Senior and Disabled Care: A Guide for Caregivers
Senior and Disabled Care: A Guide for Caregivers
Just as not all disabilities are the same, people who need care are also unique. When you take on the role of caregiver, however, there are a few common areas you need to focus on. Chief among these is understanding the type of disability you’re dealing with, whether it was caused by an injury, illness, or the aging process. Treating all disabilities the same can leave the individual with unmet needs, so it’s important to know the specifics. Finding out these details relies on open and honest communication between the caregiver and their loved one. Once you know the type of disability, you can focus on the tasks and functions that will provide the most help.
Types of Disability
Each person has a singular combination of abilities, disabilities, wants, and needs. We can classify disabilities to help in giving care, but it’s important to always remember that you’re dealing with a unique person. Physical disabilities can affect a person’s ability to get around on their own, the ability to perform certain daily tasks (such as those requiring fine motor control), or even the capacity to process or retain information. Developmental disabilities affect the person’s intellectual capabilities and can be caused by traumatic injuries or illnesses. Behavioral disabilities affect mental or emotional health and may manifest as an inability to control or relate to certain emotional states. Finally, sensory disabilities affect the individual’s ability to see, hear, feel, smell, taste, or process sensory information.
Many caregivers struggle to communicate with their loved one because it requires asking deeply personal questions that may inadvertently offend. No one wants to add upset to their loved one’s burden, but sometimes, you must risk it in order to get good information. Even if you have access to your loved one’s medical records, you will need to know how their condition affects them personally. That may mean asking questions about what they want help with and what they would prefer to do themselves. It’s best to use the patient’s wishes as your guide rather than making assumptions. If someone gets around very slowly with a walker, you shouldn’t assume that they want assistance. They may be very happy to get around under their own power and at their own pace, but they might also be silently wishing for the use of a wheelchair. Without asking, it’s impossible to know what they prefer. Initiating that conversation lifts the burden of asking for help from the person with the disability.
How to Help
Once you know their preferences, you can begin to provide the assistance they need. Again, use the information they provided as the guide. For instance, they may find bathing assistance too personal but be pleased to have grocery shopping provided for them. Focus on the things they’ve asked for first, building trust and working toward a comprehensive care plan.
Preparing meals can be a great help to anyone struggling with physical or developmental limitations, but some may also need help with feeding. Just having a helping hand to deal with utensils or drinks can mean an improvement in a person’s nutrition. If they are accepting of help with bathing and grooming, they may find themselves feeling better overall. Feeling clean and well-groomed without expending a lot of energy can offer a big improvement in their quality of life.
If struggling with dressing, walking, keeping track of products, and navigating stores is a burden for the individual, offering to take on those chores can be a great benefit. For example, you could get groceries so they don’t need to worry about keeping food in the house. That goes for any other routine activities that are minor detours for you but a major undertaking with disabilities in the mix. Ask whether you can make a trip to the bank, pick up new pillows, or resupply their pet food for them. With these errands out of the way, they can go out for enjoyment instead, such as to a local park or museum.
When it comes to helping someone dealing with a disability, perhaps no single change is as meaningful as mobility. The ability to move around on one’s own and exercise some control over how to get there can be highly empowering. Enhancing mobility can include removing difficult or dangerous obstacles from the home, modernizing construction to make getting around easier, or adding mobility devices. The devices needed will vary depending on the situation but can include wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and stair lifts. For multi-story homes, an elevator or wheelchair lift can make the whole house easily reachable.
Mobility considerations need to include wheelchair accessibility both in the home and elsewhere. Review your loved one’s home and frequent destinations to make sure that they’re wheelchair-friendly. That means having aisles wide enough for a chair or walker and the ability to reach elevated spaces by a ramp or lift. Businesses that serve the public must make accommodations for wheelchair accessibility, but it’s wise to make sure that those requirements are being followed. If your loved one’s home includes stairs, check into building a ramp or providing alternate access. The ability to easily get in and out of the house can lighten the load, making it much easier to enjoy an outing.