Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gifts to share- Part 2 – Keeping eyes off ‘self’ helps keep a positive perspective throughout the aging process

Marlu and Buddy’s story (Part One) was an example of making volunteerism work despite and intense level of caregiving and cognitive decline volunteer, which I called Level 5 caregiving. For the purposes of comparison, I’ve broken down other care levels with tips on how to encourage the senior you love to continue to give back despite challenges faced by having an aging body.

Care Level 4 : Caree has mobility issues, may or may not drive.

Just because a senior needs a walker, cane, or other mobility device to make movement easier and safer, doesn’t mean his or her mind and hands can’t perform volunteer tasks. Use those mobility aids to help you get out and make a difference! Look for jobs that don’t require great deals of movement. Many organizations welcome the help of someone to sit down and write, type, or address newsletters, or other clerical tasks. Sorting books to put on carts to be returned to the shelves at a library or being a Children’s Storytime leader at the local library might be a perfect fit.

Care Level 3: Senior has vision, hearing impairment, may or may not be driving.

Many seniors withdraw from social interaction when hearing and visual impairments are everyday challenges. Just as family members and the senior find coping strategies, those can be applied to volunteer settings too, enabling your loved one to stay active and involved.

 So what do you do at home when vision or hearing is a challenge?

For the visually impaired, make sure the lighting in the volunteer venue will work for the tasks at hand. If necessary, find magnifying tools to help with tasks. For example, a senior with VI (Visual Impairment) can still help address invitations for a fundraiser but may need to use pre-printed labels instead of writing them by hand. If reading to children in an after school program, a magnifier may be the answer. The tool will also fascinate the children and teach a lesson or two. “I may need help, but I still want to share with you,” is a powerful message that doesn’t have to be spoken.

My mother lost most of her vision in her early 60’s but still had much to offer. Though she couldn’t drive, or sew anymore, she joined a crafting group and helped stuff the animals they made for children at a local hospital. In her case, she received an additional benefit with the social connection and friendships in the sewing group.

When hearing is an issue, make sure the work takes place in an appropriate setting. Background noise and the acoustics of a room may cause problems, particularly if the volunteer needs to hear directions or responses from others regularly. If hearing aids are used, this can still be an issue, as hearing aids may need to be adjusted for use in different locations. Sometimes moving the site where the volunteer work is done
(addressing envelopes at home rather than in a noisy office) helps. The type of work a senior can do may or may not be affected by hearing loss as long as the directions for the task can be offered and clarification gained as need. Make sure written instructions follow any given orally.

Regardless of limitations a senior may feel, look at what areas of life (and in the home) are not physically challenging and try to find a community connection for the same or a similar activity. If sorting and folding laundry is a doable task, consider volunteering at theatre group needing help with costume inventory. If gardening and planting flower beds is therapeutic at home, try offering to put in some beds at another location - maybe even doing it for another senior who couldn’t do it for himself.

Up next: Conquering the driving issue when encouraging your caree to stay active with volunteering.

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