Thursday, December 29, 2011

Retirement Communities Help Caregiving Couples, Pt. II

Your aging parent cares for a spouse who suffers from a chronic illness. You suppose that the "strong healthy" one will outlive the one who needs care.

Not always true. Just this week at Evergreen Court Retirement Community, where I work, one of our most vibrant residents died following a stroke. Her name was June. She cared for her husband, who suffers from dementia. Last May, with the blessing of their adult children, the couple moved to Evergreen Court primarily to simplify her life. Without cooking, cleaning and other chores, she could focus on caring for John.

The family assumed June would survive her husband by many years. That's not how life played out.

Research has shown that the stress of caring for a spouse with a disabling illness can shorten the life of the caregiving spouse. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard Medical School physician and sociologist, came to this conclusion in a study published in February, 2006, in the American Sociological Review.

With 518,240 couples aged 65 and older, the study found that the causes of excess death in the caregiving spouse included accidents, heart attacks, lung disease and diabetes.

What will happen to John? Residents and staff in our community have showered him with love and will continue to do so. We've met with family members to discuss future options. In John's case, bringing home care into his current apartment wouldn't work because he needs direction and guidance around the clock.

The family chose an apartment in our assisted living. He'll move in two weeks. By staying in the same community but in a different area, he'll still enjoy his favorite things: chatting with others over a meal in the dining room, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in the lobby. But assisted living staff will offer the support he'll need to process his grief in his own way.

When things work right, retirement communities can help make difficult times better for caregiving couples.

Do you have an experience with an aging parent who cares for a spouse? What support have they found that works?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Retirement Communities Help Caregiving Couples, Pt. 1

You have two aging parents, and one cares for the other. If the caregiver goes down, they're both down. What's the answer?

A retirement community could offer a win-win situation.

The well spouse ditches domestic duties like shopping, cooking, cleaning and focuses on caregiving, hobbies and socializing with others. If caregiving gets to be too much, extra help such as assisted living or skilled nursing is available. Staff can help monitor how things are going.

Today I saw these truths with my own eyes. Emergency technicians entered Evergreen Retirement Community, where I work. June, a resident, had suffered a stroke. It happened in the activity room during a musical performance.

June cares for her husband John. Due to cognitive issues, he can't live alone.

Six months ago, they moved in. June immediately began immersing herself in volunteering and activities. She is chair of the welcoming committee. "I love people," she said. "I like getting to know everyone." She also says she doesn't mind giving up things like cooking meals and washing dishes.

Retirement community living offers John benefits, as well. He loves to drink coffee in the lobby and chat with residents and staff.

Today, staff supported John as he waited for his daughter to take him to the hospital to visit his wife. They offered hugs and listening ears.

What will happen? No one knows. We're praying that June will soon return home. In the meantime, we will work with their family to make sure John is ok. If June needs rehab in a nursing home for a while, John might stay temporarily in our assisted living. Or a daughter might care for him in the retirement apartment. If John needs transportation to visit his wife in the nursing home, we can provide it.

And of course, the coffee is always on. On a more serious note, I can't help but think June might not have made it to the hospital as early if she had been living with John in a single family home. Retirement communities aren't for every caregiving couple. But they're certainly worth considering.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eldercare Tip: Tried & True Holiday Gifts for Caregivers

Today candies, cookies and other sweet treats fill the staff rooms where your aging parent lives. And with good reason. You want to play Santa to the caregivers who've doled out unconditional love all year long. Even when Mom or Dad is naughty, they've been nice.

Great idea! Just a favor. PLEASE skip the sugar and other junk food!

I like the idea of group gifts. Most eldercare organizations don't allow family members to give individual staffers money or gifts. The rationale is that the housekeepers may not be as visible in your parent's care, but they play a key role nevertheless. Ditto for workers in the financial office or the groundskeepers.

Here are some tried and true Holiday group gifts that are light on the waistline and actually boost energy.

1. A fruit bowl, with mandarines, oranges, grapefruit, plus any-time favorites like apples and pears. Provide a paring knife. If you'd like to add some protein, nuts are a good selection.

2. A crockpot filled with hot spiced cider. Or bottles of sparkling juices.

3. A holiday-decorated tin of popcorn. Yum.

4. Cheeses and whole-grained crackers or a make-your-own sandwich spread. Toppings can be refrigerated.

5. Pizza for all or a group sub-sandwich.

6. A crockpot filled with chili or soup.

7. Cash. See if your eldercare organization has an employee appreciation fund that takes donations. In the retirement community where I work, Evergreen Court in Bellevue, Washington, families are encouraged to give money to the resident council which divides it evenly among all employees.

8. Donations toward a specific item all employees can share. Often the administration knows of needs that can benefit everyone: a new television (or money toward one) for the staff room, an espresso machine, a piece of exercise equipment, etc.

Can you think of other gifts for caregivers and others in your aging parent's life?
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