January 29

Ask the Expert: Upgrading Your Calendar


Q: I usually get a nice wall calendar for my mother each year in December and help transfer over important dates when I’m there to visit. This year, I didn’t because I knew it was too much for her. She will still ask what day it is and what (if anything) she has planned. Is there a better tool I could use?

A: First of all, it’s commendable for you to notice that your mom’s abilities have changed and that the status quo of keeping track of events, dates, appointments, etc. is unsustainable. Having a loved one with declining abilities means a constant flow of assessing and adapting, and it’s great that you realize this.

Even those of us with good memories rely heavily on our calendars, whether on paper or electronically. But, we remember to check them and remember how to use them. With increased memory impairments this becomes more and more difficult. Sometimes it is less overwhelming when a person can use a calendar day by day or week by week. Even then, (s)he may need prompting to use it. Vision and comprehension issues play a large role and must also be considered.

Let’s look at some calendar tools as well as tips for how to put dates and appointments on them.

Depending on your mom’s abilities and her living situation, you could try some of the following:

  • If you are local and able to visit often, creating something for just that week might work. There are many nice-looking erasable whiteboards that can be set up on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Always make sure that what you use is large enough for her to see and uses an easy-to-read font.
  • Not local? Use a printer with a remote printing option. Set it up in her home and link it so you could create and have printed for her a weekly, daily, or monthly calendar there. (Hint, you may have to call her to let her know you’ve sent it to the printer.)
  • Some older adults no longer have the ability to keep up with electronically adding new appointments or changing them, but can still read and comprehend one that is set up by someone else whether on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can use shared calendars such as Google calendars or apps (my favorites are Cozi and Time Tree). This way one or both of you can get reminders.
  • Do you have other family members involved to divide and conquer? Maybe you’re the sibling who keeps track of all the appointments, but your brother lives closer and sees your mom more often. A shared family calendar would allow you to make updates/changes that your brother can see and help keep your mom informed of.
  • If your loved one is tech-savvy enough and comfortable with the privacy factors, utilizing something like the famed Alexa to sync with the calendar could be helpful. She can ask, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?” Note: not advised for people with more than mild cognitive impairment, as the voice of “someone in their home” may be extremely frightening…

Whatever method you use, the way things are written on or entered into a calendar can make a big difference. For example, if the doctor’s appointment begins at 9:30 but your mom needs to arrive at 9:15, have the calendar say: Dr. Smith, arrive at 9:15. If you or someone else drives your mom to appointments like these it should say: Dr. Smith, Jane will pick up at 9 a.m.

Even things as simple as meeting friends weekly in the dining room of an assisted living facility can be entered every Tuesday like 6 p.m. Dinner with Smiths. Or weekly bridge game, church services, etc. (Hint, many of the calendar programs and apps have the option for recurring events in categories such as every Tuesday or the 5th of the month, etc.)  Again, even written this way, she may need a phone call reminder or alert from the calendar app the day of or the day before.

I don’t know about yours, but my mom is the best with mailing cards. She’s never late and she sends them for occasions I might not even think of. If there is a birthday or special occasion that she would normally send a card for, you can enter these tasks on the calendar, too. For example, she may not look a week ahead, see that it’s her sister’s birthday, and comprehend that now might be the time to write out the card. So a heads up reminder on her calendar could help ensure that special card gets to the person on time.

There may be a period of trial and error to find the best fit for a loved one, but helping them to maintain a bit of independence, security and to (possibly) keep your sanity with those continuous scheduling questions, it’s well worth it. There may come a time when none of these methods will work and it’s even possible that she’ll just stop asking, but for now, try to keep adapting and give her the best tools possible to keep her feeling less frazzled or anxious about what’s on the agenda for the day/week/month ahead.

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