Category Archives: Family Caregiver

COVID Recovery: Rebuilding Human Connections

We can restore human connection and relationships post-COVID by understanding the importance of re-awakening the senses through the simple act of touch.

For nine months, we’ve been under COVID-19’s siege.  People residing in care communities are still confined to their rooms, cared for by overwhelmed team members shielded in protective gear and with no outside visitors.

Most certainly, this is devastating blow to any sense of well-being. Now we’re looking ahead to what changes 2021 may have in store. We may finally see a glimmer of hope as we anticipate our collective recovery from COVID.

Before looking forward, let’s glance at the toll on those the precautions keep safe. We’ve all seen first-hand or heard reports of social isolation and loneliness.

As humans, we all have a deep-rooted need for connection with others. We connect through voice, facial expression, body language, touch. Cut off from this bond, anxiety, depression, futility, decreased function, falls, and worsening dementia may set in. Some frail elders stop eating and wither, losing their desire to live.

Of course, every person is unique. Some are naturally resilient and able to better roll with the changes and find meaning in reading, music, and computer or phone calls.

However,   others don’t have the reserves to carry them through, as we see in elders with advanced dementia or other conditions, placing them more at risk for decline.

Our hats are off to all of you working so hard to try to create a connection. Arranging window or porch visits with families, distanced communal activities, video chats, and more.

Our Way Forward

Although we haven’t turned the corner yet to see the end of COVID, now is the time for conversations about how to open the doors again and rebuild lost human connections.

Going straight from “lockdown” to the “old way” probably isn’t an option. Creativity and flexibility is needed well into 2021.

Perhaps the basics is a good starting point. The senses offer a way to reach through the fog of prolonged isolation.

Compassionate Touch is a universal language of the heart that will help fill the void for elders, families, and the care team alike. Even now, a caring touch on the shoulder or a few kind words will help.

Physical closeness without the barrier of a window will make for better hearing and verbal understanding. And one day ahead, when protective equipment isn’t standard garb, facial expressions will be seen again.

Some states created an “essential caregiver” designation for family members, allowing them to help with care and provide companionship for loved ones.  This is a good step forward.

Regardless of how things unfold in your community, let’s keep the conversation going about how we will navigate the next phase—collective recovery.

These two links have powerful videos about the impact of isolation on elders, families, and care staff.

This Article was written by Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT, founder of Compassionate Touch, a program offered by AGE-u-cate Training Institute.

Grief During the Holiday Season: Making It Through

This year has been a challenging one to say the least. Grief over lost time with loved ones in long-term care is understandable. Also, not being able to say goodbye to a loved one due to quarantine restrictions certainly causes pain and anguish. The holiday season can amplify these feelings.

Making It Through

It may seem that the holidays are a time to survive, not enjoy. The sounds that accompany the holidays, including songs and bells ringing, can help or hinder. Sometimes it may feel helpful to have all of the distractions that the holidays bring. In other ways, it makes the loss of a loved one more obvious.

In getting through the holidays while grieving, there are some important things to consider. How many social appointments do you have to keep? Give yourself permission to stay home if that helps. Keep in mind that there may be friends and family members who do not understand your grief. There may be those who cannot handle your grief. Attending events with a friend who can support you can help.

What to Expect

You might experience unexpected moments of grief. Remember that grief does not resolve itself in a linear way. Even if there has been several months since your loss, grief can emerge unexpectedly. Be kind to yourself if or when this happens.

If possible, talk to your family members about ways to acknowledge the loved one during the holidays. Be patient with them as they encounter grief. They might not be willing to acknowledge the loss. Remember that we all grieve and recover in our own ways.

Even though it has been several years since my mother died, I still miss her and grieve her loss. I have my own ways to acknowledge her. During the holidays, I typically buy a package of her favorite holiday candy. Just having it in the house helps me remember her. Despite how strange that may sound, it brings me comfort. Once you give yourself permission to grieve and honor loved ones in your own way, you can help the healing process.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is an Advisor 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; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

Tough Choices from Tender Hearts: Caregiving During a Pandemic

About a month ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new guidelines that advocate family visitors to return to nursing homes. At this time only three states are not allowing visits. The guidelines provide specifics on how to visit a family member while remaining safe. Unfortunately, it still means making tough choices between a resident’s mental and physical health.

Reducing Social Isolation

These guidelines highlight the need for residents in long-term care to see family members and loved ones. With these guidelines in place, it helps to bring loved ones back together. What about caring for family members who remain at home? What are the recommendations for keeping everyone at home safe?

Guidelines for Home Visits

In May 2020, AARP published an article on steps to take in safely visiting older family members in their home. Those steps included keeping visits short and wearing protective masks and eyewear when possible. The article also suggested staying away if you feel sick, keeping younger family members away for the time being, and visiting while outside.

Making Tough Choices

Despite the good intentions of these guidelines, serious questions are raised. How are caregivers managing? They are making decisions based on what is best for their family members while balancing issues of safety, health, and protection. These kinds of decisions are not new in caregiving.

The combination of trying to provide care while maintaining social distance and health is even more difficult. And caregivers are also conflicted about bringing love ones into a nursing home and out of the home environment, even though it may be the best possible option.

Lessons Learned?

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the overwhelming need to address caregiving and those who provide it. We need to take the lessons learned from this ongoing experience and make better options for caregivers, both paid and unpaid. Caregivers continue to continue to give their best. It’s more than past the time to focus on their needs and provide better choices.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is an Advisor 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; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

Five Technology Innovations for Elders Living With Dementia

Technology can support safety and security for elders living in their homes.

Dementia is not only challenging for the person experiencing it, but it is also stressful and unsettling for loved ones.    However, as modern technology evolves, there are more options when it comes to caring for elders at home.

Technology cannot replace in-person care, however,  it can be a tool to help caregivers feel more secure.   Here are the top 5 technological innovations to consider if you have a loved one living at home with dementia.

1.    GPS Location and Tracking Devices

Sadly, seniors with dementia have been known to wander and get lost, placing themselves in danger. GPS tracking devices are an important technology for caregivers to consider.  The tracking device will send an alert when the elder has left a certain area and is capable of locating the person and notifying emergency personnel if necessary.

2.    In-Home Cameras

In-home cameras allow elders to be monitored at all times.  Some allow you to talk to your loved one, and others will alert you when there is movement in the room. In addition to checking in on your loved one, you will also be able to make sure that there are no intruders and that he or she has locked the doors, turned off the oven, and any other minor task that could put him or her in danger. Consider installing these cameras in multiple rooms of your loved one’s home and be sure to get the entire room in the range of view.

3.    Communication Aids

As modern technology evolves, the way that humans communicate has also evolved. For some family members that do not live close to their loved ones, technology will help them stay connected.  Family members should ask their loved one’s caregiver to assist with connecting via Facetime, Skype, or Zoom for a video-chat visit.

4.    Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensor lights have the ability to save lives as elders,  and especially those with dementia, are subject to falls at night. Seniors often trip and fall in the dark and the injuries that they suffer from these falls can be life-threatening and altering. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Motion lights are a technological solution to this issue.

Motion lights will detect movement in a room and can make getting around easier.  Instead of risking a fall walking to a light switch, the lights will turn on as soon as the elder stands up.  This technological innovation will help to support a safer environment for older adults.

5.    VitalTech

This cloud-based platform is an outstanding innovation worth considering. Launched in 2018, this technology comes in the form of a band worn by the elder. In addition to medication reminders, the VitalBand can also track:

  • Vital signs; heart and respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, etc.
  • Falls
  • Sleep quality
  • Physical activity

In case of injury, or when vital signs are questionable, the band will contact emergency services, allowing for 24/7 safety. Without delay,   information can be tracked and reported to medical providers.

Technology Advantage

It may be helpful to implement technology options to assist with caring for a loved one living with dementia and offer you more peace of mind.

About the Author

AGE-u-cate welcomes Kelsey Simpson as a guest contributor.

Kelsey Simpson enjoys writing about things that can help others.  She currently works and writes for Comfort Keepers, in-home senior care.  She lives in South Jersey and is the proud companion to two German Shepherds and spends her free time volunteering in dog shelters.