For the past several years, the number of family caregivers providing at-home support for an aging individual has been on the rise. Today, many elderly persons who wish to age-in-place in their homes depend on a trusted family member to help manage their care.
Current statistics show millions of aging Americans are getting help with their activities of daily living (things like getting dressed, bathing, and getting around the house) and with other supportive services like paying bills and managing medications. According to figures from a recent study from the Pew Research Center, almost half of American adults believe it’s likely they will care for an elderly family member at some point in their lifetime. And present numbers show that about 12 million people today are doing just that. In 2050, the number is expected to balloon to over 27 million people.
This arrangement is good for the aging individuals, who can avoid hospital admissions and costly nursing home care, get help traveling to and from doctor appointments, and have someone else take over managing their finances. Helping out is also good for the caregivers, who get a rich sense of satisfaction through their acts of service to their loved ones. But, family-provided care isn’t always easy.
Caregivers can become so focused on their loved one’s health care, safety, finances, and logistics that they divert focus from living and enjoying life. We’re talking about the quality of life for those they care for and themselves. But experiencing happiness while caregiving is a critical survival skill. True moments of happiness and joy go a long way towards relieving stress and boredom and improving active connections between the caregiver and their loved one.
There is great value in prioritizing happiness and joy throughout the day. As with anything in life, happiness can be found in the range from simple pleasures to special occasions. Take a look at this list of ideas for ways to create happiness in your loved one’s life, as well as your own.
1. Pick up scrapbooks and pop in old home movies – What better way to enjoy time together than a trip down memory lane. Thumb through photo albums and scrapbooks together to reminisce. If your loved one doesn’t have any scrapbooks, have a craft day and make one together; the act of sorting through old photos can be a happy experience. Take some new snapshots and selfies to add to the mix or to share on social media. Check out other family members’ social media sites to browse photos and videos. If you have old home movies, digitize them or put them on a DVD, so you both can watch them together and smile.
2. Humor – It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine, and so often, it is. Try creating funny moments with your loved one. Be silly, tell jokes, and laugh at yourself. Try retelling humorous family stories, watching funny movies or videos, and reading funny stories. Laugh about the everyday mistakes and foibles we all experience. Above all, exercise those funny bones whenever you have the chance. You’ll be rewarded with a shared hearty laugh and a lift of both of your spirits.
3. Nature – The simple wonder of nature has the power to bring folks so much happiness and joy. Plant flowers, go on a nature walk in a garden, nursery, or local garden, and make a habit of bringing fresh flowers inside. Take a car ride to see the changing seasons – spring blooms, fall leaves, and fresh winter snow.
4. Create intergenerational exchanges – Bringing kids and their elders together for a visit can create so much joy. You could ask a grandchild to read a book aloud, recite a poem she memorized, or teach grandma or grandpa how to use a computer or smartphone. The grandparent could share some of their wisdom by teaching little Jimmy or Jane a new hobby, or by simply telling family stories.
5. Music – Whether 1940s swing, gospel, or rock and roll, play your loved one’s favorite tunes. Listen to the radio, set up a playlist on an MP3 player, or stream music using something like Pandora or iHeartRadio. Music is a powerful tool – it can bring peace, energize, distract from anxiety, ease pain, induce memories, or even lead to an impromptu sing-along.
6. Adventures – Every outing has the potential to be an adventure, whether it’s driving to a medical appointment, doing weekly shopping, dining out, or just taking a car ride to get out of the house. Make these occasions special by getting a drive-through coffee or other tasty beverage, taking a scenic route, and recruiting a friend to come along and make it more fun.
7. Physical activity – Moving does a body good, so no matter what the mobility issues of your loved one, try to make getting active a joyful experience. Things like swimming, water aerobics, yoga breathing and poses, dancing (even chair dancing!), or simply tossing a ball back and forth can get you both active and connected. Even a short walk to the mailbox can help create a positive mood.
8. Celebrations and holidays – Does anyone really need an excuse to party? Be sure to celebrate all anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or the first day of spring, decorate your loved one’s home or room to create a mood of celebration. Be sure to celebrate accomplishments small and large – like a successful shower or getting out of the hospital. Your party can consist of a heart-felt “Congratulations!” and a big hug, or a full-blown shindig.
As a caregiver, try to find the inherent happiness and joy in every day. Then, make an effort to create even more. Bringing out your loved one’s smile and laugh create priceless moments where you both get to experience happiness and joy. And these experiences will give you precious memories to cherish in the years to come.