Time Out

Ever wonder why your elder gets so grumpy after a wonderful outing with you and your family?  They just had a great time!  We just had some family togetherness! Well, their time away from their home base may have exceeded their ability to enjoy it.

Elders, especially those living with dementia, have a limited window of time that they can handle lots of input, time away from their routine or just have the physical stamina involved in the sitting/walking/entering/exiting/car riding. When their timer is up on what they can handle – they get grumpy. Or exhausted, or confused.

How do you know what their time limit is?

There are several ways to determine it.

  • Ask them. Do they want to go for this outing? It will take about XX time.  Estimate the actual time away from their home or residence.  Remind them of the steps involved in the outing.
  • Ask their medical professional. At the next doctor appointment, chat with the doc or nurse practitioner about how long he/she thinks your elder would be comfortable away from their home or residence – their “home base”.
  • Ask the nursing staff of their facility. At your next care conference, bring up this topic.  Give them an assessment of what experiences you’ve had and ask for their recommendation.
  • Try out various times to see which length works best. This might be hard on everyone involved but it could give you the most accurate answer too.
  • Ask an aide, caretaker, friend or someone who lives with them. Ask this person how your elder does the day after an outing? Are they weak? Do they need extra sleep? Are they more confused than normal?  This could be an indication that they need to limit their time away from “home base”.


Keys to getting a good estimate:

  • Observe closely the “getting ready” phase. When you take your elder out, note the time it takes to start the process – meeting, greeting, maneuvering, getting the items assembled and ready for the outing (clothing, purse, food, medications, cane/walker/wheelchair).  Then note how long it takes your elder to get to, get in and get out of the vehicle.  How much effort are they expending in this first part of the outing?  Are they exhausted?
  • Observe their mindset. Are they more confused outside of their “home base”? Do they seem agitated?  Are they ready to leave as soon as you get there?
  • Note their enthusiasm throughout the time away from “home base”. If they are having fun, then start to act tired or not interested, you may be nearing their limit.
  • Give the elder a call or visit the next day. Ask them how they’re feeling?  Are they exhausted?  Shaky? Confused? Any of these are signs to narrow the window in which they are out of their “home base”.
  • Returning home – watch for their reaction. Are there lots of sighs?  Do they run out of steam as soon as they reach their doorway or favorite chair? Are they eager to see everyone off?
  • Get an independent opinion from their caretakers. These folks who are with your elder every day might have a better assessment than even your elder about what they are or are not capable of doing.  Your elder’s willingness and desire to go out with you may exceed their ability – that’s why getting an independent recommendation is valuable.
  • Taken together, these observations will give you a good indication of what your elder’s limits are, when they can go on an outing and when they are best staying home.


Giving permission is important.

  • Your elder may want to go out for as long as they used to go; however, they may not be physically or mentally up for the same length of time as in earlier days. It’s good to let them know it’s ok to say “no” if they are not up for an outing. It’s also ok to say when they’re ready to go home.
  • Allow yourself and your family the awareness that your elder is good for a certain amount of time, but not longer. This awareness helps give you a way to plan and evaluate when you can/cannot take your elder. It may limit feelings of guilt too.
  • Knowing what your elder’s limit is frees everyone involved up to enjoy the time you do have and make the best of it.


We recently determined that my mother-in-law was only comfortable outside of her “home base” for about an hour or a little more.  She loves going out for that period of time, but longer outings result in extreme tiredness the next day, confusion and, sometimes, grumpiness.  After one recent extended outing, she was so weak the next day that she fell several times – resulting in a trip to the hospital. We have since set a time limit on our outings, resulting in more fun for us all!

4 thoughts on “Time Out”

  1. Love this Suzanne! You are so wise. I’m not sure I could have figured this one out on my own. I’ve shared it with all of my siblings. It will be helpful.

  2. Suzanne, bought your book about 18 months ago and attended your siminar to help with my parents. My father passed a few months later. My mom has dementia and I had to put her in assisted living. Things are gradually getting worse. Thank you so much for writing your book. I wouldn’t have known where to start. It helped me get organize and made things a bit easier. I read your blogs and they are so helpful.

    1. Teri, thank you so much for your inspiring comment. I’m so sorry about your dad’s passing and hearing your mom has dementia. I remember meeting you and I’m so touched to hear that the book and blogs have been helpful. Blessings to you. Please stay in touch.

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