There is no “Age Limit” on Family Caregiving

Grandpa and Me

Grandpa and Me

Although caregiving is often viewed as something that occurs as we get into our middle ages (50-65), according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the distribution of caregiving age is different from what one might expect.  The overall average age of a family caregiver is 49.2 years old. 48% of caregivers are 1849 years old while 34% of caregivers are 65+ years old.  Personally, I started my caregiving journey when I was in my early 30’s caring for my Grandfather.

Trends are changing – Baby boomers have lower rates of marriage and fewer children, they also have children at later ages than previous generations which in turn will lead to family caregiving responsibilities being thrust on adult children at younger ages.  Nonetheless, currently, it is estimated that baby boomers (i.e., those born between 1946 and 1964) will spend as many years caring for an elderly parent as raising a child. For many women, the roles of primary caregiver for children and primary caregiver of aged parents overlap in occurrence and duration, creating a “sandwich” effect.

With this in mind, it is essential for everyone (no matter what age you are) to become proactive about their future care.  No matter how healthy your lifestyle, how good your genetic makeup life can throw you a curve-ball.  The question is not if we are going to have to deal with caregiving situations but when.

Many may think it unrealistic to think they can prepare themselves for issues related to caregiving and that it is something to deal with when it comes.  However, waiting for the emergency is not the most efficient way to manage potential future care.  The more proactive you are in setting up an emergency plan the easier it will be for you and your loved ones to make challenging decisions in the chaos of caregiving.  Not being prepared can have consequences for ourselves and our family members.

So what can you do?

There is a lot you can do to become proactive in planning for the unexpected.  Check out What if? for ideas that can support a proactive approach to future care needs.

Most importantly – DON’T WAIT!  Start creating a plan today or, if you have created a plan in the past (I applaud your proactivity!!), check the plan for any updates that need to be made (i.e.: if the family member designated as your POA got married/divorced and changed their name you will want to make sure that is documented).

For more resources visit: AlongComesGrandpa.com

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Nothing Left Unsaid

Pic via U.S. Air Force @usairforce

My mom recently visited New York and was showing me the pictures of the Ground Zero Memorial. One of my most unsettling thoughts regarding 9/11 was about what was left unsaid. My mind goes to a couple who possibly had a fight that morning, most likely about something trivial.  They both head off to work fighting some imaginary battle with each other and spending their commute planning the rebuttal argument they will have over dinner that will prove them right and their spouse wrong.

Because of the fight, they didn’t kiss their spouse goodbye or tell them that they love them; after all they’d make up later, they always do.  Sadly “later” never came.  I ponder this scenario because on many occasions I am that spouse. Fighting my imaginary battle, proving myself right at any cost to my relationships and personal health.

As none of us knows when our final day on earth will be then maybe we should treat each moment as uniquely special and an opportunity to share with those around us how we feel for them. This isn’t about living life in a chicken little state of falling skies or constant dread, it’s about putting aside our pride and telling people around us how much they mean to us.

Several years ago my best friends’ father died. He had been sick for some time, however; I don’t think anyone is every really prepared for the death of a loved one. As I sat with her after receiving the news, she shared how her dad had on several occasions by phone, in person and most recently in a letter, told her how much he loved her.  As she read his letter aloud I thought about what a blessing is for her to have the memories of her dad sharing over and over how proud he was of her and how much she meant to him.

Though very different scenarios, unexpected loss verses a terminal illness, both brought me to ponder the following questions:

  • Is being right more important than being loving to those around you?
  • Are there some unresolved issues that need to be addressed that you have been putting off?
  • Are their people in your life that you love that you maybe haven’t conveyed to them how much they mean to you?
  • Are their people who you need to forgive, including yourself, in order to live a more full and loving life?

I’m not saying it’s easy to put pride aside, choose our battles and maintain a loving attitude towards those around us.  However; what’s left unsaid can lead to bitterness, broken relationships and missed opportunities for a full and healthy life.

Pic via OnJacksonStreet.com

For many of us we have unresolved relationship issues over things that, when put in perspective aren’t all that important, as well as people we haven’t expressed our love and appreciate for in a while.  Why not take time today to give them a call or write a letter and leave nothing unsaid.

For more resources visit AlongComesGrandpa.com

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Caregiving and Chemo

Chemo_1The other day as I was sitting with a family member during their chemo, I noticed a couple walk into the clinic with a look of confusion and overwhelming fear.  In recent years I’ve attended weekly chemo treatments with family members and (sadly) have become somewhat proficient in the associated procedures.  However, this couple made me think about what I would have wanted to know before coming for my loved ones first treatment.

Here are a few suggestions for those of you whose loved one is or may be facing chemo down the road.

  • Everything is important – the littlest change in during the treatment could be important (i.e.: a new cough, rash, headache, etc.). The best way to track changes is by keeping a daily journal of temperature, food intake and even output (yes I’m talking bowel movements again). Bring the journal to doctor appointments and even if it seems insignificant make sure they bring it up to the doctor.  You never know what could be an important health concern.
  • Be prepared for everything and nothing.
    • Treatments can take several hours so bring things to do such as a deck of cards or books/magazines to read as well as snack and bottles of water in case either of you get hungry or thirsty during the treatment.
    • There may be times when you show up ready to sit for several hours and are sent home because of low platelets. Low platelet counts could change the timeline and/or type of treatment ordered.  Be flexible and supportive for your loved one if this happens.
  • Not everyone has side-effects but be prepared just in case. My aunt had no side-effects, others had nausea and hair loss.  Encourage your loved one to take anti-nausea medicine pro-actively just in case.  Talk to a cancer advocate through your doctor/hospital or the Cancer Association to find out about support programs (i.e. providing wigs and caps for hair loss).  Some also offer meditation, massage therapy and stress reduction programs that are beneficial to both the patient and caregiver.  Take advantage of programs offered in your area.
  • Let your loved one tell their own story. I have a tendency of sharing information and/or fill-in the gaps at doctor appointments that are not mine. Over time I have gotten somewhat better at keeping my mouth shut and only offering other information/asking questions after they share everything they want to.
  • Chemo Brain is REAL!( Chemo Brain Info) So what if they have told you the same story 5 times or if they say the same thing over and over again to the doctor and staff! There is no need to embarrass them or make them feel foolish for repeating themselves.  You can either gently remind them that you heard the story or better yet listen to it again and ask different questions about the story they are sharing.  Who knows, you may learn something new.

Your SUPPORT is KEY during their recovery.  Although it affects you, remember that they are the one going through treatment.  Your job is to support them in whatever they need and provide love and encouragement along the way.

 

 

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Caring for a Parent with Dementia – Caregiving Challenges

Dementia and Caregiving challenges

  • Sleep problems and caregiver exhaustion are two of the most common reasons persons Senior lady and her granddaughterwith dementia are placed in nursing homes. Causes of sleeplessness in dementia patients include pain, lack of exercise and activities, anxiety, agitation, or too much fluid or caffeine late in the day.
  • Urinary incontinence is the second leading reason that families institutionalize their loved ones with dementia. Urinary incontinence in persons with dementia should be evaluated for treatable causes, including urinary tract infections, electrolyte and calcium abnormalities, prostatic hypertrophy, and estrogen deficiency. A regular toileting schedule at two to three-hour intervals or verbal prompting may also alleviate this symptom.
  • Agitation and aggressive behavior have been reported in 65 percent of community-dwelling persons with dementia. Reasons for agitation or aggression include overstimulation, physical discomfort, unfamiliar surroundings or persons, complicated tasks, and frustrating interaction, as well as more serious reasons as paranoia, delusions, or hallucinations.
  • Caregivers may be embarrassed or ambivalent about discussing inappropriate sexual behaviors exhibited by persons with dementia.
  • Persons with dementia are often reluctant to stop driving when safety is at issue.
  • Repetitious questions may be due to short-term memory loss and an under-stimulating/over-stimulating environment leading to anxiety, feeling out of control, or fear.

Information for this blog cited from the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Medical Association

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Caring for a Parent with Dementia

When a diagnosis of dementia is made, the physician is pivotal in providing the doctor-with-elderly-patient-and-daughter-consulting-dementiaknowledge and resources that are needed to care for the patient. Because family members provide the majority of care for persons with dementia, they are an essential resource for the patient and the health care system. Making sure physicians who are overseeing medical care for your loved one understand your needs as a family caregiver and the challenges you face are essential aspects of caring for the person with dementia. A physician/caregiver/patient relationship is the recommended approach for meeting the needs of both you and your loved one.

Make sure your love ones’ physician

  • Understands that you are physically, emotionally, and financially vulnerable.
  • Understands that to be an effective and knowledgeable caregiver, you often rely on physicians to provide information about dementia symptom management and the availability of support services.
  • Physicians can provide a proactive approach to support by linking you with resources (e.g., the Alzheimer’s Association). This can improve your capabilities as a caregiver and lead to more successful and enduring caregiving.
  • Make sure your loved ones’ physicians work collaboratively with their other physicians, nurses and/or social workers who are knowledgeable about symptom and behavioral management strategies.

Needs of caregivers to dementia patients

Because dementia has a deteriorating course over an extended period of time, care problems can be anticipated and planned for well in advance.

  • The physician can help family members anticipate changes, plan for role transitions, and arrange for education and support that is needed to provide care.
  • In the earliest stages of the disease, it is helpful for caregivers to identify a health care proxy for the person with dementia. Encourage the completion of a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care form (your physician should have copies available in their office.) The copy of completed form becomes part of patient record.
  • Caregivers need to maintain their personal health and vitality to provide continuing care for the demented patient. (see Fundamental Rule of Caregiving and Recognizing Caregiver Burnout)
  • Caregivers should become familiar early in the illness with adult day-care services and in-home or in-facility respite services.
  • It is helpful for caregivers to visit and evaluate several long-term care facilities well ahead of the need for placement. Understand that institutionalization may be a normal progression in the process

Information for this blog cited from the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Medical Association

For more resources visit: AlongComesGrandpa.com

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10 ways to Maintain Your Brain© from The National Alzheimer’s Association

  1. Head first: Good health starts with your brain. It’s one of the most vital body organs, brainand it needs care and maintenance.
  2. Take brain health to heart: Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  3. Your numbers count: Keep your body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
  4. Feed your brain: Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that features dark-skinned vegetables and fruits; foods rich in antioxidants; vitamins E, C and B-12; foliate; and omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Work your body: Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and encourages new brain cells. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity. Do what you can – like walking 30 minutes a day – to keep both body and mind active.
  6. Jog your mind: Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections.  Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles.
  7. Connect with others: Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements may be most likely to prevent dementia.  Be social, converse, volunteer, join.
  8. Heads up! Protect your brain: Take precautions against injuries. Use your car seat belts; un-clutter your house to avoid falls; and wear a helmet when cycling.
  9. Use your head: Avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.
  10. Think ahead – start today! You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.

For more information and tips visit: http://www.alz.org

 

For more support visit: AlongComesGrandpa.com

 

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A Fundamental Rule of Caregiving (that No one can seem to Follow)

An essential imperative of caregiving is: Take care of yourself.  However; the majority of family caregivers are so busy taking care of others that they neglect to care for themselves.  The sad irony is that if caregivers made it a priority to care for themselves FIRST they would actually have MORE energy to help others and therefore be more available to help those around them.

Research by the Family Caregiver Alliance shares some significant reasons to make self-care a priority:

 Caregivers are in worse health.

  • 11% caregivers report that their physical health has gotten worse.
  • Caregivers reported chronic conditions (including heart attack/heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis) at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers (45 vs. 24%).
  • Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments (including acid reflux, headaches, and pain/aching), increased tendency to develop serious illness and have high levels of obesity.
  • Caregivers have diminished immune response, which leads to frequent infection and increased risk of cancers.
  • Caregivers exhibit exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stressful conditions putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
  • Women who spend nine or more hours a week caring for an ill or disabled spouse increase their risk of heart disease two-fold.
  • Women caregivers are twice as likely not to fill a personal prescription because of the cost (26% vs. 13%).
  • 72% of caregivers reported that they had not gone to the doctor as often as they should, and more than half (55%) had missed doctor’s appointments.

Paying the ultimate price – Increased mortality

  • Elderly spousal caregivers (aged 66-96) have a 63% higher death rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
  • In 2006, hospitalization of an elderly spouse was found to be associated with an increased risk of caregiver death.

Don’t become a statistic!

Simple steps to a healthier you:

  • Schedule time DAILY to take care of yourself (and stick to the schedule) – start out small and then increase the time each week (ex – 10 minutes of quiet time before bed – ½ hour walk after dinner)
  • Enlist family support – share with your spouse, kids and other family and friends that your scheduled time needs to be respected and supported.
  • Set boundaries – this can include scheduled visiting days/times with your elderly loved one (not every day), specific days of the week that the kids can have their friends over or go to a friend’s house.
  • Schedule a physical – this should be done ANNUALLY.  There are no ifs, ands or buts about it!

Here’s the good news – if you make self-care a priority, create a support system and set boundaries you can be healthier, happier and live longer.  Pro-active and preventative health measures are vital to helping those you love, because if you don’t take care of yourself, sooner rather than later, you wont be around to help those you love.

Start TODAY!

For more support visit – AlongComesGrandpa.com

****A portion of my book sale proceeds go to support breast cancer research.

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