Caring Currents

What's The Hurry? Slowing Down Eases Stress

Last updated: Nov 17, 2008

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The other day I read a piece of caregiving advice that cut through all the rest and really spoke to me. It applies to pretty much any situation or circumstance, and it's so very simple: Avoid being in a hurry. 

In other words: Slow down.

The writer happened to be someone in a discussion group that's generally focused on how rushing and old age don’t mix, causing all kinds of tension between seniors and their caregivers. Stiff joints, muscle weakness, aches and pains, fears -- whatever the reason, old age is, in the natural life cycle, a time for slowing down. Accepting this, and planning for it, can make life so much easier for seniors and the people caring for them.

How do you plan for slowness? Well, I think there are two approaches. One is practical and the other philosophical.  

On the practical side:

  • Be realistic about how much time it will take for you and the senior in your care to run errands, go to appointments, and so on. Consider things like getting in and out of the car; using stairs, elevators, escalators; packing and unpacking walkers or wheelchairs; using wallets or purses.
  • Same goes for daily tasks like eating, dressing, bathing, even getting in and out of bed. Most of these involve fine and gross motor skills, using small and large muscles together -- coordination that gets tougher with age. Everyone deserves the dignity of ample time for personal tasks.
  • Schedule things wisely so you aren’t forced to hurry. For example, don't plan outings too early in the morning or too close to closing times.  Avoid back-to-back activities, or cramming too many things into a day.
  • Pick restaurants, stores, and activities that are better suited to a relaxed pace than a rushed experience. Consider "personality," space, location, noise. Is this place close to parking or easy to walk to? Easy to maneuver for seniors who may have balance problems? Open to lingering? How are the acoustics? Will you be able to hear each other?
  • Consider natural body rhythms. Is the senior you care for a morning person, late sleeper, night owl, afternoon napper? By all means, do what you can to honor these natural comfort zones.

On the philosophical level:

Acceptance is always a helpful aim, I find.  In most cases, seniors can’t help moving more slowly -- there’s simply nothing they can do about it. If they could, they would. Accepting this, taking a deep breath, and going with the flow -- even if it's slower than yours -- is much easier than fighting it. Plus, there's a domino effect: When caregivers relax, the seniors they're caring for do, too.

Yep, I know "snailing-down" is challenging for busy-bee types who keep a lickety-split pace. But here's a thought: Why not look at it as an opportunity for you to take a break.

This is especially relevant as we head into the holiday season. (Note to self: Keep this in mind as my family plans gatherings.)

(A special thanks to Marney, who fueled my thoughts when she started the "slowing down" discussion, which includes many more ideas and reflections on the subject.)

Photo from Flickr user Betty Snake under a Creative Commons attribution license.