“Getting old is the place where want, needs and abilities don’t always mesh. In a way it’s kind of like growing up as a kid… you know that you want to do certain things, but you don’t have the experience or the right size or the total concept down enough to be successful yet. It is a frustrating time. Older folks are even more frustrated because the mismatch is due to the loss of a skill or ability… and they do not have the hope a child has, that things will get better in time.
I would never liken an older person to a child. I don’t believe in that. As much as I help take care of my parents, they are still my parents. It’s popular to say “You become the parent and they become the child” in eldercare. I think that is disrespectful as well as being untrue. The lines get blurred sometimes, but don’t they become blurred in any relationship as it grows and changes over time?
I make sure my folks are “large-and-in-charge” whenever possible in our activities because that’s the mark of respect I owe them as my parents. Sometimes they cannot do what they always did, and that’s when the situation calls for patience, tact and humor! We find a way to change something so they are able to succeed.
For example, take the traditional “locking up” of the house at the end of the day. My father has always done this (gender roles fully in place as “Protector of the family”). He turned lights out, checked the locks, and looked around…“checking out the perimeter” as it goes. Making sure all was well.
Not too difficult a chore, but important. Unfortunately Dad has this tremor thing developing with his hands. Whenever he tries to do something they start to shake, and the harder he tries, the more they shake. This interferes with more activities than you’d think… pouring coffee, eating peas, turning the pages of a book and putting a key into a lock.
I knew it was too important a habit to just insist he let one of us do it for him. (He is never too keen on that anyway… about anything!) So in order to help I looked at the problem from all angles. What was needed… a support for his hand, or a lock that required a different fingering motion, or a different size key?
We tried the different size keys first, but no matter how large they all had to be inserted into a small opening on the lock and rotated. The aim and the wrist coordination were just not there.
So we moved on to a different method… a punch button keypad, where Dad could spell out a combination. He had no problem spelling, but sending those instructions to his fingertips to push the right buttons in order was definitely hit or miss.
Perhaps something to steady his hand… some sort of shelf maybe? We tried attaching a small support shelf right underneath the lock. It helped him hold his hand there, but that didn’t calm the shakes that came when he started to manipulate the key.
After many more ideas, trials and errors, we eventually had success with a device similar to the “Wanderguard” safety lock system I had seen used in many Alzheimer’s facilities. [The urge to go out and walk (to “wander”) is a common problem with many residents who have that disorder. This is presents a danger because when they tire, ending up in what looks to them like unfamiliar surroundings, they can become disoriented and lost. While in the facility each resident who has dementia can be given an ID bracelet, which automatically locks the door from inside if they come close.]
A similar device — an electronic door lock, worked fine for Dad. All he had to do was wave the remote at the door and he could hear the lock slide into place. Then time for a bedtime snack and all was well!”
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