Saturday, 27 September 2014

How Can Yoga Help Dementia Patients (and Their Caregivers)?

How Can Yoga Help Dementia Patients?

by Camille Leavold
Yoga is a popular form of exercise that has a variety of health benefits, which have gained attention from the general public and medical professionals alike. Benefits of yoga include improved strength, flexibility and posture, improvement in balance, a reduction in aches and pains and an improvement in depression. In recent years, its potential as a tonic for memory has become known. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that found that healthy people who exercise regularly cut their risk of developing dementia by 30-40%. For people who do get dementia, exercising may delay the onset for several years. Because of this, activities like yoga could be helpful in maintaining the cognitive health of people with dementia.

Why Yoga is great
Elderly people with dementia living in a care facility were enrolled in a 12 week yoga training programme to assess its effect on their health. The residents who took part in the programme had:
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered respiration
  • Improved heart and lung function
  • Better flexibility and strength
  • Improved balance
  • Improved range of motion in the joints
  • A reduction in depression
  • A reduction in behavioural problems.
The yoga programme benefited both their physical and mental health. This is important because people with dementia can become depressed or confused at their loss of memory. Other research shows similar findings and dementia care specialists and nursing agency staff are so impressed with the positive effect that yoga has on dementia patients that they are introducing it in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other long term care settings.
Johanna, who does yoga with her mum diagnosed with Dementia two years ago, finds that it has many benefits. Her mother’s blood pressure has improved and it also helps with coordination and balance. She says that it also has a ‘calming’ effect, which might be due to the fact that her level of anxiety reduces after attending her bi-weekly yoga class.

Yoga for the Disabled
Yoga can also help people recover from injuries faster and sleep better and special ‘in chair’ yoga has been developed for those with physical limitations. Sometimes it is even possible to gain in height due to the stretching that yoga involves! Poses can be used to stretch and strengthen ankles, hips and hamstrings and to improve the posture of the back and reduce lower back pain. Yoga can calm the nervous system and inflammation and help prevent arthritis and rheumatism. All this can help the elderly avoid falls and other injuries commonly associated with growing older.
The physical activity and increased circulation may also have the added benefit of keeping you looking younger for longer. Regular yoga enthusiasts could look only 50 when they reach 70 (according to personal accounts). Yoga may prevent incontinence, a problem common with the elderly or sick. The special focused breathing exercises that are done in yoga classes can ease the stress that is sometimes experienced by people with disabilities including dementia. The deep breaths release tension and concentrate the mind to centre the person and help keep their self-esteem at a healthy level. Yoga is an ideal form of exercise for disabled people because complete beginners can try it and can do the exercises that they are comfortable with while still reaping the benefits.

How to Choose a Good Yoga Class
If choosing a yoga class for yourself or your loved one, you should make sure you pick a reputable class. You should ask what experience the instructor has working with the elderly and disabled. A good instructor will always ask what illnesses or injuries a person has to ensure the person’s safety. The class should be slow paced and focused on proper alignment.
You can find yoga classes at health clubs, leisure centres, educational facilities, hospitals and care homes.

Author Bio:
Camille Leavold is managing director at a leading health care assistant provider in the UK. It specialises in providing care services like dementia care support, elderly care, respite care for children, learning disability nursing and much more. She has been working in care environment since 1988. She enjoys sharing caring home tips. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Turning Your Family Caregiving Skills Into a Career

By: Samantha Stauf

Sometimes our careers find us, and other times, we just fall into them. Many people may find themselves fulfilling the duties of “caregiver” without ever having considered it as a career.  Lots of people find themselves in situations where they provide basic care for another person. Some of these are:
  •       Parents, especially of children with illnesses or disabilities, who usually have to learn nursing skills, including the delivery of medications.

  •       Those in the “sandwich generation”, who are raising kids and taking care of their aging parents simultaneously.

  •       Adults whose parents have moved into their family homes - parents can be affected with Alzheimer’s or other medical conditions.

Licensed Practical Nurse
If you find yourself helping someone perform basic daily tasks, assisting with bedside functions like applying bandages, bathing, and dressing, you are performing the job of a licensed practical nurse (LPN). With a one-year certification course and the right licensure, you could make between $30,000 and $60,000 a year performing these tasks professionally. Your experience will probably help make the learning process easier as well.

Registered Nurse
If you’ve collaborated with doctors to create care plans for a loved one, are used to monitoring behavior and reaction to medications, and can administer medication, you might consider a career as an RN. You’ll need to spend longer in school, earning the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. This is because an RN’s job also involves a lot of work with medical equipment, performing diagnostic tests, and analyzing test results.  On average, RNs earn between $45,000 and $95,000 a year. Take an in-depth look at different nursing options to see what field might be best for you.

Personal Support Worker
Another career option for those who help with daily personal needs is that of a personal support worker.  PSWs work directly with patients, providing household and personal care support, overseeing the patient’s condition, and providing informal counselling as needed. A certification is not an absolute requirement for this job, but many institutions require one. Retirement homes and community care centers often hire PSWs, so if you have experience with and enjoy working with the elderly, this might be a great career move.

Choosing the Best Career for your Skills
We learn best from personal experience. If you’ve had people in your life with dementia, developmental disabilities, physical ailments, or other specific conditions that you aided with, you’re likely to be more inclined to be able to help people with the same or similar conditions. If you’ve talked friends through hard psychological issues, you might consider a specialty in therapy. If you’ve had experience with diabetic loved ones, assisted living homes might find your skills particularly useful.

Draw from your personal experience when considering a career change; do the research and decide what the best path is for you.

Samantha Stauf spends her free time losing at Scrabble to her wordsmith grandmother and reading about recent strides in healthcare.

Friday, 12 September 2014

After Caregiving: A Tribute to A Dear Friend

Today I hugged one of my oldest and dearest friends.  I hugged her for a long time, because this was the day of her husband's funeral.  Kathleen Campbell Jordan married Bill Jordan 47 years ago, ten years before Jim and I tied the knot.  Kathleen and Bill have three grown children - Christopher, Geoff and Suzanne.  Chris has disabilities.  Suzanne came to the cottage with us one summer to help us look after Nick and Natalie.  Our two family experiences are intertwined in many ways.

Twenty-six years ago and the day after we received Nicholas' diagnosis of severe brain damage, Kathleen arrived at our door.  Here's how I wrote about that day in my book, The Four Walls of My Freedom:

At that time, my husband Jim was on loan from Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister’s office and would come home near bedtime to feed Nicholas, still suited, watching the news.  Word spread in our family about the “condition”.  A cousin came over with a friend to give advice.  The friend’s business card read “Volunteer Consultant to Families with a Child with a Disability”.  Her name was Kathleen Jordan and she had a son of sixteen with incomprehensible difficulties.  He was blind, had cerebral palsy, Tourettes syndrome and epilepsy.  I started to examine this blonde woman in my living room.  Her nails were beautiful; they were glossy red and perfectly rounded.  I asked, “How is it you have time to do your nails?”  I really wanted to know. 

Kathleen had a huge pile of papers with her.  She patted me and said “I have some information here, but I completely understand if you want to look at it some other time”.  “No!” I cried, “Give them to me now!  All of it.”  Years later, I heard the expression “cognitive lifeboat”.  In that moment, I found mine, and, gasping, climbed aboard.

 Kathleen Jordan would become my mentor in parenting and advocacy.  With Kath at the helm, together we toiled night and day to put "Lifetime Networks Ottawa", or LNO, on the map in our city.  LNO was (and still is!) a family-driven social enterprise designed to help parents plan a safe and secure future for their adult child with disabilities.  (It is an affiliate of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Networks in Vancouver.) Part of our family's future planning always included a retirement for Jim and me.  I knew that we would crumple under the weight of Nick's dependency needs as we aged, so transitioning out of a primary caregiver role was for us, do or die.  But Kathleen has always been a caregiver - first to her own mother and mother in law, to her dear family friend Doris, then to her husband Bill until he died this week.  And until recently, Christopher.  Two days before Bill passed away, Chris celebrated his 40th birthday.  Nowadays, he lives with a helper in his own apartment

 Kathleen created those arrangements for Chris after years of trials and errors.  Christopher has good days and bad days - on good days, he can direct his own care, tell his helpers which medications he needs, call friends and carry out many activities of daily living without assistance.  On bad days, Chris needs almost total care.  Kathleen always wanted supportive housing arrangements that would allow Chris the flexibility to be in charge of himself on good days, but give him intensive care when he needed it at other times.  Arrangements like that don't exist in our system, hence the failures that occurred in the past.  But Kathleen and Bill persevered and now Chris has a good life.  

Bill Jordan was a rather old fashioned man of values.  A larger-than-life man of great wit, Bill only ever had eyes for one girl; Kathleen.  He was a deeply loyal and loving family man of faith and character.  Today at Bill's funeral, the church was filled with legions of Chris' former caregivers.  Some of them refer to Bill as "Dad" - all are extended family.  
With Christopher settled in to his apartment and Bill gone, what will Kathleen do?  Who are any of us if we are not caregivers?  This was the question I asked myself as I hugged Kath.  Over the coming months, once again, I will learn from watching my friend.  As Kathleen begins her new journey of self-discovery, I will be there for her as she has always been there for me.  Rest in Peace, Bill.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Why We Shouldn't Read (Sometimes)

The other day, a newspaper headline caught my eye: “The Joyof Not Reading”, it read.

It was an opinion piece about a man whose immigrant parents had told real bedtime stories to him and his brother as they grew up.  “My brother and I shared a bedroom as kids, and Dad would often come up before lights out and tell stories.”   The author’s father told tales of a peasant life, coming to Canada, homesteading in Northern Ontario and his mother’s thirst for a better life in the city. 

The writer laments that he never told his own children his ‘real’ stories.  “I’d love to say I followed my father’s storytelling tradition, but it just never occurred to me.  I read to my kids before bed, and now I see it was an opportunity lost.”

The writer worried that his suburban North American upbringing would contain no stories worth telling.  But as his own old age approaches, he reflects, “The more I reminisce about my own life, the more I see it was rich with experience, with plenty of opportunities to get into tangles.”

Storytelling is a potent medicine for the heart and mind.  This article got me thinking about how in contemporary society, we believe we have no stories to tell.  But we DO have stories to tell – all of us!  And I have vowed to myself to take this author’s advice and begin telling them to my children, to my mother and now, to you.  So, here’s a story that happened to me when I was twelve years old.  Perhaps you will think of a story to share with your loved one today – we are never too old for ‘storytime’. 

It was the fall of 1967.   In time to begin the new school year, our family had reluctantly moved in late August from Montreal to a small town in Southern Ontario.  My Dad had accepted a job with a big company and it was a promotion.   So we waved goodbye to Expo 67 and the excitement of Montreal’s World’s Fair to greet a farming community and new friends in a small city called Brantford.  Of course I wanted to fit in and I soon found out that not many people moved in and out our town in those days.  Tall for my age, I stuck out in more ways than one. 

So one day, a new friend shook the long bangs from her eyes and announced seriously that she had ‘colored her hair’ using lemon and then the rays of the sun.  Standing around her under the light in the girls’ washroom, we nodded that yes, we definitely saw highlights.  That instant, I wanted lemons more than anything.

You have to understand that my Mom hates to cook.  She’s not even that interested in eating.  In our fridge, we had minute steak, stewed tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and white bread.  But nothing so exotic as a lemon!  I scavenged through our cupboards.  Aha! There it was – Hawes Lemon Oil for Furniture.  “This will do”, I thought and proceeded to pour the contents through my hair over the kitchen sink.  Next, I pulled out a lawn chair from the garage, arranged it on our front lawn and looked up at the sky.  It was cloudy, but there was enough light to give my dark brown hair golden highlights, I was sure. 

An hour later and bored, I climbed the stairs to our second floor bathroom.  I put my head under the hot shower and only then did I begin to realize I might have made a mistake with the lemon oil.  The water ran off my hair like water off a duck.  It beaded and failed to even penetrate to my skull.  A large bottle of Breck Shampoo for oily hair would do the trick, I thought.  Five shampoos later, there was no change. 

Eventually of course, the lemon oil came out of my hair and I never did get blonde highlights.  A few years later, my Dad’s company closed and we moved back home to Montreal. 

Next week, I’ll visit my Mom and I’ll ask her to “tell me a story!”  My Mom’s stories are the funniest ones.  And when I see Nicholas and Natalie, I will ask them for something from their past as well.  Maybe it’s my own advancing age and wanting to replay the events of our family life, but I’m definitely sold on ‘the joy of not reading.’

That said, I hope you won’t give up reading altogether, because my book has just been released in the US!  (It’s already available in Canada.)  There are lots of stories of caregiving in “The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving” as well as reflections on the meaning of a ‘good life’ for families involved in giving and receiving care.