lessons learned in year 1

The three most critical lessons from the first year of living with my mother: practicing patience, problem solving and finding the humor.

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My mother and I worked through many issues during our first 12 months together as adults sharing a space. The key to successful outcomes always involved patience, problem solving and (eventually) finding the humor in almost everything. We tried to keep it simple, working through the issue together. The range of products available for older people – or indeed anyone who needs assistance –  is amazing and many of these products are not overly expensive. 

First and foremost, using both directness and humor to work through potential solutions was critical. Directness was essential to really understand the problem and it enabled my mother to be part of the solution. Humor was essential to take away some of the embarrassment and frustration, though the ability to laugh at the challenges often came later.

None of our solutions are groundbreaking, but they certainly have made our life easier!

  • Increasing stability in getting around: Mom arrived with a cane and a walker that had a seat and four wheels, but she seemed unsteady.
    • We switched out the cane’s single-tipped foot to a four-footed version that allowed the cane to stand freely rather than having to be propped up against something. It also provided extra stability when she was walking around. It sounds simple but it made a world of difference in her confidence, even within the apartment. This was about $12 at the local pharmacy and made us both feel better about her moving around the apartment.
    • We bought her new shoes and slippers that were very sturdy. Non-slip soles and firm construction were essential – we ordered and returned many options, making sure we had the best fit possible. She actually needed a 7.5 2E (extra wide) rather than the 7B (medium) that she had been wearing – partly to accommodate bending, curling and other changes in her toes. We shopped online, as she no longer had the stamina to go to the stores. Patience was essential here! Once we found something she liked, we ordered another pair in a different color.
  • Helping her stand up:  Mom had difficulty getting up from chairs.
    • We added an Able Life tray with a handle that is held in place by the feet of the chair. This was an amazing find, as the tray table pivots out of the way and the handle is in front of her – allowing her to pull herself up and forward. She is used to having a tray table that holds her crafts and papers, so this was an essential for her. Prior to this purchase, a separate tray table was always competing for space with the footstool and getting in the way when she needed to get up. With the new table, the handle is useful to pull her forward and up and to steady her when she is in the process of standing or sitting.
    • We started an exercise routine that strengthened her arms and legs. These were simple and recommended by her doctor – sit and stand five times per hour AND arm lifts with 1 pound  weights ten times each arm per hour. These are pretty minimal activities, but she gets around much better now than she did when she moved in and she says she feels better when she exercises.
    • We have since added an exercise where she leans back in the chair and then sits up very straight, without using her arms to help her – this helps strengthen her abdominal region. We may add something to help her lean and reach her feet, mimicking putting on shoes and socks. These efforts focus on problem areas and making sure she can continue doing daily activities by herself.
  • Getting past the embarrassment and talking about using the bathroom:  Mom had some difficulties with using the bathroom.
    • We added a toilet seat riser (adds about 3.5 inches to the height of the toilet) because she found that arthritis in her knee made it hard for her to sit and then stand with the toilet at the regular height. We have since made a change to a riser with a hinge – makes it much easier to clean because the riser lifts the same way the seat does.
    • We added grab bars in her bathroom. The best part about the delay in renovating her bathroom is that we could figure out where to put the grab bars to be most helpful. Hint: not at all where I would have put them! Like the handle on the tray table, having the bar in front of her allows her to pull herself forward rather than pushing upward – this may be different depending upon the person’s strength, but we now use the “pulling forward” approach in various ways.
    • We bought incontinence pads of various kinds for her to use and have adapted to changes over time. She uses pads that stick to her underwear and additional protective underwear. She rarely has a leak that gets past these layers of protection. We use an automatic monthly delivery system, which ensures that we are well-supplied.
    • We also added chair and bed pads (with plastic undersides), so she does not have to worry about leaking during periods when her incontinence is more severe. This is particularly important because she is mortified when more serious leaks occasionally happen  – they tend to correspond to times when she is having an “off” day and sleeps deeply in the chair during the day. The chair pads coordinate with the furniture to minimize their appearance and we have multiples to allow for back-ups between laundry days.
  • Getting past the embarrassment and taking a shower: Mom is no longer able to use a tub, as her knees just will not bend, and she is not steady enough to use the shower alone, so I go in with her – rolling up my pant legs and sleeves.
    • My mother is always embarrassed by this process – she is naked in every sense of the word. My job is to minimize her embarrassment through a combination of light-hearted jokes and business-like efficiency. I try not to prolong the process and make it feel as normal as washing the dishes or making the bed.
    • We had a bench built in the shower so Mom can sit down; we have a hand-held faucet, which is fantastic. Autonomy is really important. I squirt the shampoo into her hand but she washes her hair. Although I rinse her hair (while she covers her ears!), I hand over the hand-held faucet to her to rinse everywhere else. I only help wash and rinse her back and her feet. I hand her towels so she can dry herself off.
    • To get out of the shower, we use a collapsible (folding) walker that is not on wheels. Using a combination of the grab bars in the shower and the walker, she can pull herself up from the bench and step out of the shower. I keep a firm grip on the walker to make sure it feels steady. This walker was a great find, especially for a small space, and was only about $20-25. When not using it, I just fold it up and put it away. This walker also is helpful if she uses my toilet, which is at the regular (non-riser) height and therefore harder for her to navigate.
    • Mom is often cold, so I use a space heater to help warm up the bathroom. I may at some point get a towel warmer, but for now we make do with the space heater. This handy item normally lives in her small bathroom during the winter months and in the closet when it is warmer.

The best part of finding these solutions is that we worked together to figure out what to get and how to use them to meet my mother’s needs. It would be easier if I made all the decisions (and sometimes I just buy things when I see them), but it helps to have Mom’s input.

3 thoughts on “lessons learned in year 1”

    1. Thanks, Maxine! I was amazed at all the products available to make life better for Mom and for me. I am very lucky that my mother is able and willing to try new things, and that we can work together.

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