Category Archives: Seniors and driving

Driving Dilemmas: Risk vs. Independence

by Dwyer

images (3)Driving a car is a symbol of independence and competence and is closely tied to an individual’s identity. It also represents freedom and control and allows older adults to gain easy access to social connections, health care, shopping, activities and even employment. At some point, however, it is predictable that driving skills will deteriorate and individuals will lose the ability to safely operate a vehicle. Even though age alone does not determine when a person needs to stop driving, the decision must be balanced with personal and public safety. Driving beyond one’s ability brings an increased safety risk or even life-threatening situations to all members of society. Statistics show that older drivers are more likely than others to receive traffic citations for failing to yield, making improper left turns, and running red lights or stop signs, which are all indications of a decrease in driving skills. Understandably, dealing with impaired older drivers is a delicate issue.

The road to driving cessation is anything but smooth. Each year, hundreds of thousands of older drivers across the country must face the end of their driving years and become transportation dependent. Unfortunately, finding other means of transportation has not noticeably improved in recent years, leading to a reluctance among older drivers to give up driving privileges and of families to remove the car keys. The primary issue facing older drivers is how to adapt to changes in driving performance while maintaining necessary mobility. Despite being a complicated issue, this process can be more successful when there is a partnership between the physician, older driver, family or caregiver.

Dramatic headlines like these have ignited national media debates and triggered the pressing need for more testing and evaluation of elderly drivers, especially with the swell of the Baby Boomer generation: “Family of four killed by an 80-year-old man driving the wrong way on Highway 169.  86-year-old driver killed 10 people when his vehicle plowed through a farmers’ market in southern California. 93-year-old man crashed his car into a Wal-Mart store, sending six people to the hospital and injuring a 1-year-old child.”

According to the Hartford Insurance Corporation, statistics of older drivers show that after age 75, there is a higher risk of being involved in a collision for every mile driven. The rate of risk is nearly equal to the risk of younger drivers ages 16 to 24. The rate of fatalities increases slightly after age 65 and significantly after age 75. Although older persons with health issues can be satisfactory drivers, they have a higher likelihood of injury or death in an accident.

Undoubtedly, an older adult’s sense of independence vs. driving risk equals a very sensitive and emotionally charged topic. Older adults may agree with the decline of their driving ability, yet feel a sense of loss, blame others, attempt to minimize and justify, and ultimately may feel depressed at the thought of giving up driving privileges. Driving is an earned privilege and in order to continue to drive safely, guidelines and regulations must be in place to evaluate and support older drivers.

Dementia and Driving Cessation
Alzheimer’s disease and driving safety is of particular concern to society. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in later life and is a progressive and degenerative brain disease. In the process of driving, different regions of the brain cooperate to receive sensory information through vision and hearing, and a series of decisions are made instantly to successfully navigate. The progression of AD can be unpredictable and affect judgment, reasoning, reaction time and problem-solving. For those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is not a matter of if retirement from driving will be necessary, but when. Is it any wonder that driving safety is compromised when changes are occurring in the brain? Where dementia is concerned, driving retirement is an inevitable endpoint for which active communication and planning among drivers, family, and health professionals are essential.

Current statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association indicate that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and this number is expected to rise to 11-16 million by the year 2050. Many people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s can continue to drive; however, they are at an increased risk and driving skills will predictably worsen over time. The Alzheimer’s Association’s position on driving and dementia supports a state licensing procedure that allows for added reporting by key individuals coupled with a fair, knowledgeable, medical review process.

Overall, the assessment of driving fitness in aging individuals, and especially those with dementia, is not clear cut and remains an emerging and evolving field today.

Physician’s Role in Driving Cessation
While most older drivers are safe, this population is more prone to vehicle accidents due to decreased senses, chronic illness and medication-related issues. The three primary functions that are necessary for driving and need to be evaluated are: vision, perception, and motor function. As the number of older drivers rises, patients and their families will increasingly turn to the physicians for guidance on safe driving. This partnership seems to be a key to more effective decision-making and the opinions of doctors vs. family are often valued by older drivers. Physicians are in a forefront position to address physical, sensory and cognitive changes in their aging patients. They can also help patients maintain mobility through proper counseling and referrals to driver evaluation programs. This referral may avoid unnecessary conflict when the doctor, family members or caregivers, and older drivers have differing opinions. (It should be noted that driver evaluation programs are usually not covered by insurance and may require an out-of-pocket cost.)

Not all doctors agree that they are the best source for making final decisions about driving. Physicians may not be able to detect driving problems based on office visits and physical examinations alone. Family members should work with doctors and share observations about driving behavior and health issues to help older adults limit their driving or stop driving altogether. Ultimately, counseling for driving retirement and identifying alternative methods of transportation should be discussed early on in the care process, prior to a crisis. Each state has an Area Agency on Aging program that can be contacted for information, and referrals can be made to a social worker or community agency that provides transportation services.

Resources do exist to help physicians assess older adults with memory impairments, weigh the legal and ethical responsibilities, broach the topic of driving retirement and move toward workable plans. The Hartford Insurance Corporation, for example, offers two free publications that make excellent patient handouts: At the Crossroads: A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Driving and We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers. These resources reveal warning signs and offer practical tips, sound advice, communication starters, and planning forms. Other resources can be found through the Alzheimer’s Association. Physicians can also refer to the laws and reporting requirements for unsafe drivers in their state and work proactively with patients and their families or caregivers to achieve driving retirement before serious problems occur. Ultimately, assessing and counseling patients about their fitness to drive should be part of the medical practice for all patients as they age and face health changes.

Driver’s Role in Driving Cessation
“How will you know when it is time to stop driving?” was a question posed to older adults in a research study. Responses included “When the stress level from my driving gets high enough, I’ll probably throw my keys away” and “When you scare the living daylights out of yourself, that’s when it’s time to stop.” These responses are clues to a lack of insight and regard for the social responsibility of holding a driver’s license and the critical need for education, evaluation and planning.

Realizing one can no longer drive can lead to social isolation and a loss of personal or spousal independence, self-sufficiency, and even employment. In general, older drivers want to decide for themselves when to quit, a decision that often stems from the progression of medical conditions that affect vision, physical abilities, perceptions and, consequently, driving skills. There are many things that an older adult can do to be a safe driver and to participate in his or her own driving cessation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that older adults:

  • Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Limit driving only to daytime, low traffic, short radius, clear weather
  • Plan the safest route before driving and find well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Preplan and consider alternative sources and costs for transportation and volunteer to be a passenger

Family’s or Caregiver’s Role in Driving Cessation
Initially, it may seem cruel to take an older person’s driving privilege away; however, genuine concern for older drivers means much more than simply crossing fingers in hopes that they will be safe behind the wheel. Families need to be vigilant about observing the driving behavior of older family members. One key question to be answered that gives rise to driving concerns is “Would you feel safe riding along with your older parent driving or having your child ride along with your parent?” If the answer is “no,” then the issue needs to be addressed openly and in a spirit of love and support. Taking an elder’s driving privileges away is not an easy decision and may need to be done in gradual steps. Offering rides, enlisting a volunteer driver program, experiencing public transportation together, encouraging vehicle storage during winter months, utilizing driver evaluation programs and other creative options, short of removing the keys, can be possible solutions during this time of transition.

Driving safety should be discussed long before driving becomes a problem. According to the Hartford Insurance survey, car accidents, near misses, dents in the vehicle and health changes all provide the chance to talk about driving skills. Early, occasional and honest conversations establish a pattern of open dialogue and can reinforce driving safety issues. Appealing to the love of children or grandchildren can instill the thought that their inability to drive safely could lead to the loss of an innocent life. Family members or caregivers can also form a united front with doctors and friends to help older drivers make the best driving decisions. If evaluations and suggestions have been made and no amount of rational discussion has convinced the senior to cease driving, then an anonymous report can be made to the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, strategies that may lead to driving cessation when less drastic measures fail include:

  1. Family meetings to discuss issues and concerns
  2. Disabling or removing the car
  3. Filing down the keys
  4. Placing an “Expired” sticker over the driver’s license
  5. Cancelling the vehicle registration
  6. Preventing the older driver from renewing his or her driver’s license
  7. Speaking with the driver’s doctor to write a prescription not to drive, or to schedule a formal driving assessment

Finally, it is suggested that family members learn about the warning signs of driving problems, assess independence vs. the public safety, observe the older driver behind the wheel or ride along, discuss concerns with a physician, and explore alternative transportation options.

Solutions

There are a multitude of solutions and recommendations that can be made in support of older drivers. Public education and awareness is at the forefront. An educational program that includes both classroom and on the road instruction can improve knowledge and enhance driving skills.

The AAA Foundation provides several safe driving Web sites with tools for seniors and their loved ones to assess the ability to continue driving safely.  These include AAAseniors.com and seniordrivers.org.  They also sponsor a series of Senior Driver Expos around the country where seniors and their loved ones can learn about senior driving and mobility challenges and have a hands-on opportunity to sample AAA’s suite of research-based senior driver resources. Information on the Expos is available at aaaseniors.com/seniordriverexpo.

AARP offers an excellent driver safety program that addresses defensive driving and age-related changes, and provides tools to help judge driving fitness. Expanding this program or even requiring participation seems to be a viable entry point for tackling the challenges of driving with the aging population.

CarFit is an educational program that helps older adults check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them and if the safety features are compatible with their physical characteristics. This includes height of the car seat, mirrors, head restraints, seat belts, and proper access to the pedals. CarFit events are scheduled throughout the country and a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each participant to ensure their cars are properly adjusted for their comfort and safety.

Modification of driving policies to extend periods of safe driving is another solution. Older drivers nearing the end of their safe driving years could ‘retire’ from driving gradually, rather than ‘give up’ the driver’s license.  An older adult can be encouraged to relinquish the driver’s license and be issued a photo identification card at the local driver’s bureau.

The Alzheimer’s Association proposes several driving assessment and evaluation options. Among them are a vision screening by an optometrist, cognitive performance testing (CPT) by an occupational therapist, motor function screening by a physical or occupational therapist, and a behind the wheel assessment by a driver rehabilitation specialist. Poor performances on these types of tests have been correlated with poor driving outcomes in older adults, especially those with dementia. Requiring a driving test after a certain age to include both a written test and a road test may be an option considered by each state.  Finally, continued input and guidance will be necessary from AARP, state licensing programs, transportation planners, and policymakers to meet the needs of our aging driving population.

It is appropriate to regard driving as an earned privilege and independent skill that is subject to change in later life. In general, having an attitude of constant adjustment until an older individual has to face the actual moment of driving cessation seems to be a positive approach. Without recognizing the magnitude of this transition, improving the quality of life in old age will be compromised. Keeping our nation’s roads safe while supporting older drivers is a notable goal to set now and for the future.

In Raleigh , NC, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, member of The Aging Life Care Association for a free 15 minute telephonic consultation, 919-803-8025

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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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Older Adults and Alcohol

A national 2008 survey found that about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol. Older adults can experience a variety of problems from drinking alcohol, especially those who:

• Take certain medications
• Have health problems
• Drink heavily

There are special considerations facing older adults who drink, including:

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol
Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

Increased Health Problems
Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:

• Diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Congestive heart failure
• Liver problems
• Osteoporosis
• Memory problems
• Mood disorders

Bad Interactions with Medications
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Medications that can interact badly with alcohol include:

• Aspirin
• Acetaminophen
• Cold and allergy medicine
• Cough syrup
• Sleeping pills
• Pain medication
• Anxiety or depression medicine

Drinking Guidelines for Older Adults
Adults over age 65 who are healthy and do not take medications should not have more than:

• 3 drinks on a given day
• 7 drinks in a week

Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems.

If you have a health problem or take certain medications, you may need to drink less or not at all.

Source: NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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Should You Tell a “Fiblet” to a Parent With Dementia?

From our earliest days we are taught never to lie, especially to our mother or father. However, a recent survey of aging experts reveals that telling a “fiblet” can actually be therapeutic when adult children are faced with telling painful truths to aging parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) recently surveyed 285 professional geriatric care managers about the most common and difficult situations faced by families who are helping aging parents. Geriatric care managers help these families deal with some of the most sensitive and challenging issues.

More than 90 percent of the professional geriatric care managers surveyed said they have used or recommended the “fiblet” strategy to relieve stress and anxiety and protect the self-esteem of an elderly person. The situation cited most by experts in the survey as an appropriate and helpful use of a “fiblet” is when a senior is refusing clearly needed care or assistance at their home. For example, telling an aging parent with Alzheimer’s that a paid caregiver is coming to their home for their spouse’s benefit or for another concrete role can help the elder maintain pride and reduce anxiety.

The following were identified by care managers as situations when it can actually be therapeutic to tell a “fiblet” to an aging parent:

  • When they are refusing needed care and assistance at home. Telling them the caregiver is there for their spouse’s benefit or for another concrete role can help them maintain pride and reduce anxiety (identified by 83 percent of those surveyed).
  • When they can no longer safely drive, yet insist on doing so. Telling them their car is in the shop getting repaired can reduce confrontations (68 percent).
  • When knowing the cost of in-home care prevents them from accepting the needed service (68 percent).
  • When it would only cause worry and stress to tell them about family problems they can’t solve, e.g., unemployment, financial upheaval, divorce, drug abuse, incarceration (64 percent).

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease, and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. Americans feel increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia.

“A therapeutic ‘fiblet’ is just that—it is therapeutic because it calms and reassures, reduces anxiety and protects self-esteem,” said NAPGCM President Emily Saltz. She added, “You would use a ‘fiblet’ only with parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Geriatric Care Managers Share Their Experiences

As part of the survey, geriatric care managers were asked to provide comments about their own experiences in recommending the use of a “fiblet.” A universal theme of the comments was that family members should navigate this clearly delicate area with help from a support group or from an experienced professional care manager. Care managers also stressed that one should only use a “fiblet” to protect and support a family member rather than for personal benefit or gain.

The following are from among more than 200 stories collected through the survey about geriatric care managers’ experiences of using a “fiblet” in the course of their practices:

  • “I’ve used therapeutic ‘fiblets’ in many instances, but probably (most often) when the death of a loved one is beyond a person’s capacity to understand. For example, if a person is looking for a deceased loved one, I tell them that I haven’t seen that person today but when I do, I’ll tell them that the person is looking for them. This serves to validate their experience and provide reassurance that someone cares.”
  • “When an adult son was diagnosed with cancer, the decision was made to not inform his frail, memory-impaired nursing home-bound father of the diagnosis. At the same time, the son increased his visits to his father during treatment, as he had more free time available for visits. The son and father enjoyed more time together without stressing the father with a scary diagnosis.”
  • “A client wanted to see their mother who had passed away many years ago. Instead of telling her that her mother had died and causing her to grieve again, we told her she was out and would return later. She accepted that and went on with her day.”

Source: The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM). NAPGCM was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families. Geriatric care managers are professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. For more information, visit http://www.caremanager.org. –

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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Stress and the Holidays: Coping Strategies to Keep you Sane

By Helen Hunter,

Every year, the media bombards us with advertisements showing the “happy family” gathering for the holidays. People from different generations are together, having a wonderful time, sharing traditions of old and creating new ones as well.

It is not that way, though, for a great number of individuals. For those who don’t have families of their own, or for those who live alone and have relatives living far away, holidays often bring heartbreak and depression. Those who have been used to family celebrations in the past and no longer have that to look forward to cannot accept the “change” in the tradition, especially if they keep hearing about others who are getting together with their own families.

There are two things to remember that can help get you through the holidays. The first thing to realize is that it is okay to cry. This can be a tough time for many. It is natural to feel depressed when your friends are having the ideal family gathering. Allow yourself to express your inner feelings.

The second thing to remember is to control the holidays, do not let them control you. This requires planning. If you know that you will be alone on the holiday, start planning ahead for what you will do. Here are some suggestions for things you can do to sidestep the holiday blues:

  1.  If you cannot be with family, try to spend time with friends or neighbors instead.
  2. Get away from the source of the depression. If your home reminds you of past holidays spent with a loved one, go on a cruise, or take a vacation to another part of the country, or go abroad.
  3. Get involved with an activity. Volunteer at a local senior center, church or community center that serves meals on the holiday, or give your services to a hospital. If you know that someone will be alone and cannot get out for the holiday, visit. If the person lives far away and you cannot physically visit, make a phone call. In helping those who are less fortunate than yourself, you can forget some of your own troubles.
  4. Invite others who are also alone to your home to share the holiday. You can prepare a meal for them, or you can go out to a restaurant. Company always helps ease depression.

Be gentle to yourself, especially if you have recently lost a loved one. If you do not feel like celebrating, don’t! If you do wish to celebrate, keep it simple. Remember the TRUE reason that we celebrate the holidays!

The important point to remember here is that if the old traditions cause heartbreak and depression, change the tradition – start a new one!

Also, be sure to review your expectations and be realistic. Not everyone is jolly, generous and loving all through the holiday season. As Wayne A. Van Kampen from the Bethesda PsycHealth Reporter wrote, “ Somehow (during the holidays) persons feel pushed into hiding, covering over, or denying the reality of sadness, fear and tension. Perhaps what is needed most is simply a more honest embracing of ourselves, others, and the realities of life.” Not everyone will have a happy family gathering just because it is the holiday season. Old resentments are likely to resurface, no matter how hard we try, when people are thrown together for an extended period.

In addition, there are a number of strategies that can be used in planning the holiday celebration.

These strategies include the following:

  • Delegate responsibilities and activities so that one person is not taking on more than can be accomplished without help.
  • Do not assume responsibility for the entire household’s holiday happiness.
  • Work minute by minute on your attitude. Postpone becoming angry and show understanding and calmness. This technique should be used not only during the holiday period, but every day!
  • Any task that you have chosen to do, whether it be the cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, card addressing, organizing, decorating or shopping, is to be viewed as a choice that you made. Try to have fun in tackling these tasks, which will make the holiday easier and keep your spirits positive.
  • Start traditions that make the most sense to you in your life now. It doesn’t always have to be done the same way every year.
  • Do things together as a family that you all truly enjoy.

Make the holiday season a time for you and your loved ones to have fun and to share special memories. When the entire season is over, sit down, relax and count your blessings. Remind yourself as to how lucky you are. When you make an effort to have a joyous, stress-free holiday, you can avoid the stress. The key is to plan ahead, and to ask for and accept help from others.

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management www.rgcmgmt.com

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Filed under adult children of aging parents, Adult day care, aging drivers, Aging In Place, Alzheimer's Disease, anxiety and the elderly, assessments, bathing and seniors, care giving, care planning, caregiver burnout, caregiving, caregiving and the holidays, clinical trial studies, dementia, Depression and the elderly, driving retirement, elder care raleigh nc, elder nutrition, employee stress, family meetings, Geriatric Care Management, Having a conversation, humor, Long Term Care Insurancee, long term care planning, medication reminders, moving in with family, NC, Nursing Homes, nursing homes and assisted living, paying for home care, Power of Attorney, Raleigh, respite, Sandwich Generation, senior care, senior driving, Seniors and driving, sibling relationships, support groups, tax tips for seniors, travel with seniors