has dementia, talk normally but not too fast. You may need to repeat something several times before they understand what you are saying, or you may need to use different words. Talk about one thing at a time. If your loved one seems to be stuck on one thought, talk about something different to try to distract them. You may need to do that more than once to get them to think of something else. Tell them happy stories about their past or your past. They will enjoy it.

Always be honest. Donít pretend to understand what they say when you donít. Take extra time to communicate with your loved one. It will be worthwhile and you will always be glad you did. You will be closer to your loved one, and you will find that you are more relaxed and better able to take care of them. Be happy with your loved one. Laugh together. Be sad together. But do it together. It will help both of you.