On the Edge: Part 1 Standing on the Sidelines

One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life”.   I love the scene where George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) & Mary Hatch – later Bailey (played by Donna Reed) are at the high school dance caught up in the Charleston contest.  In the scene a jealous rival (trivia moment: played by the actor who played Alfalfa in the Little Rascals) finds out that the gym floor opens up to reveal a pool and that George was dancing right over the opening and that the button to open the floor was right in front of him.  As most of us know, the rival presses the button and after several dance moves the couple finds themselves falling into the pool.

As the couple is dancing they continue to get dangerously close to the edge and can see the reaction of those around them, however; they have no idea it’s because of pending misfortune for the couple.  George thinks that they are being watched because of the great job they are doing.

Points to Ponder:

  • Why didn’t someone tell this couple about the potential harm that was coming their way?  Here is a large group of people standing around this couple just watching and waiting for them to fall in.  Not one person made a move to stop them from falling. (OK, don’t get all goofy about it, I know it’s a movie but it can have real life implications)
  • How many times in our lives do we stand by and watch friends and family on the edge of harm and say nothing because we don’t want to interfere?
  • What would it take to step out of our excuses and at least caution someone of potential harm? I want to be clear, I know it is uncomfortable to step out of our comfort zone and share our concern with them, I also know that there are risks involved such as conflict, loss of relationship as well as the potential to be blamed for some bad outcome, however; there is also the opportunity to help someone move in a healthier direction.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of families and I can share with you that a recurring theme is: we knew something was changing but we didn’t know what to do.  Unfortunately, many times, that led to the family doing nothing.

When you see someone headed for potential harm, whether it is the effects of medication, increasing depression or potential addiction, standing by and watching can lead to the need for re-active decision-making, guilt and unnecessary pain.  Certainly. there is always a chance that we say something and the person still goes down the same path, however; we will never know unless we take that step.

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Strategies for Communicating with Multiple Doctors

Years ago I met a woman at a rehab facility while visiting a family member.  She was recovering from a stroke and looking forward to getting back home.  I acknowledged how well she was doing considering the circumstances.  She said “It all comes down to being in the right place at the right time.”  She went on to explain that she was actually in her doctor’s office, located in the building attached to the hospital when she had the stroke, within minutes they had her in the emergency room.

She then added “It’s my own fault I had the stroke, I went off my blood thinners in anticipation of a procedure with a specialist and didn’t talk to my primary doctor before doing it.”

Unfortunately her story is not unique.  Even though there are more systems in place than ever before to support continuity of care and communication between physicians, I wanted to share some pro-active tips when you or your loved one have multiple care providers.

  • Don’t assume that your doctors communicate with each other (or view updates on your electronic record).
  • ALWAYS bring an updated list of your current medications to EVERY appointment, noting when they are taken and dosage, better yet bring the actual bottles to each appointment.  This way nothing gets lost in translation (including your dentist/chiropractor). 
  • Along the same lines, ask each doctor for a list of the medications they have on file for you to compare to your list. 
  • If you have scheduled a test or procedure with a specialist call your primary doctor’s office to make them aware of it. 
  • When having any tests run, ask them to send a copy of the results to your primary doctor as well.  If they say it’s available on your e-record, politely ask again that they make his office aware of it.
  • You have the right to get copies of your medical records and tests results.  Make sure to ask for a copy for your personal records or understand how to access them from online portals.
  • When it comes to your health, NOTHING is too small to share.  If there are ANY changes in how you feel should be shared with ALL of your doctors/specialists. 
  • ASK QUESTIONS! Many times our visits are a whirlwind of information, however, you have the right to ask as many questions (even if they are the same ones over and over) until you FULLY understand the information being given to you by the provider!
  • You have the right to refuse treatment of any kind until you fully understand why it was ordered and what possible outcomes/side-effects are.

We can’t all be in the right place at the right time when a health emergency occurs.  Making communication with your primary doctor and/or specialist (in the case of an Oncologist) a priority about upcoming tests and procedures, you may be able to steer clear of potential life threatening issues.

For more resources visit: CaregiverLife.com

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Hang onto your Joy

I was listening to a Joel Osteen message about Joy and how nothing can take our joy from us.  This means that no issues with a spouse, illness, loss of job or abilities or challenges associated with caring for an elderly loved one can take our joy away from us. We can however, give it away.

This is quite a revelation!  Even though I have a conceptual understanding of my control over my reactions to people and situations in my life, I was daily giving my joy away to inconsequential events such as being stuck in traffic, fear of running late for a meeting, worry about personal and family health issues.  Now you may think that worrying about health issues is not inconsequential.  Any health issue that you or a loved one is facing is most certainly of consequence.  What is not, however, is the act of worrying about these challenges.

Worrying does nothing to change the traffic pattern, fear doesn’t change what time you get to your meeting and most importantly, worry does nothing to change the outcome of the test to see if the cancer has spread.

Worry and fear can negatively affect your personal outlook, relationships with loved ones and health (which is ironic as that is the very thing you’re worrying about).  We allow worry and fear to steal our joy from us and for what?  Something we have little to no control over.  The test results will be what they will be, worry and fear will not change them, but could hamper our ability to make good decisions about next steps and treatment options.

Studies have shown that there is a strong association between positive health outcomes and people with strong social well-being (happiness & joy that comes from within).  This is great news!  This means that you can have a positive effect on your health by adjusting your focus to things that are positive and joyful!

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to change your focus to become joy-filled, but there are some steps that can help you start your joy journey today!

  • Focus on the positives – spend time with people who fill you with joy :family, friends, children, grandchildren.
  • Disengage from “drama” people in your life – you know who I am talking about. The people who can turn any story into drama (i.e. – a dog jumping on their leg becomes a vicious attack).  These people especially focus on the potential negative aspects of your situation.  Politely turn down their offers to hang out and focus attention on positive people.
  • Create a Joy Journal – get in the habit of writing down positive experiences EVERY DAY! At the beginning you may have to really stretch to find them (i.e. – I got out of bed today).  After a while you will start to notice that there are more positives in your life than you realized!

I heard this saying “Worry does not change tomorrow’s burdens, but steals joy and power from today”. SO TRUE!

Take hold of your joy TODAY!  Don’t give it away no matter what the circumstance.  Things may be stressful, life can be challenging, but you have the power to find the joy in life no matter what else is going on around you.

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Let Go of the Guilt

What is Guilt?

Unwarranted response to an imagined offense

Unless you actually killed someone (which I’m assuming 99.9% of my readers have not) then you are imposing this idea of having “wronged” someone else.  Caregivers feel guilty for many reasons, however; if you take time to look at the needs and circumstances at the time of your decisions you will find, more often than not you did the best you could with the information you had.

Based on impractical expectations we put on ourselves

Caregivers tend to be over-achievers which means that we have the tendency to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves when it comes to caring for someone we love.  Remember, you are human and as a human you are not capable of being perfect.

(See Mistakes Will Be Made)

A story we have created about a situation

It has been said that hindsight is 20/20, however; in many cases hind sight can be skewed by perception and emotion.  Focus on the facts of the situation as opposed to the emotional response to the circumstances.

Setting the Stage to Let Go

  • Trying harder isn’t working – you can try as hard as you want, however; it really is an exercise in futility.  Base your evaluation on facts vs emotion.
  • Guilt destroys people emotionally and physically – letting go of guilt is the best thing for your mental and physical well-being.  The pressure that carrying around guilt causes can affect your physical health, emotional health and cause stress in your relationships.

Evaluate

  • Did I purposely set out to harm my loved one? – Most likely the answer is a resounding NO
  • Did I make decisions as best I could under the circumstances? – Hind sight may be 20/20, however; we don’t have the luxury of this insight while making sometimes major life decisions for others.  Evaluate your decisions based on what you knew to be true at the time the decision was made.

Most importantly the only person who can make you feel guilty is you.  Make it a priority to forgive yourself (see Forgiving Myself)

For more support visit CaregiverLife.com

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Things I learned by watching YouTube

Things I learned by watching YouTube

  • How to take out my old dishwasher & put in a new one
  • How to take out an over-the-stove vent
  • How to take down kitchen shelves
  • How to feed someone through a feeding tube WHAT?!

Most people search YouTube for funny cat or dog and music videos by their favorite artist.  I usually search for help with DIY projects.  However, the other day I found that YouTube is not just for entertainment and the random DIY home project, it can help with caregiving challenges as well.

How this came to pass…I was helping a client coordinate care for a family member coming home from the nursing home with a G-Tube (Gastrostomy Tube) needed for him to receive food, medicine and nutrition.  The family had a 24-hour caregiver that has cared for their family members for several years.  I had coordinated with an agency to have a nurse there to do the feedings every 6 hours, however, there was an issue with staffing and no nurse had arrived by the time the first feeding was required.  I called the representative for the g-tube formula and asked some basic questions and then I searched YouTube to watch a video on how to do the feeding.

It was so helpful for me to watch the video and made me more confident when the caregiver and I embarked on the task of feeding.  Though it was very helpful for me to watch the video, I was cognizant of where the information was coming from.  I made sure that the video was from a reputable source and made me aware of each step, in detail.

Points to ponder when searching the internet for caregiver support:

  • Seek out reputable source and not a sales pitch
  • If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t – check several (dependable) sources to substantiate the information.
  • When putting in search parameters, keep to the point. Adding a lot of extra words/phrases can result in hours spent sorting through pages of irrelevant data.
  • Survey results from organizations that focus on medical research, such as universities and hospital networks.

There is a lot of great information on the World Wide Web that can help support you through your caregiving journey.  Make sure to validate and corroborate your results.

For more resources visit my YouTube page at YouTube.com/aginginfousa

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Snow Days

Remember the excitement you felt as a kid when you got a snow day?!  Your imagination snow-day-games-425a-102909went wild as you fantasized of the snow fort you would make next to your perfect snow man.

Unfortunately as we age, snow days become less exciting and more of an inconvenience.  Making sure your car starts, getting someone to look after the kids (who are overjoyed at staying home from school), keeping the house warm without breaking the bank, trying to get to work without getting into an accident with the jerk in the SUV going way too fast for conditions.

If you have an elderly family member that you care for, the weather causes an even bigger issue as they are at greater risk in snowy conditions and freezing temperatures.

Here are some tips to assist your elderly loved one during the winter season:

  • Set up  grocery or (better yet) pre-made meals delivery service – this will make sure your loved one has the food they need on a regular basis and will
  • Hire a service or young neighbors to shovel or snow blow your family member’s driveway and sidewalks if there’s a storm.
  • Make sure their furnace is in working and turned on –  Have a service come out to check the furnace (before there’s an issue) to make sure it’s in working order.
  • Connect with your loved ones neighbors – exchange information with them so that if you’re not able to get your loved one you can contact them to check in on them.
  • Ask neighbors if they would mind checking the mail every few days – this will enable your family member to stay inside and avoid the possibility of falling and breaking a hip on the ice.
  • Put a list of emergency numbers on their refrigerator – include non-emergency police, fire, immediate relatives and neighbors. 
  • Create an emergency plan – if you are unable to get to your loved one during a severe winter storm, create a plan that includes who will check in on your loved one during the storm, where they will go in case of a power outage and who will be in charge of coordinating and implementing the plan.
  • Encourage fluid intake. – Heating a home can cause the house to become dry and cause dehydration.  Pick up some bottled water to keep in their fridge.  Remind them that sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol act as diuretics so interchanging those fluids with water is important.
  • Encourage them to wear layers and avoid going outside if at all possible. – If they must go outside wearing rubber soled boots/shoes for traction, as well as utilizing an adaptive device such as a 3 prong cane for support is helpful.

Regularly check in on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors in person if possible. If you live far away, contact another relative, neighbor or someone from their local church/synagogue who can stop by and check on them.

For more support visit CaregiverLife.com

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Choose your Attitude – You are in Control

I love this story.  I’m not sure who wrote it, but I do know it is always inspiring when I get in the way of my own joy.

A 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud man, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with his hair fashionably combed and shaved perfectly, even though he is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. His wife of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.

After  many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, he smiled sweetly when told his room was ready. As he maneuvered his walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of his tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on his window.  “I love it,” he stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mr. Jones, you haven’t seen the room; just wait.” “That doesn’t have anything to do with it” he replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is  arranged … it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful  for the ones that do.  Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away.. Just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account. You withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank  account of memories! Thank you for your part in filling my Memory Bank. I am still depositing.”

He went on to say:

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred.

2. Free your mind from worries.

3. Live simply.

4. Give more.

5. Expect less.

You have a choice EVERY day – choose happiness, joy and love!

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