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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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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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Who’s Most Likely to Feel Caregiver Stress?

~Paula Spencer Scott

Does caregiving actually cause stress? Some surprising new research says no, the real source of the stress lies within the person, not the situation.

After looking at more than 1,200 female caregiving twins, Peter Vitaliano, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington, concluded that how stressful caregiving is for you psychologically is more a matter of your genes and your upbringing. Caregiving itself does not cause stress, he says. This new study appears in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Who’s most at risk, according to this research? People who:

  • Have a history of depression. “Like putting salt in a wound,” says Vitaliano.
  • Grew up with parents who showed a lot of avoidance and fear in response to big stressors (like losing a job).
  • Lack resources to help them cope, like social support and finances.

The study also found that caregiving can cause anxiety, which is in turn linked to depression.

This all may sound like splitting hairs. Though this research confirms Vitaliano’s earlier work debunking a causal connection between caregiving and stress, it flies a bit in the face of many, many other studies that link them. There’s even a name for it: caregiver stress syndrome.

This study didn’t specifically look at Alzheimer’s caregiving, whose duration and unique challenges can wear down even the best-adjusted family member. I wonder, would the results look different?

Bottom line: It doesn’t strike me as terribly helpful to be told your stress is the fault of your genes or your family history. If you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. It’s nobody’s fault — the real question is what to do about it.

File this info in the nice-to-know category. Then go hide in the bathroom for a little deep breathing, a few bites of dark chocolate, and a wish for some respite time to come your way this week.

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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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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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Holiday Stress and Caregiving

~Michael Plontz

While everyone else is enjoying the hustle and bustle and the joy of the holiday season, there are many caregivers out there who just want the whole thing over with.  Caregiving creates a level of stress unmatched by most endeavors.  Add to that the extra stress of family gatherings, gift buying, cooking, and other obligations and it is almost unbearable.  How can caregivers better cope with this stress on top of stress?

The following tips may help you weather the holidays much better:

  1. Start your own tradition. Often we feel bound by past holiday traditions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of having 20 family members and guests in your home, and cooking for all of them, try a different approach.  Suggest that someone else host Passover or Easter dinner. Or, if your home is the only appropriate one, enlist the help of friends and relatives for everything from cleaning to preparing food.  A potluck is a great idea—you can even assign specific dishes to ensure that a complete dinner is provided.

  2. There are great ways to shop non-traditionally as well. The Internet is a fantastic way to shop for food and gifts without leaving home. Another way to shop from home is using catalogs (many people feel uncomfortable about putting credit card numbers out in cyberspace). If you would rather go out, use the catalogs to make lists of specific gifts for each person. That way you know exactly where to go and exactly what to get.

  3. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the holidays. It shouldn’t be all about the hustle and bustle.

  4. The motto “Everything in moderation” should be your guide through the holidays. There are many temptations abundant throughout the season—alcohol, sweets and rich food. Go ahead. Have some. Just don’t over-indulge. It may make you sick or uncomfortable even through the following day.

  5. Be prepared for unexpected circumstances. Something may come up, and probably will, so what can you do? If you can, change the situation. If you can’t, accept it and move on. You cannot control life no matter how planned out you believe you have things. Laugh a lot…

  6. Try to keep up on your regular exercise routine, or start one, during the holidays. Walking five times a week is a great way to stay in shape. There is also something about pounding the pavement that helps release frustrations and clears your head. If your looking out your window and the snow is flurrying and drifting, find an alternative. Many health clubs have indoor tracks. If that doesn’t appeal to you, check with the nearest shopping mall. Some open early just for walkers.

  7. Ideally caregivers should have a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly break.

Daily-Half an hour of yoga, meditation, needlepoint, reading, etc.
Weekly-A couple of hours spent away from the house at the mall, library, coffeehouse, etc.
Monthly-An evening out with your friends, a play, a concert, etc.
Yearly-A well-planned (and well-deserved) vacation.

Planning ahead for these breaks is imperative. You may need to arrange for respite care for your loved one.

It can be done. You can care for your loved one, attend to your daily activities, and enjoy the holidays. We all do what we can, and nobody should expect more than that from us. Especially us. Happy Holidays.

In Raleigh, NC contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, www.rgcmgmt.com

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