Senior Daily Fun

Tips for Caring for Seniors

At Senior Daily Fun we are not professionals in the sense that we have formalized training. We are experienced amateurs with basic caregiving training required by Washington state and have 5 years of daily hands-on care for parents.

Weigh all advice we give and only use what safely fits your situation. The safety of your seniors is the highest priority. Advice from professionals must outweigh any advice we provide here.

If you are reading this, you are probably in a position of having to assist your parent(s). For the majority of adult children, this begins slowly and increases over time. Unfortunately, this is not something that comes naturally or easily.

When a child is born, the parents have 9 months to adjust to the change in their lives. A small person arrives and is helpless. All things must be done for them. As the child grows, changes are gradual. They begin to care for themselves and make decisions for themselves and eventually move on out of the home. Although the transition from child to adult is not always easy, parents have gone through the process themselves.

Caring for parents is a bit like this process but in reverse and without you having previous experience to draw on. There may come a time when you will need to identify that your parent is no longer the capable person you once knew. This is THE big and challenging moment for you. It will require a mental shift. They will begin to rely on you. You will become the “parent” and you will need to start caring for them as you would a teenager, then possibly even as a child. You will take on more responsibility.

As with the teenage years this may not be easy for either party. Eventually, they will leave you but when they need the most help, not the least.

  • If your senior does not live close by, at a minimum, have a local contact. That can be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a house cleaner, an agency, a church contact, etc. You need someone who can tell you what is going on. Make sure they can reach you or an alternate. You should check in with them at least monthly. That will make them think about any change that may have occurred. Some seniors, knowing who your contact is will (like kids) ask them not to tell you about X. Make sure your contact is comfortable with being the senior’s confidant and your source. You may need to respect their relationship and “find out” things from another source even though your contact told you.
  • As with growing children, changes are not always noted by those who are in daily contact. Small thing can become the norm but when added up make a dramatic change to the picture.
  • Contacts can be useful but may not have the whole picture. While in college, I lived with a senior who hid from me an accident she had had so her son could clean up after it on the weekend when he was there. She had fallen and left quite a bit of blood on the floor.
  • Today with technology, it is easy to visit face to face. Many short regularly scheduled visits are probably more useful than infrequent longer ones. If you need to keep them short, call just before a favorite show comes on or you need to go out, or eat or the microwave dings, or a phone rings. If you can be regular about connecting, there should be less difficulty in getting off the call.
  • At a distance it is probably more important to learn all the contact information about doctors, insurance, finance, bank and legal information, such as where the will is, final wishes, etc. If the senior is reluctant to share this with you, ask if they would use a third party. For your benefit, as well as their’s someone, needs to have all the important information.
  • Lastly, just because they tell you all is well, and may believe all is well, it may not be true.

If you assist a senior with shopping or other activities out of the home, it may be frustrating having to accommodate their pride. Many do not want to use a wheelchair or a cart with a seat and yet they tire when they walk far. My grandmother would take forever when paying and not pay attention to those behind her in line. My mother, who had loads of patience would come home frustrated with Grandma. What seems to be the simplest of solutions, i.e. a wheelchair or allowing others to handle transactions, often involve pride and a sense of ability as a functioning adult. I have no real suggestions to offer, just empathy.

  • Decisions: There often comes a time when a senior needs help making important decisions. Ideally this transition begins with them asking for help. To help with this transition, offer suggestions. In preparation for or if you are concerned about a change, gently begin by asking their reasoning for decisions. (There are various reasons people make decisions: because they are forced into one by circumstances, because someone they trust suggests it, because they are manipulated – maybe even by their own stubbornness and many more.) Asking about the simple things will help you evaluate their thought processes and can lead up to asking about larger ones.
  • Logistics: they need help getting groceries or transportation to medical appointments. Of this list, this area is the easiest to handle. If you need to bring outside help in, understand that they might prefer your help instead. Many seniors begin to rely on their children in a needy way. Sometimes it is out of embarrassment such as purchasing disposable underwear or denture cream. Often transportation to doctor appointments require emotional support. Many times I know of seniors “finding” reasons or excuses to talk with or have children come by. This type of support, if it is demanding is draining and can cause frustration if the adult child feels manipulated. Support should be lovingly given but it is easy to get frustrated. Logistics may also include meal preparation or housekeeping.
  • Health care: Support for health care can be from simple to terminal care. There are many professionals to consult. I personally have little experience with this. Seek out those who can help you.
  • Many seniors come to a time when they move into senior housing. There are many advantages and few disadvantages. Having people around, even for the most private and curmudgeonly, is usually a plus. In prison, the harshest punishment is solitary confinement and our seniors often do this to themselves in the name of independence. There are obvious steps in the process:
  • Find a property you like – visit friends living in properties, ask clergy for suggestions, contact local properties. (Properties are always inviting seniors to events and for a meal or two).
  • Determine a time frame – ideally if they can move in and get settled, determining what furniture they want to use allows them to more easily let go of all of the “stuff.” (There is one caveat: are they are likely to want to stop the move once begun and see their previous living arrangement as an ‘escape’ option? Judge the situation. Depending on the senior, this tactic can also be used as a selling point.)
  • Determine how the move is to be made – friends, family, professionals, etc. (I would recommend breaking the total move into parts and assigning family members specific bits, i.e. handling turning off utilities, disposing of kitchen stuffs etc.).

Family dynamics often play a large positive or negative part in this. Identify strengths with willing members and allow them to help.

There are real estate agents who specifically work with seniors. There are also companies who specifically handle downsizing moves. Both are resources to consider. The property they are moving to may have some suggestions and tips.

If your senior is still in their home, and you want to help them down size, ask if there is something you can help with, say selling something on ebay, or taking things to a donation site. A large house is sometimes overwhelming. If you need to focus your help, begin in the kitchen and toss out old food, or in a guest or unused room and organize what is there. Often their “treasures” are not anything any one wants. Be tactful though.

Talking about the future with seniors can be difficult. If they do not have a health care directive and a will, suggest they get both of these tasks taken care of. If they really have problems with these topics, tell them it is for when they are 120 years old and you will need them.

Aging with Dignity is a not-for-profit that has created a wonderful document available that clearly lays out the health care directive issues. It is called The Five Wishes and is simple but understandable. It is recognized in 42 states and with additional paperwork in others. Look this up online for more information.

Adult children and care givers are often asked tough questions like, “when can I leave here and go home?” Try to answer them with open ended responses.

My dad asked when he could drive again. I told him when his feet were working better we would readdress.

Often “when this happens, then” will satisfy. One answer to the question when a deceased spouse (or mother, or sibling) is coming by can be answered with, “You know, I have never met them so I really don’t know.” I always try to be honest but not re-wound them with grief if they have forgotten about someone passing on. “When I find out, I will let you know” or “maybe they can’t make it” are other loving response.

  • Dementia affects many seniors. It is very difficult to have a loved one turn into someone who may not remember anyone. Behaviors of sweet people can become aggressive or abusive. The hard part is to understand that they are no longer the people they were, but still try to relate to them as if the relationship has not changed. Family should still visit. I believe that showing love to this new confused person, respects the memory of the missing one.
  • One of the most difficult challenges is when they exhibit behaviors that they would never have in the past such as inappropriate sexual or racial behavior or talk. Many want to disrobe, squirrel away food in napkins, or leave where they are. As family, understand that you are one of many who have had to deal with this. While not easy, there are resources to help deal with these behaviors. I am not an expert on these behaviors. I just recognize some of them.
  • There are many stories of how individuals dealt with a particular situation. A family member who was confused was very agitated about a business situation and insisted that he had to get his staff to an equipment showing. His wife finally drove him around and found an empty school parking lot with tables set up. She said, “See, they have all gone.” That calmed him down and she drove them home. There is no one answer, however maybe you can find a solution to the immediate problem.

Many seniors drive past the time it is safe for them or others. A few are capable drivers. If you are concerned, take a ride with them. Do not scare them as they drive, but tell them the results.

There are some easy arguments. The simplest is that they would never want to kill another person or child. Another argument is that a few taxi, Lyft or Uber rides are probably cheaper than auto up keep. Remove the need for them to drive by providing or finding them rides. If there is a person, maybe a teen in the family who could use the car, they could loan it out.

Sneakier options I know of are removing or hiding the car keys, or disabling the battery. Creative seniors can get around these option though. The best answer is for them to responsibly and consciously give up driving. There may be a family story or even a newspaper story that can assist in the decision. In the future the self-driving cars may make this less of an issue, however we are not there yet.

  • Often short, frequent visits are better than infrequent long ones. With technology now, long distance visits are possible.
  • Remember, with a visit now you are probably the entertainment for the day so try to live up to it. Light humor and joy are normally appreciated.
  • Touching may seem to be awkward but is often very important. A peck on the cheek or forehead, a gentle hug and holding a hand can be very meaningful.
  • If the conversation can drag, prepare with stories of what is going on in your life or the lives of those you both know. My brother would bring newspaper articles to read that were of interest to Dad.
  • If the senior is chatty about things you are not interested in, find some topics to introduce and direct the conversation. Ask to hear the story about the summer camp or college prank or road trip. Introduce questions about great aunt so-in-so or the first time they ever bowled.
  • If the stories are too familiar, see if you can find out new details. Who were they with, what time of the year, what color, where was their brother, etc.?
  • Playing a game, such as cards, a puzzle, a boardgame or Bananagrams can cover lags or awkwardness in the conversation. However, do not try to play a game that is beyond their ability or exposes their failings. That will invite frustration and stress or may wear them out. Be patient.
  • Enunciate clearly.
  • Multiple noises are difficult (noisy restaurants, TV or radio on in back ground, etc.)
  • If you have a high (generally female) voice, speak in a lower tone. It is often easier for the senior to hear that way.
  • Use the old pen and pad of paper if needed.
  • One ear might work better than another. Sit on and/or speak to that side.
  • Speak slowly. This actually goes for more than those with hearing difficulties. Many seniors need a little extra time to catch up on what is said. When reading aloud, don’t read too fast either.
  • Make sure the senior is looking at you when you begin to speak and let them look at your mouth.
  • Don’t cover your mouth with your hands 1) it muffles your voice and 2) people often get clues by looking at your lips as to what you are saying.

If a person has had hearing loss in one ear, or both, the brain may, over time lose the ability to comprehend what the sounds of a word are to mean. If later they regain hearing in that ear, they may have to relearn words. They may hear sounds but not comprehend.

Tests show that this can be overcome by learning, particularly if the person reads aloud. The person will not have forgotten the meaning of the word, just the sounds attached to it. This is unusual and will only happen over a long period of time.

  • Begin with getting the topic (food, clothes, joke, etc.)
  • Repeat things back even if it makes no sense. They will then try to explain differently or focus on one word. (This can be funny and fun.) Sometimes the rhythm of the phrase can give you the answer.
  • Focus on one word at a time and get the first letter clear.
  • Take things slow and patiently.

Some seniors do not want to change their clothes. This can be tricky. Sometimes it is because of fit or comfort. Other times they don’t believe their clothes are dirty.

If I came across a senior who had an “odor” and I could quietly whisper in their ear, I would mention that they might want to change their sweater/pants/shirt, etc.

Sometimes a set day for doing laundry works – often the day they shower so that when they finish they put on clean clothes. If this becomes difficult each time, let them decide the day and follow their lead, saying, “you requested washing your clothes on today.” If it come to that, write it down on a calendar so that they can see it.

(These instructions are for a traditional tub washer, not a high efficiency washer.) For laundry with the smell of urine we used a 2 step process. (We used this primarily for trousers but could also be for pads or sheets.) Sort out the laundry into strong smelling and regular.

Step 1 – Strong smelling clothing only: Begin a low water level wash cycle with enough water to cover the load. Once it begins to agitate add ½ cup of Pine-Sol® original floor cleaner instead of detergent. Do not add this any earlier as it generates a huge amount of suds.

Run the cycle, i.e. wash, rinse and spin. (Do not dry yet.) Remove from the tub to add to the rest of the load.

Step 2 – Full load: Start a new wash load with a regular water level. Let the tub start to fill with water and add 1 cup baking soda into the bottom and stir to dissolve. Add ¼ to ½ cup of Biz® stain and odor eliminator (a laundry booster), plus regular detergent.

Now add the damp clothes from step 1 and additional clothes that need to be washed to make a full load. The Pine-Sol® seems to grab the odors but stays in the clothes. The second wash removes both the Pine-Sol® and the odor with it.

Pine-Sol® can irritate skin. Make sure all is removed from the items. Stop this method if it irritates the skin.

Today there are garbage bags available that are advertised to diminish bad odors.

For disposable underwear, we used small odor-control bags and sealed them individually, tightly extinguishing the air. (We did know that there were no sharp items in the trash to harm us or the bag.)

These were then discarded in a sealed garbage can in the garage with its own larger odor-control bag. Once full, the larger bag was sealed and placed in the household trash can for garbage collection.

There are many sizes and shapes of wheelchairs now. I know of one person who needed a petite wheelchair and her life was greatly improved once she got one. She could then move around easily on her own as her feet could touch the ground.

If you have to remove and replace the foot pegs off of a wheelchair regularly and then transfer the person a short distance, say to a restroom that is near, use one peg and put both feet on it. Only use this method if their feet will both fit and it is comfortable and safe for the person.

A commode is a simple, movable toilet. It has a removable bucket. Keep an inch of water in the bucket to make cleaning it out easier. Empty the bucket into a toilet. Rinse and wash as needed.

We had a toilet paper stand, and put a garbage pail next to the commode to put the toilet paper in. After each use we tied up the garbage and removed it.

Some seniors I know keep a commode by their beds for unassisted use during the night.

Sometimes appropriate terminology is helpful. For a sailor, the term rigging gear might be more appropriate than gait belt. Removing someone’s teeth can be scary but removing their dentures, is not. I heard one son call his mother’s disposable underwear, emergency shorts.

If they tend to argue, tell them instead of ask them.

Ask them but offer two answers you like. For example: “do you want your shower today or tomorrow?” instead of “Do you want a shower today?”

If getting a response is difficult, ask a single, yes or no question not an either/or one. For example: “Do you want fruit?” instead of “Do you want peaches or apricots?”

Another note: if a senior is getting confused about things, let them be wrong. It may seem hard to do, but it can be easier for both of you. It is much easier to let them be wrong than argue with them.

Some confusing behavior may have a legitimate reason. I know of a senior who on a trip, kept asking his wife when they were going to do laundry. She always did the laundry and was perplexed. At home, he always took a shower the night before the laundry day so was really trying to find out when to shower.

When unusual behavior occurs, there may be reasons, extra sounds, stresses from visitors, timing issues, med changes or problems or because of a UTI. Look for causes. That may help you prevent a problem.

A disposable baby wipe can make a simple disposable washcloth for daily cleaning of private areas. Just rinse the wipe, put soap on it, use it and dispose of it. Make sure the skin is rinsed thoroughly and completely patted dry.

For daily in bed washing, a spray bottle with warm water works well. Again, make sure the skin is completely patted dry.

If a senior is naked while being cleaned and needs a warm covering, use a terry cloth towel. Towels are warm and easy to clean.

If a senior has a problem using mouthwash over a sink, for example, due to mobility issues, use a cup under their chin for them to spit into.

If a senior has problems sipping mouthwash to rinse their mouth out, have them use a straw.

An alternate is to put mouthwash in a 2 oz. spray bottle and spray it into their mouth. Then you can wipe it out with a tooth brush or tongue brush.

Another alternative is to use a mouthwash strip that you put on their tongue.

If getting the mouth moist enough for denture strips is difficult, let them sip some lemonade just before putting in their dentures, as it will get their saliva going.

When dentures are out, the mouth is very sensitive to temperature. Make sure water is not too hot or too cold.

A tongue brush is a good way to help remove denture goop from inside the mouth.

If you need to get water to the back of the mouth simply, use a squeeze bottle with a pointed angle spigot. (These types are used in chemical labs.) (BE VERY CAREFUL – Don’t let them choke.)

Avoid getting dental goop down the drain. Use a tissue and put it in the garbage.

Occasionally put dental brushes and tooth brushes under or in boiling water to clean them thoroughly.

Avoid printing on dark colored paper when sharing with seniors. Black print is difficult to read on dark colored paper. Additionally, light ink is difficult to read on paper.

Use clear fonts when printing for seniors. There are some beautiful scripts that are difficult to read. Squint at the font to see if you have problems reading it.

Entertainment for seniors can be found in many places. Libraries have books, large print books, books on tape, CDs, and DVDs. There are also downloadable books available, both audible and for electronic readers. There are also cable services which provide a plethora of options.

The internet also opens up many options. Seniors are becoming more familiar with its use. If they are reluctant to use the web, some clear and patient teaching might help them become proficient. There are YouTube videos, topics to research, music to listen to, old TV shows to watch, they may even just want to play solitaire.

If your senior does not believe that disposable underwear is dirty, show it by weight. Either let them feel the weight or let them see the difference between a clean and a dirty one.

Disposable gloves are very handy. Remember that there are two reasons to wear gloves. One is to protect you from dirty or dangerous things (like when assisting to the toilet). The second is to protect something or someone, from you (like when handling food or wounds).

One disadvantage to using gloves is that you can no longer feel when your hands are dirty. When I helped my mother, I usually used one glove only. This allowed me to be clear about which hand was clean and which was dirty.

Shade can be found in unusual items. With the location of our windows, we needed to shade Mom’s eyes. We had a standing gooseneck lamp that we turned to provide direct shade for her eyes during the mornings.

To get a senior into or out of a car, put a plastic bag on the seat. We used a large garbage bag, just laid out flat, not opened.

That way the two layers of plastic could slide against each other as Mom was getting into or out of the car.

If you are caring for a loved one, do not forget you need care and comfort too. Ask for help if you need it. Figure out what you need; a day out, time working in the garden, a meal out with a friend, someone to just listen, etc. There are resources available. If a hired care giver is not available, ask a friend, neighbor, former co-worker, church friend, friend’s teen, etc. Be specific with your request and plan it carefully. My mom would play hostess and choose a movie to watch with those who came to stay with her. She and my dad had cared for my grandmother and she well understood the need to get out.

A hobby that can be done at home can be a mental break.

There are also senior centers that welcome seniors and caregivers too.

The harshest punishment in prison is solitary confinement. Many seniors do it to themselves. If you are caring for a loved one who is no longer clear, you may be experiencing it too. Recognize it and figure out a way to minimize it.

There are support services in many areas. Contact local agencies or health professionals to find out what is available.

You will not always make the right decisions with regard to your senior. Make the best ones that you can. If you find out your choices do not work, change them and move on. You can’t change history, just learn from mistakes and do better the next time.

However you approach this task of caring for a senior, I can’t imagine doing it without love. Joy, love, patience, kindness are just some of the qualities to bring to the senior. When situations get challenging – and they will – remember to work with love and things will improve.

Try to view life from their perspective. It will help explain many comments, and allow you to better meet their needs.

  • The one change to our home which made it possible to provide care to my parents was converting our laundry room on our first floor into a roll-in shower. The first floor had only a half bath.
  • If you will be assisting a senior in the bathroom and the sink has individual knobs for the hot and cold, I recommend converting them to a single knob. This is particularly helpful if you clean dentures.
  • Wheelchairs need extra room and can damage walls. There are corner guards you can buy at hardware stores.
  • Correctly install and secure handrails if needed. They are available at hardware stores.
  • One towel rack was close to Mom’s head when she stood up so we installed some soft pipe insulation to cushion it if she were to hit it.
  • There are some easy to install towel hooks that we used in our shower. These attach right to the tile without the need to drill.
  • One simple way to set up a call button (for bathrooms, or on tables) is to use a wireless doorbell. They install easily into an outlet and with a battery, are easy to use. I even sewed one onto a wide grosgrain ribbon with Velcro which Mom wore on her wrist. For the bed we attached one to a kitchen hot pad and put in on her stomach so it would not move or hurt her yet be accessible.
  • Electronic chairs that rise to assist with standing are wonderful. Dad sat low in it and his elbows were confined. We got him a foam pad so he sat a little higher and could get his elbows out. Another senior I know won’t scoot up to the table and occasionally spills because of it. I believe it is because he unconsciously feels trapped because he can’t raise his arms out to his sides to get them on top of the table. A cushion would probably solve this.
  • Reclining chairs often do damage to walls if they are not distanced from the wall. Many chairs slowly “move” with regular use. One simple way of keeping the chair from moving close to the wall, is to add a piece of plywood, cut to the right size as a spacer laid on the floor.
  • This may be obvious, however, there are many aids to assist seniors. There are simple arms to attach to a toilet to assist sitting and standing. There are suction cup handles to add in the shower or tub. Many creative solutions are available to buy or with which to improvise. If you have a problem, identify what the need is and what the solution would look like. Ask others if you get stumped. Hardware store clerks, knowing what products are available, often come up with interesting solutions. If you are having a problem, someone else may have had the same problem and created a solution. There may be a simple tool that can solve it like a spray bottle, a walker, a washcloth, or a schedule.

Remove all tripping hazards such as throw rugs and electrical wires. If you must have throw rugs, keep them low and tack them down. There are products designed to attach rugs to floors. If you use the tape, tack it all the way around as a partially tacked rug could be a greater hazard.

We strategically place squares of vinyl on the window sill and next to a chair to place wet items on.

For the senior, it can be very frustrating when they no long have control of anything in their lives. Respect this by letting them choose things – clothes, desserts, drinks, etc. If choosing is difficult for them, choose for them. You can include them in the decision by asking, “how about the blue shirt for today?”

Sometimes making gradual changes is a good transition. Sometimes making all the changes at one time is the best. Determine your senior’s needs.

If they do not want to do something that is in their best interest, like use a walker, use guilt. “I am very uncomfortable when you don’t use the walker”, “how would I feel if you fell?”, “please, don’t make me worry” etc.

Setting up a senior on a schedule might seem to be micromanaging however, if they need help toileting, a schedule is imperative both for them and for your planning. Instead of waiting to be called, I would set an alarm for 3 am and get up to help Mom toilet.

Regular meal times help keep things on schedule. Regular times to get up and go to bed also help with sleeping issue.

Let visitors know the schedule before they come. If their visit is to interfere, see if there is a way to adapt. Maybe just a shorter visit or move lunch or toileting a little bit. Visitors should be the priority.

Visitors are important, but depending on the senior’s needs, the schedule might be more important.

Visitors should be briefed with information to help make their visit a success – ideally before they arrive. If the senior is confused, or will not recognize visitors, they should introduce themselves. If they are hard of hearing, let the guests know to speak up and/or speak slowly. If the visitors will be caring all of the conversation, explain that and suggest they come with some news, gossip or stories to make the time interesting.

If a senior is unresponsive, explain that the senior may very well be able to hear what is going on and that they should be included in the conversation as much as possible. It is probably important to keep the conversation up beat too.

Often visitors want to bring a gift, flowers, a plant or candy. If food is not appropriate let them know and offer suggestions – but only if they are planning to bring something.

(There are additional tips under the Visits and Gifts tabs.)

To mitigate problems particularly in the spring, try moving the time schedule 1/2 an hour on two days. This might make bathroom breaks easier for the senior.

Things that seem trivial to most people often are great irritations to seniors. Part of this is that their world is often condensed to such a small focus or area, that small things seem huge. Be respectful and try to adapt.

A tag on a piece of clothing, light shining in their eyes, a repetitive noise, etc. can each be a huge item in their world. Some solutions need creative thinking to solve. Take some time to address their issues.

The toilet seat behind Mom was uncomfortable so we got a rugged toilet seat cover and put it on backwards so the soft part hit her back.

Safety concern: Do not set this up so that a person can or will slide out of bed. If assisting someone into bed is difficult, use a quilted pad (these are available to buy) and put a contractor’s plastic bag under it.

Cut the plastic bag (two layers) to the size of the pad leaving 2 sides attached and 2 sides open. Square this with the bed and place this where the person will sit. Place the quilt over it at an angle with a corner pointing down. (This will make the quilt slippery when the person sits so make sure they are safe and will not slide to the floor!)

Then gently and safely help the person to sit on the quilt. Safely rotate the person into place. Roll the person onto their side and straighten the quilt. Then roll them back toward you to straighten the other side. Do not let the person’s skin remain touching the plastic for any length of time while they are in bed because it can cause skin irritations.

Additionally, assess your abilities. How are you going to handle things if the person begins to slide? If you are unable to handle the situation do not use this method!

If they throw off blankets, build a tent with pillows to keep their covers off of them but keep them covered.

Some seniors prefer to sleep in their recliners. It is actually very common.

Ideally this will never happen, however, if a mattress gets wet with urine, sprinkle the wet area with baking soda. When it dries, vacuum it up.

Often an issue has to do with discomfort sitting for a long time. Bed sores occur when a person has not moved off a point they are sitting or lying on. There is a simple foam pad that can be put under sheets to help when sleeping. It is called an egg crate foam that can be purchased at major craft stores that sell foam and/or fabric.

(If the senior is immovable, the care giver needs to turn the senior every 2 hours to prevent sores.)

There is also a synthetic, washable fur that is a wonderful cushion.

Foam makes a good safe foot stool or guard. If on the floor, just be sure it cannot be tripped over.

Pillows can easily be made to most any shape and size. Pillow batting is easily purchased and making the pillow shape with fabric can even be done using glue, tape or safety pins.

Some seniors drool. A simple way to protect clothing is a man’s handkerchief folded in fourths long ways, tucked into the neckline of a shirt.

A hardier solution is to make a bib. There is a water proof, yet washable fabric sold in fabric stores that is used for covering baby mattresses. Get an idea for the shape by using newspaper to make a simple pattern of the area to cover. Using an edging, I sewed flannel and the mattress fabric together with a zigzag stitch and added a Velcro closure. It was a design based on a baby’s bib.

There are bibs for adults available to purchase. Some are very large and slick so that any food that hits them, lands on the floor. I preferred a flannel bib that I usually overlaid with a paper towel that could mitigate messes.

Seniors often have special needs. Some clothing options that they wore for years, may not work today. Shirts that stretch or are a size larger often make them easier to put on.

Heels are not recommended for seniors.

Simple shawls can be made out of light or heavy pieces of fabric, about 1/4 of a yard. I made some very decorative shawls out of Chinese and Indian fabrics. However for Dad, I cut up a sweatshirt for a shawl for him.

When taking a senior out in a wheel chair, a poncho or short cape is easy to get on and off.

We bought a very large golf umbrella to cover Mom when we transferred her in the rain. A light rain poncho is also effective.

To help someone stand, it is best taught by a professional. Please let someone in your community show you how. Part of learning how to transfer from a professional is that you will learn how to safely help the senior and to protect yourself. You need to be healthy to help others.

Some keys to remember are to make sure the senior’s feet are separated a little so they cannot easily pivot. Make sure they will not slide back or forward. I always made sure my heels were in front of my mom’s feet before helping her up. I would squat slightly so my knees were outside of Mom’s knees.

I have been taught to not assist seniors to stand by pulling them by their hands. The reason for this is that, particularly if jerked, it can injure a senior’s shoulder. However, for a long time, that was the best way to help Mom. I was just careful to be smooth and gentle with her until she needed more help at which time, since we were about the same size, I gave her a big hug and we would stand or sit.

Bend your knees and move straight up and down. Avoid leaning over to lift anything or anyone.

When helping someone up, the gait belt is usually the preferred method. Again, consult a professional for your particular situation.

We had a heater we turned on before a shower to heat the shower room. The heater had a timer and it started at 3 am on shower day. (Please note there is no water near the heater when it is on.) We also used a fan to dry the room after we cleaned up from the shower by wiping down the walls and the floor.

I used three towels to dry Mom. One hand towel was for her hair and head. One bath towel was for her upper body and one for her lower body. She could then be covered and warm while I used another towel.

We put a body soap in a pump dispenser to make using it easier.

Shampoo can also be put in a pump dispenser, especially to make portioning easier. Many people use too much. For the average head of hair, a portion the diameter of a dime on the palm is the right amount.

The floor was uncomfortable for Mom to stand on so I got a foam pad that was used for kneeling when gardening and covered it with a towel so she wouldn’t slide on it. She simple stood carefully on it and it worked well.

Make sure you get the senior dry. This may seem odd to say, but areas of skin that do not dry can get irritated. Areas such as under breasts, between toes, around ears and any skin folds, need extra attention. There is a specific smell that attends irritation from damp skin.

I know of seniors that are reluctant to shower. There are many reasons for this. Some have memory issues and believe they just showered. A calendar with the shower dates may help with this issue. The discomfort of the whole process may be the reason. See if there is any one thing that can be changed.

After sitting on our shower chair for about 20 minutes I realized that it had a very uncomfortable seat. We got a cushioned, vinyl covered toilet seat cover that attaches to the chair with Velcro and dried it thoroughly after each use. Reluctance may also be embarrassment, the hassle of it, or that it tires the senior out. Again, some reasons can be addressed, others maybe not.

For those who see poorly, use a colored plate where the food will be easier to distinguish. Plates with wide or deep lips on the edge often help anchor the food so it is easier to get onto the fork or spoon.

Often it is difficult to keep the meal warm if seniors eat slowly. We use a heating pad under the plate.

If using a heating pad on the table, protect the table from heat with cork or wood. Determine if your senior is likely to touch the heat and never set the heat too high.

To keep seniors’ drinks hot if they eat very slowly, use a mug warmer which can be purchased at an office supply store. They are hot so use caution.

Sometimes seniors have problems holding silverware. Fatter silverware is often easier to hold. You can buy some – I found some cheap children’s plastic ware that is wider in the middle.

For many seniors, finger food is much easier to eat than manipulating silverware. Fish sticks, chicken fingers, string cheese, etc can make meals easier. Consider finger foods made for children.

Taste buds change. Things that were too spicy may taste great now. This is often the reason seniors use a lot of salt. There are many good substitutes for salt.

There are many good soft meal suggestions. Some basics are scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, and apple sauce. Twice baked potatoes are a wonderful basic that can easily be modified (if chewing is difficult, don’t eat the skin).

Make ground meat with taco sauce, or Italian spices, or cream gravy and mix it with the potato. Many ground meat dishes, including meat loaf often work.

There are variations available for a savory bread pudding too. Traditional breakfasts work for soft meal dinners: French toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs any way, hot cereals, etc.

For desserts, puddings (including rice and tapioca), milk shakes, and ice cream are good. There are a multitude of toppings such as sauces, jams and jellies that can add variety. Fruit compote or peeled baked apples are also a nice treat.

Do not put glasses with the lenses facing down because they can easily get scratched.

Selecting gifts for seniors can be difficult but assessing their abilities and needs can direct you to the perfect gift.

If they see poorly, get them audio gifts. There are many comedians who have made records that would be appropriate; Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, Tom Leer, etc. (You may want to choose comedians who speak slowly as they are easier to understand.) Books on CD or downloadable audio books are wonderful too.

If they hear poorly, headphones for the TV might be a good gift. That way they can turn up volume without intruding on others. Visual books such as books of photos is another idea.

If they cannot roll over at night they may want a clock that projects onto the ceiling.

For those who are easily confused by the time, there are day cycle clocks that show the time, date and the time of day, i.e. morning, afternoon, evening, night.

If they get cool easily, a shawl or scarf for over their shoulders. Easily washable are best. A ¼ yard of a beautiful fabric hemmed, makes a simple shawl.

Caregivers may also have great suggestions. Ask what problems the senior has and you may be able to come up with solutions.

Candy is often a good idea, however there may be specific concerns:

  • If they have dentures – avoid nuts and chewy candies.
  • If they are diabetic – give them sugar free.
  • If they have swallowing issues – give them a candy that will dissolve in their mouth or that they can hold in their mouth and then spit out.
  • Creams and jellies are almost always safe bets.
  • Jams can be used as “candy” for those without other options.

A light weight (in pounds not temperature) blanket might be appreciated if they have a heavy one (in pounds not temperature).

If you are going to give slippers, make sure they have grippy bottoms. (Some seniors slide their feet instead of lifting them. If that is the case they might want a slipper that is only slightly grippy.) This can be a safety issue!

Arcadia Publishing, Inc. publishes books about the specific histories of many places. Books from where they grew up or have lived might be appropriate. These books are primarily old photos with well-developed captions.

Bananagrams® is a simple game which is a less competitive form of Scrabble®. It can even be a mental exercise for one. You take a given number of tiles with letters on them and assemble them into words like a crossword you make up. There are more rules but you can also make up your own. If you give a senior this gift, be prepared to play it with them to introduce them to it. This can also be a “go to” activity when visiting.

If your senior is active, the Wii® games can be fun, but in general seniors should not exercise without supervision in case of an injury.

Depending on where it is to be located, a golf umbrella and device for attaching to a golf club caddy may be useful with walkers or wheelchairs.

If the senior is in a wheelchair, a short cape or poncho is much easier to put on or take off and can make a useful gift.

For seniors with short memories, books with short stories or one liner jokes work well. Entertainment with short stories like AFV, animal shows or movies that have short stories may be easier to follow.

If they have an accessible window available there are bird feeders and nesting boxes that can be attached with suction cups. This may require some assistance from care givers or you.

There is also a clock that marks the hour with different bird calls.

Create coupons with things like:

  • A trip – to the store, a diner, to church or some place they love to go and can’t easily. Do make plans and prepare if this is something not done regularly. If needed, include an emergency bag with underwear, a change of pants, straws, etc.
  • A monthly activity – a visit from X, a sewing project done with them or in their presence, a musical presentation by a grandchild, etc., or just a set time together.
  • A job done – cleaning out a garage or a drawer, weeding a garden, sorting stuff together, putting stuff on Ebay. Be sensitive – what you think is helping might be viewed by them as something ‘you don’t think they can do’ or viewed as something you want them to do and they don’t want to do for any number of reasons.

A collection of photos in a book form or digital in a frame is usually appreciated. (This may not work if the senior has advanced dementia. Consult with care givers. It could be appreciated or disinterest could turn a wonderful effort on your part into an unintentional slight.)

If seniors are losing one sense, focus on an alternate:

  • If they have a good sense of smell: get candles (some senior properties do not allow them so consider the safety of them). Bring sprays, perfume, flowers, or plants.
  • If they have the sense of touch: soft, furry, fuzzy, silky, (canvas, sweatshirts, wool for guys) fleece, ribbed, grosgrain, eyelet, lace, velveteen, plush, cold, hot, metal smooth, beaded (may be difficult to clean), sequins, or textured.
  • If they can hear clearly: audio recordings of comedians, music, books, reminiscences, family conversations, recorded questions for them to answer, recorded stories, Dragon or similar software for them to record their stories.
  • If they can see clearly: pictures, books, photo albums, DVDs of scenery, DVDs or videos of family, places lived, photo frames, computer. Colorful things.
  • If they have a sense of taste bring candy (if they wear dentures nothing that crunches like nuts or brittle, or is sticky like caramel or chews): soft jellies, truffles.
  • Fresh or even canned fruit or fruit drinks are often appreciated. Drinks such as peach or apricot nectar can add a wonderful variety to meals or just enhance an afternoon. (Avoid adding work for caregivers like the challenge of having to cut up fresh pineapple.)
  • If they have swallowing issues, ASK Caregivers in authority if you should bring anything!

For seniors with hearing difficulties:

  • Multiple noises are difficult (noisy restaurants, TV or radio on in back ground, etc.)
  • If you have a high (generally female) voice, speak in a lower tone. It is often easier for the senior to hear that way.
  • Use the old pen and pad of paper if needed.
  • One ear might work better than another. Sit on and/or speak to that side.
  • Speak slowly. This actually goes for more than those with hearing difficulties. Many seniors need a little extra time to catch up on what is said. When reading aloud, don’t read too fast either.
  • Make sure the senior is looking at you when you begin to speak and let them look at your mouth.
  • Don’t cover your mouth with your hands 1) it muffles your voice and 2) people often get clues by looking at your lips as to what you are saying.
  • Enunciate clearly.

For seniors with speech difficulties:

  • Begin with getting the topic (food, clothes, joke, etc.)
  • Repeat things back even if it makes no sense. They will then try to explain differently or focus on one word. (This can be funny and fun.) Sometimes the rhythm of the phrase can give you the answer.
  • Focus on one word at a time and get the first letter clear.
  • Take things slow and patiently.

If a person has had hearing loss in one ear, or both, the brain may, over time lose the ability to comprehend what the sounds of a word are to mean.

If later they regain hearing in that ear, they may have to relearn words. They may hear sounds but not comprehend, like when you hear a foreign word.

Tests show that this can be overcome by learning, particularly if the person reads aloud. The person will not have forgotten the meaning of the word, just the sounds attached to it. This is unusual and will only happen over a long period of time.

If a senior and a care giver are arguing about something, go into the problem by trying to prove the senior right. For example, a male senior was believed by the staff and the maintenance man to be missing the toilet and peeing on the floor. The senior said the toilet was leaking. We set out to prove him right – we put a colored cleaner in the tank and found out that he was right, the toilet was leaking.

Beginning from accepting the senior’s premise can also work for things imagined like aliens. How did they get in? Simple questions may help the senior come to their own conclusion and yet indicate respect. This approach takes tact.

Happy seniors will not move out unless there is an unavoidable reason.

You and your staff are there to make the senior’s lives easier – not the other way around.

Seniors like consistency and variety (regular meal times yet variety in meals).

If you want to bring the community to your seniors, contact local music or dance teachers to see if there is an opportunity for their students to perform. Be aware of limitations, such as no dance floor or piano. Toastmaster clubs may have members who want opportunities to practice short speeches.

If any person comes to perform, give them a clear idea of the reaction your senior will give them. For some unaware performers, an unenthusiastic response might be disheartening.

Boy and Girl Scout troops and local churches often want opportunities to sing Christmas Carols or provide community services. Again, be clear with volunteers as to what they will experience when visiting. Also think of activities that would be appropriate, such as reading aloud or playing cards. If it is just a visit, plan some topics to get conversation going. Plan questions for both sides; seniors and volunteers.

Art can be a way of communicating too. If you have children visiting, they can draw pictures for seniors or ask what they should draw for the senior. I know of one visiting teen who demonstrated origami for our seniors. Ask about skills that can be demonstrated.

Some schools are now requiring students to do some form of volunteering. Before accepting, plan what the student(s) will be doing, the time commitment and the length of the commitment. They may want to interview a senior or assist with a computer research project like genealogy. Local history is usually a safe topic depending on memory issues. Maybe the senior and teen could research something of interest together, say Middle Ages food, or 1800s immigration, or early 1900s technology.

If you need some time without interruption, consider manicures and or pedicures at a salon. They can take up to 2 hours in a safe environment. Do not just dump the person off, but make sure they are comfortable and the salon has your phone number if there is an issue. (This may also work with haircuts, particularly if the senior is getting a permanent.)

There are some simple, repetitive tasks that are often calming to those who do them. Some are folding cloths or towels, folding napkins, or even sorting playing cards. If this type of activity works, consider having a pile of towels set aside just for sorting that can be easily jumbled (out of view of course).

As often with kids, an absorbing entertainment can be a great distraction. Favorite movies, music or a favorite book on tape might work. However, if they no longer enjoy the entertainment, drop it as it could be too frustrating for them to learn again.

“All hurry and bustle is peculiarly painful to the sick. Always sit down when a sick person is talking business to you, show no signs of hurry, give complete attention and full consideration if your advice is wanted, and go away the moment the subject is ended.”

Notes on Nursing: What It Is, And What It Is Not. Facsimile edition. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1946, p. 28

I am no professional! These are general notes. Please consult the proper professionals. This may help you start a conversation with them.


  • Senior’s skin is often easily bruised or torn. Be careful with Band-Aids as they can remove more skin. Liquid bandages might be the best solution.
  • Rub lotion into the skin in the morning and evening to keep skin supple. Bruising will be less evident and the skin will move instead of tearing.
  • Temperature – often seniors are very sensitive to heat and cold. Be very careful with anything hot such as a blow dryer or shower water that could burn.
  • Be vigilant about getting skin dry. Any folds in skin, under breasts, legs to torso, between toes, behind ears, under chins, etc. need to be thoroughly dried.

Dramatic changes in behavior

  • If your senior suddenly begins to act unusual, it could be a UTI. UTI’s in seniors are often expressed as sudden and unusual mental confusion. Often one day they are clear and the next they are not. Some additional symptoms are strong smelling urine and the desire to urinate frequently. (There are other possible causes for behavioral changes such as high blood pressure, unstable blood sugars, colds, allergies, etc.)
  • Any dramatic change should be addressed by a health care professional.

Refusing medication

  • Seniors are allowed to refuse medication. If this happens, let the person prescribing it know. Communication is the key.


  • Blood thinners – if the senior is taking blood thinners, even small wounds can be serious problems. Seek medical help.
  • When assisting a senior who takes medications, learn what each is for and any important symptoms to watch out for.
  • If the senior self-medicates, make sure the senior has enough and is correctly taking the medications. (This is obviously more important the less clear they are.)


  • If the senior is a diabetic – do not care for their toes at home – use a professional!
  • Seniors’ toenails often become very hard and difficult to care for. There are professionals who can manage them. However, they can be taken care of at home by acquiring a special, sturdy toenail clipper, available at beauty supply stores – ask if you need to. Soak the toenails before cutting.
  • Extra-long toenails can be painful and cause walking problems. If you note a walking difficulty and have not seen the senior’s nails, ask to do so.


  • The first thing bruised when a senior falls is their pride or ego. (Tell them that if you need to.) Never hurry to help them get up until you know that they are not injured. Ask them to raise arms and legs until you are comfortable that they are not injured. The fire department can assist in helping seniors off the ground if you are unable to do so – particularly if they are a large person.


  • One of the biggest issues for seniors is dehydration. A few of the symptoms are thirst, confusion, irritability, headaches and poor skin elasticity.
  • When a person becomes incontinent, the first reaction is often to drink less. This can cause dehydration. Do not sacrifice health for convenience.


  • While often assumed to be caused by depression, it can be caused by physical pain.


  • Just because the senior has always gone to a particular doctor, does not mean that at this stage in their life, with their particular needs, they should continue. Consult a professional.

Short term memory loss

  • This means that the senior cannot remember what you just said, often repeating immediately what they just said, but can with time remember. For many, it is like a gap from now to ten minutes from now when they will remember. Be patient. They get frustrated too. They can often access long term memory and you might want to focus conversations on things that happened in the past.

While medical professionals offer the best advice, there are a few home solutions for legs that weep.

Child diapers can be used as absorbent bandages to wrap around legs. Always replace when damp or at a minimum daily.

Adult disposable underwear can also be used as a booty. (Secure it carefully if it will be walked on AND compensate for poor traction.)

Protective pads can also be cut up and used as a bandage. For all bandages use clean, sanitary solutions.

  • Work left to right (or vice versa)
  • Work up to down (or vice versa)
  • Work with groupings
  • Work clockwise (or counter clockwise)
  • Work wet to dry (or vice versa)
  • Use days of the week or dates (such as 1st & 15th)
  • Use a die from a pair of dice and turn it as needed (I used one to figure out how many days Mom used her headset before I recharged it.)

It is best to plan ahead for emergencies.

What will you do if the power goes out? Consider lighting – especially in restrooms. Will your call system work?

How about temperature?

What will you serve for meals? Applesauce is a simple snack food that can get you through one meal. We kept canned milk and rice on hand to make a rice porridge on a camp stove for emergencies. What about the next meal? We also had propane for our outside grill.

If the water is disrupted, use a plastic bag in a commode. (Most toilets have one flush worth in their tank.)

If you need to leave your location, where is the nearest location that can accommodate your senior? Can family help in an emergency or will they be caring for others?

Small LED lanterns are good for simple light. Additionally, head lanterns work well if you need to help in a restroom. They are an easy hands free way to illuminate an area.

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