Category Archives: Aging In Place

Caregiver Family Checklist

Power-of-attorneyThe most loving gift a person can give to one’s family is to put your affairs in order before a disaster or medical emergency.  The information and documents you should have prepared:

  • All bank accounts, account numbers and types of accounts and the location of banks.
  • Insurance Company, policy number, beneficiary as stated on the policies and type of insurance (health, life, long term care, automobile, etc).
  • Deed and titles to ALL property.
  • Loan/lien information, who holds them and if there are any death provisions.
  • Social Security and Medicare numbers.
  • Military history, affiliations and papers (including discharge papers).
  • Up-to-date will in a safe place (inform family where the Will is located).
  • Living Will or other Advanced Directive appropriate to your state of residence.
  • Durable Power of Attorney.
  • Instructions for funeral services and burial (if arrangements have been secured, name and location of funeral home.)     ~Caregiver.com

Contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, www.rgcmgmt.com, 919-803-8025, lwatral@rgcmgmt.com

 

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Moving in With Family: Issues to Consider

_77183535_77183027~Helen Hunter

Too often, the decision to move into a family member’s home is made when a crisis develops or as a last resort. Sudden illness or injury strikes and the family is left without a plan for long-term care for their loved one. Experts suggest that all families discuss the possibility of the need for long-term care, and the possibility of family members living together as a solution to the daily care situation. The following are some items to discuss with all members of the family before making such a move.

Accessibility

Is the home “elder friendly”? It is necessary to review the setup of the home, in terms of stairs, additional bedrooms, bathrooms and general safety issues. If home modifications are needed, they should be completed prior to the move.

Care

How much care will the relative require? Daytime supervision, medication management, meal preparation and entertainment are just a few examples of important issues to consider. Assess the level of assistance needed now and in the foreseeable future. If the relative is in poor health, who will be in charge of providing the care? Will other family members share in the caregiving duties? Establish basic rules and a care routine to help prevent conflicts and caregiver burnout.

Emotions

How do family members get along with each other? How are conflicts dealt with? All families have their share of problems and each family handles them differently. The loss of independence is difficult for anyone and reactions or behavior change is to be expected. It is important to be able to talk about how everyone is feeling and encourage the relative to continue with a life of their own. Communication skills, including active listening, are necessary in handling and resolving conflicts successfully.

Finances

How will the change in household expenses be handled? An increase in family size usually means an increase in family expenses. Will the relative contribute? Are there other family members who can help with financial support?

Responsibilities

What is expected of the relative? What responsibilities will they have for care of the home? If there is a separate apartment, will everyone dine together? What about family outings – will the relative always be included?

Avoid the feeling that the situation is permanent.

Start with a limited “trial period,” then review the situation.

Once the move has been made to live together, it is very important for all family members to have continual open and honest communication with each other on all matters. Don’t hold in your feelings – both positive and negative feelings need to be shared.

If the health condition of the relative changes, and additional care is needed, it is crucial for the family to review the daily plan. If the situation requires help outside the family, there are a number of alternatives that the family and the relative can explore together. Make sure that the relative is included in decision making, if they are able. Some other options for care include: daily home health aide or homemaker care, which would also provide respite relief for family caregivers, home based community care programs, friends and neighbors, church outreach programs and dividing the care responsibilities among the family by rotating care, with the relative going to others’ homes, or by allowing other relatives to come into the home to provide the daily care.

Families who maintain open and honest communication and are willing to share in the financial and caregiver responsibilities for a needy relative can successfully reside together in the same home. Support can and should be a two-way street. Where better to get the daily support that we all need than from our family!

Contact a Geriatric Care Manager/Aging Life Care Professional™ www.rgcmgmt.com for a free 15 minutes telephonic consultation.

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Considerations for Caregivers

By Arthur N. Gottlieb

Caregiving is not for everyone. Remember, it’s not about you. If the relationship is too emotionally charged or patience is not your best virtue, find someone else to take over the primary role of caregiver.

It is important to reflect upon your motivations for being a caregiver and to make an honest assessment of your limitations.

As a caregiver you may at times feel powerless and sad. But an experience laden with difficulty may also provide opportunities to strengthen relationships with loved ones, and for the development of one’s own personal and spiritual growth.

About Visits
Focus on the quality of interactions with a loved one, not on the quantity.

Consistency and predictability of visitations are important, especially for the homebound.

Communication Skills
Learn the healer’s art of “bearing witness.” This means listening empathically and suppressing the urge to intervene with solutions.

When speaking to someone in bed or in a wheelchair, sit down or otherwise lower yourself so that you are at the same eye level as they are. This will distinguish you from others who remain standing, essentially looking and speaking down to them with the unspoken but inherent power differential this implies.

Choose your battles wisely. Attempting to address an irrational situation with rationality is generally futile, and will increase conflict with no resolution

The hearing impaired are often too prideful to admit that they haven’t heard most of what you just said, and are hopeful that they can eventually figure it out.

Those with mild cognitive impairment are still quite capable of comprehension, but the thought process may have slowed down a little. Be patient and speak slowly.

Restoring Dignity
Asking for a senior’s opinion about a non-provocative issue may offer them an opportunity to feel respected and still relevant.

At the dinner table when others are present, if a person needs to have their food cut for them, discreetly take the plate back into the kitchen and cut it there. This will add an unspoken but important element of dignity for those being cared for.

Residential and Financial Concerns
The attitudes and behaviors of many seniors are oftentimes driven by an unspoken fear of abandonment.

When parents do not feel that their children have made wise decisions for themselves, they are naturally hesitant to turn over financial control to them.

It was not uncommon for senior women to have deferred to their husbands’ judgment when choices were being made about financial and property issues. If now widowed, they may feel more comfortable acting in accordance with someone else’s say-so for important decision-making.

It may be illuminating to discover what memories a senior has of his or her own parent’s convalescence. What would they, as caregivers, have done differently? Had they promised themselves they would never go to a “nursing home”?

When a senior is facing the prospect of moving to a continuing care or assisted living community, speak to them about what they think this will be like. Many will have a stark vision of facilities from many years ago when options were relatively limited.

About Moodiness
Seniors will experience good days and bad days due to effects of pain, adjustment to medications and or emotional issues.

Seniors who seem short-tempered may be responding to the frustrating lack of control of not being able to think as quickly, and remember as well, as they once had.

Psychology of Seniors
Understand and be prepared to recognize the issues that trigger depression and anxiety for seniors.

Be sensitive to anniversary depressions. Birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays evoke memories of those who have passed, and independence lost.

For most, losing control of physical functioning is difficult. Experiencing the steady loss of friends and relatives leads to sadness and isolation. For those with dementia, witnessing the gradual loss of one’s own self can be the ultimate loneliness.

If a senior is grieving the loss of a loved one they think died yesterday, even if that person actually died years ago, their grief will be as deep and painful as though it just happened.  This is legitimate suffering and must be handled with empathy.

Oftentimes, a parent will have a set of expectations of how they deserve to be treated by their children based on the sacrifices they made on behalf of their own parents. When children do not meet these expectations, resentment, depression and various forms of acting out behavior are the result.

Some seniors harbor lifelong prejudices that were carefully concealed. It can be quite distressing for a caregiver to discover that their parent has “all of a sudden” developed a shocking taste for racial bias. The gradual loss of mental functioning allows one to become “dis-inhibited”; thoughts, formerly suppressed due to social constraints, are now out in the open. This applies for latent sexual desires as well, especially for men.

Denial
If the person you are caring for continually puts off medical diagnosis, they are using the defense of denial in the service of their fear. If they are never diagnosed, then they never have to face the reality of being sick.

For Senior Men
More often than not, senior men went along with the social arrangements made by their wives. If a man becomes a widower, he may feel out of place socializing with others on his own. Additionally, since women outnumber men of this age group, a man may feel he is betraying the memory of his wife when engaging in social situations involving mostly women.

Religion and Spirituality
It is important to understand what a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs are. Does he or she believe in an afterlife? Are they concerned over what is in store for them when their mortal life ends? Are they disillusioned  or angry with God?

Restore and Maintain Balance
It is essential for you, as a caregiver, to leave time for your own introspection and emotional balance. Engage in activities that serve to cleanse toxins and stress from the body and spirit.

Engage the help of others when necessary to de-stress and achieve perspective.

Rest and relaxation are critical in order to prevent “caregiver burnout.”

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management Aging Life Care Professional  www.rgcmgmt.com

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Geriatric Care Manager—>Aging Life Care Professional

WHAT IS AN AGING LIFE CARE PROFESSIONAL?

An Aging Life Care Professional, also known as a geriatric care manager, is a health and human services specialist who acts as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. The Aging Life Care Professional is educated and experienced in any of several fields related to aging life care / care management, including, but not limited to nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.

The Aging Life Care Professional assists clients in attaining their maximum functional potential. The individual’s independence is encouraged, while safety and security concerns are also addressed. Aging Life Care Professionals are able to address a broad range of issues related to the well-being of their client. They also have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality, and availability of resources in their communities.

Aging Life Care Professionals become the “coach” and families or clients the “team captain,” giving families the time to focus on relationships rather than the stress. In Raleigh, Durham, and surrounding area, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, an Aging Life Care member.


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Are You the Middle of a Triple Decker Sandwich?

Kathy Birkett, Senior Care Corner

Many baby boomers have grown to think of themselves as part of what has been termed the “sandwich generation”, caring for their aging parents or grandparents and their children at the same time. Calling that simply a sandwich overlooks a very important part of the equation, unfortunately the same part many boomers overlook — yourself.

Sharing information about the Triple Decker Sandwich Generation is an attempt to get boomer caregivers to realize the portion of the sandwich in the middle needs care as well. So often we find family caregivers putting their own needs on hold to address the sometime overwhelming needs of their children and senior loved ones.

No one in the multiple layers of the sandwich benefit when a caregiver ignores her or his own needs to focus totally on the needs of others. For some reason, though, we have been taught to feel like we’re being selfish when we think of ourselves. Just the opposite is true however.  When we take time to take care of ourselves, we put ourselves in a better position to give our best to others.

What happens when you shove your needs aside for too long? There are many reports of stress related disease and depression among boomer caregivers. Certainly being the middle “deck” of the sandwich can contribute to that. Focusing on the health care needs of others but ignoring your own can have serious consequences, especially for those entering a time in their lives where medical visits should be growing more – rather than less – frequent.

Being a Caregiver to Yourself

Taking care of that middle deck of the sandwich doesn’t mean simply looking after yourself, but those aspects of your life that are also necessary to your well being.

  • caring for a relationship with a spouse, partner or friends who help complete your life
  • putting appropriate focus on the job that provides the income needed to support the other aspects of your life (and hopefully some fulfillment)
  • hobbies, sports or other activities that let you get away from the rest of your life for a while
  • anything other aspect of your life that is important to you and allows you to decompress

The first step in caring for the middle deck of your family sandwich is to recognize that you and your needs are important and need to be met. Take some time for yourself and think about those needs putting plans in place to address them, just as you do to meet the needs of your children and senior loved ones for whom you care.

How do you care for yourself and your needs when it already feels like there are too few hours in each day? Can you substitute technology for some of the effort you put in already? There are a growing numbers of devices and programs that bright people have developed to meet the needs of people like you. There might just be an app for that!

In order to fully care for yourself to care for your family, you have to give yourself permission to put yourself in the sandwich instead of on the side of the plate. Some days will be harder than others to find time for your needs, but don’t give up. You will feel stronger when you have met your needs and be more able to be a loving and competent caregiver to the rest of the sandwich layers in your life.

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Caregiver Burnout

By Dr. M. Ross Seligson

Being able to cope with the strains and stresses of being a Caregiver is part of the art of Caregiving In order to remain healthy so that we can continue to be Caregivers, we must be able to see our own limitations and learn to care for ourselves as well as others.

It is important for all of us to make the effort to recognize the signs of burnout, In order to do this we must be honest and willing to hear feedback from those around us. This is especially important for those caring for family or friends. Too often Caregivers who are not closely associated with the healthcare profession get overlooked and lost in the commotion of medical emergencies and procedures. Otherwise close friends begin to grow distant, and eventually the Caregiver is alone without a support structure. We must allow those who do care for us, who are interested enough to say something, to tell us about our behavior, a noticed decrease in energy or mood changes.

Burnout isn’t like a cold. You don’t always notice it when you are in its clutches. Very much like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of burnout can begin surfacing months after a traumatic episode. The following are symptoms we might notice in ourselves, or others might say they see in us. Think about what is being said, and consider the possibility of burnout.

  • Feelings of depression.
  • A sense of ongoing and constant fatigue.
  • Decreasing interest in work.
  • Decrease in work production.
  • Withdrawal from social contacts.
  • Increase in use of stimulants and alcohol.
  • Increasing fear of death.
  • Change in eating patterns.
  • Feelings of helplessness.

Strategies to ward off or cope with burnout are important. To counteract burnout, the following specific strategies are recommended

  • Participate in a support network.
  • Consult with professionals to explore burnout issues.
  • Attend a support group to receive feedback and coping strategies.
  • Vary the focus of caregiving responsibilities if possible (rotate responsibilities with family members).
  • Exercise daily and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Establish “quiet time” for meditation.
  • Get a weekly massage
  • Stay involved in hobbies.

By acknowledging the reality that being a Caregiver is filled with stress and anxiety, and understanding the potential for burnout, Caregivers can be forewarned and guard against this debilitating condition. As much as it is said, it can still not be said too often, the best way to be an effective Caregiver is to take care of yourself.

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What to Do When Parents Must Live Separately: 6 Tips to Help Them Cope

By Dave Singleton, Caring.com author

After decades of living together, one parent needs more care than the other can provide. It’s not only hard on the parents; it’s a devastating situation for children and loved ones, too. You want to help, but you feel helpless in the face of what amounts to a forced separation.

What can you do to ease the trauma and provide support for parents facing this circumstance? Recently, I spoke with two eldercare experts who’ve counseled dozens of families and offer these six practical tips:

  1. Determine in advance how the relationship will continue.

    “Before anyone makes a move, encourage your parents to map out how the marital bond will carry on,” says Mary Koffend, president of Accountable Aging Care Management. Of course, if a parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, it could be impossible for them to make such a plan. But assuming they can, “if Dad now lives in assisted living, then maybe Mom comes over every day for dinner.” Or perhaps she joins in on a regular activity that they can both enjoy on-site, such as discussions, book clubs, craft sessions, games, gardening, playing cards, or watching television.

  2. Ensure that the facility supports the couple.

    “The key is to promote the couple’s identity as a couple as much as possible, or desirable, for both partners,” says Cheryl Woodson, author of To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice. “Make sure the facility is convenient for the healthy partner in terms of transportation, access, and schedule.” If transportation to and from the new living facility is an issue, arrange in advance for a loved one or paid caregiver to drive, so that your parents get time together. “Even if it’s brief, at least they talk a bit, kiss good-bye, and off one of them goes,” says Koffend.

  3. Help your parent with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

    Chances are the parent remaining at home feels tremendous guilt as well as sadness over the separation. “A parent might feel like he’s no longer honoring his wedding vows, or that he isn’t doing enough,” says Koffend. You can be supportive by being the voice that reminds Dad that he’s doing all he can. Give him a dose of what Koffend calls “reality therapy” — in other words, talk him out of wishing for what can no longer be. “Help parents understand the choices they are faced with, and reaffirm that they made the right choices, emotionally and logically,” says Koffend.

  4. Get your parents outside help if needed.

    Sometimes your best efforts might not be enough, and you need to engage outside support. “No matter how cooperative the facility is, no one can understand how bereft these couples may feel,” says Woodson. “Families should encourage the healthy partner to talk to clergy, behavioral health professionals, and/or to participate in support groups with other spouses in similar circumstances.”

  5. Help foster private time, if desired.

    Contrary to popular opinion, the need for intimacy doesn’t end when a separation like this occurs. It might be a little awkward for family members to address (understatement!), but help the couple work through whatever issues might be present in order to get deserved privacy. “For example, if a spouse can’t leave the facility for whatever reason, kids can step in and have a very straightforward conversation with the facility’s administrators about arranging alone-time for the couple,” says Koffend. It’s important to understand the concerns of the facility, which might be liable for falls or health issues that occur under their watch. Koffend cites one example of a wife who brought Viagra to her husband in an assisted living facility, which resulted in him having a strong adverse medical reaction. Address concerns and see if you can set fair boundaries.

  6. Expect the unexpected.

    Finally, “Don’t assume that this transition ends once the initial decision and move are over,” says Koffend. “Be prepared for whatever your parents’ needs are afterward, when there’s sadness or frustration on either side.” For some who’ve spent years caring for a spouse, the transition to living alone can be jarring and rudderless. When primary caretaking is replaced by a facility, you might need to help the parent remaining at home to feel needed and purposeful, whether by encouraging her to see friends or volunteer or simply by facilitating more involvement with her spouse’s new life at the facility. “Help your parent realize they have a practical role in the care and upkeep of their spouse who’s now living in a new place,” says Koffend. “It gives purpose to the visits, even if it’s as simple as bringing a few products and a hairbrush to help maintain physical appearance.”

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Spouses Who are Caregivers

Family caregivers usually are fulfilled by their choice in life to provide much needed care for a loved one who needs that care.

Often we begin caring for our children and then seem to naturally progress to our parents, grandparents or in-laws who may have entered a phase where some level of care from others is required.

It may be something that begins in a small way, such as bringing them food now and then or helping with things around the house. It can quickly progress to more and more tasks and supervision, all the way up to hands on care.

Sometimes, despite all our care and best efforts, it becomes necessary to transition our loved ones in a facility where they can receive more skilled care than we can provide.

Aging in place is a goal for most of us and our senior loved ones and we as caregivers try to do everything we can possibly do to help them make this dream a reality. We will help them create the right living environment with simple modifications and big renovations or even finding a more appropriate home in which to age in place.

Caregivers’ Challenges

Unfortunately, every day is not always the best day. There will be harder days than others, crises that arise along the way including injury and hospitalization. Let’s not forget the occasional (or all too frequent) disagreement about even the littlest thing that soon gets smoothed over when we remember why we are all together.

Caregiver burnout is a reality that we all face. Getting an extra hand, recognizing that we can’t do it all by ourselves day in and day out, can help. Finding respite when you can and an outlet for your feelings will help you be a caregiver longer and better.

I recently came across an interesting poll that found caregiver stress has increased from an interesting source.

Caregivers Who Are Spouses

The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently published the results of a recent poll that asked approximately 1400 family caregivers questions resulting in some surprising answers.

They found that most Americans are counting on their families to provide care for them as they age, as they have been doing themselves for other relatives or friends. Unfortunately, not many of us are planning well for our own long term care. We can readily tell you where and how we want our funeral to happen and probably have already made plans and payments for that but we can’t tell you about our goals for day to day care before that happens.

We can’t talk about what kind of a facility we might consider, where we would want to get help, what our care wishes would be, and more importantly have probably not executed any advance directives stipulating our wishes.

This poll found that eight out of ten people found caregiving to be a positive experience but one that is also extremely difficult.

The most stress is being reported by spouses who are now caregivers — not children providing care to parents or grandparents as might be thought. Spouses did promise to care for each other in sickness and in health but find this promise to be stressful to deliver.

Struggling Spouses

Spouses express the struggle that they experience when their relationship changes from companion to caregiver. They deal with not only stress but anger and frustration. It can be hard when hands-on care over grooming, feeding, wound care and other duties are taken on that were once done by nurses now are their responsibility.

While some spousal caregivers report that their marriage is strengthened by their caregiving commitment, which is a welcome outcome in the face of other stressors, spouses were more likely to report that caregiving weakened their relationship with their partner and placed an added burden on their finances.

It is reported that only about 30 percent of those over 40 who may be likely to care for a loved one in the next five years feel prepared to do so. Spouses tend to be older caregivers than those caring for parents and that could make the caregiving more physically challenging as well. The average age of a spousal caregiver is 67, compared to 58 for those caring for parents.

How to Identify and Overcome Caregiver Stress

If you begin to recognize signs that you are having what could be an overwhelming amount of stress that could be harming your health or ability to care for your spouse then it is time to take action.

  • Recognize signs of stress – being tired all the time, having difficulty sleeping, feeling unappreciated with no one to talk to or care about you, feeling depressed or hopeless, not ever feeling like there is a good day, feeling like your own life is not worth living, being ill yourself, crying often or you begin isolating yourself from others.
  • Begin taking time for yourself – sometimes you need to call someone to give you an hour, an afternoon, a day or a weekend off. There are people you can call, such as family members, volunteers from faith based organizations, organizations, home health agencies or friends. Just being alone, taking a breather, shopping, lunch with a friend, sleeping late or seeing a movie can mean a lot to your personal and emotional well-being.
  • Get a medical checkup – schedule a doctor visit for yourself. Get your preventive health checkup or immunizations to help keep you well. You can’t help others if you are not well.
  • Talk to someone – go to a support group locally or online, talk with a member of the clergy, find a friend, or keep a journal so that you can express your feelings and allow yourself to move on past those feelings.

Being a caregiver whether to your spouse, mother, aunt or grandfather not to mention caring for your own children and household will always cause moments of stress. Remember the importance of what you do every day. You are right where you are supposed to be!

Being able to recognize, though, that burnout might be lurking but you can overcome it in order to be the best caregiver possible is the first step in staying well. One smile is all the thanks you need to provide the love and care your spouse or family member needs.

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management in Raleigh, NC  www.rgcmgmt.com

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Long Distance Caregiving

Carol O’dell

If you’re a long-distance caregiver, then you know the drill. You call all the time. You coordinate care from 400 miles away. You spend long weekends or vacation time visiting your loved one and hoping before you open that door that they’re OK. Worry comes with long-distance caregiving, and so does guilt, but you try really hard to make it work — and you dread the day that won’t be enough.

You are not alone. According to a recent Caring.com poll, nearly one-third of all caregivers do not live with or, in many cases, even near their loved ones. Here’s a look at a few challenges long-distance caregivers face, and tips to help manage care from afar.

Feeling emotionally connected to your family members.

Sometimes phone calls or visits filled with doctor appointments and home chores don’t allow for heart-to-heart talks. As much as there is to cover, make the time to just sit for a few minutes and allow a natural conversation to emerge.

Set up a weekly phone-chat date for the times that you’re apart. Have it at a time when you both can look forward to it and nothing competes. After you discuss some of your “to-do” list items, begin to share something personal about your own life. Ask their advice on something — anything — from the color shoes you should wear to your cousin’s wedding to whether you should get a bigger car. Let them feel as if they’re a part of your life as well.

Getting shut out.

Many long-distance caregivers, particularly those helping someone with moderate to severe dementia, find that their visits actually aggravate their loved ones — who are confused and want to “go home” or don’t understand why you keep calling them “Dad.”

Remind yourself that you’re not just there to visit. You’re there to make sure Mom or Dad are being cared for properly. (Having a loved one with moderate to severe dementia increases the likelihood that he or she is living in a care facility.) Stay out of sight if you have to, but visit the staff, have lunch in the cafeteria, and walk the grounds. Talk to the people your loved one interacts with to find out how he or she is doing. It’s painful not to be able to connect, but remember that you’re still needed.

Knowing your loved one is safe and appropriately cared for.

Audrey Adelson, author of “Long-Distance Caregiving,” writes, “Often, long-distance caregivers obtain important information from their elder or secondhand from family members who have spoken with a member of their loved one’s treatment team. This makes it difficult to get a clear understanding of what is really going on.” How do you stay in the loop when you’re not in the area?

How to manage? By having lots of eyes. Whether you coordinate care for your loved one in his or her home or an assisted living facility, start to connect with those who interact with your loved one. Call after an appointment and ask how it went. Let them know you plan to be involved, and be sure to send a thank-you card or friendly e-mail.

Managing insurance and financial needs or making sure you can trust those who do.

Trust is a big issue for long-distance caregivers. When you don’t have people who genuinely care for your loved one and communicate with you about what’s going on, then you begin to worry, and worry, and worry.

Take the time to find professionals who can assist you and your loved one. It’s worth the time and effort. Hire an elder law attorney to make sure their financial assets are protected, or check into local resources designed for seniors and their family’s needs.

Make a plan for whatever comes next.

Long-distance caregivers dread getting “the call.” Whether it’s from a concerned neighbor or from the ER at 4 a.m., it’s difficult to know what to plan for when anything could happen. Try to laugh (or scream, or sob) when all of your planning and hard work takes a dive and you have to come up with a new plan. Change is inevitable, and when we fight that it that causes us pain.

Play “what if.” Come up with the three possible scenarios — a fall, a worsening of a condition or ailment, or a refusal to move even when that’s needed. How will you handle it? Can you go ahead and do some online searches? Can you connect with other caregivers and ask how they handled a big change and ask how it’s going now? It’s easier to face the “what ifs” when you know that somehow, some way, you will get through.

Being a long-distance caregiver comes with challenges you never thought you’d have to face. Sometimes you have to let go, just a little, of all that you can’t control. Caregiving isn’t easy, and there aren’t always solutions, so grab your rearview mirror the next time you’re in your car and look at yourself and say, “You’re doing the best you can.”

For a loved one living in Raleigh, NC, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management to assist with your family member. www.rgcmgmt.comRaleigh ,NC

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Remember the Studebaker? Reminiscing as Therapy for Your Parents

By  Paula Tchirkow, MSW, LSW, ACSW

Not again? You’ve heard that story about Sunday trips in the big black Studebaker at least 100 times. But you sit politely as your elderly mother recalls her grandfather’s rumble seat, running boards, chrome grill and overflowing picnic basket.

It’s likely that your mother has not forgotten that she told you the story before. And she’s not just shooting the breeze or living in the past. Your elderly parent is bolstering her self esteem by reminiscing. Like many older adults, she is engaging in an important psychological process called “life cycle review,” and it’s healthy.

Encouraging an older adult to reminisce is one of the easiest and most effective techniques you can use to boost their confidence and brighten their mood. In fact, it’s virtually foolproof as a method of combating mild depression or loneliness.

Go ahead, give it a try. Next time the Studebaker story comes up, engage your mother. Ask her how many people fit in the car? Did it have a rag top? How fast did it go? What were the roads like back then? And what exactly was in that picnic basket?

The vivid connection to a time when your mother or father felt more alive, happier, successful, and useful reassures them that they weren’t always in their current physical and mental state. Reminiscing helps older adults review past accomplishments and activities, thereby giving them a renewed sense of fulfillment about their life.

Although most people tend to focus on good memories, life cycle review can also help older family members become comfortable with the past. That is, the technique gives older adults an opportunity to admit and accept the parts of their lives that didn’t go as well as expected.

Both the reckoning process, and the acknowledgement of happier times, clears up minor depression, reverses feelings of isolation, and helps parents get back into a rhythm of positive reinforcement that boosts physical and mental well being. To be sure, the benefits of storytelling and review are greatly underestimated.

To discover how valuable life cycle review can be for older adults, here are 10 tips to help you get the process started:

  • On your next visit, quickly survey the home for an object to spark a conversation. For example, a cookbook may start the person talking about a favorite recipe or holiday. A piece of antique furniture, nick-knacks, old records, needlepoint projects, a piece of clothing, even a dish towel has worked as a catalyst for conversation.
  • Visit the attic. If you’re not having luck with the items that are in plain view, don’t be shy about taking a trip to the attic or basement to dig out old photos, cards and letters, maybe a wedding dress. Personal props such as these can trigger a flood of memories and conversations.
  • Use scents. Without fail, certain smells bring back memories almost instantaneously. That may be because the sense of smell is the most primitive of our senses, and the last to fail. Even older adults suffering from advance stages of dementia usually respond to smells, albeit not verbally. For instance, their eyes may brighten or a smile may appear when they get a whiff of cinnamon, wildflowers, fresh baked goods, peppermint, or coffee.
  • Create reminiscing cards. Browse magazines, newspapers, or the Internet to find images of items that you know will prompt a conversation, such as scenes from the Depression Era, amusement parks from a parent’s childhood, places they visited on vacation. Paste the pictures onto pieces of cardboard and build a catalog of visual aids. The cards can be use by family members or healthcare workers who look after your parent.
  • Don’t shrink from the unhappy memories. Recounting less-than-perfect events can be cathartic. Reflection doesn’t always have to be rosy, and often unlocking long-forgotten disappointments is uplifting. It’s a way for older adults to get worn-out burdens off their chest. For instance, you may hear from an older widow, that if she had to do it all over again, she would not have married her husband. They key is to let people freely express doubts and fears about the past, and validate—don’t judge—those feelings. Interestingly, and sort of magically, we all become less inhibited about expressing feelings as we get older. So don’t shut out the more sobering events for fear that it might depress your parent – the exercise will likely raise their spirits.
  • Do it on the phone, in person, or on the Internet if your parent is computer savvy. These reminiscing sessions can take the form of a 15 minute phone conversation; an hour-long respite over tea, maybe a look through a photo album after Christmas dinner. There is no set length of time or frequency that is ideal. The amount of time you spend recollecting is case specific, and usually depends on the attention span of the older person.
  • Encourage in-home health aids or the staff at healthcare facilities to use the technique too. It’s a great alternative to stale topics, like the weather. For parents that live in care facilities, create a personal history poster to hang over their bed. In that way, healthcare workers can refer to the poster when they visit the room. Include things like your parent’s nickname, former profession, how they met their spouse, the names of their children, grandchildren and pets, hobbies, favorite movies, songs, or books, towns and cities where they lived, or any other piece of personal trivia that will guide the staff into a rewarding conversation. Aside from prompting conversation, the fun facts help the staff envision your parent as someone other than a frail or stubborn resident.
  • Assemble a scrapbook. For parents that can physically handle this task, it’s a great way to organize memories and start a new hobby – one that can be shared by the whole family. Include photos, ticket stubs, fabrics from, say, a wedding dress, newspaper clippings, recipes, and other homespun memorabilia. For parents that are unable to create a scrapbook, adult children can put it together, and keep it handy as a conversation starter. If you’re making a scrapbook for parents with advanced Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, keep the book short and simple.
  • Allow your parents to reap the physical benefits. Recollecting good memories, and dropping old burdens, has a positive physiological effect on older adults. Research shows that sparking these memories causes blood pressure and heart rates to drop, essentially producing a calming effect. (Pet therapy produces the same effect.)
  • Document the past for the future. There’s something in life cycle review for everyone involved, especially future generations. Photos and scrapbooks are often considered family treasures, but new generations of archivist are using audio and video tapes as well. Use new technology it to capture a little bit of your family’s past, just make sure you hang on to the right playback equipment or your memories could be lost – remember the fate of eight-track players?

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