It is very easy to accidentally surprise someone with vision impairment. To avoid an inadvertent shock, I make sure I make some noise as I approach them – footsteps, humming, conversing with someone else. I greet the person by name so they know they are being addressed and to give them a chance to recognize a familiar voice. If I sense doubt, I identify myself before starting a conversation to make sure they know who they are talking to. Typically, people like to be as independent as possible. So I don’t assume they need help. I ask if they would like my help or how I may be of help. (Of course, if safety is an issue, I may have to break this last suggestion.)
I do my best to make holidays as cheerful as I can for those in my care. For those seniors who wish to reminisce, I am happy to listen and to help them relive their memories. For those who follow traditions, we talk about the meals, music and rituals that are special to them, then do my best to provide them. For those with physical disabilities, I ask for their advice while decorating so they are still an important part of the process. And I take them shopping…on the internet. For those who have feelings of loss or loneliness, I may find a way to allow them to have fun through me. I supply the energy and the involvement. All they have to do is come along for the ride. We become partners in fun.
For those in my care with diabetes, I keep an eye out for complications due to poor blood sugar levels. Anything out of the norm will catch my attention, including sudden numbness or weakness, confusion, chest discomfort and swelling in the ankles and legs. When a resident cannot communicate verbally, I look for changes in facial expression and body language to signal needs and problems. I have found that the more time you spend with someone, the easier it is to understand their (individual) alternative to using language.
It can be very helpful and less frustrating (for everyone) to follow habits and schedules. This is especially true if a person has memory loss and prefers the security of a routine they do remember. Another way to maintain a comfort zone is to focus more one-on-one communications on the past. Old stories and fond memories will typically make for happier conversations and may stimulate more confident recollections. I also recommend that family members prepare for future visits with a loved one by digging out old photos and recalling events. Ask other family members and friends for additional stories you can share.
Grandparents are proud of their grandchildren. I encourage them to talk about them and ask for updates. To strengthen their special bonds, I help them keep in touch in a variety of ways. We write and mail greeting cards for holidays and occasions. I might set up and dial phone calls, or send/receive e-mails or texts (preferably with images). Even better, video calls, such as Skype or FaceTime. (I recommend using a bigger screen than a smartphone.) And I might even share with them social media posts of their grandchildren. The use of technology may not be in their comfort zone, but as soon as they see/hear a grandchild, all their attention is focused on them.
A big role filled by any caregiver is companionship. Wanting to be more than just a body in the room, I find patience and understanding a person’s limitations can help make the relationship more of a two way street. I ask those in my care to teach me things – their history, recipes, how they have solved problems, etc. If they have a hearing impairment, I make sure I am in front of them so they can see my lips move, and move to the side of their better ear when speaking, especially if pride or discomfort won’t let them wear their hearing aids. I provide adequate time for responses and allowing ideas to formulate. And I understand how much touching the back of one’s hand, holding an elbow and giving a warm hug means to both of us.