Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Caregivers’ Journey: When Life Hands You Lemons, Bake a Lemon Pie

By Marsha Kay Seff

As an adult child of octogenarian parents, I wore a virtual millinery shop full of hats.   Often, it felt as if I needed more heads.  I know I needed more arms and legs -- and much more time.

One of my most-frayed chapeaus was my thinking cap, for I was most certainly the daughter of invention. A big part of my role as the designated caregiver was inventing gizmos that would make my parents' lives more manageable and comfortable.

And, if I must say so, I became very good at that role.  New problems simply meant I needed to be creative.  Often paint, tape or string was enough to glue my parents’ lives back together, at least temporarily.

When my mom first moved into her assisted-living apartment, she hated the 6-foot-high, gray concrete wall that separated her balcony from the real world.  Because we couldn't knock down the wall, I camouflaged it with painted leaves.   Mom never stopped teasing me about the "anatomically incorrect" foliage, but it did alleviate the claustrophobic feeling.

Mom's walker was another coup.  To encourage her to embrace the dreaded equipment, I gave it a personality.  A child's denim skirt from a local thrift store made a practical, hanging catchall.  A Goofy bicycle horn and a bicycle license plate, announcing "New Kid on the Block," warned other pedestrians to get out of her way.  The once-institutional walker became a conversation piece that Mom grew to accept, if still not love.

To keep her blouses safe from spilled food, I fashioned an apron out of old denim overalls.   And, when the apron fell short of her zest for food, I bought an assortment of colorful fabric remnants, which she appliqued over stubborn stains.

Benjamin Franklin couldn't hold a candle to me and my use of string and elastic.  When my mother broke her pelvis and had to use a portable potty by her bed, I hung the T.P. from a string so she could actually find the tissue and reach it.

For the times when Mom needed a nurse and couldn’t reach her call button, I added an extra-long string. For times when that wasn’t long enough, I bought her a loud referee's whistle.

When Dad couldn't reach his nightstand from his bed at the skilled-nursing facility, I hung his radio from the bedrails.   I also attached a piece of short elastic to his TV remote so he could reel it in.

Elastic also kept my mom's room key on a short leash, which I attached to her catchall bag with a safety pin.

Here's a list of some other easy solutions to everyday challenges:

  • A plastic cup hanger stuck to the wall held the controls for Mom’s electric bed. 
  • Because Dad had limited wall space, I filled a cork bulletin board with a montage of family photos. 
  • When Dad couldn’t reach his bedside phone, I attached it to his hospital tray with extra-strength, double-sided tape. 
  • So that Mom could contact me without having to find her phonebook, I taped my number to her phone.  (Although that made her life easier, it often disrupted mine at inconvenient times)
  • To make it easier for Mom to organize and reach the food on the bottom shelf of her mini-fridge, I added small plastic baskets that she simply pulled out. 
  • Because Mom could no longer carry a container to water her flowers, I filled her balcony with silk blooms.  

I only wish that all life's hurdles could be solved with faux flowers, string and elastic.

Sponsored by Right at Home, In-Home Care & Assistance,, (858) 277-5900, Contact Marsha Kay Seff at

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