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Practical Caregiving

Spruce Up Your Surroundings for Everyoneís Well-Being

By Jean Donahue

Have you ever walked from the bright sunshine into a dark and drab house or apartment? How does it affect your attitude? What about your feelings of well-being? Instead of staying there, wouldnít you rather leave and enjoy the sunshine?

Well, thatís exactly how many of our elderly feel every day. They are basically confined to a room, house or nursing home that is drab and uninteresting. Many of them canít get outside or go anywhere. When they actually are able to do something interesting, they canít stay very long Ė and they return to their drab surroundings.

For those of our loved ones who can still move about, they may go for a walk or sit in a chair on the patio or deck. Even if they are in a wheelchair, they can go outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air after a spring rain. Birds chirp. Squirrels chase each other through the trees. A light breeze swishes their hair. Everything is uplifting, calming and healing.

See the huge difference? Imagine the impact of these scenes on your mood and outlook. We all love days like the one I just described. None of us want to end up in a drab, gloomy place that has no fresh air, sunshine or anything else associated with the outdoors, especially after a long and dreary winter! Letís look at various aspects of the physical environment of our elderly and how it affects them.

Gloomy conditions can cause depression and loss of hope. Itís as simple as that. When a person is depressed and without hope, they give up caring about things like cleanliness and clutter. They tend to have more accidents, diseases and lose their ability to concentrate. Is it possible that health is improved or made worse by our surroundings instead of how much we can afford for care? Many people think it is, and so do I.

Name another community that is influenced by these same conditions. I hope you realized and said you, as a caregiver. The same things that affect your loved ones affect you, too. If you are taking care of your loved one at home, you experience the same environment. If your loved one is in a nursing home, you grieve over their situation. If your loved one is in their own home, you worry about their safety. You need them to have an environment conducive to good emotional and physical health, but you also need it for yourself. You will both be much healthier and happier if you both have the right, refreshing environment.

So this is where we are. You need an uplifting environment and your loved one needs an uplifting environment. Just exactly how do you go about improving things?

Some of you might be able to afford to have someone improve your environment. Some might need to do things yourselves. Either way, changes -- even simple ones -- can be made that will improve the surroundings.

Are the curtains or draperies closed most of the time? Why donít you open them during the day? If your loved one has a skin condition that is worsened by the sun, make sure they are away from the window but open the drapes. A depressed person on their own will quite often keep the drapes closed.

What is the color of the walls? Are they comforting colors or are they all a sterile light yellow or white? Would painting one wall a medium-to-light green, blue or blue-green brighten things? Just be sure to avoid heavy, dark colors. They darken the place Ė and mood. You can create an environment that makes the inside look more like the outside. If you decide you should paint the walls and can afford to have someone else paint the walls, hire them. If you like to do things yourself or if you canít afford to hire someone, check stores that sell paint at a discount.

What about pictures on the walls? Are they uplifting or inspiring? If not, perhaps you could replace them with prints of waterfalls, ocean, trees, plants, animals or other outdoor scenes. You donít need to spend a fortune on pictures. Itís whatís in the picture and how it will improve the ambiance of a house or room thatís important.

Does the furniture need a makeover? If it does, you can buy new furniture or simply cover the furniture you have with slip covers. You can even use decorative sheets to cover your furniture as long as you tuck them in well. Experiment a little.

Decorate for the holidays and seasons. Put something up for every holiday that comes around as the elderly often look forward to each event more than many busy caregivers do. Thanksgiving Day, Motherís Day, Fatherís Day, you can even make up your own holiday. What about ďIím glad youíre my loved oneĒ day.

In the spring, decorate with spring flowers. In the winter, cut paper snowflakes and put them on the wall. Decorate in any way that will make you and your loved one both feel happy and well.

What about animals? A dog, cat, fish or bird? It has been shown that animals improve the disposition of many elderly and that watching fish in a fish aquarium helps lower blood pressure. Just be sure you, as caregiver, can handle the added responsibility of the pet, if you go this route.

What about creating special nights in the house? You could rent a movie and serve popcorn while you watch it together. If youíre caring for your spouse, have a romantic dinner. Do something special you both will enjoy.

Being a caregiver is very trying and stressful, no doubt about it. But you should do everything possible to improve your quality of life as well as that of your loved ones. It takes a little thought, time and effort, but I think youíll find the rewards to be huge.