Caregiving – Learning from the Past

It’s amazing how insightful we are about situations faced in the past. Why? Because once  the chaos has subsided and the situation is over, we can analyze it from a new perspective.

However; when in the midst of challenges in our lives, the physical and emotional mayhem causes us to function more in reaction to, as opposed to careful analysis of, the situation.

When caring for someone we love there are several factors that come into play when making decision

  • Our emotional reaction to what is happening to that person
  • Our personal dynamic with that person
  • Our perceived role in the life of the person that is ill as well as in the overall family (i.e.: our birth order)
  • Our understanding of what is happening to them health wise
  • Understanding what resources are available and how to utilize them

Having worked with family caregivers for over 20 years, written 2 books on the topic, as well as having cared for several family members, I can tell you first-hand that even when a caregiver knows what they are doing and how to access resources, emotional reaction and family dynamics can often overshadow the judgment of even the most knowledgeable of caregiver.

Points to Ponder

  • You don’t get a “do-over” so dwelling on what you should or could have done is an exercise in futility.
  • You did the best you could in the face of the overwhelming tasks and factors involved in caring for someone you love.
  • Guilt is an unnecessary emotion that we “put upon” ourselves once we are on the other side of decisions made. The good news is you have the power to remove the guilt (see Letting Go of Guilt).

Even if you grasp an understanding of these points, human nature triggers us to over analyze and dwell on situations thus inducing guilt over the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s we come up with.

What can we do to stop the madness?

Utilizing the new-found Genius

  • Analyzing the past can assist us in being pro-active about the future care needs of other family members (see Pro-Active vs Re-Active Caregiving).
  • Understanding the challenges we faced can benefit others around us who are in the midst of the caregiving chaos by sharing our story and lessons learned from the experience.
  • Our experience can assist us in being more aware of our reactive tendencies causing more focused and fact based decisions in the future. (see Fear vs. Fact)
  • Utilizing our experience to assist us in creating a plan for our own future care needs. (see Wrinkles Memory Loss and Erectile Dysfunction)

Most importantly – Keep reminding yourself that you did the best you could, considering what you were up against!

For more support and resources visit CaregiverLife.com

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Best Mom Ever – Happy Mother’s Day

I have been blessed to have the best Mom in the history of Mom’s. Maybe I’m a bit biased (just a little), however; if you were to ask my friends from childhood through today about my Mom they would probably tell you the same thing.

me and mom

Most women have the ability to become a Mom (I unfortunately I was not one of them), however; I believe that some people are just born to be Mom’s. They have some kind of special DNA which makes them innately more gifted at the job than others. My Mom is one of those women born to be a Mom.

If you were to ask my Mom about herself she will talk about me, my sister, her grandchildren and son-in-laws without ever actually mentioning anything about herself. She always seems to be amazed at what a great family she has never realizing her love and support has been the cornerstone of our family.

She has always been my hero; facing the obstacles that life has thrown at her with strength and dignity (see One Word can Change Your Life). She is the kind of person who will show up for you when others are walking out on you. She will give you the shirt of her back and has literally given me the shoes off of her feet. She has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

So in honor of her I want to share life lessons from my Mom.

  • A note of encouragement can make a huge difference in someone’s day (see Encouragement by Mail)
  • Always show up for others (even if you don’t think they deserve it)
  • Make family a priority
  • Family and forgiveness go hand-in-hand
  • Keep moving forward even when it’s hard
  • Unconditional love cannot be earned, it is given freely whether or not you think the other person deserves it
  • Encouragement is a gift you can give to anyone at any time
  • Be nice to everyone (AKA: kill them with kindness)
  • If someone doesn’t like you or want to be your friend it’s their loss not yours (this was one of my favorites)

Thank you Mom for all the love, support and encouragement you give so freely.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

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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 over 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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Caregiving and Corporate America

With 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@caregiverlife.com

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Snow Days and Caregiving

Remember the excitement you felt as a kid when you got a snow day?! Your imagination101_0378 (2013_08_25 00_18_56 UTC) went 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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Break up with Fear

I recently heard this wonderful song by Francesca Battistelli called “The Break Up Song”, where she breaks up with fear.

Here are some of the song lyrics:

Sick and tired of being sick and tired
Had as much of you as I can take
I’m so done, so over being afraid

Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not
Like you know me well guess what?
I know who I am
I know I’m strong, brave
And I am free
Got my own identity
So fear, you will never be welcome here

For anyone hearing these lyrics, they would be powerful. For me, as a family caregiver they are also insightful.  It’s easy to have faith when things are going well.  When the test results are good or the treatment seems to be keeping the illness at bay.  However, when the results are not as good as hoped for or a new issue is found or the cancer has spread, it can become a little more difficult to live by faith as opposed to fear and dread for the future.

As a Christian I attempt to live daily in faith. Faith that God will heal my mom’s cancer, keep my family safe from harm and bring friends out of the chains of addiction. However, it’s not always as easy to live into when the doctor visit brings bad news or the call comes in that a friend has passed due to addiction.

The Good News is that there is hope.  Even when my faith grows weary, I have others that I can lean on for support and who will pray for me and my family when I am too weary to pray because current circumstances feel overwhelming. There is a hope and peace that surpass all human understanding.  That hope comes from a loving God who sent His son to walk among us and die so that we may be renewed in Him.

As Francesca sings in her song If We’re Honest:

Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side.

So, tell fear to take a hike and hold onto hope.  Surround yourself with those who will lift you up and encourage you.  And if you don’t know Jesus, seek Him.  Here is a resource to help you connect https://www.exploregod.com/

To hear Francesca Battistelli Breakup Song click below

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Keep Your Eyes Open this Holiday Season

Many elderly are able to mask declining health throughout the year because they are able to keep a fairly steady routine. During the holidays, when schedules are more erratic, family caregivers may be able to detect signs of physical and mental decline in their aging loved ones. Knowing what to look for is crucial.

Physical changes including balance issues, decreased strength as well as lack of attention to personal hygiene and appearance can be a sign that there is a potential problem.

  • When you pick them up or dropping them off take note of their home: is it unusually disorganized or unclean?
  • Are they having trouble getting in and out of the car or chairs at a relative’s home?
  • Are they unsteady when having to go up or down stairs?
  • Are they dressing in more casual clothes than they would have in past years, wearing items that are easier to put on such as sweat-clothes or seasonally inappropriate clothing?
  • Do their clothes have stains on them or an odor as if worn numerous times and not washed?
  • Is their hair unkempt, especially women who would usually have their hair done for special occasions?
  • Is there a change in their physical odor due to lack of attention to their personal hygiene?

Mental changes including lack of usual interpersonal skills or inappropriate responses to questions, as well as uncharacteristic silence can be a sign that something has changed.

  • When driving them to or from a holiday gathering were they ready when you arrived?
  • Did they seem agitated or distracted?
  • Are they struggling to keep up with conversation or staying quiet when they would normally share their opinion or insight?
  • Are they able to appropriately answer direct questions?
  • Are they unable to make simple decisions or asking others to make decisions for them?
  • Do they become easily agitated over seemingly small issues or challenges?
  • Are they able to appropriately name or identify family and friends?

Other pro-active observations:

  • Look in the refrigerator to make sure they have a sufficient amount of groceries as well as look for potentially expired items.
  • Check prescription bottles to see if they have been refilled, note if they were all filled at the same or multiple pharmacies.

You’ve identified some areas of change – now what?

Take action!

  • Talk to your family member about scheduling an appointment with their physician and tell them you want to go along. If you are met with resistance be firm but loving in your desire to accompany them.
  • In preparation for the appointment, make a list of all medications taken by your loved one and research the potential side effects, as well as consult with a pharmacist about possible interactions.
  • Sit down ahead of time with your loved one and create a written list of questions for the doctor and bring the list with to the appointment.
  • Make sure all of your questions are answered during the appointment.

Be an advocate for your aging loved ones by being pro-actively aware of changes and assisting them in finding resources that can assist them in maintaining an optimal level of independence.

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