Services for Elders and Their Families
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Caregiving: Creativity may be the key to success.

I think most of us would agree that we enjoy and treasure our independence. It is no different with older adults. One of the most beneficial elements in working with families, is that we are able to learn creative and time saving ideas from Caregivers. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some practical and encouraging ideas, to assist your elder in remaining as independent as possible.

Many times an elder is in need of some basic services to assist them in maintaining independence. So what does one do when services are needed? Gone are the days - if there ever were those days - when we could count on Government to fix all of our ills. With increasing cutbacks in federal and state financing coupled with the growth of the older population, families are being called upon more and more to assist their elders.

In the majority of families there is a “chosen child”. The Chosen Child is the term given to the adult Caregiver that, by circumstances and choices, becomes the primary caregiver. It’s a role that can offer the Caregiver many opportunities and blessings, but may also leave the Caregiver feeling stressed, unsupported, and abandoned by siblings. Sometimes the family needs additional help. This is even more so with working Caregivers who also have small children at home. When looking for assistance for helping an elder, we often overlook the obvious: our family and friends. Often with Caregiving, it is important to think out of the proverbial box.

Pulling family together
It is important for the family of the elder to work together. The first step may be to call a meeting to organize duties. Use this time to build consensus and ascertain who is willing to do what. Bear in mind that the goal is provide the best possible care, with as much variety as possible. This may seem rather simplistic, but sometimes old family disappointments and disagreements, can cloud the issues at hand. As difficult as it may seem, it is important to place these unresolved issues aside for the time. I have found that it is valuable to state and restate the goal: To provide the best possible care, with as much variety as possible.

One of the comments I hear from Caregivers, is that no one else in the family will do a particular job as well as they do. While this may be true, it is important for many people to be involved in the care of the elder. Care that is multi-faceted, is good for everybody.

Nutritional Support
Many elders need Home Delivered Meals. In this case, more often than not, the elder and family will find waiting lists for these services. In addition, the lists are not based on first come first serve, but rather, applicants are moved up the list based on their circumstances and needs. This means that elders living alone, elders without family nearby, elders with physical infirmities and financial problems are served first. In a nutshell, the neediest elders will receive assistance first. Though few would argue about the need for serving these elders, this system often leaves low and middle income elders falling through the cracks.

If an elder is homebound and is suffering nutritionally, don’t by daunted by the waiting list. It is important to place your elders’ name on the list, while working on a interim plan. You will want to check your status periodically.

Many families take turns preparing meals for the elder. This involves organizing interested family members into a schedule. It is best to have one person organize the meal preparation. Invite all family members over for a get-together.

Some family members may find it easier to prepare a little extra food when they cook their own dinner, setting aside a plate for the elder to heat up the next night. In a pinch, a roasted chicken or small ham and a vegetable casserole in the refrigerator, will encourage an elder to eat. You may also want to freeze leftovers for the elder to eat later. Home cooked meals, especially those that take the elders’ preferences and tastes into consideration, are better received.

Nutrition is extremely important to the health and well being of an elder. Nutrition is important for good skin integrity, healthy body functions, but also for good mental health and stamina.

One creative family’s elderly mother would not eat Home Delivered Meals, stating that she would not accept charity. Often she would leave the meals on the front porch or store them in the refrigerator. The family knew that a young neighborhood mother would often visit, bringing over leftovers from time to time, which the elder always enjoyed. Thinking creatively, the family approached the neighbor about taking meals to their mother, while they paid her some extra money that she needed. The result: the elder had regular meals, enjoyed the relationship apart from the family, and increased social interaction. This is what I call a win-win situation!

Social Support
One of the things that happens as a senior ags is their world begins to shrink. Beginning with retirement, an older persons social interaction can decrease drastically. Many events add to this phenomenon; illness, finances, and transportation to name a few. Many family caregivers find that they not only are responsible for meeting physical needs of the elder, but also all of their social needs, such as companionship. How does one encourage social interaction?

Religious or Civic Organizations
Take a look at the elders’ history of social interaction. Many elders have belonged to churches or synagogues in their lives. Perhaps lack of transportation or illness has kept the elder from regular attendance. Many churches and synagogues have outreach projects, encouraging their members to serve the community. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to call for assistance, especially if some time has passed, and they have not sought the elder out. Remember the goal: To provide the best possible care, with as much variety as possible. It’s important not to let pride or feelings get in the way of reaching the ultimate goal.

By increasing outside activity, no matter how small , the elders world can begin to broaden. They become involved in other peoples lives, even minimally, can reap great benefits. For instance: by simply attending a weekly religious service, they are exposed to baby showers and weddings. Even if they are not able to attend these extra functions, richness and diversity can be added to their lives.

Family or Neighborhood Youths
Children are also a great untapped resource in family support. It is important to include children in family activities. Try to include them, while they are young, allowing them to assist in small tasks that involve caregiving, while developing their sense of value as family members and caregivers. When children get older, these chores can be part of their allowance. Remember: children learn from their parents how to perceive and relate to all elders, including parents.

Close Personal Friends
With our transient society these days, many of our close friends do not have elders near by. Perhaps your elder could be a surrogate grandparent, or just an ‘older buddy’ to a youngster. This is especially valuable in an age segregated setting such as a retirement center. I once had a Caregiving friend, who asked her girlfriends to take turns spending time with her mother. They would help her write cards, watch television shows, or even play a card game. The Caregiver got a break, but the real blessing was seeing the elders social life enriched due to interaction with those whom she would not otherwise meet.

 

Being a super Caregiver doesn’t have to mean doing everything by yourself, it could mean being creative by finding ways to lessen your stress, spreading the joy of caring, and enriching your elders life.

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