Grief, Loss and the Holidays

The Hallmark movies always conclude with some type of Christmas miracle and joy for the characters in the story, however; in real life many people are experiencing unimaginable grief and loss during this holiday season. The journey of grief seems to become heightened during the holidays many times by the desire to experience those Hallmark moments of peace and joy. For many they put on a happy face and push forward through the season not feeling very holly or jolly but not wanting to burden others with their overwhelming feelings of sadness.

Though it may not seem possible to some there are ways to enjoy the holidays while experiencing the grief.

  • Acknowledge the loss: it is unrealistic to think that you can go to events with family and friends and not recognize that someone is missing or that due to unforeseen circumstances things in life have changed. This does not mean dwell on the loss; just acknowledge the challenges of moving forward in spite of the loss.
  • Tell people what you need: firmly, yet lovingly make others aware of what you need from them. Whether it’s a listening ear, some time to yourself or the distraction of going to a holiday event, being upfront about your needs will assist other in understanding how they can support you through the season.
  • Give yourself permission to say “no”: you don’t have to attend every event, party or program you may be invited to.
  • Give yourself permission to have fun without feeling guilty: when struggling with a significant loss we can sometimes get so caught up in our sadness that we actually feel bad when we are enjoying ourselves. Experiencing laughter and joy this season, in spite of the loss is good not only for your emotional health but your physical health as well.
  • Take care of yourself FIRST: grief takes a lot out of us emotionally, mentally and physically so make sure you are taking time to eat, rest and play.

For those who want to support someone who is coping with loss I share the following story: I received a call Thanksgiving morning from my best friend and neighbor, Heidy asking if she could come down and talk for a few minutes. Upon her arrival she tearfully shared how sad she was that her dad, who passed away a few months back, would not be around to celebrate the holidays.

My response was to listen, share how sorry I was that her dad died and let her know that I loved her and was here any time she needed me. I didn’t try to talk her out of her grief. I didn’t try to cheer her up. I just made myself available. Most of the time that what someone really needs is to have a friend who cares and is willing to listen (and give hugs if needed).

Blog note: Keep in mind that the experience of loss can also include the pain of losing a job, home, relationship or physical abilities.

For more support and resources visit CaregiverLife.com

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November is National Caregivers Month

According to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving in 2015, an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States, provide unpaid care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.

Highlights of Today’s Caregivers

  • 82% care for one person who is likely either living with the caregiver or living within 20 minutes of the caregiver.
  • 60% of caregivers are female. The typical caregiver is a 49-year-old female caring for a 69-year-old female relative, most likely her mother.
  • 40% of caregivers are male.
  • 34% of caregivers have a full-time job, while 25% work part-time. Caregivers who work do so for 34.7 hours per week on average.
  • Caregivers have been caring for 4 years on average, spending 24.4 hours per week helping with activities like bathing, dressing, housework, and managing finances.
  • 32% provide at least 21 hours of care a week, on average providing 62.2 hours of care weekly.
  • 38% of caregivers report high emotional stress from the demands of caregiving.

(Statistics provided by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP: Caregiving in the U.S. 2015)

Caring for a loved one is very stressful.  Caregivers need support, but most do not know how where to find it or how to ask for it.  This can lead to loneliness and depression.

If you are a caregiver, create a support system.

  • Check for local caregiver support groups
  • Ask people in your close circle for help
  • Make taking care of yourself a priority

If you know someone who is caring for a loved one, call, text or send them a special card in the mail to let them know that you are thinking of them or offer help if you can (i.e. staying with the loved one while the caregiver goes to a support group).  Sometimes, they just need to know that someone is thinking of them and little gestures can make a big difference.

 

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Be Prepared to Wait

During the last few years I’ve spent in more than my fair share of time waiting in a loved one’s hospital room.   As a result, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in the waiting experience.   Instead of hording this knowledge I figured it would be beneficial to share.

Tips

  • Dress comfortably – wear loose-fitting clothes and comfortable shoes to optimize your comfort in the hospital room chairs.
  • Connect with the staff –stop by the nurse’s station when you first arrive.  Ask what time they think the doctor might make rounds, or if they already have what did they say.  Check in with them from time to time to see if there are any updates.  Let them know if you have to leave the room for any reason, like going to the cafeteria for a bite to eat, and give them your cell phone number in case the doctor should arrive on the unit just after you stepped off.
  • Bring something to pass the time – bringing a book to read (or puzzle book); downloading games on your phone can help fill the wait time.  Make sure to bring the charger for your phone or computer just in case your battery starts to drain.
  • Be prepared to spend the day – sometimes things go exactly as planned and you get to speak with doctors shortly after you arrive and/or any scheduled tests are done in a timely manner, however; more often than not, there are unforeseen circumstances that can delay tests and push back doctor rounds. My aunt had a specialist who liked to do rounds at 9pm.  Sometimes I was at the hospital for 12 hours waiting to speak to all of her doctors.
  • Make sure the kids are taken care of – schedule others to drop off/pick up your kids from school or extra-curricular activities.
  • Protect your back – bringing a small pillow for your back can ease the pressure caused by uncomfortable chairs.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished – a small cooler bag with water/soda and snacks will help you keep your energy up and keep you from spending unwanted cash in the hospital cafeteria.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions – We often forget that the doctor works for us and will be billing for their time.  Write down your questions and make sure you ask all of them.
  • Take notes – Jotting down important information can help you recall things that were said later.  Don’t be embarrassed to write things down.  A lot of information is coming at you and it is important for you to remember what has been said.  Ask them to repeat the information and/or spell names of medications, tests and diagnoses.  A
  • Ask them to explain – if you don’t understand something that is said, tell them.  You are not expected to know medical jargon or what every test is for.  Ask them the reasoning why they are running certain tests, what they expect to find out from the test and how quickly you will be able to get the results of those tests.
  • Create a mass information system – whether through Twitter/ Facebook, bulk email/text, let others know ahead of time which method of communication you will be utilizing to keep others updated.  This will keep you from having to make multiple phone calls to share the same information.

When someone is in the hospital it can be nerve-racking.  Being pro-active about filling your wait time and communication methods can ease some of the stress.

 

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Be Dementia Friendly – An Infographic! — Be Dementia Friendly: Where Safe Communities Are All The Buzz!

via Be Dementia Friendly – An Infographic! — Be Dementia Friendly: Where Safe Communities Are All The Buzz!

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Summertime tips for Caregivers

ElderlyHeatStrokeExhaustion

Seniors are especially at risk in high heat situations. Large stretches of the USA are experiencing extreme temperatures.

Here are some summer heat tips for helping elderly loved ones avoid heat stroke or heat exhaustion

  • Encourage fluid intake.* Water is best.  Pick up some bottled water to keep in their fridge.  It’s easy to grab and can help them track their water intake. Some fruit has a high water content (such as cantaloupe) is also helpful.  Remind them that sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol act as diuretics so fluctuating those fluids with water is key.
  • Make sure their air conditioning is working and turned on. Whether in an effort to cut expenses or because many older adults, especially those on blood thinners, get cold easily, they may not have their air conditioning turned on.  However; they may not recognize that being in air-conditioning can help them avoid heat stroke/exhaustion.  Explain the reasoning behind having the air on and then find them a sweater to wear in the house.
    • If they do not have air-conditioning, consider going to a mall, movie theatre, museum or city cooling center.  Another option is having them stay with a family member until the heat wave passes.
  • Take a cool shower or bath, especially in the evening before going to bed.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that breathes.
  • Discourage activities such as cooking/baking in the oven as well as thorough housecleaning during heat waves. 
  • If going outside, apply sunscreen and keep it on hand for re-application.
  • Regularly check in on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors in person if possible. If you live far away, contact another relative or neighbor who can stop by and check on them.

Know the signs of heat stroke (i.e.: flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness and confusion) and take immediate action if you or your loved one is having any of these symptoms.

For more caregiving support visit CaregiverLife

*Image may be subject to copyright

 

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Recognizing Caregiver Burnout

woman entrepreneur burnout-resized-600.jpgYou try to hide the feeling of being overwhelmed, however; caregiver burnout is serious and can lead significant physical and mental health issues.  It is critical to know the signs and take steps to take care of yourself.

Here are some signs of caregiver burnout:

  • Overreacting to minor frustrations
  • The constant feeling of exhaustion
  • Loss of interest in things you use to enjoy/ isolation from social gatherings
  • Decrease in productivity of work
  • Increased use of alcohol/stimulants
  • Change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Scattered thinking
  • Feelings of resentment towards the person you are caring for
  • Being short-tempered with family members

If you see yourself in any of these points you need to make some drastic changes NOW before it becomes critical.

Some Self-Care Tips:

SEEK HELP!

Emotionally:

  • Support group.- Though it seems that you have no time to add another thing to your calendar it is important to make the time Group participants will understand how challenging the caregiving journey is and how hard it is, at times, to remain patient with the mental and physical decline of someone you love.  As well as how frustrating it is trying to “navigate the health care system”.
  • Get an “on-call” friend – ask someone in your close circle of friends to act as a sounding board (sometimes just a venting board) so you can release the pent-up emotions without concern of judgment or criticism.
  • Journal/Blog – sometimes writing things down can help you express your emotions. Sharing your emotions via a blog can help others in realizing they are not alone in their struggles with their care journey.
  • Consider counseling – this can assist you in dealing with the natural feelings that come with caregiving. Among these are anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. Some feelings are part of the grieving process you and your care receiver are experiencing.  Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t take time for counseling until their caregiving days are over. (If you are a working caregiver, counseling may be provided as part of your health insurance package so call your health insurance provider. Companies offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s), may also cover counseling.  Caregivers age sixty or over may qualify for counseling under the Older Americans Act, Title III-B.)

Physically:

  • Ask for help – if you have other family members in the area call and ask them to help you with the care needs. Then LET THEM DO IT! Let go of the need to control because it is part of the cause of your burnout.
  • Respite Care – If you care for someone in a home setting you can hire a caregiver to come to the home to manage their care for a week or two. Consider as well scheduling a respite stay at an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.
  • Get a physicalSchedule an appointment with your doctor for a complete physical and KEEP IT. Though caregiver burnout feels more like an emotional issue, it can lead to serious health issues if left un-managed.
  • Get away – take a vacation, even if it’s just for a weekend or overnight stay somewhere away from your regular hectic schedule.

Find ways to take care of yourself TODAY!  Putting it off will only continue the downward spiral which can lead to critical, life-altering decisions and behaviors.

takecontrolPlease note: If you are feeling overwhelmed and are afraid you will hurt your care receiver if you don’t find help right away, (800) 971-0016 is a twenty-four hour crisis and information line
For more resources visit AlongComesGrandpa.com

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Caregiving and Alzheimer’s: Asking the Right Questions

A frustrated friend called me for help while visiting her mother. Her

mother’s Alzheimer’s was progressing and she was exhibiting some, let’s say, wearisome behaviors (to my friend that is). It had been over a week and her mother refused to change her clothes. She and her sister had spent days going through her mothers’ expansive closet showing her all of the beautiful clothes she owned; yet she remained in the same outfit.

I ask her one question, “What is it about those clothes?” After a perplexed silence, she asked me to explain. I invited her to consider that, though her mother was confused, there could be a valid reason behind that particular choice of clothing over the plethora of other options. I recommended she ask her mother directly why she refused to change her clothes.

A few days later she called to share what she had learned about the clothes… Her mother spent some of her childhood in a German concentration camp. She had experienced the horrors of Hitler’s reign and the death of her parents, family and friends first hand. Everything she owned she could carry in her pants pocket. These items, though not valuable, were very sacred because they were hers. As her Alzheimer’s progressed she began to relive some of the fear and paranoia associated being the survivor of such an unspeakable trauma. I advised her to buy several outfits similar to the one she was wearing and donate the rest of her clothes to charity. She did and her mother started changing her clothes.

Another friend shared her frustration over her father’s need to wear the same jeans all the time. I advised her to ask him “Why those pants”. A few days later I saw her again and she said that her father explained that they were comfortable and that when he tried to find replacements nothing fit him right. Though she understood, the pants were well worn and had some good sized stains; and she added that she was ready to sneak into his house in the middle of the night and steal them so he would be forced to get new ones. I imparted a compromise. What if she dyed the jeans a dark color to cover the stains and make the pants more presentable? Then he gets to keep his favorite pair of jeans and she doesn’t have to be embarrassed about taking him out in the pants. She did and it worked.

Points to Ponder:

  • Have we tried to push our agenda on an elderly loved one due to embarrassment or frustration without asking some simple questions?
  • How can we create an atmosphere of communication?
  • What compromises can we come to that would work for both of us?

These tips can be applied to more than just caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Take time today to ponder questions that could open up communication in the all the important relationships in your life.

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