Here are a few examples of things I have learned while working with elders:
New Gizmos & Gadgets:
Early on in my work, I was working with a woman who had four well-meaning children. Because they noticed she was having memory issues, but needed medication, they purchased a pill dispenser that beeped and dispensed the requisite medication at the appropriate hour. At one of my visits, the beeper sounded and her response was “What’s that?” When I told her it was the pill dispenser she seemed a bit confused but took the medication. It was then I realized that new additions to a regimen–even helpful ones–can create more confusion, especially for those with memory problems.
A client was having difficulty picking up messages on her voice mail and it was too late to teach her how to use a new machine. We solved this problem with the following outgoing message: “You have reached 888-555-5555. Please do not leave messages on this phone. You may either call back or call my daughter Amy.” Callers no longer assumed that their messages were received and knew to either call back or call the family member. Problem solved!
Keep in Mind:
Whether it’s a good joke (I have a binder full of them), a cute story or just a warm, healthy laugh — humor is one of the most important gifts you can bring an elderly person. While visiting, depending upon where he/she is cognitively, watching old movies or listening to music is a soothing activity — especially if there are memory issues. Be wary of film scenes that may be misconstrued as reality (invasions, natural disasters) and realize that an older person with memory/brain issues may become agitated or frightened. Conversely, music, one of the great healers of all time, can be a delight. Again, rap, acid rock or cacophonous music will more likely aggravate than soothe. This is the time to turn to classical, easy jazz or musicals. Even if that is something that wasn’t originally in his/her repertoire, it may become a new favorite.