All posts by Kathy Dreyer

Caregiving during the holidays: Acceptance and support

As Julie Boggess remarked in her recent blog, informal caregivers and the care they provide for care recipients represents a substantial part of the long-term care support system. Caring for a loved one with dementia is challenging and can be difficult. Both stress and burnout in caregiving are all too common, as Pam Brandon’s blog notes. This is especially true during the holiday season. The extra demands that accompany this time of year make getting the regular things done more challenging, and the expectations for getting everything done can be overwhelming.

With the holiday season upon us, how can caregivers reduce stress and the potential for burnout? There are several good resources that provide strategies. AARP offers 10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays. These tips provide suggestions for managing holiday activities while being a caregiver. Also, the National Institute on Aging provides hints for making the holidays more enjoyable.

One of the best ways to prepare for the additional stress the holidays bring is to manage expectations. Be prepared to discuss changes with people who may not have seen the family member in several months. It is good to prepare for the potential questions about the care being offered and medical management. Questions and offers of advice may not be helpful, but remember you are doing the best you can with the information you have now.

When my mom was moved into the nursing home, sharing her care was difficult. After working with the certified nursing assistants to help them understand who my mom had been, and what her preferences were, sharing her care was a relief. It was also beneficial to see people caring for my mom who only knew her as she was at that time. Seeing how they worked with her helped me come to terms with who she had become. Sometimes it may take seeing a person through someone else’s eyes to accept where you and the person are. And acceptance can bring relief and peace, which is always beneficial.

Overall, remember to be patient with yourself and the person you are caring for. Do your best to accept what others can offer. Some people have the capacity to give in certain ways, but it may not be in the way that you would prefer. Let go of what you can. Acceptance can bring relief, whether it is in accepting help or accepting changes.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;

Hospital Readmissions: Challenges for the Patient and Caregiver

Hospital readmissions can be costly, in terms of the effect on the patient being readmitted and the related expenses. The American Health Care Association (AHCA) established a Quality Initiative (Initiative) to support the level of care in both the long-term care and post-acute care settings. The Initiative aligns with programs underway by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to address long-term care challenges and costs related to hospital readmissions.

CMS implemented the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) to reduce payments to hospitals with excessive readmissions as compared to other hospitals. The program, which started in 2010 and began assessing penalties in 2012, reviews hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge for six conditions: myocardial infarction, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, elective primary total hip arthroplasty and/or total knee arthroplasty and pneumonia.

While a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia can experience many health conditions, the incidence of pneumonia can be particularly challenging. According to the National Institute on Aging, persons with Alzheimer’s disease can be prone to pneumonia in the later stages of the disease due to potential food aspiration. A person with Alzheimer’s disease is likely to be hospitalized during the disease.

Hospital stays for both the person with dementia and their care partner can be problematic and a source of agitation for several reasons. Moving a person with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias from a known environment to one that is unknown will likely be disruptive for that person. If the hospitalization is the result of an emergency, both the person with dementia and the care partner will likely be more stressed. Also, transferring into a hospital setting provides several challenges. Typically the person will not know many of the persons providing care in the hospital. These staff members may not have experience, information, or understanding about the unique needs of a person with dementia related to their care. Information about the best ways to accommodate a person with dementia is needed, but even those accommodations may not be feasible. If a care partner or family member is not be available to stay the night with the person, additional challenges can result. The National Institute on Aging has a tip sheet for care partners preparing for potential hospitalizations. Following the NIA guidelines can help care partners plan, yet if the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease must be readmitted shortly after discharge, any challenges that occurred previously may occur again.

The Alzheimer’s Association created a policy brief to address reducing potentially preventable hospitalizations for those with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. Based on these guidelines, support for the care partner and the patient is needed, both in the home and community setting. The utilization of the strategies, outlined by the Alzheimer’s Association, National Institute on Aging, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the American Health Care Association can have a positive impact on the care of those with dementia and their care partners to reduce potential costs and improve health outcomes related to hospital stays and readmissions.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;

Certified Nursing Aides in Nursing Homes: The Crisis at Hand

I don’t remember their names or all they did, but I can still see the faces of the certified nursing aides who provided care to my mother when she was in a nursing home. Mostly, the people providing the day-to-day caring for my mother were young, probably in their twenties or thirties, female, and African American. I wish I could state that they all took excellent care of my mom, but there were a few workers who were either cruel or benign in their care. Luckily, my sister and I were able to visit our mom every day and we got to know the certified nursing aides well, intervening as needed.

Overall, the certified nursing aides who provided care during the last years of my mom’s life were a mix of caring, engaging, and personable workers who got to know my mom, my sister and me. One of the women that worked there shared a love of reading with me, and we exchanged books. Another woman was thoughtful enough to bring my sister and me small souvenirs when she came back from vacation. These women knew my mom, could understand her means of communication, and her moods. They also helped to support my sister and me in our caregiving.

Certified nursing aides (CNA) provide the day-to-day basic and much-needed care for people like my mom, but clearly there are not enough people filling this this role. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% increase in the need for CNAs from 2018 to 2028, but it is more of an ongoing challenge. An American Society on Aging, article from May/June 2011 issue of Aging Today called it a caregiver crisis. The number of adults aged 65 years and older continues to increase, while there is a lack of enough personnel who are educationally, professionally, and emotionally capable to serve elders. There is a genuine need for more training, recruitment, and intentional planning to fill the much-needed role of caregiving in the long-term care setting. Retention is also a continuing problem. The nature of work to be performed, accompanied by a low rate of pay, makes for providing a continued level of care difficult for both the caregiver and the recipient.

Even though it has been nearly 20 years since my mom was in a nursing home, the demographics of certified nursing aides is similar, as the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute’s (PHI) report on US nursing assistants employed in nursing homes demonstrates. Unfortunately, it also seems not much has changed in terms of how quickly the role of CNA needs to be filled, and refilled, and the nature of the role does not get any easier.

The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) created a recruitment and retention guide for employers that provides guidance and recommendations, such as providing employment supports, inviting employees to provide input and feedback and other strategies. It will take concerted efforts from those in a position to make changes to support certified nursing assistants in their crucial role in the long-term care setting. We need more caregivers like the ones who connected with my mom, my sister, and me, and feel empowered to provide the best care possible.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;


Person-centered programs

Innovation in long term care communities: early versus late adopters

Innovation in the long-term care setting can take many forms. It can be a novel technology, an inventive volunteer program, or an innovative training class. No matter what the offering is, the willingness to try something new to benefit elders in the long-term care setting is always worth attempting.

In exploring new, innovative projects in the long-term care setting, there can be two types of adopters: early and late. Those communities who are early adopters want to be the first to try something new. They are not afraid of risk or to make mistakes. They will test new approaches and identify ways to refine the process as needed, developing best practices to help build upon lessons learned.

Bringing a new, innovative project into the long-term care setting can also provide a competitive advantage by distinguishing a community as one that offers services that other communities do not. Elders, families, and staff will recognize the community’s commitment to trying new concepts and projects to enhance and improve resident care and quality of life.

The drawbacks in being an early adopter can include the emergence of unknown, unexpected costs to make changes and adaptations to test a new, unknown project. There are also risks involved, especially in the potential unknown effects on residents and staff of a new project. Additionally, the implementation of a new, untested project can affect the workload of employees who are likely already over-burdened while being asked to try a new project.

There are also benefits and drawbacks in being a late adopter. By adopting a project or idea late, the existing kinks likely have been worked out, making it easier to implement and potentially less costly to undertake. The benefits for implementing a project may be well known by the time a late adopter brings it to the community which may make the implementation process more worthwhile. Drawbacks to adopting late include the delay in providing elders with the benefits of an innovative program. Further, there may be more costs to elders that might have been avoided if the program had been attempted.

Despite the benefits and challenges in being an early or late adopter, there are some programs which are beneficial to adopt early. The National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes (Partnership) works to improve the quality of care for individuals with dementia who live in nursing homes. Part of the Partnership’s mission includes a focus on addressing the amount of antipsychotic medications individuals with dementia are prescribed. According to a memo from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Clinical Standards and Quality/Quality, Safety & Oversight Group , from 2011 to 2018, there has been a national decrease of nearly 40 percent (38.9) in the number of nursing home residents receiving an antipsychotic medicine; however, more work can be done to reduce the use of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes.

As recently as December 2017, there were 1,500 nursing homes identified by the Partnership as late adopters, which are nursing homes with a sustained high or relatively unchanged rate of antipsychotic medication use, or their antipsychotic medication usage continued to be above average without a high percentage of schizophrenic elders in the nursing home.

In order to address these findings, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is providing technical assistance and support to late adopters. There will be enhanced oversight and enforcement actions to support these nursing homes in addressing their high rate of antipsychotic medication use. These strategies will be useful in helping these nursing  homes implement the changes and strategies needed to address the rate of antipsychotic medication use.  The return on that investment of time and personnel to implement programs like those can be significant, in terms of improving elder care, which is always worth attempting, whether early or late.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;