Category Archives: Family Caregiver

The Importance of Education for Informal Caregivers

Members of the First United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, IL attend an Eldercare Educational Program about Understanding the Continuum of Eldercare.

Today, family members and other private individuals provide the bulk of care for frail older adults. According to The National Alliance for Caregiving, approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months.  The assigned dollar value of unpaid caregiving is a staggering $470 billion.

Informal caregivers are a critical link in the system of eldercare. The care and support that is provided delays, and may even prevent the need for institutional care. Equally, we must acknowledge the financial impact that the informal caregiving system has on our nation. Consider the increased stress on the Medicaid system without these caregivers.

The American Association of Retired Persons offers a terrific directory of resources available to family caregivers. There are many agencies, both public and private, that exist to provide resources for family caregivers. To that end, caregivers can access website links, pamphlets, resource guides, and a plethora of other informational sources.

Importance of Education for Caregivers

Yet, with all of these resources, so many family caregivers still feel lost and overwhelmed. I have observed many caregivers who don’t know what they don’t know.  In addition, it is paralyzing for them to know where to start.

Caregiver education should be a more robust component of our eldercare system.  Education that leads to increased knowledge is necessary so that people can feel empowered and access the correct resources.

Caregivers need to understand the process of aging.  As astutely stated by The Age-u-cate Training Institute, it is hard to care for someone that you don’t understand.  Consequently, when caregivers feel like they are in the dark, stress, and frustration ensues.  Therefore, helping caregivers to understand what is going on will better equip them to find the right resources and ask the right questions.  Knowledge is empowering.

To list, a sample of educational topics for caregivers:

Creating opportunities to provide knowledge will increase understanding and compassion, reduce stress, and strengthen the process of caregiving.  In addition, it will improve the relationships between caregiver and receiver.

 

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.  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.

Wisdom from a Friend with Dementia

 

Seek the wisdom that can be lost under the weight of memory loss in persons living with dementia.

Dementia hit close to home for me recently. It had probably been six or so years since I had last seen a friend and former co-worker. He had fallen out of sight, and now I know why. I learned of his whereabouts and paid him a visit. It started with mild cognitive impairment that has advanced to late-mid stage dementia.

I was so glad that he recognized me. We had a wonderful conversation and reminisced about people we knew and past work projects. But, as time went on, he became lost in the conversation. He was evaluating proposals, preparing to consult, and critiquing management.

Always contemplating, analyzing, envisioning, planning. That is what this man did. The beautiful thing, he still is.  The wisdom is there when entering his reality.

Wisdom

My friend said some pretty amazing things. The first was when we were talking about purpose in life. “We all need to germinate something wonderful and wise,” he said. My friend is eager to share his wisdom, and being surrounded by people who will listen provides him purpose and quality of life.

Referring to the people who work where he lives, he said that it is just as important for him to know them as it is for them to know him. It pleases him when people call him by name. It is important to him that they know who he is, and he delights when introducing his caregivers by name.

The importance of relationships between care partners is something my friend taught others back in the day. In fact, he introduced me to David Troxel’s philosophy, “Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care.” I saw before my eyes how incredibly important that is for my friend.

It is comforting to know that my friend’s personhood, the things that make him special, are still there.  Dementia does not define him. He has long-term memories with attached feelings. He continues to teach others about dementia- both how to live with it and what it takes to provide good care with quality of life.

I asked if I could share his wisdom in a blog. He said he had to think about it and then asked what the distribution and market reach would be. Yep- always thinking.

May we always seek to know the person living with dementia, and let them know us too.  Seek their wisdom, you will learn much.

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.  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.

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; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

 

A Special Grandparent’s Day

Lessons from an old tree.

You might be wondering why a picture of an old tree? This tree caught my attention while on a walk through a nearby forest preserve. I studied its shape, holes, splinters, and ragged edges. I didn’t know then why it captivated me so, but it did.

This tree, such as it is, a shell of itself from long ago still stands. How miraculous is this? Despite the trauma over the years, damaging winds, hail, heavy snow and ice, it still stands. Indeed, time is stamped on this tree, and its roots are weaker and deteriorated.  But it stands proudly, majestically demonstrating its resilience and strength.

I’ll call her Matilda (my grandmother’s name). Imagine the experiences she lived through and the stories she could tell. If only we had the opportunity to learn from this wise old oak. I would love to know what this forest preserve was like 50 or maybe even 100 years ago.

I speculate that sometimes Matilda had to dig deep for water and call on strength to brace against the hard times. But, she also got to bask in the glory of the nourishing sun and gentle rains and was probably thankful for the good times.  Her wisdom is unmatched in the forest, I am sure.

Matilda likely housed many critters over the years and created a safe space for them to call home. How many different species did she encounter over time? Insects, rodents, mammals, birds, canines felines, all in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Some may have taken advantage of her, but hopefully, most treated her with kindness and respect.

A Little Extra for Grandparents Day

This tree personifies grandparents for me, and that’s why I admire it so much.  I think it is true that you don’t know what you had until it is gone.  Three of my grandparents didn’t see me graduate from high school, and the last, my grandfather, died when my daughter was six years old.  She has only a faint memory of him.

It’s not too late to extend Grandparent’s day.   I know I would if I could.

I attribute my love for working with and advocating for the welfare of older adults to the loving relationship I had with both sets of grandparents. The memories I have of them all fill my heart with that longing to have just one more conversation.

Grandparents deserve to be celebrated! Congress had this right in 1978 when Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation.

If you have the good fortune to have a living grandparent, learn all you can from your beautiful, wise tree.

 

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.  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.