Tag Archives: family caregiver

How to Put Caregiver Coping Skills into Practice – Today!

Stress is simply a part of life.  Think about each and every stressor that affects our lives almost daily.  Here are just a few to think about:  traffic, annoying telemarketing calls (what telemarketing calls aren’t annoying?), junk mail, the news, job demands, airline delays (let’s just airports in general), and the list goes on.  Life is complicated, stressful and caregiving is even more so on just about every level.  So instead of talking about eliminating stressors, let’s talk about how caregivers can put coping skills into practice so that falling into the traps of anxiety, depression and more is eliminated or decreased as much as possible.

The reason I call it coping skills is because it’s just that.  We have to learn skills and approach it as such.  Learning new ways of dealing with, reacting to and accepting things all is wrapped up in how we learn to cope with situations that are for the most part out of our control.  When we learn to cope well, we are healthier!  That’s right – stress causes all kinds of negatives, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating, alcohol and drug use, weight gain or loss, and overall it makes you not a nice person to be around.

How we seek and apply solutions to stressful situations or problems that emerge is all about applying coping skills – that is healthy coping skills.  Some coping skills that are not healthy and can perpetuate even greater stress include

  • defensiveness
  • avoidance
  • self-harm
  • passiveness

Believe it or not, we can practice coping skills with our conscious minds.  In other words, we can learn new mechanisms for dealing with what comes our way.  And we can choose how we will react to the stressors in life.

As a champion for you caregivers, I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that I’m giving you advice that I did not always heed myself.  Probably because in the midst of the chaos and stress I was so caught up in it, I chose not to stop long enough and listen to what my body was telling me or what others had to say.  Coping skills have been around for ages, but 20 plus years ago there wasn’t quite as much talk about the health risks of caregivers.  There just weren’t as many of us around.  Now – well – caregivers of aging parents, spouses and other loved ones are EVERYWHERE.

So let me give you some sound advice from the years I have had in helping others walk the caregiving journey.

  • First, learn as much you can about the person you are caring for!  Learn about their illness (thank goodness for google), accompany them to doctor visits and have good questions, bring a notebook and good heavens, keep everything together in a 3-ring binder so you can stay organized.  Realize that as a primary or secondary caregiver, healthcare advocacy and management is a big part of your job, so learn to be curious, ask questions and above all, have your loved one’s best interest at heart.
  • Start now on a daily practice of meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise for stress reduction (whatever that might be for you), and learn breathing techniques for relaxation.  I want to stress proper breathing since you can practice this anywhere and throughout the day.  Proper breathing enhances relaxation, reduces stress and has a lengthy list of long-term health benefits, supporting our nervous system, supports physical, mental and emotional health and well being.  See the Foundations of Yogic Breathing workshop
    for learning new coping skills simply through deep breathing.
  • Don’t be a caregiver martyr.  I apologize for being so blunt, but as a self-confessed martyr myself, I feel the need to share how destructive this can be to yourself and those around you.  The Caregiver Martyr Syndrome sounds like this:  “I’m the ONLY one Mom trusts to take care of her so please don’t even think about stepping in.  I’m fine and can handle it”.  Sorry to say, but no one can be another’s ‘one and only’, especially for someone who needs 24/7 care.  Caregiver Marty syndrome is real and will be the quickest spiral downward to anger, resentment, depression, and goodness knows what else.
  •  Although family dynamics can get very sticky, especially when caring for older adults with chronic illness such as dementia, try your very best to keep the lines of communication open.  We have so many ways to keep families in the know without making individual phone calls every time something comes up, use today’s technology (group texts, emails or even private FB groups) to keep others informed.
  • Learn to ask for help – graciously.   First, you must know what kind of help you would like, and then you need to practice asking for that help in a friendly and kind manner.  Accept that you cannot do it all, and allow others the blessings of helping, which by the way, is very healthy for both the giver and receiver!
  •  By all means, get organized with legal and financial matters that must be tended to.  Believe it or not, when you take care of these things it will lessen your emotional burdens.  Check it off the list and you can move on to meeting other needs of your loved ones.
  • Practice living in the moment and cherish the time you have with your loved one.  Believe it or not, we have the choice as to how we want to spend this time with our loved one.  I would not have traded my time as a caregiver for my parents for anything.  Although the journey was very difficult, it was filled with so many blessings, life lessons, and sweet memories that are the real gems of what we get out of this life.Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute® and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  She is a champion for caregivers around the world, and the creator of internationally recognized Dementia Live® sensitivity and awareness training experience.  
    http://www.AGEucate.com

 

 

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout Not to Miss

It is a rare occasion when either speaking to or meeting with family caregivers that I do not have tucked away this invaluable list of signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout to share with them before I leave.    My advice to caregivers is to print this list out and place in a plastic sleeve and tape it to your bathroom mirror.  Every single day you should be aware of these signs – often that creep in slowly- and zap our ability to cope, quickly leading to caregiver burnout.

What should you do if you see yourself exhibiting these signs or symptoms?  Be proactive, and seek out a caregiver support group, licensed professional counselor, Stephen Minister or pastoral counselor at your faith community or a healthcare professional.

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. … Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.  It can often lead to anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent.  

With over 44 million unpaid caregivers in the US alone,  it is imperative that we are all looking out for others – this fast-growing and vulnerable population who desperately needs support, education, and access to resources.   Caregiver burnout can lead to neglect and abuse for those whom they are caring for.  It is a serious public health issue and too often goes unnoticed as caregivers tend to isolate themselves, especially when they are stressed.

Please print this list out and share with others who are caring for a loved one:

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

  1. Altered eating patterns
  2. Increased sugar consumption or use of alcohol or drugs
  3. Increased smoking or strong desire to start again
  4. Frequent headaches or sudden onset of back pain
  5. Increased reliance on over-the-counter pain remedies or prescribed drugs
  6. Irritability
  7. High levels of fear or anxiety
  8. Impatience
  9. The inability to handle one or more problems or crises
  10. Overreacting to commonplace accidents
  11. Overreacting to criticism
  12. Feelings of anger toward a spouse, child or older care recipient
  13. Alienation
  14. Feeling emotional withdrawal
  15. Feeling trapped
  16. Thinking of disappearing or running away
  17. Not being able to laugh or feel joy
  18. Withdrawing from activities and the lives of others
  19. Feeling hopeless
  20. Loss of compassion
  21. Resenting the care recipient and/or the situation
  22. Neglecting or mistreating the care recipient
  23. Frequently feeling totally alone even though friends and family are present
  24. Wishing simply “to have the whole thing over with”
  25. Playing the “If only” games; saying over and over “if only this would happen’; or “If only this had not happened”

Pam Brandon is President/Founder is AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.   For more information on our training for professional and family caregivers, please visit our website.  

http://www.AGeucate.com

Easy Way to Connect with Grandparents from Miles Away

Want to connect with your grandmother or grandfather but can’t go the miles to see them and don’t know what to say over the phone?

Stop feeling guilty and start writing! Here are some quick and easy ideas and tips on how to connect and what to say!

Use the US mail, don’t rely on text or email. Send your love and hugs by way of a meaningful postcard, notecard, or short letter.  Include a photo from time to time. Postcards and notes can be enjoyed over and over again and will bring new smiles each time. Plus, your card and photo can be shown with pride to friends, care-partnering staff, and other family members.  Concerned your grandparent can’t see or read your note? They will enjoy holding it close and looking at it and someone else will read it aloud to them.

Don’t overthink what you write! Write a few words to express feelings of love and gratitude. The feelings of love and joy that you create through your cards will flush through an elder’s whole being and stay with them long after your note is read.

Getting started:

  1. Buy an assortment of postcards whenever you travel or buy a box of assorted note cards. When buying note cards, get ones that speak to your grandparent’s interests and preferences. Such as ones with photos or sketches of flowers, or birds, scenery, cats or dogs, or old Americana.
  2. Address and stamp each postcard or envelop. Now your notes are halfway complete!
  3. Write multiple notes at one time and mail them a week or more apart.
  4. To accommodate diminished vision, use large and legible lettering.
  5. Get in the habit of sending one of the cards on a regular basis. Whatever works for your schedule whether it is monthly or weekly or less often. But, do it! You will be glad you did!
  6. When on a short or long trip, send a postcard. Share your adventures. It does not matter that you will be home before the postcard arrives in their mail. Remember, it is your thoughtfulness that counts and the smile that gets delivered.

Thoughts on what to say:

  1. Express your love, give compliments, and share happy times, upbeat memories and emotions. This is particularly important if you are writing to a loved one with dementia. As dementia progresses, an individual is most able to connect through words that trigger emotions and feelings.
  2. Share your adventures through travel postcards! Postcards are great for letting an elder know that you are thinking of them. Remind them of how much you enjoyed going on trips with them when you were little or hearing about their trips to the beach or to the mountains. Thank them for inspiring your love of traveling. Bring your words back to thoughts of your grandparent; remind them how wonderful you think they are, and how much you love them.
  3. For your grandparent who loved to BBQ, bake, or cook amazing Sunday dinners, remind them of your favorite dishes or desserts that only they could prepare. If writing to your grandmother, let her know of your attempts to make it and how it turned out. Tell her it was almost as tasty and pretty as hers and that it was a big hit with your friends. Thank her for teaching you how to make it and sharing her recipes. Tell her how you happily bragged to your friends that it was your grandmother’s recipe! Give her compliments and you are sure to raise a smile.  Let her know if you burned it but will try again. That too will bring a smile.
  4. For a grandparent who was a gardener, get cards with beautiful plants and flowers on the front and remind them how much you enjoyed their fresh flowers, the roses, the iris, or potted geraniums. Let your grandparent know that you can actually still conjure up the scent of their beautiful yellow roses. Add a sprinkle of floral essential oil or perfume to your card.
  5. For the outdoorsman, send postcards of mountains, trails, fishing, and big-sky country.
  6. To the grandparent who could repair anything, share a story of something you repaired!
  7. If you’re a student, update your grandparent on your studies. They will be proud of your accomplishments. Share your favorite subject, especially, if that subject is important to your grandparent.

Whatever you write, focus on helping your grandparent enjoy the moment! That is the most meaningful and loving way to stay connected from afar.

The feel-good moments you create will be enjoyed repeatedly – each time they pull your card from their pocket, desk, or bag, they will have another opportunity to enjoy it and smile.

Your cards and words will help your grandparent stay engaged in your life, give their life added meaning, and both of you will benefit from the loving feelings expressed.

 For more good ideas on how to stay connected with a loved one, go to www.360eldersolutions.com or contact, Sue S. Wilson, LMSW at sue@360eldersolutions.com to make an appointment for a free initial 30-minute consultation.  Sue is a Certified Trainer for AGE-u-cate® Training Institute.  

http://www.360eldersolutions.com

www.AGEucate.com

Please Don’t Forget the Hot Fudge Sundae… and other Dining Tips

As my mother’s Parkinson’s Disease progressed,  it was very apparent that food and the mealtime experience became more important to her.  So much so, that I remember saying “Mom’s still finds joy in yummy food”.  That said, her “yummy” was not always the healthiest, but we wanted her to be happy.  We knew that healthy foods were important, but probably not as important  as the joy of witnessing her with excitement dig in to a chocolate fudge sundae with extra whipped cream.  Now THAT was a  quality dining experience!

At some point, certain foods either don’t appeal to older adults due to medications, loss of taste sensation or because it becomes too hard to chew and swallow.   Finding the balance between “healthy” and “joy” hits home as we see our loved ones world get smaller and they have less to look forward to on a daily basis.  The dining experience to us was wherever it happened to take place.  That might be at the dining table,  sitting up in bed, or relaxing on the patio.   As a family we expected that experience to include:

  • Food that was visually appealing – a colorful mix and variety on the plate.  Too much food turned her off, and she would simply push it away.  So less was always better.  If she wanted more she would ask for it
  • A relaxing environment with minimal chatter and over-stimulating noises, especially TV
  • One or two people to engage with while eating.  Much more than that and it became to distracting and we noticed she would eat less
  • Foods that were easy to pick up with fork and spoon, easy to chew and swallow.  That meant small pieces, fish instead of meat, pasta that could be picked up easily with a fork (spaghetti noodles were a disaster!), and food within easy reach
  • Condiments and spices nearby that she could ask for you embellish her food and someone to help her with this
  • Never EVER forget the dessert

Whether your loved one is living at home or in a community based setting, the environment in which they are eating , the details of how the food is presented and ease of eating as independently as possible is very important.  It can be one of their few joys in life, so pay attention to the the little things, because they often so important.  Instead of looking at it as a chore, what a difference it would make if it were viewed as an experience.

And please don’t forget the hot fudge sundae…

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a  passionate advocate for older adults and their caregivers.  

www.AGEucate.com