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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Dealing with the “Negative Nancie’s” in our lives

I love the new terms this generation uses for certain things especially things like, “You’re such a Debbie Downer” or “Negative Nancy.” I just laugh every time I hear one of those comments.

What’s not funny is having to live with someone who is just that!

Whether it is a spouse, friend, family member or coworkers, it is always a challenge to remain positive in a negative society. Maybe it’s an elderly parent or loved one who may never have been negative their whole life and now that they are getting older or may even be experiencing some stage of dementia that may be altering their perception of things, it’s still so difficult being on the other side of these folks who continually drain you of your own hope and outlook in life.

Negative people tend to leave others around them drained, tired and lethargic. No matter what you say, they always seem to find a way to counter with a negative opinion. When they face a problem, they soak themselves in the issue rather than deal with it constructively. They adopt a self-victimizing mindset, complaining about whatever happens.

Even when you try to change the topic to something positive, they have a way to turn it into something negative. They are constantly fixated with the doom and gloom of (their) life. The old “somebody’s done me wrong” song. Everything is black; there is no white. In the event there is some element of positivity that enters their spectrum, they are quick to excuse that as a one-off encounter or see the dark side behind that.

To negative people, life just sucks. They remain in a “victim” mentality.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

Here are a few things you can do when dealing with a negative, aging parent or loved one:

Allow them to express their negativity. The elderly often feel like their opinions and thoughts don’t matter. If you allow them to have their say without any retort, that will likely be the key that allows them to soften a bit.  You may not agree with what they have to say, but realizing that it isn’t a personal attack against you can alleviate a load of stress.

Here are a few more:

  • Practice being patient. Because they can’t do things on their own, they feel inclined to tell you exactly how to do it. Your position is that it will get done, regardless. Their position is that it won’t be done right unless you do it they way–the way they would’ve done it. Sometimes letting it go in one ear and out the other works here, and sometimes it doesn’t. In those instances where you feel ready to explode, it’s best to take a break, step outside for a few minutes and take deep, calming breaths. When you’ve cleared your mind, you can go back in with renewed energy and complete the task.
  • Smile often. It’s hard to smile during a time when you feel your efforts are in vain. Tuning out the negativity and thinking about a funny joke or something humorous your children have done can produce a genuine smile. This often works to stop the criticism and alleviate tension. When your parent sees you smiling, tell them the joke or story you were thinking about and have a good laugh together.
  • Go in with gusto! When you have mentally prepared yourself not to be stressed, you will be able to have more patience to deal with your parent. Go in talking about anything or everything. Talking about other things with you takes their mind off the bitterness and helplessness they feel. Ask what their opinions on different topics are. Ask them questions. Ask them to tell you stories about their life. This makes them feel useful, and gives them a feeling that they have something important to contribute.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to get away for a few days. Ask a close family member or a friend to take over for you for a few days. Take this time to spend with others or by yourself doing what you want to do. Take in a couple of movies and escape into fantasy for a while. Getting away every so often will give you a renewed sense of hope and allow you more patience to deal with your parents for another week or two.

I understand it can really be a drag and drain the life out of you if you allow their negativity to bring you down (believe me, I understand). But we must not allow their responses, words or actions to pull us in to their negative world.

The question is – “How do we continue to maintain our hope and sanity in the midst of negativity?”

Now mostly, I just laugh it off because it has become a habit or learned behavior on their part. I will not give in to that negative pattern and allow it to divert my course, even for a moment! I challenge you to do the same.

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This Job Sucks (and other Important Caregiving Information)

Help sign - this job sucksWhile making visiting with a friend who just lost his sister, he shared how difficult it was for him especially as she had chosen him (above her parents, children and other siblings) to be her Power of Attorney (POA). His sister had been in end stage cancer and he had to make some very difficult decisions about her care at the end. Having spoken with her at length about what she did and did not want done to prolong her life he followed her wishes and made decisions accordingly, which meant not approving a procedure that would have been very painful and would have done little to change the outcome.

Those who have never had to make potentially life/death decisions cannot imagine the strength it takes to make these types of choices, even if it is following the directions of your loved one to the letter.

As I have shared in my speaking and blogging, choosing a POA (and making sure it is the right person for the job) is imperative. (See FYI about POA). However, being named as the “chosen one” has its burdens as well.

Here are just a few:

  • You may question why you were picked
  • Others may question why you were picked, thinking they would have been a better choice.
  • Knowing the right time/situation to step in to help someone in making difficult health-care decisions.
  • Having the strength to make difficult decisions IN SPITE OF your emotions and/or the emotions of other family members.
  • Having the courage to make difficult decisions IN SPITE OF the criticism of those around you.

Sounds daunting but have heart there is hope.

Here are some steps that you can encourage the person who has deemed you the “chosen one” to take once they have made their decision

  • Have a very direct and serious conversation about what they want/don’t want in certain situations. Use the “what if” blog as a starting point.
  • Ask them to write down in DETAIL what they would or would not want if certain situations were to arise (helpful tool – 5 wishes)
  • Ask them to share their decision to choose you with other family members (nothing worse than someone else thinking they are in charge only to realize they were not the “chosen one”), as well as share that their wishes are written down in detail and you are to follow their instructions.
  • Make sure that everyone in the family understands that this was their decision and that this is not about “favorites”, it is about who THEY FEEL is able to manage the care in the fashion requested by the assignee.

Important point!!

**Just because someone asks you to be his or her power-of-attorney does not mean you have to say “yes”.

You must be willing and able to follow their wishes IN SPITE OF your own thoughts, feelings or emotional connection and have thick skin and an unwavering spirit to face the potential hostile response/criticism that may come from other family members. If you do not think you can do that, you should be honest with them and graciously decline and share the reasons.

For more support/resources visit: CaregiverLife.com

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A New You for the New Year!

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” 2013-Top-10-Web-Sites-for-New-Year-ResolutionThomas Jefferson

As a new year rolls in many will set “resolutions” for the upcoming year.  Some will involve weight loss; career changes, financial planning, and the list could go on and on…

Resolution isn’t the only thing needed to create a new way of living.

You can resolve to change habits and adjust attitude however; if you continue to live your life as you have, you will continue to get what you have gotten. In life, everything is in continuous motion and therefore constantly changing. From day-to-day and sometimes minute to minute things can change. The key is in altering your reaction to change, and be willing to take risks.

Viewing change as something that will always be, instead of something you are fighting against, can lead to opportunities to live into a new way of being both inwardly and outwardly.

Questions to Consider:

  • How have I been reacting to the flow of changes in my life?
  • What is my usual pattern of reaction to change?
  • How does my reaction affect those around me (family, friends, husband, and kids)?
  • How does my reaction to change affect my overall health?
  • What can I do differently that will create a new way of being?

Take time this New Year to address reactions that diminish your capacity to make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you will make for a healthier and more power-filled year and life.

Happy New Year!

For more resources visit: CaregiverLife.com

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Holiday love for the caregiver in your life – Guest Post

Family caregivers are the hardest working people you’ll ever know. They’ve given up their freedom and free time to tend to the needs of their husband, wife, mother, sister, child or even a stranger due to an illness, disability or injury. They are under constant stress, often working full-time jobs and losing sleep to help someone in need.

Caregivers are prone to depression and stress-related illnesses, and they often neglect their own healthcare needs in order to care for someone else. They often feel overwhelmed, lonely, worried and tired. Self-care is important to the well-being of caregivers, but they often don’t know how or where to get it. The holidays are a great time to show the caregiver in your life that you care about him or her, and you understand their plight.

First, if you suspect that your caregiver friend is suffering from mental health issues related to caregiving, work with him or her and encourage them to get the help they need. Encourage him or her to see a doctor who may prescribe some anti-anxiety medication or stress-relief activities.  If they need to see a therapist, offer to sit with their charge while they go to appointments. Mental wellness is important so that he or she can continue to provide quality care for others, as well as live their own life of fulfillment.

Here are some gift ideas for the caregiver in your life:

  1. Time — Spend time with him or her. Often, they are isolated and just need someone to talk to and vent. Take him or her out for coffee and be a good friend. If they insist they can’t leave their person, bring over some lattes or a bottle of wine and visit.
  2. A day off — Respite is an important part of care. Giving the caregiver a break can make a world of difference. Offer to take over care for a day or two while he or she goes to do something fun, such as shopping, seeing a movie or going out-of-town.
  3. Clean the house — Offer to clean their house for them. You can do it yourself or pay for a cleaning service. Or, if they don’t live with the person they care for, offer to clean that person’s house so that the caregiver doesn’t have to worry about those chores.
  4. Give food — Whether you cook for them or you pay for the food, any day you don’t have to spend time in the kitchen is a break. Cook a nice casserole that can be frozen and then popped in the oven, or pay for dinner delivery. There are lots of delivery services that pick up takeout from restaurants and deliver them, and most of them offer gift certificates.
  5. Transportation — Driving someone around town to doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions can get expensive, especially when gas prices go up. Give him or her a gift card for gas for the car, or for a ride-sharing service. Helping him or her get around town will remove a bit of the burden of movement.
  6. A night out — A gift certificate for dinner and a movie for him or her and a friend can give a nice night of respite. But don’t just give the gift; offer to take over duties while the caregiver has his or her evening out. They can’t use the gift if they’re stuck at home because nobody is willing to help.
  7. Pampering — Give a massage, manicure, pedicure, spa visit or whatever you think he or she might enjoy. You can give a gift card (make sure to include a tip), or do it yourself, with that bottle of wine you brought over.

Remembering the hard work your caregiver is doing is essential to helping him or her through this time. They will feel better and thus give better care and have better health — thanks to your considerate gift.

Guest Blogger Beverly Nelson: Beverly Nelson is the creator of Stand Up For Caregivers, which aims to help protect and advocate for the health and well being of adult caregivers.  For more information visit standupforcaregiver.org

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It’s My Privilege

Me & Aunt Josie helping me during a book signing

I was recently watching the show The Middle.  In the show Frankie has to take care of her mother after a hospital stay.  What ensues is a lot of humor and chaos (much like real life caregiving).  After much frustration with her mother and lots of wearisome tears, her mother says “I’m so sorry you have to take care of me”, to which Frankie replies “it’s my privilege”.   She then shares how when she was a new mother, her mother would always show up to help her manage her small children and when she would apologize for all of the chaos her mother would simply respond “It’s my privilege”.

And so, goes the circle of life….

So many times, as I’ve supported family members in need of care, I have forgotten that it is a privilege to take care of others and that those I have cared for have been people who have always shown up for me.  I remember my Aunt Josie apologizing for having to rely on me so much, to which I would reply “if the roles were reversed, you would do it for me”.  Which I know she would have and had in the past.  About 10 years ago, I had a surgery which left me laid up at home for several weeks, my mom and aunt came over and made meals, tidied up my house and made sure I was taken care of during my recovery.

What the care recipients in my life failed to understand is that how they have shown up for me and those around them, is how I learned to show up for them and others in my life…by example. So, what are some takeaways?

  • Showing up to support and care for others is a choice
  • Taking care of those you love is a privilege
  • The way you show up for others is setting an example for those around you

Thank you for being the kind of person who shows up for others (even when it’s really hard).

 

 

 

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Shifting Priorities

Being a family caregiver is a 24/7 job.  It’s probably one of the most difficult and thankless jobs one can do.  The stress level is off the charts, the pay is non-existent and trying to make time for you is next to impossible.

We become caregivers for several reasons: need, duty, personality type, but mostly because we love the person who needs care and we want to support them through whatever it is that they are going through.  It’s this final reason that keeps us showing up, even on the most difficult days.

Caring for another person can and will take its toll on us emotionally and physically if we do not FIRST take care of ourselves.  Self-care is the biggest conundrum we face as caregivers as the majority of our time and energy is focused on the needs of othersIn truth, if we do not take the time to take care of ourselves first we become less effective at caring for others which can create more problems than we already face as we try to manage the needs of others.

I (again) realized this the several years ago, after a long holiday weekend, I found myself up most of the night very sick (I won’t go into details let’s just say it wasn’t pretty).  The next morning I had a long list of things I needed to do to help my aunt who is recovering from surgery, however; I realized when I tried to get up after only a few hours of sleep I was so exhausted that I couldn’t get my body nor my brain to function sufficiently enough to take care of the things that needed to get done, so I climbed back into bed and slept for another few hours.

Though I lost a good portion of my morning I was able to get everything done that NEEDED to be done, pushed a few things to the next day’s list and took an afternoon nap for good measure.  To many of you this may seem like a day wasted, let me assure you, it wasn’t.  By taking the steps necessary to make self-care a priority that day, I was 10x’s more productive the next day.

Sometimes all it take is a few extra hours of sleep, other times it might be prioritizing the to-do list by what NEEDS to get done and either delegating the other items or pushing them to a less jam-packed day.

Bottom line self-care needs to become a PRIORITY in the life of anyone who is caring for an elderly or chronically ill loved one.  Not taking care for yourself when sick, or wearing yourself down trying to get it all done isn’t good for you or those who are depending on you.

For more support/resources visit: CaregiverLife.com

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Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits – Support for our Aging Veterans

A few years back with some local Veterans

For many elderly veterans the rising cost of assisted living or home health care can be staggering, causing their life savings to be diminished paying for health care as they age. There are VA benefits that can help you get the care you need without using up your retirement savings.

Geriatric Patient Aligned Care Team (GeriPACT)

The VA launched GeriPACT program to provide healthcare for Veterans with more than one chronic disease and with declining mental and physical capabilities. GeriPACT integrates traditional healthcare services with community-based services. The goal is to provide Veterans with these challenges with as much independence and quality of life as possible.  GeriPACT teams include primary care providers and multi-disciplinary teams who have expertise with the special healthcare needs of these Veterans.

How does this program support veterans?

  • Helps integrate and coordinate health care services provided by VA with community-based services.
  • Strives to optimize independence and quality of life.
  • Includes healthcare team members who possess expertise and advanced training to assess and address the illnesses and issues of vulnerable and elderly Veterans.
  • Serves Veterans who require a level of care that is not generally available to them through a regular patient aligned care team (PACT) – for example, they might have complex care needs or require care management.

VA benefits provide for a range of long-term services including residential care, adult day health care, geriatric evaluation, as well as respite care.  Nursing home benefits may be provided if specific qualifications are met. The following long-term care services are available to all enrolled Veterans.

Respite Care

Provides supportive care to veterans on a short-term basis giving the caregiver a planned period of relief from the physical and emotional demands associated with providing care. Respite care can be provided in the home or other non-institutional settings

Home Care

Skilled home care is provided by VA and contract agencies to veterans that are homebound with chronic diseases and includes nursing, physical/occupational therapy and social services.

Hospice/Palliative Care

This program offers services to veterans in the late stages of the chronic disease process.  Services also include respite care as well as bereavement counseling to family members.  There are no co-pays for hospice care provided in any setting.

Eligibility Requirements

Pension benefits are needs-based and your “countable” family income must fall below the yearly limit set by law. Veterans must have at least 90 days of active duty, including one day during a wartime period. If the active duty occurred after September 7, 1980, you must have served at least 24 months or the full period that you were called up (with some exceptions). You must also be:

  • Age 65 or older with limited or no income, OR
  • Totally and permanently disabled, OR
  • A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
  • Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
  • Receiving Supplemental Security Income

The Veteran must have met the service requirements above for surviving spouses and children applying for the Survivors Pension.

Caregiver Programs and Services:

VA has long supported family caregivers as vital partners in providing care worthy of the sacrifices of America’s Veterans and Service members. Each VA medical center has a Caregiver Support Program coordinated by a Caregiver Support Coordinator (CSC). The CSC coordinates caregiver activities and serves as a resource expert for Veterans, their families, and VA providers.

My father-in-law Ed Cutler served in the Navy at Pearl Harbor after the attacks.

The social work department at your nearest VA medical facility can provide specific information about services or other assistance available through VA and your local community.  Visit http://www.va.gov/ for more information.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website

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Lessons from a Caregiver – Guest Post

Often, we hear that the role of caretaker to the elderly is a stressful one, particularly in Senior lady and her granddaughtersituations where one family member is asked to care for another. In cases where Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are present, this role becomes especially important, but also more difficult. Studies are conflicted—some suggest that it is harmful to the caregiver, others demonstrate no effect (hard to believe) and still others imply that the role of caretaker is a positive one in the lives of those who choose it.

Caregivers tend to be over the age of 64, female, and either white or African-American, and (according to a study conducted by Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University) are leading more fulfilling lives. This could be happening for any number of reasons—we feel better when we’re able to give back to an aging parent who spent years raising us or we’re able to see noticeable improvements in our loved ones. Maybe it’s that we’re simply grateful that someone is grateful to us, that we’re needed.

No matter the reason, the fact remains that providing care to family or friends can serve a dual purpose in our lives. For the person being cared for, the benefits are immediately apparent. They receive care in a setting that is likely familiar to them from people who are familiar.  In all stages of dementia, this can be a source of great comfort. The collection of friends or family serving as caregiver makes the person being cared for more comfortable, undoubtedly.

The reason for a greater sense of fulfillment on behalf of the caregiver is likely more complex. It’s complex on the whole and its complex for me. As an at-home caregiver to my mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it is a role I struggle with daily but am infinitely grateful for. Taking care of my mother was at first tricky for me to grasp—this woman who had raised me largely by herself was now at the mercy of her eldest daughter. But she needs me and I go on needing her. Ultimately, she’s the same kindhearted woman she’s always been and I try daily to be the same.

In serving as a caregiver, I’ve learned that there is a learning curve, but it keeps curving and curving and spiraling. Most of us in this role are thrust into it—we approach tentatively, learning the disease and the act of preventing it or caring for it or adapting to it as we go. This never stops. I’m more patient than I’ve ever been. I’m, thanks to my mother in these years and the ones before, more grateful too.

Madison HillMadison Hill is a world-class baker and an average photographer. She’s currently getting rained on in Seattle, where she and her mother are learning the ends and outs of Alzheimer’s care. 

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A Fundamental Rule in Caregiving (that no one seems to follow)

In honor of National Caregiver Month, I thought this was a great post to start off the month.

Please read & share.

An essential imperative of caregiving is: Take care of yourself.  However; the majority of family caregivers are so busy taking care of others that they neglect to care for themselves.  The sad irony is that if caregivers made it a priority to care for themselves FIRST they would actually have MORE energy to help others and therefore be more available to help those around them.

Research by the Family Caregiver Alliance shares some significant reasons to make self-care a priority:

 Caregivers are in worse health.

  • 11% caregivers report that their physical health has gotten worse.
  • Caregivers reported chronic conditions (including heart attack/heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis) at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers (45 vs. 24%).
  • Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments (including acid reflux, headaches, and pain/aching), increased tendency to develop serious illness and have high levels of obesity.
  • Caregivers have diminished immune response, which leads to frequent infection and increased risk of cancers.
  • Caregivers exhibit exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stressful conditions putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
  • Women who spend nine or more hours a week caring for an ill or disabled spouse increase their risk of heart disease two-fold.
  • Women caregivers are twice as likely not to fill a personal prescription because of the cost (26% vs. 13%).
  • 72% of caregivers reported that they had not gone to the doctor as often as they should, and more than half (55%) had missed doctor’s appointments.

Paying the ultimate price – Increased mortality

  • Elderly spousal caregivers (aged 66-96) have a 63% higher death rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
  • In 2006, hospitalization of an elderly spouse was found to be associated with an increased risk of caregiver death.

Don’t become a statistic!

Simple steps to a healthier you:

  • Schedule time DAILY to take care of yourself (and stick to the schedule) – start out small and then increase the time each week (ex – 10 minutes of quiet time before bed – ½ hour walk after dinner)
  • Enlist family support – share with your spouse, kids and other family and friends that your scheduled time needs to be respected and supported.
  • Set boundaries – this can include scheduled visiting days/times with your elderly loved one (not every day), specific days of the week that the kids can have their friends over or go to a friend’s house.
  • Schedule a physical – this should be done ANNUALLY.  There are no ifs, ands or buts about it!

Here’s the good news – if you make self-care a priority, create a support system and set boundaries you can be healthier, happier and live longer.  Pro-active and preventative health measures are vital to helping those you love, because if you don’t take care of yourself, sooner rather than later, you wont be around to help those you love.

Start TODAY!

For more support visit – CaregiverLife.com

****A portion of my book sale proceeds go to support breast cancer research.

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Boobs, Bowel Movements and Caregiving Humor

Several years ago, my sister shared with me that when she called our aunt to wish her a “Happy Birthday” her reply was “I had a bowel movement today”, to which I commented “well then that was a happy birthday for her wasn’t it”.  Along those same lines, when my grandfather was alive he would also give me the daily “bowel update”, sometimes in the lobby of the retirement community he lived in and I worked at while on the way to my office.

Both my aunt and my grandfather had multiple health issues and spent more than her fair share of time in hospitals and rehab centers before her passing in 2013.  Anyone having cared for someone in these settings know that the staff asks certain questions on a daily basis, one of which is “did you have a bowel movement”?  At some point sharing this information becomes second nature.

The irony of that conversation was that were sitting in a Dr.’s office with my Mom, a breast cancer survivor, for a follow-up appointment after her mastectomy.  I remarked to my sister that “As caregivers our lives are all about boobs and bowel movements”, to which my Mom replied “sorry about the boob part.”

Don’t take my joking to mean that I don’t take the health challenges of those I help care for seriously. I have spent many sleepless nights praying for God’s healing. Equally; having worked in healthcare for the better part of 25 years I recognize that the appropriate use of levity can help to put us at ease in the midst of the chaos and stress associated with caring for people we love.

When things get too serious humor can help get us through the tough times without losing our minds. Studies have shown that using humor and being able to laugh during stressful time can:

  • Improve brain functioning
  • Blood pressure initially increases when we laugh, however; after the laugh it decreases to levels below normal
  • Protect the heart
  • Foster instant relaxation
  • Connect you with others

Norman Cousins, in his book Anatomy of an Illness (1979), noted that 10 minutes of belly laughter (just counting the laughing time) would give him two hours of pain-free sleep. Over a dozen studies have now documented that humor does have the power to reduce pain in many patients.

Humor draws attention away from the source of discomfort–at least momentarily and for those of us struggling to support and manage the care of those we love, it can be just what the doctor ordered.

**In honor of my Mom and all of the other women still fighting the fight against Breast Cancer, through the end of the year 50% of my book sales will go to support breast cancer research. **

For more caregiving support visit CaregiverLife.com

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The Caregiver Perspective

As a national speaker I have presented to hundreds of family caregivers throughout the country.  In each presentation I highlight how, as caregivers, we can become task masters; focused on our to-do list more than the people around us.

I share this by way of personal testimony.  As I examined my time caring for my grandfather, the transition from the granddaughter that spent time talking and hanging out with my grandfather to becoming hyper focused on the tasks needing to be done to care for him happened so unconsciously.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I was so focused on what needed to be done, I missed numerous opportunities to just talk and hang out with him. 

So you would think that after reflecting, recognizing and relating this information to family caregivers all across the country, I would be extremely self-aware if it were to happen again, right?!  WRONG!

A few years back I began journaling.  Now many people think that as an author and blogger, journaling would be something I do naturally, however; it’s far from the truth.  It wasn’t until I was on the flip-side of a very challenging year which included the death of several family members that I decided I needed some way to organize my thoughts and find inspiration.

I would journal all of the positive things happening (both large and small), as well as hopes and dreams for the future and create action plans based those ideas.  Many exciting opportunities were being created, and it was all documented in my journal.

Recently I spotted my journal under a pile on my desk, not remembering the last time I had written in it and remembering how encouraging I found it, I decided to read through the entries.  There were pages upon pages of inspired thoughts and thankfulness to God for all He was doing in my life and business. However; when I turned to the final entry I was shocked.

It read:

To Do

  • Pay phone bill
  • Write blogs
  • Follow up with contacts
  • Dog grooming

A stark contrast to the pages of enthused optimism that filled the prior pages.

Noting the date, I realized that in spite of all of the caregiver support programs and writing I do on a regular basis, it had happened again.  There was no denying it, it was right in front of me in black and white…the entry was dated the day after my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Somehow, her diagnosis had flipped a switch that propelled me from inspired writer into task-master caregiver without any semblance of awareness on my part.

With my new-found awareness I was able to make the following adjustment:

  • I regularly schedule time with my mom not related to Dr. visits and focused on fun.
  • I take time daily to focus on self-care and just breathe.  It is vital that caregivers make self-care a priority in order to be available to care for others.
  • I began journaling again to re-connect with the inspiration I had found in those pages.

If you are caring for someone, I encourage you today to do a self-check.

Are you more focused on your to-do list then on the people around you?  If the answer is “yes” make the necessary changes to take care of yourself and connect with those you love.

**In honor of my Mom and all of the other women still fighting the fight against Breast Cancer, through the end of the year 50% of my book sales will go to support breast cancer research. **

For more caregiving support visit CaregiverLife.com

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Rejoice in the Small Victories

Anyone who has had a loved one with cancer understands how stressful the ongoing 3-6 month marks are, waiting to hear if the blood work and bone-scans are clear. When those we love have had ongoing health issues and it seems like every time we turn around there is another doctor appointment, medical test or treatment plan it can be hard to find reasons to celebrate. Leading to being in a constant state of waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Unintentionally, by focusing on a future negative result that may (or may not) happen, we can fail to acknowledge the small victories – such as a bone-scan coming back the same (meaning it showed no change or growth in the cancer which is a GOOD THING). Regrettably we overlook the opportunity to celebrate these small victories because once we leave the doctor’s office we begin to focus on the “next appointment” in 3-6 months.

Focusing on what seems like an imminent future outcome can have some benefit when it leads to putting in place a plan for potential future health care needs.  Conversely, it can rob us of the joy of present time spent with our loved one.  The reality is, outside of a new treatment and/or miracle (which could happen), negative test results are a possibility sooner or later, but NOT TODAY!!!

Today I encourage you to:

  • CLAIM THE SMALL VICTORIES!!
  • No matter what the test results say, REJOICE in time together TODAY! 
  • If today, or during your last appointment, the cancer hasn’t changed, grown or spread SHOUT HURRAH!!!
  • If in this moment the blood work is showing normal ranges (even if it pertains to the continuance of your chemo treatment) share a YIPPEE!!!
  • If you are alive today – do a HAPPY DANCE!

I understand how stressful the thought of the cancer spreading can be.  Trust me I KNOW!!

Nonetheless, expending a good portion of your emotional energy being nervous about an unknown future can deprive you of peace, joy and the appreciation for another day of life, love and family.

**In honor of my Mom and all of the other women still fighting the fight against Breast Cancer, through the end of the year 50% of my book sales will go to support breast cancer research. **

For more caregiving support visit CaregiverLife.com

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The Word that Changed Our Lives – Cancer

“It’s Cancer”.

My sister and I tried to compose ourselves and comprehend the significance of what we had just heard the doctor say.

Did he just say that our mom has breast cancer?

Having worked in hospice for many years, I knew that once the word “cancer” was spoken most of what was said after was lost in translation.  So I focused on being present to what the doctor was saying next.  The doctor continued, “I feel from what I’ve seen that it’s stage 1 breast cancer, which means we caught it early and I am confident your mom will live a long, healthy life.”

I have encountered more doctors than I’d like to admit who share a cancer diagnosis with a patient and then abruptly walk out of the room.  Our hospice team had numerous in-services for doctors titled “Breaking Bad News”, however; it was usually the staff who came, many times sharing their frustration at how their doctor does a quick “exit stage left” after dropping the C-bomb on a patient.

Having experienced this from both a professional and personal standpoint, I wanted to share some advice for when the doctor shares life changing news:

  • ASK QUESTIONS!
    • If the doctor is using terminology you don’t understand ask him what it means.
    • If another staff member comes in to answer questions politely ask why the doctor isn’t answering the questions and how their care team is set up.  **Many times there are physician assistants who work as patient advocates and are the contact for ongoing information and support.
  • If you feel comfortable with the treatment option set out by the doctor then move forward with it.
    • However, unless it’s a time sensitive situation, you don’t have to immediately move forward with the treatment option outlined by the doctor. You have the right to ask more questions and seek a second opinion about your care.
    • Ask for the after-hours number to call and ask the questions that may have come up after leaving the doctor’s office.  Make sure the phone number connects you with your doctor or a team member who knows about your case and has access to your records.
  • Do your research.
    • Websites like WebMD have a lot of information that can assist in understanding both diagnosis and treatment options, but clarify and verify the information you find with a doctor or other diagnosis specific medical professional.
    • Call around to disease specific treatment centers and ask questions about their programs.
    • Explore alternative/holistic treatments options that could supplement and/or support your treatment.
  • Get a second opinion.
    • There is nothing wrong with seeking a second (or even third) opinion when given a serious diagnosis.
  • Ask your doctor about research trials in your area that your loved one may qualify for.
  • Get information on other social resources and support groups offered by the hospital system.  For example, my local hospital offers free massages to both the patient and their caregiver, as well as resources for free wigs, discounted mastectomy bras and programs on how to manage and reduce stress.

Focus on gathering information on available options so that you can assist your loved one in making an educated decision about their care.

In honor of my Mom and all of the other women still fighting the fight against Breast Cancer, through the end of the year 50% of my book sales will go to support breast cancer research. **

For more caregiving support visit CaregiverLife.com

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What’s the Plan?

In light of the recent natural disasters, I realized that the subject matter of evacuation is not a topic touched on in my blogging tenure.  For people living in the south who are more frequently affected by flooding and issues related to hurricanes, earthquakes, as well as those living in the west where fires are an annual threat, I would guess that asking about an evacuation plan when searching for a long-term care community/facility for an elderly loved one would be second nature (if not it should be!).

However, for those living in areas that have not, and most likely will not experience the magnitude of a weather related disaster that those in Florida or Houston have, questions related to a facilities evacuation plan should become a priority as well.

Some questions to ask when touring facilities

  • What is their plan for evacuation in case of natural/other disaster? (ex: Power outages, tornadoes, flooding, blizzards)
  • Is the plan written down? (ask for a copy)
  • How often are they required by law to go over procedures and/or do practice drills with their staff? How often do they?
  • How do they train new staff on evacuation procedures and what is their practice for ongoing staff training?
  • Do they have backup generators?
    • How many?
    • How often are they checked?
    • How are they maintained?
  • If they were to be confined in the facility for several days (or more) without access to food and medical suppliers due to weather, how much food supplies and medication do they keep on hand to ensure they can properly care for their residents?
  • Is the plan prioritized by resident frailty?
  • Do they work with local hospitals and other facilities in case they would need to evacuate their residents?
  • Where in the facility are copies of the plan kept?
  • If you were to ask where the copies of the plan are to any of their staff, would they be able to quickly answer you and locate the plan?
  • How do they communicate with/get information to family members about weather related events? (Group email/text, Facebook page, Twitter?)

No matter where in the country you live, there is always a chance that there could be some weather related issue that could impact the well-being of the elderly living in long-term care communities/facilities.  A facilities disaster plan is key to the safety of their residents.

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The power to run the race: A reminder to all caregivers

Chariots of Fire was a great movie. It serves as a reminder that in the midst of any and all hardship, obstacle or circumstance, there is strength readily available.

As you watch this YouTube clip, take notice of a great line “Where does the power to run the race come from? It comes from within”.

Be encouraged today. The strength to finish the race, the journey, lies within you.

For more encouragement and support visit CaregiverLife.com

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