Always buy two if you can afford it.
Disclaimer: In the name of full transparency, please be aware that this blog post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in asmall commission for me (at no extra cost for you).
Over the past few years with my grandma, a few things have become essential to my survival as her primary caregiver. There are tangible items- that is, goods and services I can go out and pay for- and there are intangible items that you can’t just find anywhere. In this post, I will share with you the things that I can physically hold or access through technology that have made my life easier. [Read more…]
I, like all other family caregivers, I am always looking for tools to help me manage my caregiving role. Like most missions, caregiving means employing a combination of strategies to achieve success.
I have been using a combination of the following:
- a very large calendar,
- written notes, menus, and schedules on dry erase boards,
- the custom daily sheets I made for Grandma to keep track of my priority concerns
- emails and texts to Grandma’s helper and my tribe
- my own Google calendar
- written sticky notes to myself on my desk at work
- reminders from Siri
- my weekly planner app
When you do anything long enough, it becomes second nature to you. Even though I thought I had it down pat, I have been crying out for a better system.
I found one tool that literally replaces all of these things. And it is completely free. Meet Caring Village.
I recently found Caring Village on Twitter in my constant search to connect with resources that could help me in my caregiving role. I visited their website and fell in love immediately. I signed up right away and started setting it up. That was three weeks ago, and I feel like my stress level has decreased about 20%. We are still learning and getting used to using it, but between me and Grandma’s helper, it has truly been a Godsend.
Caring Village has tons of great features, including:
- Available in your browser, and as an app both in the App Store for iPhone users or the for Androids in the Google Play store.
- The ability to set up as many villages as you want, too, so if you are responsible for more than one person, it can really help you out!
- No limit to the number of members in your village, and they can each personalize the amount of notifications they receive from the app.
- Sweet checklists to help you assess where you stand on key aspects of safety and security and medical issues
- Shared to do lists, where members can volunteer to take care of things and a shared calendar so everyone can see what’s going on.
- The Wellness Journal gives you the ability to track the person’s overall activities and important notes and their mood. I have been trying to typing literally everything we do and everything I know that I think will be helpful in here each day before I leave. You can add pictures to the entries, so last week I posted the week plan with my entry on Sunday.
- The Care Plan feature lets you add specific things you want to keep track of from day-to-day.
You can even store important documents in your village and add your caree’s medication’s.
I have only begun using it and already can’t live without it!
If you are a family caregiver, I encourage you to check it out. So far it is working great for our small, but mighty team, but I see how it could be a lifesaver for all kinds of families, including those where a number of people are helping to care for their caree(s) or family members are spread out and providing support long distance. There is truly nothing like it out there!
As we get older, sometimes we require medication to help with health issues. Medication can be intimidating, especially if you are not used to taking it yourself. I even have trouble remembering to take prescriptions when the doctor gives it to me. Unfortunately, when you are responsible for another person, especially one that has serious issues like a heart condition or chronic pain, forgetting about medicine is not an option. [Read more…]
My grandma and I have a routine.
I was telling someone the other day that when she was in the nursing home for rehab, I took notes. They have a monthly activity schedule with various types of activities, and they create menus.
Nursing homes do have one thing going for them– they are like machines. You always know what to expect and every moment is predictable. That was one of the few things I appreciated about the better facilities my grandma has temporarily stayed in. I think that predictability and consistency creates a feeling of security, stability, and control for a person. Granted, things come up and you can’t always have biscuits and gravy on Tuesdays, but having consistency in your routine can really save your mental health.
Here is a typical week for us:
|Sunday||Church and Grocery Shopping (occasionally thorough cleaning)|
|Monday||Crockpot meal or something prepared by Ronda|
|Tuesday||Biscuits and Gravy|
|Wednesday||Linda comes over (otherwise leftovers from Monday)|
|Thursday||Panera Rapid-Pick Up and Bath night|
|Friday||Life Group with church friends|
|Saturday||Cruise Independence (second Saturday we pay bills)|
On Sundays before we go grocery shopping, I sit down and write a table on a piece of paper for the week. We lay out our meals, any visitors, and social activities.
Then, we make our grocery list based on what we are going to eat and do that week.
I always write the week at a glance on this nifty magnetic weekly calendar I picked up at Target so my grandma can see it and know what to expect.
We also have a desk-sized calendar that I write on to help her know what has taken place over the course of the month and any upcoming activities, events, or appointments. The calendar has evolved over time. At first, I just used it to help her keep track of the date and appointments. Then, as I realized she remembered basically nothing from days before, I started filling it in based on what we do. I write any falls or colostomy bag mishaps she has on there so I can go back and look if I need to. We file them away in her office so we can look at them if we ever need to.
At first, I started coloring in only the days I didn’t come. That was confusing to Grandma, so I started coloring in the days I came and leaving the days I don’t come. The calendar is normally very colorful now. I color myself in pink because that’s my favorite color. If she goes out and does something in the community, I write it in blue. If she was with her friends or another family member, I write it in purple. Anything health related is light blue.
Having this level of predictability in my life as a caregiver has truly helped me stay sane. Before we fell into our routine, I was constantly racking my brain trying to think about what we were going to do each day when I was out there. Now, I pretty much know. Maintaining this routine isn’t just beneficial for me, either. Working on this together and having it in a visible place helps my grandma keep track of what has happened and know what’s going on, and above all, it gives her things to look forward to. It is a win-win for both of us.
My friend asked me a couple years ago to recreate an organizer she had found online. After my grandma had been home for a few months after a 9 month series of hospitalizations and rehabilitation stints in skilled nursing facilities, I learned a few things. I couldn’t keep it all in my head, and there was nothing out there in the stores that I could buy that followed my train of thought, so I made her daily organizer sheets so we could both be on top of our game.
- She was forgetful. As time goes on, she grows increasingly more forgetful. She forgot what she did during the day. So I wanted her to have a way to keep track so we could talk about things in the evenings when I’m with her. She forgot what she ate for breakfast and lunch. So we made a box for that. Grandma was having trouble remembering to take her medicine or when she took it. So we made a box for that. It changed recently, because we cut back on the amount of tramadol she was taking to see if it would clear up some of her confusion and memory troubles.
- Like a lot of older people, she answers the phone every time it rings. People she knows and legit companies like the newspaper were calling her, but also scammers were calling her. Every time someone said she owed them money, she’d just pull out her checkbook. Now, she writes down who called her/who she called and we talk about it. (We’ve also installed call blocking apps to thwart this problem.)
- Mail is a big deal to my grandma. She looks forward to getting her mail everyday, and she takes it very seriously. She was getting mail from lobbyists, scammers, fake debt collectors, and all types of charitable organizations begging for money. And she’d constantly pull out her checkbook and just write checks and throw them in the mail before I could intervene. Or she would throw mail away or misplace it. So now, we have a record of the mail she gets so I can ask her about it and we can locate it and file it.
- As Grandma got used to being home, she would get bored and lonely. She was calling me at work a lot. Many of the times she was calling me was for little things. I can’t always answer right away, so by the time I’d call her back she would forget what she wanted to tell me. So I created a box for her to write things down that aren’t urgent and necessarily important.
- Ostomy care can be overwhelming. My grandma has a colostomy bag. I admit even today that there is a lot I have to learn about her ostomy, because I know eventually I will likely be taking care of that for her. She was having trouble remembering when she emptied her bag or when she put a new bag on. She could never tell me how full it was or what the consistency of her output was. Instead of trying to struggle and remember, first I added a box to indicate whether she changed it or not. That wasn’t really helpful. I found an image of an ostomy bag, and after a little research to the optimum volume to empty it, added hash marks to indicate how full her bag was when she emptied/changed it, and the consistency of her output. This way, if she is having trouble with her bowels, we can look at what she’s eating and add or remove something from her diet.
Other features of her daily organizer sheets include:
Tracking Mood, Emotions (and Memories)
After spending a bit of time with my grandma and having some hindsight, I believe she is in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s (she has a family history, but has not been diagnosed). This isn’t something we talk about in depth, although she admits regularly her memory is failing her. After stage 5, people begin to have severe emotional and behavioral changes. I want to be prepared for this, so I am tracking her mood. If she doesn’t fill it out, I always ask her.
I also want her to take a moment and appreciate the things, people, and experiences that give her joy. So this box makes her pause and
think about something that made her happy that day. It also helps me get to know my grandma and what she likes, so we can keep doing the things that make her happy. If she doesn’t fill it out, I always ask her.
I originally had a box that said “Today I thought about…” and I was interested to see if she had any memories that stood out to her throughout the day or what was on her mind, but she never filled this box out, so I took it off.
Don’t Forget box
If something special is going to happen the next day (or a few days in advance), I write it in this box. This box usually lists things like church functions, visitors that day, and important dates like birthdays and anniversaries.
We didn’t have a to-do list on the daily sheet at first. I threw it in there to fill some space after I realized she wasn’t getting as much mail and as many phone calls as I made space for. I have found it helpful to write things she needs to do the next day in this space, and I sometimes write down for her to call and check on so-and-so.
These daily sheets have been very helpful. It gives us data on her ostomy, mood, and diet, and it serves as a daily journal. It also gives us something to talk about at night. I glance at the daily sheets and if I have any questions about anything on there, we talk about them. On the back of the sheets, I write down the time I was there, what we did, and if we made any major discussions or talked about something important. Using the sheets also helps me stay organized, giving me reminders of things I need to take care of and helping me keep track of her health.
At first my grandma kind of scoffed at the daily sheets. I may be projecting my feelings on her, but I thought she might get the impression I was trying to micromanage her life. I simply explained to her that I am charged with helping her manage her affairs and take care of her health, and so we have to talk about things that come up and track what is going on. Now, she loves them and if she is about to run out, she is constantly reminding me to print her more.
You can check out the different versions of her daily organizer sheets and how it has changed over time below.
Cooking was always an important part of my grandma’s life.
Now, my grandma is forgetful. She has burnt a few things on the stove while she was there by herself, so I have asked her not to use the stove if she is alone.We invested in a Crockpot last year so we could start making meals ahead of time, instead of me rushing to prepare things when I get there in the evenings. At first, my mom would come over on Mondays and get the meal going in the Crockpot and I would finish it when I got there, but recently, I began prepping the food to be cooked and writing out instructions for her, and now it’s ready to eat when I get there.I have found that it not only gives her something to do during the day, so she is not glued to the TV screen, but it has also helped her gain a little of her independence and dignity back.
Crockpot meals we have cooked:
- Corned Beef and cabbage [pictured below] (recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/84270/slow-cooker-corned-beef-and-cabbage/)
- Honey Garlic Chicken (recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/236609/honey-garlic-slow-cooker-chicken-thighs/)
- Beef & Noodles (recipe: https://spicysouthernkitchen.com/crock-pot-beef-noodles/)
- Slow cooker BBQ chicken (recipe: http://natashaskitchen.com/2015/08/11/slow-cooker-bbq-chicken-recipe/)
What are some of your essential go-to recipes? Post them in the comments below!