You’ve probably heard of “life hacks” before and how they can be simple ways of doing something that is otherwise complicated and difficult. While the term originated in the technology world, it can be applied to many every day scenarios, including caregiving.
A life hack is basically a solution, a way to still get something accomplished in a much easier way. For example, take a photograph with your phone of an important business card you have been given in case you lose it; use hand sanitizer to get Sharpie ink out of fabric; chew gum while cutting onions to prevent tears; and many other tips to make life less messy, more productive, and happier.
Caregiving Life Hack #1: “Yes, And…”
Here’s the hack: use improv to minimize arguments between caregiver and the person receiving care.
Dementia is a progressive illness with stages characterized by varying abilities and cognition. During the early to middle stage, people may insist that something is real when it is not—perhaps that someone long dead is still alive or that they can see a person or animal thing that is not there. Instinct guides us to set them straight, right? We might want to say, “Like I told you before, Uncle Joey has been gone for 23 years!” However, there’s not much to be gained with this tactic. Instead, people have found more success—and much less stress—by employing a classic improv technique of saying, “Yes, and…?”
Imagine you are at a comedy club and someone on stage says to the other actor, “I’m a silly monkey!” The other actor replies, “No, you’re just an actor.” Scene over. Whereas, if the other actor says, “Yes, and…?” the scene continues and a conversation and connection happen, maybe some laughs. This way the caregiver is not in the role of naysayer but instead creating a deeper relationship and giving comfort. Instead of reminding a loved one how long Uncle Joey has been gone maybe it’s a chance to say, “Tell me about him.”
Caregiving Life Hack #2: Make it Scented
Here’s the hack: if you’re concerned about someone’s safety in the kitchen, maintain their simple pleasures with the familiar aromas of their favorite foods and eliminate the risks.
Kitchens are warm, inviting places filled with memories of delicious meals, families coming together, and even holidays shared. Kitchens are also slightly dangerous places with sharp objects, fire, and slick surfaces. As people age and abilities change due to changes in eyesight and other senses and abilities, the kitchen can become hazardous.
Rather than strip away something that brought joy to someone and keep them out of the kitchen, maintain the wonderful aromas for them to still enjoy. For example, if your Mom loves a fresh cup of coffee each morning then arrange for a caregiver to make it, or get an automated coffeemaker, so that she can still enjoy the smell of her daily cup of coffee with the risk of spilling hot water on herself to make it. Or, if it was the smell of freshly baked cookies, get pre-made dough and bake them when you visit. You can spend the time saved on mixing the dough to catch up instead.
Caregiving Life Hack #3: Don’t Go It Alone
Here’s the hack: get back up help.
The reality is that caregivers are human too and they need to enjoy their own simple pleasures, maintain their social connections, and stay healthy. While it’s tempting to sacrifice well-being for someone in need, that’s a quick way to also become someone else in need.
Back up help can be from other family members, as long as you communicate clearly and each person is able to do what they are comfortable and capable of doing. Your youngest brother is mad at your oldest brother so doesn’t want to be there at the same time? Can he come every other week and mow the lawn with headphones on? Need a vacation? Ask if your cousin come for two weeks next month in your place.
There are also professional options such as in-home care with a professionally-trained caregiver or dropping someone off for a social activity with friends or at an adult day care facility.
Caregivers should always be plural, with more than one to help out and create variety and balance for all involved.