The family to-do list

Get by with a little help from your family....and a to do list!

By Shona Johnsen, Community Educator, Dunedin

In the course of my work I regularly hear from carers that they would appreciate more support with basic household maintenance. They tell me it is sometimes the little things that build up and start to overwhelm them and this is certainly the case during this extended time of isolation. They are reluctant to ask family for assistance as they consider they are too busy with their own lives.

Yet, when I speak with families, they tell me they would like to do more to help but when they offer their support, they often get the response “we’re fine thanks”.

Asking for and receiving support can be uneasy, at times leaving us to doubt our independence. On the other hand, offering support is hard too as the giver doesn’t always know how to help. Starting with the belief that most offers are sincere, along with appreciating each other’s perspective and accepting that everyone in the family is affected by dementia, albeit in different ways, is a helpful way to look at things.

Here is a suggestion that is working well for some families. It’s simply a family ‘To Do’ list.

  • Each month write a list of the jobs that you would like done.
  • Get a grandchild or someone creative to make the list bold and bright
  • Beside each task leave a space for someone to write their name accepting responsibility to get that job done. Include the date the job is likely to get done.
  • If a job doesn’t get done, nothing needs to be said, just carry it over to the following months list.
  • While the list is mainly for practical things other requests and errands can be included.
  • Make sure the list goes somewhere for all to see.
  • When family ask what they can to do, smile and refer them to the list. Encourage a habit whereby everyone looks at the list when they come and go.
  • To begin with the list might be long but over time as everyone chips away the list will shrink.
  • Every now and then write a note of thanks on the list to show your appreciation.

Having a list is not intended to single anyone out as being better or less than someone else. It’s simply a supportive way for families to work together.

One family use this approach to have some fun, once a month they gather for takeaways and go over the list. For jobs uncompleted light-hearted penalties are handed out and small rewards given for jobs ticked off. 

Another family meet every month for a working bee. They all arrived prepared to work over a two-hour slot, then they knock off have a quick lunch and head off to do their own thing for the remainder of the day. As an exchange for everyone’s efforts some homemade baking might show up.

For family that don’t live locally they can still contribute in other ways, some may opt to buy the takeaways or employ a gardening firm to mow the lawns and do odd repairs. Some provide additional support by way of funding door to door meals. If you think creatively, you can come up with lots of good ideas that can be used for birthday and Christmas gifts as well.

If you are not comfortable writing the list or overseeing it, delegate this task to someone who is a good organiser, that way you will see results! 

So, if you think this idea might work for you find some bright markers, assign a list maker and get started!  


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