Summertime tips for Caregivers

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 AlongComesGrandpa.com

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Reconciliation and Your Well-Being

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 once 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 my grandma, I had a simple, yet profound follow-up question, “what happened?” To my surprise, she didn’t quite remember all that had happened 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 had then been relayed to my grandpa through a third-party and therefore caused the rift. Shortly before my grandma’s death my grandpa and his brother reconnected and reconciled, at this point neither could tell you why they had stayed apart so long.

I share this example because, as an adult, I comprehend that the 30+ year divide was based on hear-say most of which most likely included Italian dramatization of the actual event. To some this may seem extreme, however; in my 20 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 grand 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.

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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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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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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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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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Advocate and Empower

My sister and I have become the dynamic duo of caregiving, with her brains (she is the smartest person I know) and my health care background our family members have come to rely on us when it comes to making health care decisions. However; during a family member’s, we’ll call her Sally, recent hospital stint for a high fever, my sister and I weren’t quite on the same page.

My sister had been at the hospital when the doctor came by and said that they were discharging Sally with the plan of having a PIC-line inserted (an IV that has a long line attached that is threaded through the vein) and 2 weeks of out-patient IV antibiotics.

When I arrived for my “shift” my sister gave me the report and went to her 2nd job of caring for her children. However; something wasn’t sitting right about discharge plan. None of the test results seemed to warrant what to me seemed like an extreme discharge plan. As an advocate for Sally, I needed more answers. I asked Sally if she understood the reason for the 2 weeks of IV antibiotics. She did not, nor did she feel comfortable with the idea of having a PIC-line for 2 weeks. So we began to ask more questions of the medical staff.

At this point I wanted to empower Sally to ask questions about her health care. I told her that even if other people understood the plan of care, it was crucial that she did because it’s her body and health.

I shared the following information:

  • Keep asking questions until you understand what the medical staff is telling you.
  • Ask them for printed information about procedures, medications and testing they suggest.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable or understand the plan-of-care you have the right to say “no” to tests and procedures until you fully understand.
  • There are no dumb questions nor is there a limit to how many times or people you can ask the question to.
  • Ask a family member or friend who might be able to understand the information and explain it in a way that is easier to understand to be there when the doctor comes.

The outcome: Sally asked more questions and still did not feel comfortable with the plan. I suggested that she be discharged without the PIC-line and that she make an appointment with the Infectious Disease doctor at her office for the next morning to ask more questions. The next morning we met with a different doctor than the one who had seen her in the hospital. This doctor not only explained the reasoning behind the discharge plan but said that there was no need for the PIC-line and she only needed 5 days of IV antibiotics as opposed to 14 days. Sally understood the plan and was satisfied with the outcome.

Bottom line: Take control of your health care and empower those you love to be in control of theirs!

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Eternally 12 Syndrome

My friend Colleen and I are both national speakers on issues related to caregiving

and aging. While in Washington D.C. to speak at the Aging In America conference we shared a similar challenge in our family dynamics. Though both of us are experts in our fields and have helped hundreds of families connect with resources, as well as speak nationally on issues related to caregiving and aging, we both struggle with an affliction within our families that I have termed the eternally 12 syndrome.

While we both have impressive qualifications in our own families we are not only perceived as having no influence but, at times, as if we are still 12 years old. In speaking with family caregivers throughout the United States, I have come to the conclusion that Colleen and I are not the only ones afflicted with this condition. Adult children all over the country (and I would imagine the world) are looked upon by their elderly parents as children who are not possibly experienced enough to assist in making educated decisions about their family members care (not even when you have been working in the geriatric field for over 20 years!)

So what can the afflicted do to assist their elderly loved ones while in a continuous prepubescent state?

Some tips to assist:

  • Ask for help: If there is someone in the family who they relate to on a different level ask that person for help. Sometimes you have to look at the perceived hierarchy and work with whoever is at the top to help make decisions.

Examples: In my family, my dad will listen what my sister says in a different way (even if she says the same thing as me) because she is the oldest child. My Aunt will listen and accept help from my husband before me, my sister or my mother. You see even my mom struggles with the eternally 12 syndrome as she is the youngest child in her family so my aunt who is only a year older than her still sees her as her “little sister”)

  • Call in a professional:There are professional called Geriatric Care Managers who are trained to facilitate family meetings and discuss care options. They can make sure the conversation stays calm and moves forward.

Example: When discussing with my grandfather, the option of moving from our home to a retirement community in order to increase his socialization, I asked a friend who is a geriatric care manager to facilitate our family meeting. Though she said the same things that I had said, she was seen as an authority figure to my family. My friend Colleen hired a mediator to facilitate family meetings between 8 siblings, regarding her mothers care.

Millions of family caregivers grapple with this syndrome as their parents’ age. You are not alone.

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Me, Mom and Dancing with the Stars

1337674858_dancing_with_the_stars_logo1_0Today is a big day for me.  Nope, it’s not my birthday (that was yesterday)…tonight is the premiere of Dancing with the Stars.

For many fans of the show this is exciting, however; for me and my Mom it’s an event.  Anyone who knows me understands that when Dancing with the Stars is on the air they need not bother calling or stopping by because I will not be available, not even during the commercials. (We are such fans that we have attended 2 of the Live Dancing with the Stars tours.)

Since the first few seasons of the show my Mom and I call each other during every commercial break to share our assessment of the previous dance routine, song choice, as well as, the judges’ scores and comments.  It’s our thing.

I’ve always enjoyed dancing (some Sue trivia, I even taught ballroom dance for a short time back in my 20’s), however; what I really like is that it is something I can share with my Mom.  Over the past few years through health struggles (see One Word Can Change Your Life ) and loss of loved ones (see For Aunt Josie), watching Dancing with the Stars has given us the opportunity to discuss something that we both enjoy and doesn’t involve doctors, hospitals or any medical jargon.

As caregivers we can sometimes get so caught up in the tasks of caregiving that we forget to find ways to connect with our loved ones.  I am blessed that I have always been very close to my Mom, however; I too can get caught up in the health needs and forget to foster the relationship outside of the health issues.

  • Find ways to connect with the person you care for beyond the health care needs. Go to a movie, lunch (not tagged onto a doctor’s appointment).
  • Have conversations that do not involve scheduling the next appointment or how they are feeling. If the conversation starts to go in that direction bring it back around by saying something like “we can talk about that more tomorrow, right now I want to hear about blank”
  • Schedule “fun time” with your loved ones!

Caregiving is hard and the time we have with those we love goes by so quickly.  Take time today to reach out and connect with those you love.

For more support visit CaregiverLife.com

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On the Edge Part 2: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Recap: I in my blog On the Edge Part 1, I shared my favorite scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, is 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 in the pool.

What happens next is such a classic move, after the initial shock; George grabs Mary and continues to dance!  This move inspires the watchers who take a leap and join in.

Points to Ponder:

  • How do you react when things don’t go as planned?   Do you adapt and make the best of where you end up or do you bemoan and complain about where you are?
  • The only constant in life is change.  How flexible are you to what life throws at you?
  • How does your adaptability or lack there of, affect those around you?
  • What have you put in the way of creating more flow in your life when things don’t go as planned?

How we adapt to what life throws at us unexpectedly can make the difference not just for our life and health but for those around us as well.  We have a choice about how we react in the face of conflict, trials, unexpected twists and tragedy.  However; it takes the presence of mind and the ability to step back and take a breath and adapt.  So what will you do; keep dancing or stand on the sidelines and watch?

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” – Charles Swindoll

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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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