Tuesday, 16 January 2018

WELLBEING IN CAREGIVING - Here's How to Get It

There are two questions about caring families that interest me. The first is, "How can we plan our days and weeks to give us a better chance of being happy?" The second is, "How can we tell how we're doing with our wellbeing plan?"

If you feel like your life is not your own, that you just get blown and buffeted from crisis to crisis (or one monotonous day just seems like the next), then this blog post's for you. It's time to get intentional about how we live our lives and to do that, we need to think differently about wellbeing. Here are two approaches that can help caregivers influence health and happiness in the family.

1) The Wellness Wheel is a project of Hospice Yukon in Canada. Infused with wisdom of native people in the north, this is a simple way of day planning to ensure your life is balanced between activities of mind, body, spirit and heart.
But how can we use this idea of the self to ensure we nourish all these aspects of the caregiver self? Here's how. Start by choosing just one activity from each domain, every day. See whether there are activities that you can share with your loved one, because they need the benefits of the Wellness Wheel, too.

NOTE: Thank you to the wonderful end of life coach and author Katherine Arnup for the link to this site. If you'd like to know about this approach, read this terrific research paper titled 'The Wellness Wheel: An Aboriginal Contribution to Social Work' by Margot Loiselle, PhD and Lauretta McKenzie, MSW.

The second wellbeing approach I'd like to present is called The F-Words in Childhood Disability.  This strategy for planning daily life to optimize health and happiness may be from CanChild, a pediatric disability research institute at McMaster University in Canada, but the approach works for anyone. I love it.

Here are the F-words. Think about what they might mean in your life and the life of your loved one, no matter their age or circumstances - these are HUMAN concerns.


Function: 
refers to what people do - how things are done is not what is important; synonyms include ‘role’, ‘job’, ‘task’, etc. (for children, ‘play’ is their ‘work’)



Family
: represents the essential ‘environment’ of all children


Fitness: refers to how children stay physically active, including exercise and other recreational opportunities

Fun: includes particular activities children are involved in or enjoy participating in

Friends: refers to the friendships established with peers; social development is an essential aspect of personhood


Future: 
is what child development is all about; it refers to parents and children's expectations and dreams for their future 


Here's how the F-Words work for youth with disabilities, but consider what they might mean for designing the day (and the week) for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. Think of how these approaches might change your family life and your wellbeing.



Saturday, 13 January 2018

How Caregivers Can Prepare Their Home For Alzheimer’s Patients


When your parent was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you had an important decision to make: Where would your parent live? After discussing it with your family and a medical team, you’ve decided to move them into your house.

That means you will need to make a few changes to the place so your parent is safe and comfortable. Before you do anything, you should better understand what Alzheimer’s means.


Image Source: Pixabay

Understanding Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that can affect older people. The National Institute on Aging explains symptoms tend to appear in the mid-60s, although it can appear as early as the mid-30s. Because it affects the mind, it can lead to problems with memory, cognition, and behavior. Seniors with Alzheimer’s can suffer from a wide range of problems, but the most common include memory loss, impaired judgment, and difficulty with everyday tasks like paying bills or cooking meals.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that there is no cure for the disease. The FDA has approved some medications that help slow the progression of symptoms, but that only happens with about 50% of the seniors taking these prescriptions. The severity of problems coupled with the lack of a cure is why so many families take in a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.

Changing Your Home

Because the symptoms can be severe, you will have to make some changes to your home. The key focus is to improve safety for your parent. Two rooms tend to have the highest chance of accidents: kitchens and bathrooms. That’s why you should work on those first.

When it comes to the kitchen, Dementia Today recommends that you make sure appliances and drawers are clearly marked and easy to use. You may have to label drawers and cabinets in case your parent forgets what is stored inside. The same is true for controls on the stove, microwave, and appliances. You should also make sure you have a smoke alarm in the kitchen and that the batteries inside are changed every season.

For the bathroom, the Mayo Clinic explains that you should install a grab bar in the shower or tub. This helps someone with Alzheimer’s steady themselves in a risky environment. In addition, you should lower the temperature of your water heater. This way, your parent won’t burn themselves by forgetting just how hot the bathroom water can get.

As for the house as a whole, you will want to use proper lighting to make rooms well-lit so it’s easier to maneuver around furniture. Tape down any throw rugs so there’s no chance of slipping on them, and consider installing a home monitoring system that you can view online. This can help you monitor your parent’s safety while you are at work.

Planning For The Future

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease has no cure. That means the symptoms and problems can get progressively worse. While modifying your home can help a lot, you will need to speak to your parent about future. This can range from what other changes to the home need to be made to the uncomfortable talk about end-of-life care.

As the Neptune Society shows, this conversation will be difficult. But it is also very important to have. First, you want to respect the rights of your parent regarding any arrangements they want. It’s also better to make any such decisions now rather than when there is a crisis. But this talk can also be a great way to bond with your parent and help everyone in your family feel better about the situation. The unknown can create fear, so by having this conversation, everyone can understand what the future will entail.

Get Your Home Ready


-->
Becoming your parent’s caregiver is a difficult job. You can make this easier for you and your parent by making a few changes to the home. Label controls and drawers in the kitchen, install a grab bar, and have a conversation about end-of-life arrangements now before the symptoms get worse. This can help everyone involved handle the transition more smoothly.

Thank you, Lydia Chan of http://alzheimerscaregiver.net/ for this informative guest post!

Monday, 8 January 2018

THE MAKING OF A CAREGIVER



In this recipe, the essence of the caregiver is kept aside, similar to the starter in sour dough bread. This 'starter' will be needed to make and re-make the caregiver into different shapes and sizes as needs for her or him arise.

Recipe for Making A Caregiver

Start with a cool oven, but make sure to the turn temperature up slowly till it's very hot.

When needs arise, tear off a bit of the starter.
Mix in:
Love for yeast
Muscle for flour
Determination for salt
Creative problem solving for water

Mix by throwing together. Let rise and then make sure that medical and insurance systems punch it down.

Let rise again.

Now, bake at a high temperature till done (remember, this recipe burns easily). Everyone eat - this recipe feeds many!

Start all over again when your loved one transitions to a new level of care.

NB: Remember, when a caregiver's loved one passes away, the starter will be used to bake an entirely different recipe. It will have the same ingredients, but will look very different.

Bon appetit.



Friday, 5 January 2018

Slivers of Time



I've been thinking lately that we caregivers experience our days in slivers of time. The byproduct of giving care is....interruptions.  Maybe our motto should be, "Wait, what?"

When my children were younger and I was in the thick of intensive caregiving, I remember thinking that my idea of real luxury would be to accomplish one task from the beginning, through the middle, to the end at one go. I don't think I ever enjoyed that luxury during the twenty-three years that Nicholas lived with us at home. We managed our very busy household by getting things done in slivers of time. Parents of healthy very young children will relate. The baby cries when you're in the shower, so you shut off the water and climb out, perhaps with only one leg shaved. Or you're feeding an infant while stirring a sauce on the stove just as the phone rings. Caring for Nicholas involved near constant monitoring, 'translating' (he's non-speaking, so understanding his communication requires us to stop, look and listen), and care in the form of re-positioning, medication delivery and helping him with all his activities of daily living. And of course, my husband and I cared for our daughter and for our beloved pets, too. We are and were a family.

Caring for our parents is the same, only different. Perhaps you're at work and a call comes in telling you that there's been an accident.  Your mother has fallen. You clear your desk quickly and drive nervously to meet her in Emergency. Later, an email arrives in your inbox from your Mom's accountant. There are questions about taxes and pension earnings. You begin to search for that information when your Mom takes your hand, tears in her eyes. She says, "I don't know what to do anymore."

Living, working and even loving in slivers of time is exhausting.  But knowing this gives us a chance to carve out time intentionally by making a personal promise to do one thing at a time, or at least try. It's worth a shot, because living in slivers of time chops us up into tiny pieces, too.






Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Our Role in The Circle of Life: What's Your Title?


Over the holidays this year, I've been thinking a lot about birth, mortality and all that's in between. I guess you'd say, I've been pondering the circle of life and my role in it.

A week before Christmas, the wife of a lifelong friend gave birth to a perfectly beautiful baby girl. Jim and I visited our friends and I was lucky enough to cradle a newborn for the first time in many years. Standing, the shifting of my weight from side to side came naturally and tiny Sophie settled in my arms peacefully. I was filled with memories of my own babies and felt the awe of new life awaken in my bones. 

On Christmas Eve, my Mom turned 96. Born in 1921 in Montreal, she was a child of the depression and was scarred by losses during the war. Her birthday was a day of celebration and reminiscence. Everyone in our family gathered for Mom's special party except that is, for our daughter Natalie. 




Natalie and her partner arrived home late on Christmas Eve - they were delayed by the grave illness of Nat's partner's grandfather in the midwest. No one knew how long this dearly loved man's life would last, but everyone hoped that hospice at home would translate to at least a few weeks. It was not to be. Grandfather passed away just days after Christmas.


I'm a mother, a daughter, a caregiver and a friend. But it struck me over the holidays that we often describe ourselves in professional terms instead. Usually, I use words like 'consultant', 'advisor', 'coach' or 'writer'. But those professional descriptions don't matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is understanding the limits and possibilities within our most vital relationships. And keeping love and life going is our greatest burden and our greatest reward.





Saturday, 30 December 2017

A New Year's Resolution That's Actually Fun!

I am so pleased to host this guest post by writer, Karen Weeks. Karen perfectly captures why the arts are so important to us all - at any age! I've witnessed the healing power of music in my own life and in the lives of everyone I love. So why not make 2018 the year of learning a new instrument or just listening together to something new? Cue the music! 

Image courtesy of Pixabay


Lifelong learning is good for all of us, and I want to stress the importance of learning for the senior population.  According to the experts at Psychology Today, “Gerontological research has shown that enriched learning environments can help reduce cognitive decline due to aging as well as helping older adults deal with depression and poor self-image.” 

As a caregiver, you play a vital role in the well-being of your senior loved one.  At times your burden can be overwhelming both emotionally and physically.  The American Psychological Association notes that because of the strain of the duty, caregivers are at an elevated risk for depression, anxiety and grief.  It’s imperative that you find ways to not only tend your patient’s health needs but also your own.  That’s why I want to suggest music therapy as something you can partake in together. 

Music offers tremendous health benefits.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends music in treatment for a variety of conditions, including stress and depression.  Music can improve the quality of your sleep, improve your sense of control, improve memory function, put you in a better mood, and motivate your exercise routine.  Some studies show that music can boost physical health by reducing cortisol, regulating heart and breathing rates, and improving pain management.  According to some scientists, your brain may even receive a boost of dopamine, a feel-good chemical, from engaging in music.  Other scientists believe music may even help prevent disease with improvements in the body’s immune system.

Learning is good for you, and music is good for you.  Learning to play an instrument appears to earn you bonus points.  Some studies suggest seniors with no previous musical education show marked improvement in memory and mental processing after just three months of learning.  

 Experts cited by MinnPost explain it this way:

“Music is something that people carry with them throughout their whole life….Even though during the later years many people face cognitive challenges, they see great benefit from music classes….People with severe memory loss may not be able to put a couple of complete sentences together, but they will remember lines of music from when they were very young.”

Seniors can learn music as individuals or with friends.  Group learning is excellent because everyone begins at the same level; it’s unifying, stimulating, and social.  Regardless of skill, participants enjoy better mental, physical, and social health.  It improves communication, sense of self, and empowers students to believe in themselves, making them feel worthy of learning new skills. 

Music lessons are also an opportunity for you as the caregiver to learn.  Why not reap the benefits of learning and music yourself?  Studies of caregivers and dementia patients reflect that musical engagement improved mood, memory, focus, and mental orientation along with other health benefits.  Because of results like these, many organizations are incorporating music into their programming.

If you haven’t played an instrument before, it’s an opportunity to learn a fun new skill and improve your own mental and physical well-being.  If you’re tight on time and energy, you can even participate through a website.  You can find the best online guitar lessons by visiting EquipBoard and engage from the comforts of home and at your convenience.

Lifelong learning is important to us all, and for seniors and their caregivers there are tremendous potential gains.  I especially recommend participating in some form of musical engagement.  Music offers great mental and physical health benefits, and learning an instrument is a particularly powerful tool in managing and improving well-being. 


After retirement, Karen was bored and struggled to find a new sense of purpose. She decided to learn a new skill and took a computer course. She learned how to build her website, ElderWellness.net. Now, she tries new things all the time. She believes nothing is off limits to seniors.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

THE 12 DAYS OF A CAREGIVER CHRISTMAS

My words to the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" are fun, but they reveal a truth about caregiving, too. We all begin with a task or two. "Oh, it's not much", we think. "That's no trouble at all." And it isn't. But then two tasks becomes four and four becomes eight, and so on. Soon, we discover that we are very, very tired. But nevertheless, we persevere. So here's to all of you in celebration of the loving care you provide every day of the year.


On the First Day of Christmas on my list of things to do: I cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Second Day of Christmas on my list of things to do: I shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Third Day of Christmas on my list of things to do: I called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, we went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I did six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I bought seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I disinfected bathrooms, seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I ordered the meds, disinfected bathrooms, seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I calmed jangled nerves, ordered the meds, disinfected bathrooms, seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas on my list of things to do, I wrapped all the presents, calmed jangled nerves, ordered the meds, disinfected bathrooms, seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, I poured myself a drink, calmed jangled nerves, ordered the meds, disinfected bathrooms, seven gifts for nurses, six loads of laundry, went to E-merg! ... picked up meds, called the doc, shopped for my Mom and cooked dinner for my fa-mi-ly.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYONE!

From me and my family to you and all of your loved ones, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah this holiday season. May 2018 be a good year for all of us! xox