Find the happiness that comes from helping family.
As caregivers we are so focused on health care, safety, finances and logistics that we can easily lose sight of quality of life — both for those we care for and for ourselves. Experiencing joy while caregiving isn’t always easy, but I believe it’s more than just a nice thing to do: It’s a crucial survival skill. Every moment of joy fills our tanks a bit so we can keep going. And a little bit of fun can go a long way to relieve stress, motivate, activate and connect — as well as relieve boredom.
Here are some ideas for infusing joy into your loved one’s life, as well as your own.
Music. When I ask caregivers how they create joy and fun, music is the most common response. Play your loved one’s favorite genre of music — from 1940s swing to gospel to rock. Listen on the radio or television (watching Lawrence Welk reruns is my dad’s favorite thing to do), or set up a playlist on an MP3 player. You can use Pandora, iHeartRadio, Amazon Prime music and Sirius XM to play songs that bring peace, ease pain, energize, distract from anxiety, induce memories (such as military or patriotic music) or trigger a spontaneous sing-along.
Adventures. I approach every outing as an adventure — whether it’s to a medical appointment, shopping, dinner, a movie, a ball game or just a car ride to get out of the house. Plan ahead for the best places for parking, and recruit someone else to drive or come along to lend a helping hand and make it more fun.
Games. Think about games your loved ones can play, like familiar card games, board games or word games. Charades can be doable even for those with communication disorders. Work on crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles together, or even play “I spy….” Games can help pass time in a waiting room and distract from boredom or pain.
Celebrations and holidays. Make any excuse for a party. Celebrate all anniversaries and birthdays. Every holiday, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or the first day of spring, offers the opportunity to decorate their home or room. Also celebrate accomplishments from small things like a successful shower or fastening their own buttons to large things like getting out of the hospital. Celebrations can be marked by a “Congratulations!” sign, a full-blown party or a big hug and a happy dance.
Humor. Just be silly. Laugh at yourself, tell jokes, retell old family stories, watch funny movies or videos on YouTube, read funny stories. Have a wheelchair race or put your glasses on upside down. Laugh about the everyday mistakes and foibles we all experience (like when I forgot to give Dad his false teeth and didn’t realize it until we were out at a ball game. He just smiled, made a funny face and laughed it off).
Nature. For many people, simple nature brings the most joy. Bring fresh flowers, or visit a garden or nursery. You can also plant flowers, walk outside, build a snowman, cuddle up with a pet, watch an animal play or go for a car ride to see the spring blooms, the snow or the fall leaves.
Home videos and scrapbooks. Put the old home movies on DVD or digitize them, and watch them together. If your loved ones don’t have scrapbooks, make some together — just sorting through old photos can be fun. Use your camera phone, too — take snapshots and selfies and share them, or look at family and friends’ photos on social media sites.
Intergenerational exchanges. Bring children and elders together for a visit. Holding or even just seeing a baby can bring great joy. Ask a grandchild to read a book aloud or recite a poem he or she memorized. Grand kids can also teach elders how to use a computer or smartphone. Ask a grandparent to share a hobby or teach the younger generation how to bake a pie, clean properly or build something.