Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Help for the Caregiver, Family: A Calendar & Friends

As a little girl, I attended more funerals than most adults today do in their lifetime.  A pastor's daughter in the Midwest, I sat in the front row with my little sister, while Mother sang a solo and Daddy preached the sermon.  Mostly I remember the food:  Jello salad, fried chicken, mashed potatoes.  Yes, and cookies, pies and cakes.

Community, so important in the 50s,  has waned.  Yet the needs, not just during the time of death, but during extended illness, are still there.  How do we cobble together a caring community which allows us, in the words of Scripture, to "bear one another's burdens?"  How do we help caregivers get a break from the important work they do so they can be revived?

Care Calendar is a great help.  This program organizes needs so others can meet them. The recipient lists needs:  meals, visits, light housework, transportation to medical appointments, etc..  Friends and family sign up on the calendar for the tasks they choose.  The program also sends reminder emails a day ahead of the assignment. And each group of helpers has a leader to keep things running smoothly.

My friend Lupe is our recipient.  She is fighting cancer and needs all her strength for the battle. I do what I can when I can do it.  So far, it's been bringing a cooked meal and visiting with her.  Others fill in other gaps.  They clean her house, drive her to chemo appointments and stay with her.

Care Calendar was born when a mother of nine children had a serious illness, and her husband needed a simple, organized way of telling the family's story and the needs of each family member.
It has so many applications, however, but particularly for the caregiver and the person in need.

What do you think of the CareCalendar idea?  Could it help you or your friends?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Caregiving, illness and stress: sharing the load

Are  you overburdened?  Or do you live or work with someone who is?  Aging parents, or aging, period, can bring overwhelming stress to all.

I've been thinking a lot about this subject, so I turned to the Bible.  It turns out that in Galatians 6, in the New Testament, there are two references to burdens that may at first seem contradictory.

"Bear ye one another's burdens" in v. 2 seems to indicate that we are to help others who are overwhelmed by life. Yet in v. 5, the command is that "every man should bear his own burden."  Which is it?  Or can it be both?

There are actually two different Greek words for burden.  Baros in v. 2 refers to an overloaded ship, with cargo so full that it's in danger of taking in water and sinking.  Picture a person or a family in that situation.  Their physical and emotional resources are shot.  They don't know where to turn.  They have taken on so much cargo, otherwise known as baggage, that they feel they're sinking.  They need help!

The other Greek word for burden, found in v. 5, is Phortion.  Another nautical word, it refers to the normal load a ship is designed to carry. If a ship is to sail properly, it needs a certain amount of cargo.  If it's empty, it cannot set full sail and make full speed, and it tosses and pitches violently in rough seas. The analogy works in life, too.  We need some stress to produce and to feel alive.

In another explanation of the burdens, the one  mentioned in v.2 is like a bolder that no one can roll up a steep hill.  And the other burden in v. 5 is like a backpack that we can strap on and navigate through life.

Bottom line, we all have burdens from time to time, and we're given strength to carry them or to allow others to help us.  And we can reach out and assist others whose burdens are otherwise unbearable.

Another blog post soon will cover a way people can team together to help families facing illness.  Stay tuned.



Thursday, June 28, 2018

Moving from Rehab to a New Home is Easier Said than Done

Six professionals, all working in the senior care field, gathered around a table for a general discussion.  One of them, Susan, recently stepped into an unfamiliar role, a role that was fraught with obstacles.

Susan's mother had been living independently when suddenly, due to illness, she landed in the hospital and then in rehab. The doctor's verdict was that she could no longer live independently.  Assisted living, or possibly an adult family home, seemed the best answer.

Susan started the search but found that finding a great place for her mother was easier said than done.  Yes, she had experience working with seniors and their families.  But she needed more than the list the social worker gave her.  Another issue:  the social worker had little time to help people. 

Speaking of "the list," Susan said, it was difficult to work with.

"Assisted living communities and adult family homes were grouped alphabetically by city.  But some cities are so spread out that it takes a lot of effort to find these places.  The list had facilities that no longer existed.  Pricing was missing from the list, as was any kind of description regarding the care provided.  And there was nothing about availability."

After many calls and some visits Susan finally found a new home for her mother.  Yet she realizes there has to be an easier way.  Perhaps hiring a geriatric care manager?  Or working with a good referral agent?  Both those options can make the job easier.  Speaking of referral agencies, Silver Age Referrals can help. 



Sunday, June 24, 2018

Beneath the Surface, Seniors Want to be Seen

Texts, emails, Facebook?  With seniors and their families, these communication modes have limits.  They're great for conveying simple information like dates and times, and yes and no.  However, when we want to learn about the "real person," and want them to learn more about us, we need to go face to face or at least voice to voice.  A simple telephone call or visit can reveal our client's likes and dislikes, distinct personality and sense of timing.

I learned about face to face or voice to voice contact at a young age.  My father was a minister in a small church of between 100 and 150 members.  One of his goals was to make 60 or 70 monthly personal visits to families.  That number seems staggering, but he did it!  He knew the family with the sick grandpa living far away and the one with the teething toddler.  He knew about rebellious teens and out-of-work dads.  I remember him talking down an alcoholic by phone in the middle of the night, and leaving our house to visit the dying.

Decades later, I still value the idea of voice to voice.  Personal contact allows us to see the person, inside and out, if you will.  And with seniors especially, that's very important.  I've made assumptions about elders by hearing statements from their loved ones, such as "My mom is you know, like any other 85-year-old lady with a walker, grey hair and glasses."  When I actually laid eyes on the woman, I got a completely different picture.

Today I read a newspaper article by Hannah Brencher, author of "Come Matter Here."  In it she talks about a simple prayer she uses to direct her life, one word at a time.  It's "Reduce me to love."  She shares a story of a disheveled homeless man who enters their church, starts playing his harmonica in the foyer, and says to Hannah, "Look beneath the surface.  Beneath the surface, we all just want to be seen."

I think that especially applies to seniors.  Beneath the surface, like all of us, they all just want to be seen.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Eldercare Q-A: Dad needs care; Mom won't budge. What do I do?

A client asked me this question a week ago.  More specifically, she said,

"My dad has dementia, and my mom is trying to care for him.  It's not working.  She asks him to take a bath, and he doesn't.  Same with brushing his teeth.  He's not defiant; he just forgets.  Almost immediately. Mom refuses to hire outside caregivers; the only outside caregiver she will accept is me. I work two jobs and can't help any more than I do now.

"They have money.  It's not the issue.  But pride is.  I'm almost wrung out from the stress.  Yes, I love both of them deeply. What can I do?"

My answer to her and to others in the same, or similar boats:  I'm so sorry you are in this difficult situation!   You seem understandably torn, wanting to help your parents while maintaining a sense of sanity. Since your mother is competent, though stubborn, it's impossible to force her to accept help for her husband, either in the home or elsewhere.,

There are some things you can do, though, to make the situation bearable until something changes.

1.  Increase your personal support.  Support groups allow you to vent your feelings, and to hear from others, so you don't feel so alone.  There are Alzheimers Support Groups throughout the country.  They encourage caregivers, both spouses and adult children.  And they offer information and resources.

2.  Visit assisted living communities which have memory care areas, so you can get an idea of what your parent or parents might need when the time comes.  Start with research online to get the basics, and later do on-site visits.

3.  Consider hiring a geriatric care manager.  A geriatric care manager understands the needs of the elderly and of those with dementia specifically.  He or she can ask a lot of questions about your parent's situation and come up with a plan of action that will benefit the entire family.

4.  See if your parents will agree to care on a trial run of home care, or a temporary "respite" stay in an adult family home or heavy care assisted living community.



Monday, April 30, 2018

Decision Fatigue: Do you suffer from it?

I first heard the term "Decision Fatigue," in church last Sunday.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that pretty much all of us who work with seniors, or are seniors, have it to some extent.

We tire when we make too many decisions.  On average, we make 35,000 decisions a day.  Big ones, little ones,  What to wear?  What to eat?  What to buy?  And the list goes on. 

No wonder at the end of the day, we're fatigued.  When we make too many decisions over a day's time, we are more apt to go for a candy bar, or make a bigger decision that's not in our best interest or in the interests of others.

So what's the cure?

In general:  Stop being the decider of everything.When you can, delegate tasks or stop doing them. according to "The Cure for Decision Fatigue , from Jim Sollice in The Wall Street Journal.  The Internet can be a real energy drainer.  When you click on the Internet during work time, you're allowing fatigue to set in.

For adult children:  Use mornings to schedule a talk with the administrator about your parent's care.  Certainly don't opt for the end of the day when you are both tired. Late morning is often the best time to discuss important topics with your aging parent.  You haven't made too many decisions; you are relatively fresh and can give the conversation your best.




Saturday, April 21, 2018

Everyone Needs More than One Mother--Why and How?

"Everyone needs more than one mother.  I borrowed that phrase years ago, and it's proven true.  

Many of us lose our mothers well before they die if  mental illness, dementia or other diseases take away much of who they are. 

"She's just not the same," many adult children say about the "new mother" who often seems like a different person from her former self.  Her new behaviors--saying things that don't make sense, forgetting, fibbing, being overly defiant or overly needy--seem confusing.  Once in awhile, the mother her children remember from before her illness shows up and children may be pleasantly surprised.  I've heard: "She recognized me.  We had a short conversation and she actually made sense!"

Confusing?  You bet.  My mother was chronically mentally ill and passed in 2004.  Toward the end of her life dementia also set in.  When I grappled with her behavior and with my response, professionals would say things like,  "Embrace the person your mother is now.  And embrace the other mother, the one you remember."

I tried.  I didn't totally succeed, but I gave it my best shot.  And I also grieved the mother I'd lost years before.  Now that I'm working with adult children who are making important, difficult decisions for their aging parent,  I'm convinced that the grieving and acceptance go hand in hand.,

But my premise:  "Everyone needs more than one mother," still seems true.  Many of us don't have the "model mother" even in childhood.  I know my children didn't. But God often puts others into our lives who can make up the difference in filling that maternal role.  In my case I had substitute mothers throughout my life including my youth group leader who taught me how to back pack, an elderly, wise woman who cheered me on as I began to write professionally, and a good friend who kept me afloat during my kids' teenage years

Like many of you, I've ended up in the mothering role as well.  These days I fill those shoes as I help adult children find placement for their aging parents.  It's a difficult role, and it's my pleasure to help. A long time ago, in college sociology class, our working group named leaders.  My classmates named me the emotional leader.  Kind of like a mom.

Happy Mothering!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Adult family homes, assisted living: good but not like heaven

"This side of heaven, you won't find a perfect home."

Some 20 years ago I heard that statement.  And it certainly rings true, today.  At Silver Age Housing & Care Referrals, where I work helping families find quality housing and care, chiefly assisted living and adult family homes, we do our level best to rise to the standard of the heavenlies.  But the truth is:  no one can find the perfect home.

That doesn't keep us from trying.  We take our "matchmaker" job seriously, to find homes that will be good fits.  Together with the family, we search for a home that will make their loved one feel comfortable and cared for.

The search isn't always easy.  Take Rick and his family.  At 63, he was one of our youngest clients.  He had suffered Traumatic Brain Injury as a result of a motorcycle accident at age 22.  For the next 41 years, he lived with his parents, until their physician told them, "No more."  The stress was building; they needed a break from caregiving. 

What does Traumatic Brain Injury look like?  That depends on what part of the brain is injured.  Some people have seizures.  For others, behavior and personality are affected.  Anger erupts for seemingly no reason.  And nearly all TBI patients have short-term memory loss.

That was Rick's issue.   He remembers his high school days in detail, and events up to the time of the motorcycle accident.  Today he is pleasant and polite, but won't remember any conversation 15 minutes later.

He and his parents talked about his needs for a new home in what we describe as an intake.  It's a key part of our process, because we can't find the best home for anyone unless we discover not only their diagnoses and medications, but what makes them tick.

So we drew up a list of must-haves:  1.  The chosen home had to fit the family's budget.  2.  It had to be within 15 minutes  from the family home.  3.  It needed caregivers who were highly experienced and who could learn more about Traumatic Brain Injury and how it compares with dementia.  4. Preferably there would be one or two younger residents and at least one male caregiver. 5.  It must allow smoking outside.

 I looked for these qualities in the homes I researched and visited. The top three homes were the ones we toured together.  Rick and his family liked one home especially, and two weeks later, he moved in.

Today I visited.  Rick seemed happy.  He didn't remember seeing me before, but that's part of the condition.  He walks outside from time to time, something he had always enjoyed.  He likes the food.  And he has bonded with the male caregiver.

Is this adult family home heaven?  Of course not. He has only been there two weeks.  Give him two more weeks, and he will feel more and more at home.  In the meantime, the caregivers are enjoying him.  He helps with the laundry, folds and puts away his clean clothes, and looks for other things to.  "I like to help," he says.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Loneliness Kills Seniors--and Some Ways to Combat It

What is the greatest health threat in the aging population?
  • Smoking?  No, but don't start the habit now.
  • Obesity?  Bad, but it doesn't rise to the top.
  • Cancer?  Very dangerous, but something else has it beat.
The answer:  Loneliness. 

Surprised?

Bruce Frankel isn't.  He explored the topic last December in a presentation "The Loneliness Epidemic" for a national group called The Society of Certified Senior Advisors.  If you work with seniors, have an older parent or relative or you are a senior yourself, this information could help change a life.

"Isolation and loneliness constitute the greatest public health hazard for the aging," said Frankel, quoting John Cacioppo, who headed the University of Chicago's Center for Cognition and Social Neuroscience until his death earlier this year.

Some 42.6 million seniors suffer from chronic loneliness, caused by factors including a loss of social confidence, and a loss of friends and social contacts as their world shrinks, Frankel says.

Here are frightening results of loneliness:

1.  Lonely people have a 50% greater risk of early death compared to those who have social connection.

2.  Loneliness increases the risk of stroke by 32%, dementia by 64.9%.

3.  Loneliness affects the body's physiology:  it increases cortisol, damages white blood cells, impairs the immune system and increases inflammation.

More affects of loneliness, according to Frankel:  "When we're lonely, we become hypervigilant.  We perceive more danger than we otherwise do.  We become hypervigilant to signs of rejection and judge our relationships weaker than they are.  We are more defensive, more aloof."

Steps Away From Loneliness:

1.  Don't deny it.

2.  Understand what it does to the body and especially the brain, and how it interferes with interactions with others.

3.  Respond.  Find at least one person to trust.  As you move forward, seek out like-minded people to connect with. Consider volunteering.

4.  Expect the best. 

Do you have personal experience with loneliness?  How do you and/or others combat it?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

This eldercare blog celebrates 250-plus posts!

In 2010 I hatched a dream.  Incubating in my mind for months, the dream came to fruition in this blog.  For years I'd worked with adult children as they grappled with issues relating to their aging parents.  I'd had my own struggles with my parents who had died several years earlier.

I reasoned, "Why not use what I have learned and would continue to learn to help others?" Specifically I wanted to educate, encourage and applaud Baby Boomers as they sloughed through a real-life course they'd never studied in school.  After all, who takes a class on "Everything you ought to know about understanding your aging parent?"  I was a writer, so the written word was my medium, and this blog, Boomers Guide to Eldercare, launched in 2010.

Time flies.  I realized a few weeks ago that I'd published the 250th post.  So I celebrate this milestone a bit late, which is my style.  This post is number 252.

Publishing a blog is an educating process.  Over the years, I interviewed and took courses from doctors, nurses, social workers and more.  I learned the most from my clients who often took heroic measures to advocate for their aging parents. The original blog labels, "Know Yourself," "Know Your Parent," "Communicate With Your Parent," and "Advocate for Your Parent" expanded tremendously to include posts on faith, caregiver helps, end of life and hospice.

Readers today have shifted a bit from the early days of this blog. Besides adult children, there are Boomers who are looking ahead at health care options for themselves, and lastly, senior care professionals such as marketing directors, social workers and administrators.

A few of my favorite posts?  "One Woman's View:  Mom's Mental Illness is so, so sad," "Faith and Dementia:  One Man's Story," and "On Giving Up Worrying (About My Aging Parent) for Lent."

If you've read this blog before, what do think of it?  Do you have any topics related to eldercare you would like to read about?
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