Monday, June 30, 2008

Caring for the Caregiver, Part 2 - Expand Your Support Network

Few people are prepared for the daunting task of care giving. Fatigue, depression, and health problems can plague a caregiver unless he or she seeks necessary relief. Thankfully, numerous options are now available for respite and renewal. Here are several suggestions:

1. Join a support group. A group related to a loved one’s illness or disease provides an opportunity to meet people who understand what you are going through. Often support groups discuss wide-ranging topics or bring in a speaker who can answer questions and suggest available resources. A social time usually follows.

Support groups bring together people from all lifestyles. During group sessions, they are able to share experiences in a safe and supportive environment, update each other since the last meeting, laugh and cry together, and many times form lasting friendships.

Support group meeting times and locations are sometimes available through local hospitals, listed in the community section of the newspaper, or on the Internet. Many people network with other caregivers in online forums.

2. Seek individual counseling. If support groups are not available in your area, consider talking to a pastor or counselor. Many churches offer free or by donation counseling and support services.

3. Surround yourself with caring people. Choose people who make you feel valued and cared about. Appropriate family members, friends or co-workers, church members, and neighbors can offer strong emotional and mental support.

During this season of time, you need positive and loving reinforcement, laughter, meaningful conversation, and the ability to share feelings and concerns.

4. Find outside interests. All caregivers should avoid isolation. Many times you may feel too tired to join a support group or attend functions. However, you must make the effort to become involved in some form of activity.

A few activities you could try are:

+ Join a group. Become a member of a group that interests you and can expand your horizons, such as a writing group, or a book or garden club.
+ Take a class. There are numerous classes held in local schools, in the community, or on the Internet. Learn a new language, paint a picture in oil or watercolor, or create a vase in pottery class.
+ Join a health club or swim at a local pool. Many schools offer free or low cost opportunities to use their pool.
+ Volunteer for an hour or two for local organizations, museums, theatre groups.
+ Walk daily or several times a week with a neighbor or friend
+ Participate in a golf league or on a bowling team.

Expanding your support network provides an opportunity for much needed respite several hours a day or week. Ask for volunteers or hire someone to care for your loved one while you take a few hours for yourself. Adult day care centers are available in many locations.

To provide adequate care to a loved one, a caregiver could seek outside activities. Although you may feel too tired to go anywhere, even the smallest step will bring a sense of renewal and will enable you, in the end, to provide better care.

What one activity would you like to do today to give yourself a mental and physical boost? Consider taking part in that activity in the next few days or weeks. You will feel much better for the experience.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Book Review: The 36-Hour Day

When we placed our mother in a nursing home, a friend of mine gave me a book that turned out to be the best resource I have yet seen. My friend was the Director of Nursing at that home and a friend from church.

The book was The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life, by Nancy L. Mace, M.A., and Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

The content turned out to be timely and exactly what my family needed as we made decisions that would affect Mom’s care. As difficult as it was to leave her at the nursing home, we knew we had her best interests at heart.

The 36-Hour Day turned out to be a goldmine of information beginning with a clear and detailed explanation of dementia to recent research outcomes and recommended reference tools for further study.

Chapters include discussion regarding medical and behavioral problems, obtaining outside help, caring for the caregiver, and locating nursing homes and other outside help. The thorough index listing was easy to use and additional information given regarding related national organizations and nursing home residents’ rights.

This book answered every question we had and was a great source of comfort to all of us as we traveled through the maze of choices and decisions necessary in the last years of Mom’s life.

I strongly recommend The 36-Hour Day to anyone whose family member shows signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. It will be an invaluable resource to guide one through the difficulty of caring for someone with this devastating disease.

Do you have a favorite book or article that has helped you with elder care? How about an inspirational book, article or poem? Feel free to share in the comment section.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Caring for the Caregiver, Part 1

Many of us are ill prepared as a caregiver. When we are busy living our own life, the need to care for a parent or other family member can unexpectedly come upon us.

Being a caregiver is often a tough, draining experience, but it can offer great rewards. The following list highlights a few of the situations or feelings a caregiver may experience.

Physical and emotional:
+ guilt, anger, frustration
+ fatigue
+ depression
+ health problems
+ stress due to limited training and lack of how-to information
+ stress due to amount of time and energy spent

+ complications in the work place
+ loss of job due to relocation or time off
+ reduced work hours due to caring for your loved one
+ increased costs due to daily and/or long-term care

+ stress among family members
+ curtailed activities such as travel
+ loss of friends and relatives who may drop away
+ less personal leisure time

Sometimes a caregiver may desire to run away from the situation, or feel no one understands or cares what they are going through, especially when other family members distance themselves or are silent.

The caregiver may feel like the weight of the world is on his or her shoulders.

Fortunately, a number of options are available that may help ease the stress of caring for a loved one. For example:

1. Expanding their support network
2. Seeking professional help as needed
3. Learning to set priorities
4. Maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health
5. Joining a caregiver support group

Here are a few ideas for now. I will go into greater detail Monday.

Learning to care for a loved one is on-the-job training. Knowing ahead of time we may make mistakes along the way allows us to let go of any guilt we may feel when it happens.

When we live by the golden rule and treat others as we would want to be treated, our time as a caregiver can be a fulfilling experience.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Communications 101: Back to the Basics

Most of us tend to be social creatures. Emotionally, we need interaction with other people.

The week after my mother's funeral, Dad began attending Tuesday and Thursday senior lunch programs just a couple blocks from his home. He already knew several people who attended and has met many more during the past four years.

For a while he enjoyed the day trips offered through the Senior Center, but due to his eyesight he decided he was no longer able to attend.

That same week, he also purchased a motorized vehicle which enabled him to get around town. Driving himself to the dentist, barbershop, drug store, and several local restaurants gave him a freedom he had not experienced in quite a while.

Dad and his brother were born with limited eyesight. He attended the School for the Blind during his high school years. Dad was also color blind most of his life due to a childhood illness. He has not had a drivers license since his thirties and has had to depend on others for transportation for many years.

His travels around town, connecting with other people, provided him a social life he would not otherwise have enjoyed.

Dad belongs to the local Masonic Temple and has actively participated in their meetings as well as attended meetings in several neighboring towns. His fellow Masons provide rides to most of the functions. I tease him about his "guys night out", but I believe it has helped him after the loss of his wife.

Between the Senior Center and the Masons, Dad has something to look forward to other than sitting in his chair and watching TV or listening to his talking books. When I first moved in with him, I noticed his struggle with depression. Being actively involved in outside activities has brought him new energy and the opportunity to look to the future.

On another communication note: This afternoon I am meeting a friend at our local cappuccino spot for coffee and conversation. In her early 70's, she provides care for her eighty-five-year- old husband who has Alzheimer's. We met through a local writers group in the fall of 2006 and meet on occasion to chat. With mid-eighties men and a love of writing in common, we enjoy our time together.

We need our social time, whether we are the senior needing care or the caregiver in need of respite. Having a specific place to go, meeting new people or touching base with old friends, enlarging our circle and opening our minds to new and varied topics provides us the opportunity to keep moving forward.

As we age we are sometimes tempted to spend too much time dwelling on the past. Our social network helps us plan and anticipate, look forward to the next meeting, laugh, enjoy, and experience life outside the home, at least for a couple of hours.

If possible, reach out today and connect with a friend. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

4 Must Have Documents During a Crisis

Two weeks after I moved in with Dad, he went into the hospital for an important heart-related procedure. Because of the possibility of adverse outcomes during or following the procedure, we made certain important legal documents were in place.

They were still in place when he went back to the hospital six months later in a diabetic coma. The medical staff kept me actively involved in the decision making process throughout his stay.

It is important as a caregiver that we know our loved one has expressed his or her wishes in writing. Those documents should include:

1. Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows a person to give another person the authority to make legal, financial, and medical decisions. Separate documents can be prepared for health care and for finances.

2. Advanced Directives, sometimes called medical advance directives. This legal document outlines a person’s decision as to how to treat them under certain medical conditions. This gives the senior a choice regarding the use of life support machines and possible resuscitation efforts.

People may or may not want extra measures performed in order to keep them alive. This document places the decision in the hands of the loved one rather than a family member or caregiver.

3. Living Will. A written document stating the care the patient does or does not want if incapacitated. A “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order may be included.

4. Will. This document states how an individual wants his or her estate distributed after death. It can include burial arrangements and wishes such as the desire for cremation.

Having documents such as these in place ahead of time allows the caregiver to know and follow the wishes of the senior when they can no longer speak for themselves. Preplanning will make decision making easier in case of a medical or financial crisis.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a family squabbling about health care issues as they are gathered around their loved one’s hospital bed. And yes, it does happen.

Consult an attorney who specializes in elder law as soon as possible while your loved one can still articulate his or her wishes. Being proactive will allow you and your family to make the best possible decisions for everyone involved.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blogger on the Move

Edie's Potpourri has opened for business. EP will exist in a more relaxed, informal, and anything goes atmosphere. Elder Care Cafe will strive to interact with other caregivers on a more formal basis.

Let me know what you think of Elder Care Cafe, what topics would you like to discuss or learn more about, what information and advice can you share from your experience as a caregiver.

I would love this to be an open forum for caregivers, especially Boomers, who are involved with the care of their elderly parents whether living in the same home, in the area, or caring from a distance.

Monday, June 23, 2008

10 Items Caregivers Should Know About Their Loved One

Life has a way of coming at us when we least expect. As caregivers, we never know when our loved one will have an emergency situation, or we are asked for important information we may not have at hand.

After an unexpected health crisis sent my father to the hospital last year, I found just how important preparation was in keeping myself calm during a very trying situation. Taking time to gather the following information about your aging parent will greatly enhance doctor and hospital visits, planned or unexpected.

1. Names, phone numbers, and addresses of all doctors, including medical, dental, podiatrist, optometrists and pharmacists. They may be able to provide detailed information regarding your parents' medical history.

2. Birth date and social security number. Many computerized medical facilities now use a patients social security number and/or birth date to access pertinent files.

3. List of allergies. Knowing when a parent may have an allergic reaction to medications such as penicillin or codeine can prevent serious side effects.

4. Medical conditions and health history. Physicians like to know of preexistent health concerns such as diabetes or heart problems. Especially helpful to include are the major medical conditions of your loved one's parents, brothers, and sisters.

5. List of medications. If possible, have your parent carry a list of their medications including over-the-counter products such as aspirin, daily vitamins, cold or sleep medicine, or herbal remedies. Some doctors have their patient bring the medications with them to routine office visits for review.

6. Insurance information. Include name of provider and policy number. If possible, copy the front and back of all insurance and Medicare or Medicaid cards. Make sure you know what kind of coverage they have.

7. Prior surgeries, medical procedures and tests. Provide dates and results of x-rays, CT scans, MRI's, and medical implants such as pacemakers.

8. Lifestyle habits. List any known drug, alcohol or tobacco use or addictions.

9. Durable or medical power of attorney, advance directive, living will. Know what legal documents are in place and where they are kept. If your loved one becomes temporarily or permanently disabled, who has authority to make necessary decisions?

10. Community resources. If possible, gather information regarding adult day care, assisted living facilities, and long-term care options. What resources are available for delivery of meals, in-home nursing care, household assistance, or transportation. Hiring someone to clean house, mow the lawn, or provide snow removal where necessary greatly aids the elderly when they are no longer able to perform those tasks.

Gathering the above information will not only help you and your loved one prepare for an emergency, but should give you a sense of peace knowing everything you need is at hand.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Morning Musings

When I moved from Tucson to Michigan in 2006, I made a quick stop at the Grand Canyon. I had lived in Tucson for over a year when I made the decision to join Dad so he could stay in his home.

I love Arizona, especially Tucson, and would love to spend more time there. Michigan has its own attractions, but the wide open space draws me to the southwest. I wasn't able to see everything I wanted in that area, but the time I spent there was well worth the expense of moving across the country twice in less than a year-and-a-half.

As an early riser, I appreciate quiet mornings. With coffee at hand, I'm quite often writing my morning pages or catching up with email. Then as I read the news, both on-line and print, I am in my element. There is something special about spending quiet time with oneself when everyone else is still asleep. It is a time of reflection and renewal before the bustle of daily life begins.

My brother and I had a conversation recently that made quite an impact. I commented that there were quite a few decisions I wish I could change over my life. Things I would do differently knowing what I know now.

His response - as he looked back on his life, he pretty much would do what he did, that he was content with his decisions. I thought, "WOW!" That impressed me. To have that kind of peace about the past is wonderful.

What I have learned over the years is to forgive myself and others, no matter what! That brings peace. I may not have ended up where I could have, but I have peace. And that is important to me.

If you have any regrets, are holding bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart, take the time today and let it all go. Begin each day with a fresh perspective and an open heart and mind to live your life to the fullest.

Someone once said unforgiveness is like having a horse standing on your foot. You can't move forward. Forgive and be free to move on!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Power of Touch (and Hugs)

On June 13, the fourth anniversary of our mother’s death, my sister and I were talking about how we missed her now more than ever. We realized what we missed most was the ability to touch her. Although she had lost the capacity to communicate, while she was alive we could still give and receive hugs.

Our mother loved to touch. When I was young, her desire to touch was an irritant. Now I would give anything to feel her presence and give her a hug.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines hug as follows: “To press tightly, especially in the arms; to hold fast: cherish; to stay close to.” Touch provides comfort, security, affection. Gentle loving physical contact can bring peace to the soul; convey understanding, concern, and love.

When dementia has robbed a love one of the ability to verbally interact with or recognize family members, a warm hug can speak volumes. When we are no longer able to communicate, we learn others ways to connect. Touching conveys a powerful message that we are present in our loved ones life.

Our family as a whole has never been particularly touchy-feely. In later years, Mom led the way in breaking the emotional and physical distance between us. Unfortunately we are now denied the very thing we miss the most, the ability to touch our mother.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Elder Care Cafe's Inaugural Post

Elder care has long been a concern to my family. My mother died in 2004 due to complications from TIA dementia, approximately ten years after her initial diagnosis. You will hear more of her story later.

I am currently living with my eight-five-year-old father who shows signs of possible Alzheimers, or at the very least a diminished thinking capacity. He has not yet been diagnosed. More about Dad on later posts.

Hopefully this blog will become a place of respite, an opportunity to share information and experiences in the world of caregiving - especially caring for our parents. I am at the leading edge of the baby boomer generation (1946-1964) and hope what we share here will be of help to those coming along behind.

So, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, relax a while, and share your experience, impart wisdom or nuggets of information regarding the challenging, yet fulfilling, life of elder care.