care of the elderly

Many of us have elderly parents or hope and expect to have within the near future. This can cause major upheavals in a family when we find that our parents can no longer live alone. If things are headed in that direction, it may be better to take the parent into our own home or place them into an institution before a serious accident occurs.

We had such a situation and tried to cope by finding ways to make life more enjoyable for our Mother. We want to share what we learned so that others may benefit from it as well.

Mom was a wonderful lady. A real "Lady" we've often been told. She has lived a very exciting life, having visited most countries of the world and having lived in West Africa (Ghana) for years. She was widowed in 1973 and she missed Dad terribly until the Alzheimers got her to the point where she did not remember him. She died October 2, 2006.

It is too bad that Mom never had any hobbies. She always said that "Dad and you three kids were my hobby" and that is correct. She has been a wonderful mother. I can remember that when my brother and sister and I were teenagers, and we lived in a very big house, on Sunday mornings she would trek up those long stairs to bring us kids tea and toast in bed!!

So, the question was: "What can a lady (or man) do to avoid boredom?"

Ideas and Suggestions: (THANKS to those who offered these comments)

  1. Take a painting class; (s)he may have hidden talents.
  2. Go to bingo games.
  3. Plant a small garden of flowers and maybe a few veggies.
  4. A pet might be in order; in China, I've read, some senior citizens were given small terrariums with crickets. These insects make an interesting "chirping" sound which entertained the elderly.
  5. Encourage all the family to scan their photos and slides and burn them on CDs so that the parents may be able, assuming they have access to a computer, to enjoy old pictures. (perhaps you have an old computer which is good enough to sit in the parent's room and do an all-day slideshow.)
  6. Maybe the parent is able to write his/her family history, or dictate it onto audio and/or video tape.
  7. An aquarium might be a nice distraction from boredom.
  8. SORRY to plug my own retirement hobby here, but it is a very valid idea; I sell and a very large percentage of my sticks go to older people, both men and women, who like to carve them or simply sand them and finish them as gifts or to sell. Sorry, but it is very true. I refer to my Diamond Willow sticks; "Pure Art by Mom Nature." A person who has Alzheimers could, in all likelihood, spend many happy hours sanding on a stick.
  9. Computerized card games might be enjoyable; my friend Jerry, 88, had his own computer, was online and also had some card games that he enjoys now that he does not go out into the bush much anymore.
  10. If a computer is available, a digital camera might be in order. Prices on these cameras have dropped drastically lately and there will be no cost of film or developing. I am just now buying an extra digital camera for only US$25.
  11. Beadwork might be of interest to some.
  12. We got her a hooked rug kit; well, we got her hooked on hooking! She has been busy making them for every family member in sight. It would depend on what sort of dexterity your mother has and how well she can read a pattern. But you can get really simple ones that would at least give her something to do. We also got Auntie Timmy doing jigsaw puzzles; we bought her a Walkman so she can listen to Books On Tape. You can sometimes get these tapes from the Library if you are near one. Hope this helps.
  13. How about a class in Tai Chi or just getting a video and doing the exercises at home?
  14. Are there "fitness" classes to be taken somewhere not too far away?
  15. What about shuffleboard games somewhere near by?
  16. It depends a lot on how able old folks are to do things. Mom was almost 90 yrs. when she died but I found that she was happiest when she was involved in general activities. She spent the last 6 years of her life with us at home and I found these years to be the most wonderful and rewarding times for us to really be able to enjoy her for the great lady she was. Get to know their likes and dislikes and feed them activities that are stimulating and at the same time not too exhausting. Sometimes a simple drive into the country or showing up at a certain time of the day for coffee or tea would put a smile on her face. Looking forward to things is very important, the most destructive thing for older people is loneliness and even the busiest person CAN find time to visit or plan a little diversion. I could go on and on with this but every older person has certain needs and wants that only come out in the open by spending time with them and being a helping hand in their lives. Caring enough to try and make their golden years a little more golden is what it is all about. Anyway, I am no expert at this but I am happy I learned a lot about getting older and I hope someday somebody will care enough to make my days more enjoyable. Good luck with getting involved with this important subject, you will never regret it.
  17. Check a Craft store such as Michaels. Ask the clerks for suggestions. You can see one online at
  18. I have always taught others that boredom is an attitude. You can refuse it. It helps to be curious. Given her lack of hobby experience, you may have to trick her into not being bored by giving her things to think about. Rather than topping something, often it's easier to start something else. Good idea about the old family photos; especially when her memories get worse. Old music and pictures can help with pleasant past memories. I know you don't care for them, however the jigsaw puzzles idea, online or for real, may be to hard for her; IF NOT, that might be an accomplishable goal.
  19. Any tasks you can ask her to "help" you do, may help her.
  20. OH....... almost forgot; if the elderly person can read without difficulty, he or she will enjoy this page, made specifically for SENIOR CITIZENS. And those who have not yet reached that milestone will enjoy it for sure; check it out at

  21. Time for reading to her; or asking her to read for any children or other adults. If she is able, at some hospitals, they have programs for seasoned citizens to hold babies. Or maybe a few hours sitting with certain patients to keep them company. Etc. Maybe ask the hospitals.
  22. Maybe schedule a certain day each week to take her out to "something"; a zoo, restaurant, just a drive, or anything you know she likes. Anything she doesn't mind going to. My mother liked the drive, Ice cream and talking. In other words, something for her to look forward to.
  23. If she does go to an assisted living facility, they may have an activity person.
  24. My idea is about approaching a school and possibly having the older person tell stories to classes about "the olden days" and "I remember when" stories. Kids just don't know about how it was living on a farm, or wherever else it was. Even experiences of what it was like when the man of the house (or son) was away at war - what happened at home? Red Cross projects, etc. things like that. What did people do to pass the hours of the evening when there was no TV?
  25. Your mother should really enjoy watching old movies and listening to music of her time. As you know, her memory is better about the past and this will keep her interested and happier! Good luck. My mother, when she was 82 she startted to forget a lot of stuff. She had always enjoyed jokes so I called her when I heard a good one and she always laughed. Some times it doesn't take much!
  26. If the elderly person tends to be depressed; this might sound like a dumb idea but it is worth a try. Get him or her a pair of orange sunglasses. Orange makes everything look sunnier, brighter, warmer, friendlier. Clouds look more fantastic. Remember the old saying about looking at the world through "rose-colored glasses?" Well, it works. Trust me on this one.
  27. Music: If the elderly person is one who enjoys music and pictures, this might work. Get an old computer and load it full of music in MP3 format as well as all the good pictures you can find. Then get a free screensaver such as my favorite; the gPhotoShow one written by Gianpaolo Bottin and available free at This will run a slide show with music all day long.
  28. My suggestion is a topic near and dear to my heart -- animal-assisted therapy. Not many Alzheimer's patients have the ability to take care of an animal, and only a few places allow pets for sanitary reasons (that's changing slowly). The nearby Humane Society would be a good place to start, or a local hospital or nursing home. Spread the word you are looking for animal-assisted therapy. It really works -- I'm proof of it myself (post-cancer depression kitty therapy!). Alzheimer's patients feel out of control of their lives -- the animals provide a distraction from that. Result -- happier people. You might want to make sure they aren't allergic, first!"
  29. We brought my 87-year-old mother from a nursing home before my sister could get guardianship to keep her there. She enjoys writing letters. We bought an amplifier from Radio Shack for about 15 dollars, and she can make and receive calls. She puts together photo albums and scrap books. Our senior citizen org. has Bingo on Thursdays, and soon she will start going to play. How about having her put together scrap books using National Geographic articles on places she's been? She could write or tape record a "travelogue" with memories.
  30. I took care of several people with this disease through the years. There are some things that can help. Orient her every day to the year, date, family names, pictures, marriages, presidents etc. As for boredom, that depends on the stage she's in. At the beginning, if she likes puzzles, word searches, crosswords - they are great and keep her mind active. Any mind excercises are good. If she likes to read - get her books, if she likes pictures - go to the library and get several picture books at a time. Especially travel books with that countries customs, animals etc. in them. The more she uses her mind the better off she will be. As for hints on her care, if she wears false teeth, glasses, any other removable item, someone should always be with her when they are removed as these items get lost A LOT. (They appear in the most unlikely places IF they appear at all.) You'll need locks on the doors that she can't unlock, like a bolt at the top of the door or one she can't reach. Alzheimers patients tend to wander off as the disease progresses. They are going home usually, which could be a place they lived in 50 years ago or more.
  31. Many people afflicted with alzheimers have feeding problems too. They forget what and when they ate last. They may tell you they haven't had anything to eat all day when they actually had regular meals and snacks. I would suggest the caretakers keep a daily diary of everything from medications given to meals, snacks, walks, places visited, people that came to visit, any occurrance each day. As for giving a her a pet, as the disease progresses she won't be able to care for it. A stuffed animal often offers the same comfort as a real animal. In the later stages of the disease the patient often thinks the animal is real and treats it as such. We gave a friend a stuffed animal that gave him a lot of comfort and he loved it dearly.
  32. There are different stages to Alzheimer's. I assume your mother has had a good physical and a psychological workup to come to this diagnosis. There are other causes of dementia that are similar to Alzheimer's disease. I am a familiar with your situation. Here are some things I have learned. Take your cues from her. Ask her where she is and let the conversation go from there. If she is picking apples, pick with her.
  33. Her history is what she is. You can use that to keep her occupied. Just keep her safe. Secretarys like to write or type. Mail people like to deposit envelops at various places around the house. Use her past to help her now.
  34. Do not attempt to teach her anything. it will only frustrate you both.
  35. Do not argue with her, you can not win.
  36. Take mirrors out of her room as well as televisions. She will not be able to discriminate between reality and the unreality of the situation. This can be dangerous because she could walk into a mirror. She can also become very anxious about something she has seen on TV as she will relate to it as being real.
  37. You should join a support group if you have access.
  38. Keep her in familiar surroundings with familiar people as much as possible. Change is not good.
  39. She may fear water so bathing could become a problem. Try to distract her during the process by letting her manage the washcloth or whatever. You may have to bathe her in her clothes. It is okay. There really are no norms.
  40. She will most likely love ice cream so that might help soothe her when she is upset.
  41. We took care of my wife's mother for two years. I was the care 3 days a week and my wife the other four days a lthough we helped each other at night. As they say, if you know someone with Alzheimers, all you know is one person with Alzheimers. Meaning that what works for one may not work for another. This is what I found out during this period. Rose did not watch TV much, so that was not a relieve. But she did like Price is Right and the Judge type shows. She did not like any violence type program and would get upset. She would read the paper over and over at first, but much later she couldn't read at all. But then she seemed to like children's book especially the larger one. She would fold clothes anytime. I would give them to her in a basket and she would fold them, and then I would take them to another room and mess them up and bring them back. She would refold them. I only did this a couple of times a day. Dishes was another item she liked doing and she couldn't put them away. I would wait and put them all back into the sink and later would suggest she wash the dishes. She could play a simple game of cards such as war. She could help with raking the leaves a little and she would sweep the outside steps off. This would take a while and satisfy her. We know she was getting worse when these simple things were beyond her.
  42. Older people need to be needed. In fact, the day they really feel they are worthless to the rest of the world seems to be the day they die. I would offer my own suggestion something I wish I would have thought of sooner with an old dear friend of mine before he passed on. I would listen to his stories for hours but wouldn't it be lovely to have had him make a memory box, a scrap book, or something of their life's journeys. I mean to really make it a project. Something can be added to it every day or whenever they think of something new. Maybe old pictures can be found, talking to other old friends who remembered those times, articles or things that bring back the memories. There is a lot that can be done in this area and a lot that we can learn from their pasts. My old friend Oscar lived to be 85 and he had wonderful stories to tell but now I wish I would have gotten all the items, pictures, etc he used to show me together in some kind of memory book that he could have added even more too. I know it would have been a worthwhile venture for both of us. As it is, now all I have are memories and many have many holes in them because I really don't know the whole story, but only bits and pieces.
  43. Michele P. offered this: "I used to caretake for elderly persons in their home. I began with my grandmother who had alzheimer's like many of the people that followed. One thing that I noticed is how childlike their attitude became and how well they responded to children. My suggestion is a.) leave out a coloring book and crayons. This is something that is relaxing at any age (I am 42 and love it, despite fact that I am an artist. The simplicity is soothing) and simple enough that they won't be afraid to do. B.) encourage them to do with children. Children are astoundingly great conversationalists and very understanding in my experience. If they do not have grandchildren to color with, maybe being a volunteer at a daycare center would appeal to them."

THANKS to all who wrote in! Specifically: Alice (in Alaska), "Cyril the Duke", "Joyce," "Wolf," Carolyn M., "Susieb," "Valery," Susan Verkest, Pat Hume, Joyce Martin, Michele P.

Some websites which may be helpful: (be sure to click the "About" button and tell Laura Boivin "HELLO from Ken Laninga") (check out the "Family PC Magazine" too) (a lot more here than just penpal stuff; check it out!) (this one has a huge resource of material!!)

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