Category Archives: Senior Care Professionals

Joy and Dignity with Alzheimer’s

Create moments of joy for persons with Alzheimer’s and leave them with lasting positive feelings.

When telling people about my work, the response I almost always get is, “I know someone with Alzheimer’s.” A comment that usually follows is, “and it is so awful.”

Yes, having Alzheimer’s is awful. It robs people of their memories, independence, and cognitive functions. Many times, we refer to people with Alzheimer’s as “suffering” with it.

We cannot minimize the suffering, but we also shouldn’t maximize it. Finding moments of joy can help balance “suffering with” and “living with” Alzheimer’s.

Find Joy and Dignity

I participate in a networking group, “Cognitive and Memory Professionals (CAMP).” This group is lead by Dan Kuhn, Vice President of Education with All Trust Home Care in Hinsdale, IL.  The purpose of this group is to discuss current thinking about caring for persons with the many varieties of cognitive impairment.

Recently, we read and then discussed the book, “Dementia Reimagined” by Tia Powell, MD. The tag line for the book is “Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End.”

In my thirty-one years working in long term care, I can recite story after story of the fun and laughter shared with persons with Alzheimer’s.  The reason is this- people with Alzheimer’s forget the facts, but they remember the feelings. By making someone with Alzheimer’s feel good, loved, respected, and dignified is where joy is found.

To illustrate, a colleague at the AGE-u-cate Training Institute likened this to feelings about our kindergarten teacher. While we probably don’t remember specific conversations or interactions, we know if the teacher made us feel good or bad. We will either smile or cringe when we think back depending on the experience.

Friends, by looking through a different lens, perhaps we can discover joy lurking underneath life with Alzheimer’s.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  Julie provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving for family and professional caregivers.  In addition, she is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

Resolutions for Caregivers: Planning for Self Care

January is typically the time for creating resolutions for the new year. The focus is usually on fitness, making healthy changes and working on a “new you” for the new year. There can be a lot of planning involved, depending on how seriously the resolutions are being taken. With caregiving, there is always a great deal of planning. AARP has a guide on planning. Caregivers also could benefit from planning for self-care, respite, and time for themselves, one of the most challenging and important parts of caregiving.

For caregivers making resolutions for the new year, the planning process can involve resolving what to keep that works well for you as a caregiver and eliminate what does not.

Here are a few suggestions for making resolutions:

Keep people around you who provide support and help you take care of yourself. Take time to continually reach out to that person when you need some support or to vent in a safe space.

Keep remembering that you are doing the best you can with the information you have now. Even if the information and situation changes, you will make the best decisions possible, given the circumstances.

Keep doing the things that bring you peace, whether it is a nap, exercise, or something else that helps you take a break. Accept help where and when you can.

Keep taking care of yourself, in whatever way you can, as much as you can.

Keep taking each day one at a time, handling what is in front of you now.

Get rid of the feeling that you need to do everything for your loved one.

Get rid of any guilt that might come from taking a break. Taking care of yourself will help you take care of your loved one.

Get rid of any feelings that you are not doing enough. You are doing all you can, which is enough.

Depending where you are in your caregiving role, these resolutions may seem feasible or unrealistic. Thinking back to when I was a caregiver for my mom, I’m not sure how many of these resolutions I would have embraced. I can only see the value of these resolutions only after the fact. When you are in the middle of chaos, it’s hard to know where to start or how you can continue. Some days are easier, and some days are harder; it is a daily process. It’s easy to demand more from yourself but be patient with yourself. Manage your expectations for what you can realistically accomplish and what needs more time and effort.

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; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

Celebrate Seniors in Long Term Care

Long Term Care should continue to celebrate it’s seniors. In doing so, we might just change the narrative associated with long term care.

I read with great interest John O’Connor’s article “10 Bold Predictions About the Year Ahead in Long Term Care” that appeared in McKnight’s Long Term Care. Unfortunately, 9/10 of the predictions are negative.

Sadly, his predictions are not off base.  Therefore, what needs to happen to turn-around the negative narrative about nursing homes?

One possible answer I found also appeared in McKnight’s. GaryTetz discussed the idea of a growing societal appreciation of seniors. Could this be true? Is society developing a stronger appreciation for seniors?  If we genuinely valued seniors, our long term care system would not be in such a mess. Accordingly, we would have a vital and thriving long term care system that isn’t fighting for survival every day.

None of us individually has the power to change societal views or unwind the overwhelming challenges in long term care.  In addition, the negativity that swirls around the long term care industry can hijack our energies and make us forget why we work in this business.

For this reason, we must remember that we have the power and responsibility to celebrate and honor our seniors.

Changing the Long Term Care Narrative

An organization that honors seniors is “One Dream.” Located in the Chicago area, One Dream is a not for profit that was created in 2014 to bring happiness, meaning, and excitement into the lives of deserving, lower-income seniors. They make dreams come true for seniors and restores dignity and hope.

Bethesda Rehab and Senior Care, a skilled nursing community in Chicago, celebrates the creativity of their seniors by hosting an annual art exhibition, showcasing their works of fine art.

The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills, IL, has their assisted living residents write blogs for their website.  As an example, this is a tremendous way to honor the wisdom of their seniors.

In conclusion, the Long Term Care Industry should drive the narrative about the vibrant lives of their seniors.  To that end, let’s continue to celebrate our seniors more loudly and boldly than ever before!

It would be amazing to see more positives on the McKnight’s list for 2021.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  Julie provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving for family and professional caregivers.  In addition, she is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

Aging Services Future Focus

The rails may seem long and never-ending, but there are stops along the way. Aging Services providers keep looking to the future.

On the brink of a new decade, I contemplate what the next ten years will look like for the aging services industry. Reflecting on the past provides me some hope for the future. In some respects, we have come a long way.  By the same token, we should maintain a future focus and continue to develop more strategies that support the quality of living of frail elders.

One future focus could be to equip our caregivers with best practice strategies to respond to resident behaviors utilizing therapeutic approaches. 

We realized years ago that physical and chemical restraints weren’t the answer. The emergence of Compassionate Touch, Music & Memory, and Joy for All Companion Pets are best practice possibilities. All of these interventions provide a non-pharmacological approach to improving quality of life.  Expressive touch, music, and pets to love address basic human needs of connection, inclusion, and purpose, to name a few.

A second future focus could be to educate our employees about the process of aging and dementia to demystify, normalize, and create an environment of understanding and acceptance.

Can we say that our caregivers understand the process of aging? In addition, do they comprehend and empathize with the struggle of living with memory loss and sensory changes?  To that end, employee education creates empathetic caregivers, and that leads to better care. In the same way,  this is also true for family members.  More understanding leads to better care partners.

As one example, the educational program Dementia Live provides caregivers with an inside-out understanding of what it is like to live with dementia. It is a powerful experience for employees and family members.

Workforce

A third future focus could be to cultivate a revitalized workforce.

The workforce challenges that face the aging services industry seems overwhelming and hopeless.  But keep this in mind, nurses did not take care of post-heart transplant patients twenty years ago in skilled nursing.  We rose to the challenge. Nothing is impossible.  Providers alone cannot entirely solve this problem. However, there are things to do that can get the ball rolling.

In conclusion, while the future may look daunting, consider how far we have come over the previous 10-20 years. Celebrate the evolution of an industry that was once “warehousing,” and face the future with boldness and ample self-care, we will need it.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  Julie provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving for family and professional caregivers.  In addition, she is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.