Enjoying Family Time

Caregivers: Make the Most of Summer with Your Loved One

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Long, warm nights, blades of grass tickling your toes and the aroma of a sizzling barbecue typically bring back cherished summer memories. If you’re caring for a loved one, don’t let summer slip away without sharing the simple pleasures of this fleeting season.

“As people age, and when dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are involved, people tend to spend more time indoors, even in the summer,” acknowledges Shawn Bennis, R.N., coordinator of the Henry Ford C.A.R.E. (Caregiver Assistance Resources and Education) Program. “As a caregiver, your time and energy are precious. However, spending time outside and indulging in some fun will rejuvenate you, bring you closer to your loved one, and create new memories you’ll cherish.”

For older individuals, brief outings and activities are often better matches for their energy level and mobility. Daytime activities also promote better nighttime sleep. Bennis offers these suggestions:

  1. Sit outside, even if only for a half an hour. “Set up chairs in the shade and sit outside together. Listen to the sounds of summer, sip a cool drink, and put cell phones, social media and TV aside,” suggests Bennis. If your loved one is an animal lover, consider getting a bird feeder or bird bath.
  1. Go for ice cream. Take your loved one for an ice cream or frozen yogurt – and if that’s not possible, bring the treats back and savor them together.
  1. Barbecue. “A big summer party or celebration may no longer be in the cards, but having a few close family or friends for a backyard cookout is very special, and less overwhelming for your loved one,” says Bennis. Keep it easy and have everyone bring something, and grill a favorite like hot dogs or burgers. If “home” is assisted living or a nursing home – check with them. Many are able to accommodate requests and may even have equipment on site you can borrow.
  1. Music. If your loved one is mobile and a music lover, find an outdoor concert in your area. Parks, civic centers and even shopping districts often host musicians and groups at low or no cost.
  1. Water. “A trip to a park to walk or sit by the water and view passing ships, ducks and geese can create a beautiful summer memory to share. If there’s a beach, wiggle those toes in the sand, or roll up pant-legs and stand in the water,” says Bennis.
  1. Summer foods. Does your loved one have favorite summer foods? Melons and berries, corn on the cob (which can be cut off to make eating easier), popsicles and s’mores can bring back memories of summers past, and are delicious.
  1. People watch. Simply watching people pass by is a good time. Outdoor shopping malls, parks and playgrounds are great places to observe.
  1. Catch a sunset. Go to a spot where you can watch the sun set – or for early birds, see the sun rise. Check your weather app for exact times so you don’t miss it.

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Use these ideas to get you started, and ask older loved ones about past summers. “Sharing memories and stories might spark an idea for something you could help them experience. It could be an activity they’ve never done but always wanted to do. Make adjustments to accommodate their physical needs today, take a wheelchair or walker, or bring the experience to them,” says Bennis.

If you care for a child, these activities are also a great starting point for making summer memories they’ll cherish. “Get away from computers, video games and social media and spend time outdoors, reconnecting,” adds Bennis. “Research shows free playtime benefits a child’s healthy development and contributes to mental, physical, emotion and social well-being.”

The Henry Ford C.A.R.E. Program offers assistance, resources, support and information for caregivers. Find out more about support groups, classes and how our staff can help make caregiving easier. Call (313) 874-4838, email CaregiverResources@hfhs.org, or log on to www.henryford.com/familycaregivers.