An empty notebook brings practical and emotional possibilities
You probably have one lying around: a lovely blank notebook. They come in all sizes, shapes, and designs. Maybe it was a gift or a marketing giveaway. Maybe it was purchased for a project that never got started. Maybe it found its way home from the office supply closet. Regardless of where it came from, there are endless ways that notebooks can be useful for caregivers tending to an older adult.
Here are five of my favorite ways a notebook can transform from a bunch of blank pages to a handy tool for caregiving:
We all do it—we make our daily to-do list on the back of a scrap of paper or a Post-it note, only to misplace it hours later. We then remake the list, only to worry whether we remembered everything that was on the first version. Of course, we’ve rewritten it on another piece of paper that we are bound to lose once again.
A notebook is much harder to misplace and keeps the daily to-do lists together, which makes it easier to reference previous lists for carryover items. Having a central location to track your tasks helps keep you organized, reduces the anxiety of trying to keep everything straight in your head, and reduces the chances of your losing your list (or your mind).
2. The conversation keeper
If you have a professional aide helping in the care of your loved one, a notebook is a great tool for maintaining an ongoing dialogue with that person. Sure, text messages are great, but with texts, it’s more difficult to reference prior conversations, and texting can easily get out of hand. To get a break from the barrage of messages popping onto your screen each day (not to mention discouraging your care provider from looking at her phone too frequently while on duty), ask your care provider to check the notebook for daily messages and to write down important information throughout the day. (Obviously, urgent matters should be communicated immediately.)
For example, the care provider might keep a record of your loved one’s activities, meals, sleep patterns, mood, or expressed concerns. You might ask her to record interesting or funny things your loved one talked about, or make note of new or unusual behaviors. Using the notebook to convey your instructions also reduces the chances of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Further, it gives you a chance to encourage your care provider by writing notes of thanks, gratitude, and appreciation. A handwritten smiley face goes a long way.
3. The good ole journal
Caregiving is an emotional journey. Give yourself the opportunity to express your thoughts, feelings, and observations in the written form. Studies have shown that people who write about their feelings experience a greater sense of well-being than those who do not. Those who write about their experiences describe a sense of clarity that comes out of the writing process. And many people attest that thoughts they would never have had the courage or strength to express verbally easily flow when pen hits paper.
Keeping a journal allows you to vent without causing harm to another person and helps to sort out feelings of confusion or uncertainty. If you have a big decision to make, you can write out a “pros and cons” list in your journal, then reflect on what you’ve written over many days until you reach a decision. If there are things you want to say to your loved one but for one reason or another can’t, writing that person a letter in your journal can be a cathartic and healing experience.
4. The coloring book
According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, for people with dementia, “Art projects can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose. They can provide the person with dementia—as well as caregivers—an opportunity for self-expression.”
Just like children can draw before they can write words, older adults with cognitive impairments can make art long after they’ve lost some of their verbal expression. Art activities may need to be supervised at first, but once you are confident that your loved one has the hang of it, encourage him or her to continue engaging in these activities because art can create happy moments, increase communication, and improve brain function for your loved one.
5. The gratitude journal
In stressful times, it’s easy to get caught up in negative, hopeless thinking. Keeping a gratitude journal is a quick and lovely way to remind yourself that life isn’t all bad, even when it’s really tough.
The instruction is to write down three things a day that you feel grateful for. It could be something big, such as “my health” or “my family for being so supportive even though I’m helping Mom so much of the time.” It could also be something small, such as “the 10 minutes I took to drink my coffee before starting in on my task list” or “the way the mail carrier stopped to ask how Mom was doing when I passed her on the street today.”
Regardless of what it is, make it honest and real. Use the notebook to maintain a record of your gratitude, and soon enough you’ll have a full notebook and an equally full heart.
Allison Gould, ESME’s Caregiving Resource Guide, is a licensed clinical social worker. For many years, her work focused on adolescents and their families. She currently provides outpatient counseling services to people aged 65 and older, as well as to their caregivers, at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, New York.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.