God’s Plan for Family Caregivers

If I’m being honest, as a Christian, Ephesians 6:2-3 (NIV) exhorts us: “‘Honor your father god-has-a-planand mother’”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”, has always caused me a bit of anxiety.

I mean, that is quite a promise, RIGHT?! We all want to enjoy long life on the earth. However, what happens when the commitment to honor our parent’s triggers feelings of guilty or sets us up to make decisions based on self-reproach or lack of information and resources, instead of the best care options for our love ones? Or what if we feel we have to choose between doing what’s best for our aging parents or our young children?

The Bible is very clear about the promise.  Nevertheless, we need to be clear about what honoring truly means.

In truth, caring for an elderly parent can be both challenging and rewarding. It can be the greatest blessing and the most painful ordeal you may ever experience. The good news is that there are more options and resources available today to help us care for aging parents—to assist us in truly honoring our parents—than at any other time in history. Many mistakenly think the only way to honor their parents is to move them in their home, however, often the best way to honor them is to find the right independent/assisted living community or skilled nursing facility, supporting independence while affording them opportunities for social interaction with others experiencing similar changes and losses in their lives, as well as trained professionals to care for increasing care needs.

If our parents need care, then we are expected to help. Unfortunately, most decisions to move mom or dad in with us are made during an emergency situation lacking the understanding of how the move will affect not only our relationship with our parent, but our spouse, children and siblings as well.

Tips to Help Family Caregivers:

  • Take care of yourself FIRST. When we are well rested and cared for we actually have more energy to assist those around us. (See Self-Care )
  • Don’t try to be everything to everyone. REALITY CHECK: you will become overwhelmed by trying to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Learn how to say “no,” This can be a challenge for those of us feeling called to help others, however; overloading your “to-do” list is really no help to anyone.
  • Pray about request instead of instantly responding “yes”.  Give them a time-line in which you will get back to them.
  • Let go of any guilt you associate with saying “no” to a request. Guilt is self-induced and self-destructive. (See Let Go of Guilt)
  • Ask for help! You would be amazed at how many people want to help but don’t know how because you are not allowing them in. (See Avoiding Burnout  )

Most importantly give your burdens, struggles and care needs of your loved one over to God! He is always waiting for us to ask for His help, His guidance and His peace. He has already put in place a plan to care for your elderly family member. His plan might include trained professionals either in the home or in a facility caring for them which would allow you to enjoy the time you have with them instead of feeling the overwhelming burden of taking on their care.

live-long-and-prosper(Sorry, the Star Trek geek in me couldn’t resist)

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Surprise – Mom got old!

It still amazes me how many people I have met over my 25+ year career that seemed genuinely surprised that their parent had gotten old.  Especially since the alternative to getting old would be death (not trying to be crass, it’s just the truth).  The reality is that barring an untimely death our family members, as well as ourselves, will all eventually be old.

When I speak to people about being pro-actively prepared for this approaching season of life share many will say that they are prepared.  When I ask for an example of their “preparedness” 99/100 times their example is their pre-paid funeral, to which my responses is “That’s great for when you’re dead, what do you have planned before that?”

While it is very helpful to have your funeral pre-paid, there are many other pro-active steps that can be taken to help ourselves as well as our family members before that.  I refer to this as preparation for “What if”.

Ask the following questions of your elderly loved ones (as well as yourself) and then encourage them to start gathering information on the local programs, facilities and care options available in order to empower them to make pro-active decisions about their care.

What if…

  • You needed to go for rehab due to a stroke or other major health issue, where would you want to go?
  • You were no longer able to safely live in your home where would you want to live?
  • You were unable to make decisions about your care would you want the procedures/options of care:
    • Resuscitation. Restarts the heart when it has stopped beating.
    • Mechanical ventilation. Takes over your breathing if you’re unable to do so.
    • Nutritional and hydration assistance. Supplies the body with nutrients and fluids intravenously or via a tube in the stomach.
    • Dialysis. Removes waste from your blood and manages fluid levels if your kidneys no longer function.

Write down the answers and then share them with all the family members.  When everyone is aware of the persons’ wishes ahead of time it makes it less problematic for the family if ever faced with making those types of difficult decisions. These are just a few examples of care related questions.  Having a place to start the conversation can help families share much needed information about individual preferences and help not only to create a practical plan for the future but empower pro-active personal decision making.

About the Author:

Sue Salach has worked in the geriatric healthcare field for 25 years and has a Master’s Degree in Gerontology (the study of aging).  Sue employs her comprehensive experience and enthusiasm to assist corporations in creating innovative programs to reach out to employee caregivers in the workplace. She is a National Speaker and the author of two books, Along Comes Grandpa, a caregiving resource guide and If I Walked In Her Shoes  a caregiving novel. Follow me @SueSalach on Twitter.

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Fear vs. Fact


fear-picWhen a loved one gets a life altering diagnosis it can be scary.  Distressing questions rush through one’s mind such as: will they survive, what are the options, do we need a second opinion, what will their be like now that they are facing _________?   These types of thoughts are normal and can help to evaluate the situation and search for solutions.

However; the longer one fixates on the situation the more likely it is that fabricated stories (usually of the horror kind) begin to develop about what “could happen”.  Along with that, well-meaning friends, after hearing the diagnosis, will share an experience they, or someone they know, went through in a “similar” situation.

Unfortunately, these stories are frequently the worst-case-scenario that happened to their friend’s, cousin’s mother and, not only does the reality of that specific situation get lost through interpretation (think of the game “telephone” – what was…

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Family Caregiving – An Escalating Dilemma for Corporations

work-life-word-signWith the growth of the elder population, it is imperative that vital eldercare education be provided to family caregivers in their communities and workplace, as this growth pattern negatively effects caregivers in both their home and work life. According to a MetLife Caregiver Cost Study (2011), at any given time, between 25-35 percent of the workforce is caring for a chronically ill or aging family member. Some experts expect this statistic to increase to nearly half of the workforce within the next 5-10 years. Statistical data illustrates that issues related to caring for an elderly loved one are costing US companies an estimated $17 to $26 billion dollars annually in lost workplace productivity (NCOA.org).

In other words: if employees are responsible for taking care of an elderly relative it WILL negatively impact their employers’ bottom line.

Due to the need to retain their income, family caregivers often come to work completely distracted and/or worn out. This is referred to as “presenteeism”. Presenteeism occurs when employees come to work but are unable to focus on their jobs. Workplace distractions are often triggered by an ailing family member in need of periodic check-ins throughout the day as well as assistance in household management along with coordinating doctors’ appointments and support services. Presenteeism for whatever reason, results in poor productivity and can reduce a workers’ productivity by more than one-third producing a negative effect on a company’s bottom-line equal to or greater than absenteeism.

According an Eldercare Survey by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM): 47% of HR professionals report an increase in the number of employees dealing with elder care issues and found that companies without eldercare benefits stand to lose $2,500 a year per caregiving employee. However personal this matter seems, the complexities of managing work/life balance for working caregivers has a significant effect on a company’s bottom line due to lost productivity, workday interruptions, absenteeism, worker turnover and replacement, low motivation and other factors. Caregiving negatively affects morale, productivity, and costs. As a result of caregiving responsibilities, a tremendous amount of talent, loyalty, and institutional knowledge leaves the workforce every day – either temporarily or permanently.

Informal caregiving is the foundation of health, social and financial assistance for older adults in the community. It is possible to help family caregivers balance their work lives with family caregiving responsibilities by providing resources and programs that acknowledge the lives of employees outside of work through the implementation of eldercare wellness initiatives. Employees who take advantage of educational and eldercare resources in their corporate/work environment are more productive and less likely to report negative caregiving impacts on their work performance. Of course, the programs are only helpful if caregivers use them. Education, resources and programs implemented before a crisis arises is the most advantageous way to maximize benefits initiatives for everyone involved, including the care recipient.

For more information (and solutions) about Eldercare Initiatives in your workplace please feel free to contact me via email Sue@aginginfousa.com.


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A Positive Focus for the New Year

positive-thinkingEvery year has good and bad moments.  Sadly, as we look in the rear-view mirror of the passing year, many will focus on the bad which, more than likely, were probably fewer than the good but can appear larger in magnitude.   Stedman Graham said “What you focus on expands”.  Truer words may have never been spoken.

I know people who have a great life: nice home, great friends and family, yet their primary focus is on what is “wrong” with their lives.  Little issues become major trauma.  They choose to see only the negative as if they thrive on the drama of the negative.

It’s part of human nature to focus on what went wrong over the past year.  Loved ones battling cancer, others struggling with acute or chronic health issues, loss of family and friends through tragic events.  Financial challenges and personal skills that went underutilized throughout the year. Don’t get me wrong, choosing to focus on the positive will not change the trials caused by illness and death.  What a positive focus will do is provide hope as we begin a New Year.

What we focus on is a CHOICEIt is completely under our control.

Here is an exercise to support the creation of a new way of being in your life (writing the answers down helps, sometimes seeing things in black & white can open your eyes to the way you currently approach things in your life):

  • What do you really focus on? Is it the positive or the negative?
  • What are some positive things in your life that you would like to expand?
  • What are some methods you could use to keep yourself focused on the positive things in your life each day? (i.e.: create daily mantras, daily devotionals, journaling, etc.. There are tons of online tools that can support a positive mindset).
  • How could making a choice to focus on the positive change not only your outlook on life but the people around you? (Becoming a more positive person will definitely make a difference to those you love).

Some other tips:

  • Liberate yourself from self-fulfilling prophecies – examples: “It’s just my luck”, “why do bad things always happen to me?”.
  • Purge self-criticism – take a deep breath and say “I’m doing the best I can and that’s all I can do” (write it on sticky notes and post them around your house and car, as a reminder to be nice to you!).
  • Volunteer. Focusing energy on helping those who are really in need supports a healthier mindset.
  • Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, swap humorous stories with loved ones, watch a comedy, read a funny book.
  • Make time to REALLY love and appreciate those around you by spending time with them.

A New Year provides us with new opportunities to create who we want to be in our life and how we influence those around us.  So, what will you choose – Positive or Negative? Remember it’s your choice!



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Reconciliation and Your Well-Being

forgivenessFamily and Forgiveness

Growing up my family was very close.  In typical Italian style, every Sunday was spent at my grandparent’s home in Chicago where random aunts, uncles and cousins (most of which lived on the same block) gathered for an amazing feast.

My grandfather, the middle child of 5, had a younger brother named Chris who I had never met.  Chris was rarely mentioned and when he was it was with a tone of bitterness. Confused by the paradox between the closeness of the family and the outcast of one member I asked my grandmother why Chris was not a part of our close-knit group.  She quickly replied that there had been a “falling out” and then promptly changed the subject.

Unfortunately for grandma, I had a simple (yet profound) follow-up question, “what happened?”  To my surprise, she couldn’t recall the circumstances, but knew that it was bad enough to “break up the family”.  I later heard that the “incident” involved Chris’s wife making a comment to someone else about my grandma, which was then relayed to my grandpa through a third-party causing the rift.  Shortly before my grandma’s death my grandpa and his brother reconnected and reconciled, at that point neither could tell you why they had stayed apart so long.  As an adult, I can see that this 30+ year estrangement was based on gossip which, more than likely, was comprised largely of an Italian dramatization of actual events.

This may seem extreme, however; in my 25 year career I have met hundreds of families torn apart by a random comment, perceived offense or imaginary conflict.  Stressed out people, especially those caring for an elderly loved one can misinterpret the comments and actions of others.  In many cases, instead of trying to clarify the facts, a story is created about the other person’s actions and intentions.

When we are in conflict with others, the conflict is really where we are.  Many times the other person doesn’t even know that there is a conflict.  The stress from these family feuds, if allowed to fester, can cause major health issues.  However, if addressed in a timely manner can more often than not be cleared up quickly.

Points to Ponder

  • Is there someone in your family that you are in conflict with?
  • If you looked at the facts of the incident(s) that caused the conflict what part did you play in the conflict?
  • What would you have to “give-up” in order to resolve the conflict?
  • What would become easier in your life if you were no longer a part of this conflict?

To REALLY answer these questions one must first leave their pride outside and take responsibility for their part in the conflict.  However; if able to realistically evaluate the  situation and allow yourself to forgive others and be reconciled with them, you will be amazed at how much lighter you will feel.

How about starting the New Year a little lighter – by forgiving the people around you.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!!

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PUT YOUR DAMN PHONES DOWN and other Holiday Tips

  I am infuriated every time I see the commercial with the elderly couple reading their grandchildren’s social media posts that says “Entering the gates of hell, where there’s no Wi-Fi and no shows, aka Grandma’s house.” So, the elderly couple (most likely on a fixed income), in an effort to placate their bad-mannered grandchildren, lay out a bunch of money to purchase services they don’t need.  Maddening!!!

Growing up the best memories I have during the holidays were made by spending time with my grandparents.  TV’s were not turned on, phone calls were not made (nor received, because other people were spending time with their families as well) and family sat around the table (usually all day) just talking, playing games and enjoying time together.

It saddens and troubles me that people in our society are so detached from each other, that this commercial, as well as others, depicts time spent with family as if it is the worst punishment one could possibly endure.  As I look around, I feel that our society as a whole appears unable to REALLY interact with those around us apart from the use of an inanimate piece of technology.  Social media has replaced genuine social interaction.

Ok – enough Debbie Downer!!

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  The truth is that all the generations have so much to learn from each other just by talking to each other (I know it sounds totally CRAZY but it’s TRUE!).

What would happen if this holiday season we were to focus on what is REALLY important – making memories with the people we love?!

Here are some ideas that might assist in this fanatical social experiment.

  • Have each person (no matter the age), share their favorite holiday memory or tradition.
  • Have every family bring a board game to play.
  • Instead of everyone tearing through presents open one at a time so you can see what everyone else got as well as their expression when they opened your gift.
  • Ask questions about family history.
    • Here are a couple of suggested questions to ask your parents or grandparents
      • How did you celebrate holidays as children?
      • What was your favorite thing to do during the holidays?
      • Were there any ethnic based traditions your parents/grandparents employed to celebrate the holidays?

This holiday season find new ways to spend time together, bring out the games (for my family the game Fact or Crap is a favorite).  Leave the phones off during family time (unless using them to take pictures with/of your family or to video tape your family history as shared by your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles).

Who knows?! Maybe you’ll learn something new about your family history. Maybe you will even start a new tradition.

Paul & me after Christmas Eve worship.

Paul & me after Christmas Eve worship.

God bless and have a                     Merry Christmas and a                 VERY Happy New Year!




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