Thursday, October 31, 2019

You'll know when it's time to whine!

 "My dad is driving me crazy!"  Linda is speaking of her 97-year-old dad. Maybe some of you can relate.

Linda and her brother call themselves " Dad's on-call assisted living support team." She might be immersed in a project at work when "Eldercare Alert" sounds, otherwise known as Dad's cell phone. She gets his panic calls several times a day. So does her brother.  "It's also possible we'll both get a call over the same issue, so we have to circle back and get things clarified."

Dad's needs and issues vary from day to day, with several themes running through: an eyelash stuck in the eye, constipation, food issues, medication issues.  On the good days, including 3 days before Christmas last year, Linda said Dad was a delight. But there are the not-so-good days, too, often related to his refusal to take Zoloft for anxiety. He'll take the medication for a week or two and drop it like a hot potato later, much to the dismay of his children who suffer through his negativity. 

According to his nurse-practitioner, assisted living won't work for him. He’s extremely claustrophobic, will only eat what HE cooks or what Linda and her brother take him every 2 - 3 days from one of 2 restaurants, and he has difficulty socializing. So Linda and her brother are doing all they can to help him stay in his independent living apartment. He does like that.

Last year Dad's is extreme negativity/anxiety/uncooperativeness/stubbornness, led Linda to write a letter to his doctor.  She took it to the staff and asked if they would PLEASE see that the doctor read it PRIOR to seeing Dad. It worked! Now Linda writes a letter to the doctor each time Dad sees him.  

All of this back and forth work is wearing. Linda says, "I’m tired and teary. Maybe I need to take some Zoloft?" Linda wrote this in an email to me and another friend, Joy. The three of us talk long-distance on the phone from time to time. Linda lives in Nashville. Joy and I live in Western Washington State. We've all worked with seniors extensively, and we know that the most difficult ones are often our parents.  Linda says it well: "It’s very frustrating to have felt that I was effective in helping folks adapt to senior community life and get involved in activities, and now to be unable to get the person I love the most to have improved quality of life."

In one of our phone calls, Linda asked Joy, "Do you have any advice for me?"

Joy said something only a friend would say to a friend.  And her words ring true:  "Find a friend who you trust totally. One who you can whine to.  Whine as much as you need to. When you're done, you'll feel better."  I agree.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mindfulness: It's something for caregivers to think about

When we're stressed, we can do mindless things.

I'm not talking about losing cell phones, or glasses or keys to the car or house. I'm talking about temporarily losing ourselves.  Stress, through caregiving, grief or our own negative thoughts, can make us do mindless things.

The day before my father-in-law's memorial service, I got a haircut. The hairdresser was competent and caring, and the cut turned out well. I  placed some bills into an envelope for a tip, expressed my thanks, and walked out the door. Several minutes later I found myself asking, "Did I pay my bill?" I returned. "I think I may have forgotten to pay.  Am I right?" She nodded. "Has anybody else done that?" She shook her head. Oh my, oh my. I paid. "I'm so sorry. My father-in-law's memorial service is tomorrow. I was thinking about that instead of the present."

At other times I've been scattered and disconnected from life. Maybe you have, too. We multi-task, engage in continuous thinking, and rehash the past or rehearse the future. Our minds are off-center and we miss what is happening in the present. According to "The Mindful Advisor," by Eric Zook and Stacy Zook, CSA Journal, Winter 2015, 4-12, "This is what causes us to burn ourselves with the iron or stove, drop dishes, or have a car accident."

The Zooks are among the proponents of a mainstream movement called Mindfulness.  It's the art of being in the moment without a desire to change the situation. That means refraining from judging ourselves or the events or people in our lives.  It means staying in the present, neither exaggerating it or denying it. Says Social Worker Jeannie DeSmet, "When we're mindful, there's less need to escape a painful situation. The motivation is to care, not to cure."

The benefits of mindfulness for the caregiver and others are reduced stress, increased immunity and overall health, better concentration, improved creativity and innovation.

One way to aid in mindfulness is to practice deep breathing, which anchors our minds. As we do, we can stop, look, and listen, observing our emotions and paying attention to them.

Set a timer for two to five minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Just notice the breathing; don't try to change it in any way. Once you have settled into a relaxed easy breathing, count down from ten to zero. Each full inhale/exhale counts a one. Don't worry if your mind strays; just come back to your breathing and start over at ten. Continue this exercise until you can make it to zero at least three times in a row. Then start the next workout session at fifteen.

Other ways to build mindfulness is to pay attention as you walk, drive or eat. The key is paying attention. When you walk, go slowly, outdoors or indoors, using stairwells. Be mindful of the act of walking.

I'm a work in progress when it comes to mindfulness.  I often have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep because my mind  races.  Paying attention to my breathing helps me sleep. I also like to walk slowly, taking in the act of my body walking.

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