A day in a caregiver's life
What a day is like as a caregiver to an elderly loved one
You might be wondering why you may have clicked on the link to "An hour in the life of an elder care caregivers life' but you come to this article which is 'A day in the life of a caregiver.' Good question. I started off writing about what happened within an hour and it sort of expanded from there. There was just so much I had to say that it didn't all fit within an hour. So, now that we've gotten that over with....
I don't begin to imagine that I know what a paid caregiver goes through during the day, emotion-wise at least, but I am an expert on what a family member caring for an elderly loved one experiences. Why do I know so much? Because I was my Mom, Gertie's, caregiver for the past 5 years until her death in Feb, 2012. Toward the end of her life, my caregiving skills were really put to the test; I learned many things about caring for an elderly patient that I'd never imagined and the time administering comfort care increased proportionally to how close we got to February 15, 2012.
So, this article will give you just a glimpse of what happened in just an hour slice out of one day in our lives. The day documented below was a fairly typical routine day. We had worse and we had better days.
All photos on this article were taken by me - I have 'em and you don't...But, if you want to borrow any, just let me know.
Some good books on caregiving
I had no children so the only innate caregiving skills I'd acquired were the ones I used in taking care of a whole packs of dogs (5 at last count) and a cat with AIDs. But, I intuitively knew that I needed training so I bought a few of the below books on caregiving. They really helped me gain understanding and awareness about the caregiving role and how to make Mom still feel vital in her own life.
This was my caregiving bible as I cared for my own Mom.
Caregiver stress and burnout are real side effects of this high pressure job and this book helps explain and relieve some of those feelings.
Let's clear up a misconceived notion about caregiving....
I've heard the following sentiment expressed at least once by a family member who just didn't understand the stress and pressure of being the primary caregiver for a loved one:
'Well, she has a paid caregiver, doesn't she just go enjoy her day?"
Now, I can only hope that this sentence was uttered from ignorance, but the resounding answer is 'NO, we don't just 'go enjoy our day'. The caregiving role doesn't stop just because you leave your loved one to run and do some errands. Mom was always in the back of my mind. I was always on a time schedule. I always had to get back for something.
And, in my case, my Mom lived in my home as I cared for her. So, regardless of if we had a paid caregiver or not, there were times when my Mom just wanted me to be there with her so there I was. I often slept beside her to keep a more watchful eye on her during particularly rough nights which means that, even with a caregiver, I wasn't sleeping well. The day she died has seen me more or less awake and moving for 72 hours prior - sure I had cat naps but that wasn't enough. I was physically and mentally frazzled.
Being a caregiver for a loved one means that you're never quite disengaged from your caregiving role - especially if your loved one lives with you. Anytime I'd hear Mom move around house or if I were to hear any noise at night, I'd jump up in a panic from the comfort of my bed to check on my Mom. I always slept with one ear open in case she should need me. Even now, 9 full months after her death, I sometimes hear her calling me at night and head down the hall before I realize she wasn't t here.
My eldest brother expressed it best. He said that most people work 8 hours and go home. And then he mentioned that I was home and I was working a 24 hour shift. He got it! But, then again, he lived with me here at my house as I cared for Mom the last month she was alive. So, he actually saw what happens in each hour of a caregiver's day.
Ok, off my soapbox and back to this article now....
Physical strength is measured by what we can carry; spiritual by what we can bear.
The start of my caregiving day -
My days were not all filled with just caring for Mom, I also had (and still have!) a wonderful boyfriend who loved my mother so much and could always be counted on supported Mom and me to the nth degree so I wanted to do things for him too. I generally am an early riser so getting up at 4:30 for share some hot tub time and to make him an egg sandwich and pack his lunch were things that I wanted - no, I needed to do to keep a sense of normalcy around myself.
So, while I made his coffee and breakfast, I generally started getting the kitchen ready for Mom's arrival around 7 am. I'd set the table with a pretty placemat (she loved beauty at the table) and would lay out a dish, silverware and a coffee cup. I'd spend the rest of the time baking something for breakfast most days. I would either mix up some oatmeal raisin cookies (her favorite) or I'd have hot biscuits ready with fresh butter and jam (another favorite). Or, I might give the kitchen a good wipe down - Mom got kind of messy there towards the end!
My Saeco Coffeemaker
Mom gave me all kinds of grief when I told her how expensive the new coffee maker was - that is, until she tasted the coffee. I can still hear her saying, "This coffee is de-licious!' and she said that every single time she had a cup. In her later years, that coffee maker was running day and night as I'd give her anything she wanted, whenever she wanted it. We were in comfort care with Hospice there towards the end; I wanted to make sure she enjoyed everything to the fullest.
I can't say enough about this coffee maker - it makes coffee, cappuchino, latte, you name it and this thing does it. It is expensive but, then, we were worth it.
My Saeco Vienna Plus coffee machineBUY NOW
My mom loved the prettiest coffee cups
My Mom's coffee, all the way to the end, was her daily treasure. She always was so excited to get that first cup in the morning and equally excited to have an afternoon cup of java. I used to love to serve her coffee in bed, served, of course, on one of her pretty serving trays.
Mom loved bone china - it's a very lightweight cup so, as she aged, it was easier for her to hold her own cup of coffee when it was served in one of these lightweight, pretty coffee cups like those below.
Mom just couldn't get enough of these oatmeal cookies. They really are very good. When I was making them 2 or 3 times a week, I actually would make up a double batch of dough and freeze it unbaked. That way, I could just thaw and go. Mom was always sad to see that I wasn't using a bowl - no licking that way...
- Prep time: 7 min
- Cook time: 13 min
- Ready in: 20 min
- Yields: 8 hungry Gerties
- A stick and a half of room temperature butter - do not melt!
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- very firmly packed
- 1/2 cup regular sugar
- 2 extra large or 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1.5 C flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1.5 - 2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 cups oatmeal - not the fast cooking type
- 1.5 cup raisins or more if you like them
- Mix the flour, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Mix the oatmeal and raisins in another bowl and set aside.
- Cream the butter and both types of sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated.
- Slowly add in the flour mixture in small batches, beating to incorporate each bit.
- Remove beater and stir the oatmeal/raisin mixture. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl well or you won't have any oatmeal down there.
- Place tablespoonfuls on a cookie sheet, 2" apart, and bake 9 minutes at 350.
- Note: I used to bake them 9 minutes for cookies for John as these are soft; Mom liked her cookies hard so her's stayed in another 2 minutes.
Mom enjoyed licking the beaters
Some of my other article on caregiving
If you're a caregiver or contemplating taking on the care of an elderly loved one, some of these articles may help you figure out what the heck you're supposed to be doing...
Caregiver stress - the pressure I felt being a caregiver to an elderly parent
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Call systems for caregivers or in home health aides
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Caregiving day continues
7am - 10 am
After Mom enjoys her cup of coffee and breakfast, I usually helped her right to the bathroom where I stood guard for, oh, as long as it took. Toward the end of her life, I'd leave the door open and monitor her needs so I was there when she needed me. Bathroom time sometimes was quite grueling as the elderly's body systems seemingly change overnight - a food that was perfectly fine one day may wreak havoc on Mom's system the next. So, it was sometimes a guessing game.
Mom's morning constitutional would frequently set the tone for how the day would go and how involved my elder care giving duties were going to be. If all went well, I'd walk behind her as she guided her walker to her easy chair, or, in her last months, I'd put her in the wheelchair and wheel her into the living room. I'd tuck a blanket around her, no matter if it was 90 degrees out or not, place a small dog or two upon her lap, hand her the paper and head upstairs to deal with making up her bedroom.
Ah, the bedroom - so much happens there when one is a caregiver for the elderly. We couldn't chance Mom walking down the hall alone to go to the bathroom so Mom had a portable beside commode next to her bed that made it much easier and safer for her to get up at night. So, my first care giving job was to empty the bedside potty, disinfect and dry it and place it back in her room. Sheets were changed every two or three day and dirty clothes and bedding taken downstairs to the wash.
Somewhere in this time period, if Mom was ok and if I had a paid caregiver, I'd jump in the shower to start my own day.
Mom's bedside commode
Mom had this portable bedside commodeBUY NOW
Another good bedside commodeBUY NOW
Elder care caregiving day
10 am - 1 pm
After settling my elderly loved one (that would be Mom) in her easy chair in the living room, I'd start in on the wash. Now, depending on the caregiver, this is something that I could, and frequently did, delegate - at least I did with Mom's laundry. John's and my laundry was still my chore.
Around 11 am, I'd fix up some sort of light snack for Mom - generally a peeled apple and cheese, or crackers, or another oatmeal cookie. If I was baking something else, she'd come into the kitchen with me to visit and lick the bowl. Sometimes I'd get a jump on dinner and make one of her favorite recipes that I developed: low sodium chicken pot pies in muffin tins. Or, even though it was early, Mom would sometimes ask for one of my dessert shooters - mini desserts that were just the right size for her.
Noon found me back in the kitchen for lunch. Mom loved toasted cheese sandwiches made in an old toasted cheese griddle iron that is from the early 1900s. It was her mother's; there's no denying that it makes the best toasted cheese sandwich around. Tomato soup was another favorite so I'd fix her lunch. If she was in the kitchen, another pretty placemat was set or, if she was in her chair (or in later years, her bed) in the living room, I brought her lunch on a tray. She always was very appreciative of her lunch tray.
Dishes done and floor swept, it would be around 1 pm when I'd look in to see her dozing in the chair. This was my signal to go lay down.
Serving trays make serving the elderly more fun
Mom always loved her bone china coffee cups set upon her own personal tray. I must have bought 5 of these trays that she liked and still have them. They're mine to cherish now.
A day in the life of a caregiver
1 pm - 4 pm
Generally, I had a caregiver who was trustworthy enough to leave with Mom so from 1-3pm, I'd generally be 'running the streets.' Sounds like more fun than it was as it comprised trips to the grocery store, Costco for supplies, the pharmacy, the mall to perhaps look for a new gown for Mom and some comfortable clothes for me (I'd kind of let myself go there...), a stop perhaps for lunch for me. These hours were my 'break time' and I really enjoyed them.
Upon occasion, Mom would feel up to a little ride herself so I'd pile her and a dog or two in the car and off we'd go to do errands. Mom loved rolling through Costco or Bed, Bath and Beyond. She was a lot of fun to have come along on these erranding runs.
Advice: if you are a caregiver and can find a pharmacy that delivers, do it! It is so worth the delivery cost to not have to run to the pharmacy a few times a week. Also, the use of pill keeper containers, like those below, significantly reduced my duties when worrying about running out of pills. I'd set up Mom's pills every Sunday night and, if I was running low, I'd reorder meds on Monday. Much better than finding out there were none left.
If I was alone and I had any more free time in these few hours out, I'd head to the library and use my MacAir to write up some articles or blog online.
Good pill containers
I liked the 7 day, 3 compartment pill containers as Mom had pills at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, depending on your elderly loved one's medication schedule, you might be able to do with a 2 compartment or you might need the 4 compartment pill keeper.
Caregiver day 4 - 7 pm
Who's the baby daddy shows
Yes, that's what dear Gertie called the Judge Judy, Divorce court or any of those daytime Judge shows. Never failed to make me laugh when she'd ask if 'the baby daddy shows were on." So, around 4 pm, I'd turn the TV on to Judge Judy and go off to get Mom's snack. The woman was little but she ate a lot! Afternoon snack was sometimes a Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry and another cookie or sometimes she'd have a bourbon with me as we discussed the tv shows.
5 pm generally found me back in the kitchen again, this time rustling together some dinner. As Mom aged, I tried to keep comfort foods in the freezer - things such as mini chicken pot pies (Low sodium chicken pot pie) which I created in muffin tins which were just the right size for a 95 year olds waning appetite. I also used to make macaroni and cheese (my personal favorite), chicken soup and matzo balls, or beet borscht. She loved the foods of her youth and I loved making them for her in her last stages of life.
After dinner, we'd usually sit and chat in the kitchen for awhile, sometimes over a cup of coffee, sometimes over another cocktail. Mom would sit while I cleaned up. Our running commentary went something like this:
Me: Mom, it's come to my attention that you don't do much around the house anymore.
Gertie: Yes, and I like it that way. Let's not change that.
Have you heard of TV Ears??
If you're a caregiver for an elderly person with hearing loss, having the TV up loud enough so they can hear it can make your bones rattle. But, not if you have TV EARS!
TV Ears direct the volume from the TV through a headset that your elderly loved one can wear. It's a very lightweight headset and they can even nap with it on. You can mute the TV and they'll hear it loud and clear. I can't express how excited I was the first time Mom agreed to use the TV ears. I muted the TV, turned on some relaxing music and read a magazine for an hour. This caregiving gig wasn't always so bad.
Your elderly loved one can be stone deaf and I'll bet he'll still be able to hear the TV through TV Ears.
A favorite Gertie-ism
For those of you who follow the blog I kept for the years Mom was with me, you probably know what Gertie-isms are. My Mom had one of the fastest humors of anyone I've ever met. She was a true pleasure to be around and she never failed to make me laugh (well, until those last few weeks).
So, I just remembered this funny conversation Mom and I had one day as we were out for a ride and drove by the sign for a large retirement/nursing home.
Me: I heard that place was a nice retirement home (glance sideways at Mom who is staring straight ahead)
Gertie: Where'd you hear that (still staring straight ahead)
Me: I heard it when I went into check to see if they had room for one more.
Gertie: (turns slowly to look at me): .....When are you moving?
Caregiving for the elderly
7 pm - 10 pm
The evenings were Mom and my favorite time of the day as we were into relaxing. While we watched TV, I'd usually peruse a recipe book and try to find interesting dishes to cook. Or, I'd get on here on Squidoo and write articles that I hope other caregivers learn the things I figured out the easier way.
So, evening time, I'd light a few candles, and, if it was cold out, a fire would be roaring making the room toasty warm. We'd watch some tv, usually a movie and then we'd rate it in 'arthritic fingers up' and I would post them on my blog: Good movies for senior citizens. We had a lot of fun chatting about the actors and the movie in general.
After a while, I'd get Mom up and moving and up the stair climber thing we had (which, by the way, we couldn't have lived without - at least, not in my house). I'd change her into a fresh nightgown and help her brush her teeth, wash her face, and that kind of thing.
And, my very very favorite time of each and every single night she was with me:
I'd tuck her in bed after giving her her medications, I'd lean over and she would say to me "Good Night, Sweetheart" - the same words she uttered to her husband, my father for 65 years. I was always so honored to hear those words.
I personally think the elderly should have the best bedding
I always loved taking Mom out to Bed, Bath & Beyond to look for new sheets or comforter sets. Both Mom and I like to change the look of the bed covers every few months so we're always on the lookout for pretty sets.
The sheets below are my personal favorite sheets ever. I have these in the green and love them. They're microfiber so they feel a bit like a soft velvet but, no, they're not hot! I love these sheets.
Caregiving tasks I've glossed over
Caregiving is not for the weak of mind nor the squeamish of stomach. Luckily for me, I'm neither as Mom and I sometimes looked like we'd fought a long, sweaty, smelly battle after a hard night. Showering Mom was particularly difficult as she aged as it was important to me to make the event as pleasant as possible. I knew how good she felt after a warm shower with a shampoo but getting her there was like pulling very elderly teeth - you'd think they'd come out easy but no doing when it came to Gert and her shower (metaphor might be lost there but you get the drift..)
Anyway, I haven't mentioned the shower time which would literally take 4 hours from start to finish (including Mom's nap)
I haven't mentioned the frequent bathroom trips during the day which sometimes led to those 4 hour showers.
I haven't mentioned changing bedclothes a few times a day depending on what she ate. It took forever before a thoughtful niece dropped over an adult size 'clothing protection device' - a 'bib' if you will but don't call them that in front of the elderly. There's some below that I've thoughtfully put on this page for you.
Nor have I mentioned the wonderful time when Mom and I would just sit and chat. She told me secrets, I told her secrets. We really became the best of friends during those 5 years she graced me with her presence. And, as far as presents? Mom had long given up on shopping for birthdays, Chanukah, Christmas, etc, but the gift of the memories that she gave me and the fact that she chose to live with me are things that are beyond comprehension in price. I am forever grateful to have been a caregiver to my aging Momma.
Please let me know you stopped in by leaving a comment below. Anyone may comment - not just Squidoo members so speak up!