Introductory Note: We are not medical professionals. We just have extensive experience working in nursery homes and taking care of injured, sick or disabled family members, here called “patient”, insert whatever is relevant to you.
So here are our tips and recommendations, not necessarily in order of importance:
If you have a disabled family member, consider getting hold of a wheel chair and a specially designed “sitting” sleeping bag for wheelchair users. Alternatively make a carpet bag with a side zipper out of fleece blankets. Essential for bugging out or just if the heating fails.
Have a bedpan and a “bedside commode” or ”potty chair” available. Using this contraption, though initially embarrassing for the user AND the helper (if one is a family member and not in a professional relationship), can become a necessity. A port-a-potty is nice to have, but in case of a slipped disk or a broken or amputated leg, you really need a sturdy chair for the job. If you have to improvise – take an old, solidly built wooden chair – make a (max. bucket opening sized) hole in the seat, fasten a (removable) bucket or bedpan underneath and voila! Wheels only make sense if you manage to install brakes as well, actually a good reason to invest in a professional toilet chair before anyone needs it. The wheeled plastic/ steel version is also excellent for taking a shower while sitting.
Another not-so-nice theme that should be considered: Adult diapers – easily available now in all sizes and shapes. In addition disposable or quarter size washable sheets for putting under the bedpan, avoiding constant change of bedclothes, are a must for the sanity and back health of caregivers. Sleeping in an even slightly wet bed can be dangerous, and is certainly depressing. Here, as in actually all cases of caring for older people, one should not take their word for whatever, since the attitude of “don´t mind me, I´m fine” is installed into most of the members of the older generation. Check that the bed is dry, drinking water is available, clothing doesn´t hurt, no sores are developing, and all other factors you can evaluate on your own.
Not wanting to “bother” the caregivers might lead to actions like trying to get out of the wheelchair to reach something too high up, or holding back the need for the toilet until bedtime, possibly leading to accidents or increased health damage.
This is why it is also important to now get hold of some “reachers” so the patient has a chance to pick up things like their glasses and such without calling for help every time.
The possibility to sit supported in bed is also very important, either by a specially made triangular pillow (can be made out of foam mattress material); adjustable mattress support or simply an angled wooden board under a folded blanket. A slightly elevated chest area while sleeping can be very important for heart patients and patients with respiratory problems.
If at all possible, consider investing in a medical bed or at least one with adjustable head support. A “real” hospital/ nursing bed should include a pulley over the head for easy change of position (and to hang a bell from), and should have removable bedside rails on at least one side. In addition a medical bed should have lockable wheels and be height-adjustable. Such a bed is incredibly useful for taking care of people at home with the minimum of back problems for the caretaker. Taking a look now in a hospital at how these beds function can be useful for recreating the essential features at home, if you can´t afford to buy it or cannot get it through medicare. Maybe the second hand market for EMP safe good old fashioned mechanical beds is even preferable? Maybe even your nearest hospital sells off old equipment.
Some mattress considerations: If you want to avoid the horrible condition called pressure sores, something that might occur in unconscious or very weak patients who are not able to move around in bed, get hold of a sheep fur or some synthetic “anti decubitus” furs (- medical shop product but not pricey, also get hold of a bedpan, a “reacher” and a pair of adjustable crutches while you are shopping for medical equipment). The fur gets positioned directly under the heels and ideally also under the buttocks. Believe me, this is a case of better safe than sorry – you will rather want to wash some fur regularly (easy with the synthetic version) than seeing your loved ones develop pressure sores and having to treat that. In addition, if you can splurge or get it paid by health insurance, get a computer controlled “medical air mattress”, this eliminates most of the problem for patients not able to turn in bed.
For such a mattress a constant electric supply is of course necessary, but the only alternative might be to turn the patient once every hour by hand, (a job for two people if the patient is heavy) all through the night and maybe the day also… Maybe an old fashioned straw mattress would work just as well, I have no experience with that. In any case please use the heel fur and/or elevate the legs with folded blankets or pillows to avoid pressure on the heels. Here you have to adjust carefully to avoid blocking the blood flow below the knee, so if no feedback from the patient is possible, use common sense and maybe try the different pillow positions out yourself.
If a pressure wound already has developed before the patient came into your care, and the flesh even maybe has turned black - believe it or not, but cleaning with whey and plastering the wound with soft white fresh cheese called “quark” (similar to cottage cheese), can reverse this condition and create complete healing! The cheese bandage of course needs to be exchanged morning, midday and evening after carefully cleaning the wound with whey (which is highly disinfecting). If you don´t have access to whey from a farmer, you can buy it bottled as “Molkosan”, made by a Swiss firm called Bioforce/ Dr. Vogel. Anyway, this is a relatively messy and initially smelly business, so take care to keep the room properly aired and disinfect the air as well, e.g. by burning sweetgrass or or placing a pot of simmering water with some juniper twigs in on the oven; alternatively putting a drop or two (maximum five) of some essential oil like eucalyptus (ideally E. Radiata) on a light bulb or heating; use disposable gloves and take care to burn the used cleaning and bandaging material. Of course synthetic “air fresheners” you can forget in this context – we need the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties here.
We successfully treated a relative with a pressure damaged heel (diabetic condition) this way. The already black heel regenerated completely after some weeks of the “cheese and whey” method that hubby discovered in the book “der kleine Doktor” (“The Little Doctor”) by the abovementioned Dr. Vogel. Highly recommended book!
We started this unlikely sounding treatment as a last resort after the local doctor had given up and recommended surgery! The black skin fell off piece by piece and fresh pink skin grew back. Of course the legs were also supported by a pillow at night so pressure was off the heel.
I have not used this treatment on the kind of pressure sores that can develop as a channel under the skin. As far as I have seen the way to get rid of these wounds is often and regular cleaning with a flexible tube and salt water. I would also suggest chamomile tea for the rinsing.
For broken bones: 1/2 a cup of Comfrey/ Boneknit tea three times daily for max three weeks – we healed our “teenaged” cat with multiple fractures after a car accident with Bach drops and comfrey tea in his drinking water! The vet who fastened a mini metal plate with screws told us the cat would always limp. Imagine his surprise when, on the checkup half a year after removing the plate, both legs were perfectly equal and we could tell him our cat jumped and climbed on anything he could find...
Back to humans: For the patient in bed a radio, CD/MP3 player, reading board/ bed table and a short bed jacket can make life much more enjoyable, and feeling well taken care of also obviously speeds up recovery.
Flowers on the table do a lot to cheer the atmosphere in a room, but please no candles! Fire combined with a person unable to move is not a risk you want to take to take. [JWR Adds: This was how my great-great uncle, a stagecoach driver named Joseph Rawles died in 1872, while recovering at home from a gunshot wound. As my grandfather described it: "While he was recovering from the bullet wound, he was reading in bed one night. A breeze came up and blew the curtain over the coal-oil [kerosene] lamp, setting it on fire. Joe jumped up to try to put the fire out, and he had a hemorrhage, and died."]
A bell in reachable distance is vital unless the patient is senile and rings every five seconds, in which case a timer for regular checks will help.
Senility/ dementia/ diabetic confusion check: Ask the patient for his/ her complete name, birth date and current address. If not correct also a stroke might be the cause. You will have to evaluate if the answers show damage or just habitual confusion or even just shyness.
Some words of warning about senility: Mrs. Icebear´s experience: I once personally had to pry a Christmas table decoration out of the hands of a gentle old lady so senile that she was eating it, and even though it obviously didn´t taste she put up a brave face and conversed nicely with the non-existent people left and right of her while trying to chew candles and pine cones and such. Because of her exceedingly good manners she seemed otherwise normal, so until I saw her eating the candles I had no idea if the degree of her senility. With dementia patients also watch out for unusual crankiness – that might be a symptom of infection or pain. Sudden foul language or unintelligible mumblings can be a sign of dangerously low blood sugar in diabetics! A fast drink of apple juice and an added dextrose tablet has kept our relative out of hospital many a time. Of course we did this with the support of official caretakers (home nurse services).
More on dementia/ senility: Senile paranoia (“You have poisoned my water”) is not a lot of fun, and since this apparently can be induced by a lack of essential nutrients, it is important that also elderly people in your care get their vitamins and minerals.
We just found on the net that there seems to be no difference between the symptoms of alzheimer´s disease and vitamin B 12 deficiency, so it only makes sense to take especially care of this for everyone. The different B vitamins are naturally available for instance in unshelled rice and whole grains. For vegetarians: Some non-meat sources of B12 are also raw banana, raw papaya and, for the more northern gardeners: carrots, hawthorn berries and dandelions.
Beware of dehydrating herb teas, for instance nettle, blackberry and raspberry leaf tea are good mineral sources and useful for a short term kidney cleanse cure; but as a regular, everyday tea far too dehydrating. Since older people often lose their sense of thirst, and thereby drink too little water, it is especially important to check their fluid intake. Of course staying hydrated (between 1.5 and 3 liters per day for adults) is very important for all ages, e.g. to avoid kidney damage! Here is a piece for more on the importance of drinking water to stay healthy.
Elderly people often have an elevated pain threshold, so if an older person says something hurts, you have to take it seriously. For pain medication in general, remember the aspirin/ willow bark connection, and check out these articles:
Nettles have been used for lowering childbirth pain, and also have a host of other uses:
For teething children a piece of amber often eases the pain.
To avoid tooth ache in general, try cleaning your teeth with fresh sage leaves, get enough vitamin C.
To avoid earache consider wearing hats, caps, scarves or bonnets: If anyone, especially children have an earache it is a very serious condition to be treated as fast as possible, since if left untreated it is horribly painful and in the worst case can lead to permanent loss of hearing and even death. At the first sign of earache carefully put a cotton ball with one or maximum two drops of lavender oil in the outer ear; keep covered, draft free and warm. Alone or combined with a pain killer containing Ibuprofen (also anti-inflammatory) this might help to avoid the need for antibiotics at all if you act fast and keep the patient indoors until completely healed.
Apropos of antibiotics: There are natural alternatives like garlic for internal and external use (avoid for people with a heart condition) and honey and plantain for wounds. Read up hawthorn, ginger.
Alternative earache treatment if it is already serious and no doctor or antibiotic is available: If you have stored castor/ ricinus oil (this is one oil you do not want to risk making yourself from scratch since if done incorrectly it is very poisonous) you can pour some warm (not hot) drops into the ear, then out again before it cools. Clean well. Keep warm. Do the lavender treatment as well. Repeat at least twice a day until healed.
If you want more background info on this, check out Edgar Cayce (if you google him be prepared for a moderate to high tin foil hat level - warning hereby issued.) Anyway, with warm castor oil packs we have successfully treated painful joints, bronchitis and twisted ankles, amongst other things. The procedure for making the castor oil pack at home without specialized equipment is as follows (less complicated than it seems and definitely worth it when you see the amazing results):
First of all get hold of at good sized (quarter to half a liter) bottle of castor oil – if you get worried questions because of the amount tell the salesperson you need it for compresses, not for laxative purposes! Then dismember an old (not too chunky) wool sweater or fold some thin pure wool or old flannel cotton fabric so it can sponge up the oil. The size of the pack you make of course depends on what you are going to treat – a twisted finger obviously gets a different size pack than a child´s chest when getting a treatment for bronchitis. Put the fabric you want in a glass pot or big jam jar – soak the fabric in castor oil and heat the pot or jar in a second (cooking) pot with warm water until the oil is warm but not scalding. Careful please –hot oil is really hot! When warm - not scalding- (try out the temperature on the back of your hands!!!) put the pack on the patient where needed, then cover/ wrap the whole thing with cling film to keep the oil contained, then put a towel over that again and top it with a blanket to keep the warmth in as long as possible. Maybe gold foil over the towel – we have not tried that out. Important: These oil packs have to be kept warm as long as in use (typically 1 to 2 hours). Because of the cling film sometimes body heat can be enough to keep the warmth for a while, otherwise a hot water bottle does the trick. Remove the pack at once when starting to cool. Wash the treated skin thoroughly with baking powder instead of soap to get the oil completely off and avoid cooling. Throw away or leave in the pot/ jar until next time – can be reused some times. The fabric is not washable anymore, so this method calls for personal glass pots/ jars and fabric pieces for each family member.
The commercial version with instructions (avoiding the danger of too hot oil), see this article.
Some general tips to keep less physically active members of your family healthy and happy:
A good help for cleaning up clogged arteries is horsetail tea. Many herbs and spices are very useful for this and for regulating blood pressure, blood sugar levels and many other health issues, so get a book or do some internet research on wildflowers, herbs, spices and teas.
Special support stockings can be of enormous help if used the right way (put them on in the morning while lying on back holding legs up!) Also useful for avoiding thrombosis on long car or airplane trips.
To avoid constipation: a teaspoonful of crushed flaxseed in a glass of water each morning.
Training with rubber bands or dumbbells (or plastic bottles filled with sand) can work wonders for wheel chair users– keeping the fit parts of the body in shape is important! Also doing things that stimulate the finger nerves, like playing an instrument; knitting; crocheting; doing macramé (in prepper circles known as “paracord belt making”;-) even painting or writing keep joints supple and the brain healthy.
Of course these are all pretty obvious things, but here goes anyway:
Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, and of course reading and even listening to the radio keeps boredom at bay and the brain fit and functioning, also jobs like perimeter watch by PC screen or window; communications officer or teacher might be delegated to senior or disabled family/ group members, with advantages for all concerned. For sick children: in addition to books and drawing/ painting material, an old, salvaged Gameboy or PS1 might save everybody´s sanity.
At the end of the day sleeping medicine might be of help: Try the classic glass of warm milk, a drop of lavender oil on the pillow, or a cup of lavender or valerian tea! For older people: one (just one) drink of a favorite liquor has turned out to be more effective than sleeping pills (this info I have from a newspaper article about a private nursing home where the patients could choose between pills and a “night cap”).
In closing Mrs. Icebear wants to share an experience that dispelled any ideas that old age means bad health:
In the nursing home where I worked 30 years ago there lived a 98 year old lady that was just too healthy to die! She wanted so much to leave this world; so even though fit, she spent her time lying in bed singing and praying to Jesus to take her with him, but her body just stubbornly kept on functioning. One night she for some reason decided to climb out of bed over her bedside rails, thereby breaking a thigh bone; then as a follow-up she contracted pneumonia from being left sitting naked and wet in a wheelchair after a shower, so in less than a week she managed to get where she wanted so much to go. Needless to say I´m skeptical about nursing homes, but that is another, long story. Anyway, my point here is: If she would not so desperately have wanted to die, this old lady apparently could have gone on living for a long time. She had no diseases and in addition had a model´s size and shape. She was also not anorectic but simply healthy. The only visible sign of old age was her gray hair and slightly hollowed face, and the skin that was rather papery, covered with very fine wrinkles. When I complimented this dignified lady on her fantastic figure, and asked what she had done to get it she answered: “Mother made us sit up straight at the table – always remember to keep your back straight, she told us”. On my question if she had had a lot of physical activity she said: “Yes, we almost never took the tram, we walked everywhere!”
So this could be the recipe for health so sturdy that you might live long enough to get tired of it…J