Carng for my blind, handicapped, hard of hearing elderly mom

by Debi Lewis
(Auckland, New Zealand)

What a bumpy road it has been and anyone who has been there will know the difficulties you face as a caregiver. This is a heads up for the ones that haven't yet had to look after their aging parents who may be blind, handicapped, hard of hearing ... or all the above.

My dad had recently passed so it was necessary to move my blind, handicapped, hard of hearing, elderly mom into a smaller apartment. It was hard on her not having her husband's total support and the newness of somewhere different that she couldn't visualize was extremely hard on her. Hard on us both.

I tried to make it easier for her (5 steps forward ... sharp turn to your left ... 10 steps and you are there ...) but that being said, it was not as easy as I thought it would be.

We tried a flashlight on her walker, lights on in different places, reflective tape on the edge of doorways and the only thing that seemed to work were the lights - her reference points - as she could just make out what I call "lights and shades". This proved difficult when the staff/nurses/cleaners would turn them off thinking they were saving power and why were lights on - she couldn't see them anyway. Hence the stick it notes on all the light switches that say in big letters - "PLEASE DO NOT TURN OFF".

When giving mom something like a cup of coffee I needed to take her hand and put it around the cup so she could feel the handle and say, "here's your coffee and the handle is here." and when she was given a plate of food, I needed to tell her potatoes are at 12:00, carrots at 3:00, pork chop at 6:00 and take her hand and give her a fork
after cutting up the meat into pieces.

I bought a lot of water bottles with different textures on them so she could feel the difference on the bottles and be able to tell that juice was in the one with the plastic cutouts, water was in the one with the rough bits (had a diamond-like feel) on the bottom, Diet Pepsi was in the smooth one. It is important to have bottles that are solid and cups with handles I found the Styrofoam cups you get in aged care facilities get knocked over very easily! AND do not deviate to what goes into what bottle, so make sure you have a few spares in case they get lost under the lift chair or left behind at the denture clinic.

It was important to announce myself (in a very loud voice) and say the exact same thing each time. I would say, "Hi mom it's Debi". It sounded strange at first (as I am her only daughter) but if I varied from this (and just said "Hi mom") she would always ask who it was.

I learned very early on that blind people jump and are startled easily when the door slams, the lid to their walker accidentally falls down, or sometimes even when they are touched unexpectedly. We, the seeing, can see when this is about to happen and we need to remember they can't .. so tread softly.

Every day I would put a yellow "visually impaired" button on mom. It amazed me how the seeing didn't see it. They would point and tell her, "it's over there" or something similar that would need my verbal explanation of.

Being handicapped as well as blind and hard of hearing has its own perils but I think that will have to go in another post ... I'm worn out ... can you tell?

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