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Things I Have Learned as a Senior Caregiver

Eight months ago, I was working part-time at the library, happily coming home at the end of each day to my small family. Things changed when my father-in-law, John, came to live with us. He’s 79 and was not thriving living alone. One year after his wife died, he was losing weight, missing doctor’s appointments, and his house wasn’t as clean as we would have liked. Now, he lives with us, and I have learned a lot about caring for an older person.

There Is a Price to Pay for a Labor of Love

When John first came to live with us, we hired a home health aide. We realized quickly that we could not afford to do this for eight to 10 hours every day. NPR estimates that a home healthcare aide costs around $21,800 every year, but I think we would’ve been out of pocket closer to $30,000. That would’ve eaten up my entire salary — and then some. Because of this, we decided that I would stay home and take care of him.

While this does work out well with my schedule, I do miss the extra money. And, if I am honest, I’m tired. However, I’ve recently found the trick to ensuring that John sleeps through the night, which allows me to do the same. That brings me to this:

Seniors Really Need Their Exercise

For the first four months that John was here, he was restless at all hours. It was exhausting, and since I was the one he called for, I wound up missing out on a ton of sleep. I also realized I was gaining weight because I wasn’t exercising because of fatigue. That is when the light bulb went off in my head that I should take John to the YMCA with me. My husband and I already had a membership, and I did not think it would cost that much to add him to our account.

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When we got there, I found out that John’s Medicare already covered his membership. The manager at the Y told us that because he has an Advantage plan, he actually has access to about 13,000 fitness and wellness centers through the SilverSneakers program. But I digress.

My point is that once we enrolled him in SilverSneakers, he started exercising. Once he started exercising, he started sleeping. His doctor says that’s because exercise, and particularly exercise in the afternoons, helps reset people’s sleep and wake cycle. But more than just sleeping, we also found out that the kinds of exercises he was doing — he joined a water aerobics class and actually took up yoga! — were great for his balance. This helped us all sleep a little bit better at night knowing that it made him less likely to fall when he was alone.

Their Tastes Change Unexpectedly

Exercise not only made John sleep better, but it also increased his appetite. That was great news, and he started to put on weight, which made us all happy. But then, about nine weeks ago, he just stopped eating. He said his food just didn’t taste right anymore and, being the stubborn man that he is, said he wasn’t going to eat it if he didn’t like it. So, off to the doctor we went again. As it turns out, diminishing flavors are not uncommon as people age. Once you hit your 40s, apparently your taste buds don’t grow back the way they used to. People in their 60s, 70s, and 80s can lose their ability to taste and smell a little bit at a time, and that can significantly impair their ability to enjoy their food.

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Fortunately for us, John has always been an adventurous eater and had no problem letting me experiment with ambitious flavors in the kitchen. His favorite new lunch is curry chicken salad. Personally, I am not a fan but I had everything at home to make it (chicken, celery, onions, apples, raisins, almonds, mayonnaise, and curry powder), so I gave it a shot. The curry, he said, wasn’t overpowering, even though he never enjoyed it before. Now, I make a point to add extra herbs and spices to his food, and that seems to do the trick

Crankiness Is a Daily Issue, but There Are Reasons for It

It took us a while, but we finally got John eating, sleeping, and exercising, which we thought would solve our biggest problem: He was super cranky. He was the embodiment of the grumpy old man, which might not have been a big deal, but he has a sharp tongue and we have kids.

One day, after he snapped at our 8-year-old daughter and made her cry, I lost it. I yelled at him and threatened to send him to live with my brother-in-law. I did not really mean it (okay, maybe I did just for a second), but I was really angry with him. How dare he yell at his granddaughter when all she wanted was to jump up on his lap for a hug?

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Once I calmed down, we had a sitdown conversation with John to find out what was bothering him. He said that he was sorry but that she startled him and it hurt when she sat down on his leg. After a bit more prodding, he admitted that he simply did not hear her come up behind him and that he’s been having trouble with arthritis. After another trip to the doctor’s office, John now has a hearing aid and takes an anti-inflammatory medication. He still has little patience, but at least I have learned that there is usually a reason for his irritability.

So, there you have it. In the last 245 days, I have learned how to deal with a few things I never even considered. I have also found out just how much I love my father-in-law. I also feel a sense of pride knowing that I get to show my appreciation for the man that made my husband the man he is today. It’s not always easy but, then again, nothing worth doing ever is.

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One Response

  1. How fortunate this man had family willing to go the extra mile to
    a) provide a loving home with family interaction;
    b) take the care and attention to notice changes and be willing to do the problem-solving to mitigate them;
    c) not give up when things get frustrating.

    These issues may likely have had much different results in facility care. I’m a retired RN whose last 10 years working was in home nursing care and 30% of my work was with frail elderly who we tried to help maintain health and safely while staying in their own home.

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