5 tips to help families have successful holiday visits

5 tips to help families have successful holiday visits

The holidays can be a really fun time of the year for seniors who are getting family and friend visits but when someone is living with dementia it may be a challenge for family to know how to interact.

Helping families to have successful visits can make your team stand out and more deeply connect with families. Here are 5 tips to help families to have successful holiday visits:

  1. Send a note to families, before the holiday rush with suggestions for how to engage with their loved one during the holidays. There is a great list of suggestions available from FIT Kits® HERE that you can use in your letter and refer families to.
  2. During your care meetings leading up to the holidays, ask caregivers to identify what times for interaction work best for each person. Be sure a caregiver communicates that specifically to family so it helps set the stage for a successful visit.
  3. Ask caregivers to have in mind a few activities that the person enjoys and be ready to set them up for families when they arrive. This is an opportunity to showcase the expertise of the caregivers and create a specific connection to the family. Ask caregivers to actively help families by asking if they’d like some suggestions for what to do during a visit and setting them up in a quiet area.
  4. Have caregivers introduce themselves to new family members and answer questions. During the holidays many family members visit from out-of-town and may have anxiety about seeing their loved one with dementia. Ask caregivers to be on the lookout for family members that seem new, awkward or uncertain and have them intervene by introducing themselves and answering questions about the family member.
  5. Prepare your team. This is really important because it is easy for everyone to get so involved in the day-to-day work that they forget how important a family visit is for the senior and for the family members. For some out-of-town family, it might be their only visit all year. This is an opportunity for the staff to show what they know and how in tune they are with each person living there. Remind your team of how important they are and how to help make each visit special.

“This has been our most delightful visit with (my mother) in years – not because she changed, but because we did.” – Family member working with Steven Sabat, PhD

So many people are coming through your community during the holidays and every one of them will be sharing their experience once they leave.  Help them all have a good memory to rave about with others.

By taking the extra time to prep your team and approach every family interaction as an opportunity, you confirm why they chose you to care for their loved one.

Originally published on The Spunky Caregiver.

Who is the ‘caregiver’ I’m talking about?

Who is the ‘caregiver’ I’m talking about?

So many of my friends had no idea what a caregiver was and insisted that if you were outside of senior care then no one would know what I was talking about. So I wanted share more about this role before I get into some more interesting posts.

The title of caregiver in the senior care industry really is a label we have created for a certain group of people providing the direct care to the senior. The title on a job description denotes that it would be a specific employee that would do the tasks to make sure the care of the senior was up to par. Those tasks might include dressing, feeding, bathing, and socializing. So yes, we do have a certain job title for a caregiver BUT what I want to explore at The Spunky Caregiver is a broader definition of a caregiver, that caregivers exist in many fields of work and that it can be a behavior type as well as a job title.

In my definition, a caregiver is someone who is providing care for a person that ensures their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. So in a senior care property this can include: the kitchen staff that prepares and serves the food, the housekeeper who reports anything they see that might be affecting care, the administrator who is jumping in to provide direct care when needed, staying late to help the caregivers, or covering a shift when someone calls out, the maintenance man who watches a senior to see what adaptations they can make to their room for safety, the secretary who helps makes doctor appointments and connects with the family, etc.

Everyone that participates in ensuring the well-being of a senior is “giving care.” This crosses lines into other fields of care. Though I focus on senior care, here are a few other examples: RNs, LVNs, and CNAs in hospitals that work with all ages, teachers, cafeteria workers, secretaries in schools and then the obvious parents and grandparents.

I hope that gives some clarity on the definition and helps us explore further in upcoming posts how we can evolve in the senior care industry, engaging ALL levels of caregivers to unleash their stored potential.

Originally published on The Spunky Caregiver.

Get to know your patients

Get to know your patients

In a seemingly previous life, I was a Recreation Therapist(CTRS). It was a great profession to be in. I worked on an acute rehab unit, and AIDS/HIV unit(now long closed) and a SNF. I worked with amazing professionals. As I reflect on how that career led me here, I realize that the very foundation of Recreation Therapy is what we now call Person-Centered Care. The interests of each individual were at the core of the treatment program I designed. Every part of their life was taken into consideration during sessions I had with them and was fundamental in every decision we made about their care. And that continues to be what I see as the path to empowering the people we work with to live a rich meaningful life.

At the initial meeting with every patient we would complete a Recreation/Leisure assessment to discern what was functionally important to that person and what brought meaning to their lives. From there we would plan out their therapy regime, intending to get them back to doing what made their life worth living.

Completing a Leisure History with seniors can be really powerful. When I was at University I had to do a leisure history of an elder. I chose to interview my grandmother. I found out SO much information about her youth…they used to roast chestnuts in the gutters in Philadelphia as a teenager, her future husband used to walk 5 miles to her house (and back) to see her, they loved to dance, her house was one of the early houses on the street to have TV, she traveled by train when he joined the military during WWII ….etc. That interview changed our communication. We got closer and we had new things to talk about.

This week I made a mini-version that can be used in Long Term Care communities where therapy is not the primary goal but living a meaningful life is. I called it a ‘Leisure History’ and modified it to a simple form that can be used by any staff member and should be in turn be shared with every staff member. You can mark it up and then use the back for extra notes and interesting stories to share. Please feel free to use it and pass it on to anyone else.

Using a Leisure History to Empower Staff and Employees

Two ways to use this form:

  1. Fill it out with every senior that moves in. Make it a policy that it is completed by a staff member and shared with the rest of the staff within 3 days of arrival. I would ideally suggest the day after move in. At least 20 minutes should be set aside to complete it. This form should be a conversation starter, not simply a check list. It is a way to open the door to get to know someone. Sit down and offer them some tea so it becomes a visit rather than another requirement during their move. If they can not communicate, engage a family member in the process. As a new person moving into a foreign, scary place mostly likely in a time of great change, having a 20+ minute conversation with one person can give them a friendship, an anchor in what is about to be many weeks of adjusting to change. This completed form should be available for staff members to see so they can create a relationship based on commonalities and interest of the individual. Activities offered should be based on the information gathered in the leisure history. For example: If in the notes the person said they hate Bingo, then the staff should try to convince them to play Bingo. If they like music, it should say what kind, so offer to put that kind of music on their radio. If they have always chosen to be alone, give them them the final choice when asking them to join groups.  A leisure history is an intimate view of what makes up this person’s life and puts the focus on the unique individual.
  2. I would like to suggest that using this form is highly beneficial to your staff as well. If you ask people that work in long term care what they like about their job most will tell you it’s the seniors. Getting to know our elders is the best part of our jobs. We laugh at their stories, we cry with their pain and loneliness, and we are let into their most intimate daily routines. Having a full leisure history allows us to more deeply connect with them. We can know them better and have deeper relationships. Having good relationships at work makes us happier at work. Every staff member should fill one of these out for themselves. It is a great reminder of what makes us happy and that can be shared with the seniors. It also can generate conversations and relationships between co-workers and be the foundation for upcoming employee appreciation.

Click on the icon below to get your form:


In Long Term Care the focus should be on the person, not the diagnoses. The Leisure History gives you and your staff an opportunity to engage more fully with every person in the community and make their lives more meaningful.

Originally published on The Spunky CaregiverFeatured image: KUCO / Shutterstock.com.

Caregivers or care partners?

Caregivers or care partners?

Last year I attended an excellent conference called the Pioneer Network Conference. After one of the fabulous sessions I spoke with the leader who is well-respected in the Culture Change movement. When she heard my company name she looked at me and said, “Did you like the session? We use the word Care Partner.” Honestly, at the moment, her snarky tone was so light that I almost didn’t catch it and I felt a little confused. From this brief exchange, it seemed the title Care Partner was superior and Caregiver was frowned upon.  I have worked with seniors since 1997 and during her session was the very first time I had heard the title Care Partner in exchange for Caregiver. This conference of Culture Change was so exciting for me that I was hearing many thought provoking ideas, this was just one of them.

The fundamentals of the Culture Change movement teachings were not new to me. They are what I have been talking about and sharing for years. These ideas are exactly why I founded TheSpunkyCaregiver.com but what was new to me about the Culture Change movement was the language.

Since the conference, I have thought a lot about using the words Care Partner in place of Caregiver. I agree, the title focuses on partnership and implies that the senior is actively engaged in any care they receive which is really important in person-centered care. So mostly I love it.

On the other hand, this title will take time to effectively integrate into main stream professional senior care corporations and systems. Now, every time I speak I am making a decision about which title to use.  In the senior care world I came from, Care Partners are those people, organizations and services that are part of helping a senior but are “outside” services – such as hospice, PT, OT RT, neuropsychologists, etc. So choosing to use the term Care Partners rather than Caregivers in a conversation can create more confusion that is alleviates.

Caregivers or Care Partners – What’s the word?

Words have power. I think using the title “Care Partners” is a great way to change the conversation about the role of the people who care for our seniors. I spend a section in my upcoming workbook addressing this topic because I do believe, how we talk to and label people matters. I also believe we can create a revolution and change our senior care culture, while continuing to call people Caregivers – because the value we place on someone and their work day-to-day transcends the label we put on the job. And I believe that is where true change comes from.

So until a time when Care Partner becomes ubiquitous, I will continue to use the title Caregiver with the utmost respect and continue to value the people who do this important work.

Do you prefer one title over the other? Let’s discuss it on the forums.

Originally published on The Spunky Caregiver.

The f-word in eldercare

The f-word in eldercare

In the past 10 days, 3 women over the age of 70 have dropped the F-bomb while talking to me. Yep.

And that made me think more about one of the very struggles and frustrations I have always had while working in elder care – balancing “being real” with being “professional.” While talking last week to a colleague, she said that one of the obvious expectations while working in corporate America is that you have a personal life and a work life and the two should not mingle.

Do organizations that provide elder care focus too much on this as well? Has it gotten too corporate? The philosophy that is advocated for these days is “person-centered care.” Providing person centered care and engagement requires an intimacy, a knowing of the person you are working with. The only way to really have this knowing is by being transparent yourself. And if you are expending your energy (wasting it I might add) on trying to be your “work” self, the result is a distancing from the person you are trying to get closer to. Intimacy is the primary thing we all crave, that makes us feel valued and whole. If professionalism suggests that we leave part of our real self at home, we are missing a part of our self while interacting at work and we are not whole. We lose the opportunity to be truly authentic and connected with those around us.

In 1997 I was working in a hospital, primarily with people who had some type of neurological “injury” – at the time that was maybe 50% had a stroke which put much of the population I worked with over 65. I had an eye brow ring and punked out short blond hair. That eyebrow ring was an incredible touch point. It created conversation and intimacy that I would have had no other way to create. It made people laugh, get angry, fear for my future, ask questions, counsel me, become intrigued but most of all it was a way we really connected. One day I ran into the CEO in the hallway. He asked me to take out my ring…because it was “unprofessional.” I was so bold, I said “not until it’s in the employee handbook.” For two reasons – one, I was a bit of a rebel but the second was because I knew that that simple social rebellion and self-expression (in ’97 not every kid had a facial piercing) connected me with SO many people in an interesting way. I simply didn’t care about “professionalism,” I cared about realism and connecting with other humans as I was. The result: I was good at my job and really well-liked.

That thing which was different and edgy helped to create intimacy and connection. That “thing” wasn’t who I was but it was an outward expression of who I was and it provoked curiosity. Self-expression – physically, verbally, energetically,  makes us all interesting and unique. Respecting another does not require us to stop self-expressing… this includes while we are working with elders.

What I have in fact found is that when I am real, raw, honest, opinionated, creatively expressive – that is when people feel open and connected to me – particularly elders!! When I am focused on how I am dressed and acting “appropriately,” I miss so many opportunities – the energy I put into monitoring myself is what I could be putting into being present.

Elder care communities that are interesting and engaging are not stuffy. There is laughter, there is debate, there is expression and often messiness mixed in. It’s not about appearances, it’s about experiences. To assume that our elders … who, by the way, are about to be the rowdy, rebellious, bold, outspoken, creative, drug curious, big thinking, opinionated, fascinating crowd from the 60’s … are so easily offended and require a gentle “professional customer service” approach is almost laughable. They want to keep living and feeling and being provoked to think and create. They want interesting activity – and seriously, what is interesting about being proper and dull (that creates distance and a false sense of safety.) And I have found this all along the way even with the stoic generation of elders we have been serving!

Kindness, vibrancy, authenticity and connection are above all what I want if I have to live in an elder care community.

To go back to the F-bomb, I do use “inappropriate language” during my consulting when I sense that we need to cut through the distance and get real. I find it instantaneously wakes up the room and changes the perspective – I become real. I also tell vulnerable, uncomfortable stories when I want a group to feel that I am real and not another “professional” who is separate or above them.

I am not suggesting that you encourage your staff to start integrating bad language into their work routines. But I am suggesting that you consider what  level of “professionalism” you would want if you were in an elder care community. I can tell you that the people I know – yes half of my close friends are over 65 – are resistant to living in an elder community because they (and I) fear the lack of real true connection with others. The noise of real conversation, the freedom to do and say what we want, of being exactly who we are, when we want and the fear of going to live like we are living in a hotel with stuffy customer service everyday. I can feel the fear rising! And honestly, like now, I will welcome the good use of “inappropriate” language when it is warranted.

Every person connects in a unique way – elders and staff members. Teaching your team members how to connect in a person-centered way without sharing their drama will give them the freedom to access all of their energy, not wasting it on being professional but using it on being real.

Originally published on The Spunky Caregiver.

How to “trick” your brain into calm and positive thoughts

How to “trick” your brain into calm and positive thoughts

The way you breathe affects the patterns of your thoughts.

Remember that old song “The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone…?” Well, it’s true that everything is connected. The systems of the body are not separate. The health of our breath affects every system of the body in some way.

If you are breathing shallowly and rapidly your mind will follow.

Shallow breathing triggers your sympathetic response system (your fight or flight system). For example, imagine someone approaching from behind at night. You jump, lift our shoulder up, and take a quick shallow inhale of breath. This is fear, and it triggers a fear response. The body triggers that system any time you are breathing shallowly, because it thinks you are in a stressful situation or might need to react quickly. In addition, the mind starts racing looking for threats and possible solutions.

When you breathe deeply and fully, your mind calms, and your thoughts are clearer.

When you breathe deeply engaging the diaphragm, the body triggers its parasympathetic system, which then releases calming chemicals into your body. A common example would be when you get angry and someone suggests you “count to ten.” The idea is to breathe deeply and slowly while counting to ten, giving the body time to release the chemicals that will calm the angry thoughts. You can feel the calming sensations as you slow down and deepen your breath.

When you have the responsibility of caregiving, life becomes more complex and even small tasks can feel overwhelming at times.

Paying attention regularly to how you are breathing can shift your experience of caregiving, and your life, in a moment.

When I am aware of my breath, I feel more in control of my mind, which in turn, affects my body.

When I feel discomfort in my body, physical or emotional, I pay attention to my breath, change its rhythm and then watch how it affects my body. For example, when I feel anxious and overwhelmed by things I have to do, I stop for a minute and check if I am breathing deeply. Most likely I have been holding my breath longer than necessary or I am shallowly breathing only into the top of my lungs. I can relax my body and deepen my breath. Almost immediately I feel a softening in my mind and my anxiety decreases. Or when I am feeling a headache, I stop and check if I am breathing deeply. Since deep breathing triggers a relaxation response, I imagine my neck muscles are softening and the tension causing my headache releases.

Learning how to breathe deeply and in a healthy way through a breathing or meditation practice can:

  • Help manage pain
  • Reduce loneliness, anxiety and stress
  • Improve respiratory efficiency
  • Strengthen immune response
  • Enhance peace, joy and engagement in life
  • Increases mental and physical alertness.
  • Reduces and releases muscular tension

It takes practice to create a new habit of paying attention to how you are feeling and noticing how the rhythm of your breath affects how you feel.  Watch the video above for a demonstration on deep breathing techniques.


To learn more about healthy breathing and how to help others to breathe well, check out Kelly’s books, How To Lead Meditation Groups For Seniors, and Breathe: The Simple Guide to Breathing Better for People 50+.