By: Molly Wisniewski
The Upside to Aging
The Power of Notetaking
It seems simple, but notetaking can be your number one tool in caregiving. A significant decline in the health of older adults will often bring with it a ton of new information that you as their caregiver will need to know and remember. This coupled with the natural struggle of coming to grips with this new way of life can be overwhelming for just about anyone.
The internet has become an excellent resource for family caregivers to tap into new ideas and tips and tricks on how to provide the best care to your loved ones. Each resource, however, will undoubtedly signal the need to change your routine. And often it is these small nuance changes that will make your life as a caregiver that much more comfortable.
For instance, person-centered care is a vast concept, which as the name suggests requires us to provide care solely on the individual needs and values of our loved one. So how do we give this type of care without completely uprooting our already well-established routine?
Quite frankly, it is hard. But there are ways to make the fall-out of these changes more tolerable and all you’ll need is a notebook and pen!
If you don’t already journal or keep a planner, getting yourself into the habit of journaling may take some time. A great way to start is to buy yourself a planner you really like. Take time to picking one out and make sure it suits your personality…sounds silly I know, but if you like how it looks, you are likely to use it more!
I get mine from Target for about $5-$10, but I’ve seen them in just about every retail store and even online.
The most important thing I’ve learned about journaling is that there is no “right” way to do it. I use to feel intimidated by having to provide deep insight, or it had to be neat with no scribbles.
Not anymore. I use them for just about everything without much rhyme or reason, but it is mine and when I need to look back on something I wrote for a reference I know exactly where to find it, which makes my life a heck of a lot easier!
In our article, Dementia Care: Identifying Triggers we overview the importance of identifying triggers. If all we want is for our loved ones to feel safe and secure, we must look out for what in their environment is triggering them. Below is an excerpt example from that article.
A helpful way to learn and remember triggers is to write them down while also noting the time of day they occur and the details of the scenario. For example, Mom may start yelling at breakfast – This only happens on Monday and Wednesdays which just so happens to be the same days she has a shower right before breakfast. The negative feelings she has towards her shower are carrying over into the rest of the day. In this case, there are a couple of things we can try: 1. Offer a bit more time in between shower and breakfast, so that she can calm down. Maybe even play a bit of her favorite music in her room to relax too. 2. Change the time of her shower to after breakfast. 3. Assess whether a shower is still an appropriate method of care.
Document! Document! Document!
In long-term care, we call this type of note-taking “documentation.” Documenting incident’s that occur just after they happen is the best way to ensure our memory of the situation is preserved.
As a family caregiver, particularly the primary caregiver, you will no doubt be recounting an event to multiple people for the first few weeks after it occurs. Elevated emotions are a genuine aspect, especially in senior care.
The way we frame a situation or event can have a significant impact on the individuals in our care. If we make their recent fall out of bed into a story of decline others will begin to perceive this as well, and your loved one will no doubt begin to be watched with more unwarranted scrutiny.
Managing Our Memory
Keeping a notebook will allow you to document the event just after it happens so that the details remain fresh in your mind. Accurate documentation is the best way to ensure that your loved ones care is managed appropriately.
Does their fall out of bed really make them a fall risk or was it simply because they got up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom and couldn’t see? Distinguishing between the two can be the difference from prematurely transitioning your loved one to a walker or wheelchair or more simply buying a bedside commode and nightlight.
Keep Track of Appointment’s
Keeping a notebook is beneficial in both managing doctor’s appointments and remembering what the doctor says when you get there. Particularly for older adults, a doctor’s appointment can become quite complicated with progressions in their diagnosis or new forms of medication.
Take Note of what the Doctor Says
While you are sitting there listening to the doctor, you may feel like you’ll remember it all, but then as soon as you get up to leave all you remember is the anecdotal greeting that was exchanged.
Bringing your notebook with you to all doctor’s appointments allows you to take notes throughout the appointment. Also, if you have recorded new symptoms or changes in the behavior of your loved one you’ll be able to accurately recount the episode with them.
Catch New Symptoms Early
Staying aware of these types of changes and keeping their doctor up-to-speed on their prognosis will best ward off any surprises in your loved ones care. Too often, we think that major changes occur out of the blue when in fact there have been smaller changes or warning signs leading up to this significant change.
Keep Calm and Write On
Family caregivers have an exuberant number of to-do’s on their list, keeping a notebook is a great way to stay on top of all of them. You don’t have to be a writer to do this either! Jotting down thoughts or notes will simply make recalling everything that much easier.
Pick out a notebook that you really like whether it be a fun design or a certain type of binding, it will help in getting into the practice of keeping notes.
Note taking is a wonderful opportunity to take some time for yourself in the caregiving process and while yes you will be primarily writing about your loved ones care it gives you back the control and empowers you to provide the best care possible!
About the Author: Molly Wisniewski has cared for older adults living with dementia for over ten years. She is a graduate of the Erickson School, UMBC where she received her M.A. in the Management of Aging Services. Her blog The Upside to Aging is dedicated to sharing an alternative and more positive side to aging. You can contact Molly at firstname.lastname@example.org.