Out and About with Your Loved One

June 16, 2017

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We’ve been talking about ways to get the caregiver away from home for some respite from her duties (see Gimme a Break and When the Caregiver Flies the Coop). But unless our loved one is bed-bound, he or she will probably want to get out of the house now and then, too.

It can be a lot of work to take an older person with you. Think about what was necessary when you took your young children with you to the store or out to eat. You had to be sure that everyone was appropriately dressed, had a fresh diaper, or had used the bathroom, and you were careful to go when everyone was well-rested (well, maybe not you, Mom).

Taking an elder to the store or out to eat, basically involves the same steps as taking children out with you, but we don’t always think about it that way, especially when we are new to caregiving. Here are some ideas that have worked for us.

Prepare a Go Bag

Assemble a bag that includes a change of clothes and your elder’s Personal Profile in case of emergency.1 Include an adult bib if she is accustomed to using one, especially for drive-up meals or beverages. Keep this bag in your car so you don’t have to remember it every time you take your loved one out. Choose a time of day when she is well-rested and when the stores or restaurant won’t be very busy.

Shopping Together

Each person is different. My mother was fearful of being left alone after she moved in with us, so she wanted to go into every store with me. I will never forget our first shopping trip. We live near a small town and Walmart is literally the only store that sells certain items. Mother was still recovering from some minor back surgery a few weeks earlier. After entering the store, we got her a wheelchair cart and promptly ran into an old friend with whom we visited for two or three minutes (really!).

After we parted, Mother told me that we really couldn’t stop to visit with my friends because it made her too tired. This was my first clue that my life had changed—a lot. Mother wasn’t the type of person to try to run my life, and she certainly wasn’t trying to be rude. But in a small town, the local Walmart is the equivalent of a community center or country club—one seldom shops there without running into friends and acquaintances.

From that time forward I tried to shop when my husband was at home to stay with her. This didn’t completely solve the problem since our hometown stores, the bank, and certain other businesses were only open during his work hours. But I could at least do a Walmart run and visit with a friend if I wanted to.2 When Hubby was unable to stay with her, I used the store’s wheelchair, or parked her on the waiting bench in the front of the store and raced through my list.

Fast forward a few years and now my mother-in-law lives with us and my husband is retired, so we can tag team to pick up groceries and run errands. However, there are still times when I must take her along, such as when Hubby is on lengthy mission trips to Ecuador. I stock up in advance, but there are still times when I need to pick up fresh produce, milk, and bread.

Unlike my mother, Mom doesn’t mind waiting in the car—in fact she prefers it. The combination of so many choices and people coming and going in the store confuses her. Since her Alzheimer’s has progressed to the late stage, Mom can no longer remember how to unbuckle her seatbelt, unlock, or open the car door. My current strategy is to purchase her favorite beverage (chocolate mocha frappe!), lock her in the car, and dash into a small hometown grocery for the few items I must have. Of course it must be a not-too-hot, not-too-cold day for her to sit in the car. She is content to enjoy her drink and people watch. Occasionally I will hire someone to sit with her at home if I have lots of errands to run and my husband is out of town.

Take advantage of drive-up windows whenever possible. I selected our current pharmacy solely because they offer drive-up service. Some grocery stores have shopping and/or delivery services that you might investigate too, especially if you are caring for a spouse and have no one to tag team with.

Reminder: Don’t feel that you must do all your errands in one day. When Mom or Dad gets tired, go home and rest. Seniors get cranky just like the rest of us do.

Eating Out Together

Some restaurants are better-suited to elders than others. Most older people prefer quieter places where they can enjoy a conversation without competing with loud music and noisy patrons.

Booth seating offers a degree of privacy, especially if she is messy when she eats. Seat her toward the inside of the booth facing away from incoming patrons. If you can, pull the table closer to her so spills go on the table instead of on her lap. Ask the server for extra napkins if you know they will be needed. Consider dressing her in an outfit that doesn’t show spills.

If she uses a covered drinking cup with a straw at home, bring it along for convenience. If she has dementia, suggest two or three menu items that you know she likes and then let her choose what to order; you might even talk about choices while riding to the restaurant. As the dementia progresses you will be ordering for her, so pay attention to her likes and dislikes now. If she is a slow eater or cannot eat the typically large servings offered at most places, ask for a take-out box so she can enjoy another meal or two at home.

If you are meeting a friend for lunch, enjoy your outing, but be sure to include your loved one in the conversation. You might prompt her to tell a favorite story such as how she met her husband or something funny from your childhood. If she is non-verbal due to a stroke or dementia, you might tell the story yourself beginning with “Mom was telling me about when...” Frequently look at her so it feels like she is the one telling the story and is part of the conversation.

A benefit of being out and about with your elder: others will see your joyful service to your loved one and perhaps they will be encouraged to care for their own elders, too.

It isn’t easy to take an older (and sometimes disabled) person out to eat or shopping, but they will thank you for it, even if they no longer can find the words. And very likely they will sleep soundly that night after all of the excitement (and so will you).

© 2017 by Marcia K. Washburn. Marcia writes from her home in Colorado. Through the years, she has cared for four adult relatives in her home, and presently cares for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer Disease. Marcia is the Assistant Director of Christian Family Eldercare. Her book, Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers, is available at ChristianFamilyEldercare.org.

1. The profile includes her name, doctor and pharmacy names and phone numbers, insurance information, allergies, medications, DNR or other medical documents, etc. For a more complete list, see Home-Based Eldercare: Stories & Strategies for Caregivers by Marcia K. Washburn.

2. Excerpted from Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers.

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June 16, 2017 by Marcia Washburn

  • Visiting & Serving Seniors
  • Caring for Parents and Relatives