Keeping track of the little things–like glasses, hearing aids, medication bottles, and medical equipment batteries–can be one of the most frustrating things about caregiving. Seniors, as they age, can become more forgetful or absentminded. Seniors with dementia or other degenerative cognitive conditions may become even more so, making the process of remembering the small stuff about as frustrating as possible. Car keys get misplaced; hearing aid batteries get lost in a drawer full of junk; important papers may get tossed out with the spam mail. It is easy to allow the small things to get in the way, but following a few simple steps can make keeping track of small stuff less of an obstacle on the road toward great caregiving.
Especially during a move from a less-organized routine to a more-organized one, a caregiver may need to spend some time consciously walking the senior through routines that show how certain objects are kept in specific locations. For example, for several weeks, upon arrival the caregiver can walk and talk through putting car keys on a hook by the door, hanging his or her coat up in the hall closet, and depositing mail on a sofa table. “A place for everything, and everything in its place!” can be a chipper verbal cue to reinforce the lesson that everything should be put in a proper location. Once both caregiver and care receiver have cemented the routine into daily habits, it is less likely that things will be lost unless the routine is severely interrupted. A caregiver may be rewarded by the sight of the senior diligently hanging up keys, depositing mail, and putting away jackets in the closet.
Routines are especially important for seniors with cognitive impairments. Implementing and following routines can do more than just help keep track of stuff–it can actually help seniors’ brains process and remain healthy, since following routines is a low-stress activity for the brain. It also means that in case of an emergency, their brains are more likely to following memorized routes to where important things are stored so they can grab them before they leave the house.
Designate Homes for Small Objects
A trick that teachers often use to keep classrooms and students organized is to have specific, clear places for specific things. Most teacher have a file folder for each student and their graded work, or a box for finished tests or projects to be graded. Designating a hook or bowl by the door for keys or a drawer in the bathroom for hygiene products such as nail clippers and tweezers can help keep these small objects from being lost.
A caregiver may want to color-coordinate or otherwise label objects. Red-topped house keys can go in a red bowl.
If a senior has cognitive difficulties such as memory loss or episodes of confusion, a caregiver may want to color-coordinate or otherwise label objects. Red-topped house keys can go in a red bowl; a ‘Medications” label on the outside of the cabinet shows everyone where medication goes, versus a “Topical Ointments” label for a cabinet or shelf containing hand lotion and petroleum jelly. Helping the brain make these connections means fewer lost objects, and could make a huge difference in the case of an emergency.
A principle of organization is to group like things with like. For example, a woman senior might want to keep her hearing aid in or near her jewelry box, with her earrings. The mental connection of “things for the ears” will help reinforce memory of where the item is. For an elderly gentleman, a hearing aid might well be placed near speakers. Once again, the association of equipment that magnifies sound may create a shortcut in the brain to knowing where this item resides.
Make a List and Check It Twice
Mr. Claus had a pretty good piece of advice. It is helpful to keep a list of small items needed for things like doctor’s appointments, vacations, and trips to the grocery store. If possible, the lists may be typed into a computer and multiple copies printed out. When it is time to leave, items may be checked off the list, and a second list can be checked once again before pulling out of the driveway.
Caregivers do well to work together with the seniors in their care to make lists. Caregivers and seniors may have different priorities; making a list together makes keeping track of little things and their locations a joint effort. This will also avoid any episodes where the senior is upset that something small but important to him or her can’t be found yet is dismissed as insignificant by the caregiver.
Mr. Claus had a pretty good piece of advice.
Make a list and check it twice!
Use Technology to Your Advantage
There are some amazing apps and gadgets out there that help people find lost things and also remember small items. A smartphone may be a big help. Using a money organization app such as Mint, an appointment reminder app such as Google or Apple Calendar (or Apple’s Reminders app to make grocery lists), pharmacy-focused apps that automatically call in refills, or even alarm clocks that come standard on most cell phones will help keep time, money, shopping, and even medications organized. Apps to find lost phones are available. (Find My iPhone is the most common and popular, but they exist in several iterations available in individual smartphone stores.)
There are also gadgets that help find lost or misplaced objects, like keys, glasses, or wallets. The product Tile, for example, uses an app on a smartphone to ding a location, so long as the person is in a 50-150 foot range of whatever has been attached to it. By sticking a “tile” on a key ring or onto the back of a wallet, a caregiver can easily find these missing objects at a few clicks of a button. These kinds of apps do not break the bank; they run around $20 per tile. The StickR TrackR works in a similar way, but uses Bluetooth connections (rather than a data connection) to crowdsource the location of a lost object. This one is slightly costlier at around $25 per TrackR, but it still does not offer too much of a financial burden if only used for a few important items. The anguish experienced when important items are lost is well worth avoiding for both the caregiver and the senior in care.
In general, the keys to staying organized are developing routines and sticking to plans. Many caregivers develop their own tips and tricks along the way. Feel free to share helpful hacks for keeping track of the little things in the Comments below.
Naziri, J. (April 1, 2014). 7 gadgets to keep track of the things that matter most to you. Techradar. Available at http://www.techradar.com/us/news/mobile-computing/7-gadgets-to-keep-track-of-the-things-that-matter-most-to-you-1239023. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
Sifferlin, A. (February 11, 2016). Longevity: It’s the Little Things That Keep Us Young. Time. Available at http://time.com/4217061/its-the-little-things/. Retrieved June 20, 2016.