Make Your Voice Heard

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We are living today in unprecedented times for sure. If you listen to the 24-hour news cycle, you hear frequently changing advice, instructions, or warnings. The outbreak of COVID-19 has come upon us suddenly and has thrust us into an environment in which, no matter where you live, fear may have become your daily companion.

As a family caregiver, you have many reasons to experience fear caused by the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic. First, your loved one might be in the most vulnerable population, and you worry that s/he will contract the virus. Next, you fear that you will catch the virus, and either be unable to provide the care to your mom or dad or even worse, that you will infect them before you know that you are ill! You fear for the economy, for the loss of your job or your friend or spouse’s job, or even that there won’t be any food left by the time you get to the grocery store. And worst of all, what if there’s no toilet paper left? These are strange times, indeed.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can be paralyzing, and it can become a barrier that prevents us from focusing on the most important things. When we experience fear, our brains move from their rational, reasoning part (the frontal cortex), to the fight-or-flight part (the amygdala), which gives us our emotions and survival instincts. We stop reasoning and start reacting, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. As believers and followers of Christ, we need to cling to and claim God’s promises. Remember, we are called to live, not in fear, but in faith that God is in control, and He will give us all that we need, exactly when we need it. Even the toilet paper!

During this time of social distancing and self-imposed quarantines, we all have time to draw closer to God through Scripture study, personal prayer, and worship. Communities cancel concerts and events, professional and amateur sports teams put seasons on hold, and groups and churches stop meeting together. Employers move their people home or give furloughs for the coming weeks or months. During this time of dwindling distractions and decreasing obligations, believers have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world what is really important, and far more powerful than the Coronavirus.

While we may not be able to gather in person, we can come to the foot of the cross together in spirit. We can also “gather” socially and speak truth to a world quaking in fear. Use your social media platforms to raise your voice and be heard over the din of the world’s whining and proclaim your faith in what is truly important…that Jesus Christ is your Lord and your God will overcome this sickness because He is the Great Physician. Remember 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “… God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s time to speak up and make your voice heard!

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about proclaiming your assurance of salvation during these challenging times.

Hope Springs Eternal!

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March 17: Hope Springs Eternal

 As we are each grappling with the concerns of COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, that seem to bring new concerns and challenges with every passing day, Chris and I  hope through this week’s blog to offer encouragement and support for all family caregivers everywhere who are caring for the people most vulnerable to the threat the virus brings. At the end of this week’s blog we will offer some practical tips to keep yourself and your loved one as safe and healthy as possible in the days, weeks, and even months ahead.

One thing all family caregivers share in common is resiliency. Whether you care for someone for only a brief time, or for years, you know a thing or two about hope. Hope is what carries us through each day. It’s the fuel in our tanks, the voice in our heads that pushes us forward. Hope is a four-letter word that holds all that is good in our world.

Hope springs eternal for believers. While we are not assured of lives that are pleasant and easy, we have the assurance that when our time on earth has ended, we will be with Jesus in Heaven. That hope can handle whatever is necessary while we live and breathe. That hope yields strength when trials come our way.

You hope you can make your loved one’s life better through the care you give, but if you can’t accomplish this today, you discover the resiliency to try again tomorrow. Hope nurtures the energy to start again day after discouraging day.

Right now, more than ever, we all need to hold fast to the hope God gives us in Christ Jesus. One of my favorite verses in scripture is found in Hebrews 10:23. My translation reads, “Hold fast to your hope, for He Who promised is faithful.” Time and time again I have considered the promises of God in my life, and I have never found him to be less than faithful.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about holding fast to your hope.

And now a few thoughts about protecting yourself and your loved ones from exposure to COVID-19.

First, have you heard about the concept of “Flatten the Curve”?

Basically, the idea is to slow the progression of the Coronavirus. This is a particularly contagious disease that is very easily transmitted from one infected person to another just through close physical proximity. By slowing the spread of the virus we can ease the burden to our healthcare system nationwide and insure the continued ability to get care for those who need it the most in a timely manner. We accomplish this most effectively through “social distancing” or literally putting space between ourselves and others. Because this virus demonstrates various forms in different people, you should not assume nobody around you is infected. Best advice to achieve social distancing is as follows:

  1. Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are 65 or older, or if you are caring someone who is older and has chronic illnesses such as COPD, CHF, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, or others.
  2. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap. Do this whenever you return home, before and after meals, after using the bathroom, and any time you touch anything that could be viral. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will work if no soap and water is available, but not as a complete substitute.
  3. Wipe down all regularly used surfaces and fixtures with disinfectant wipes frequently. This includes countertops, light switches, door knobs, bathroom fixtures, computer keyboards, chair arms, and the like. Keep all surfaces virus and bacteria free.
  4. When someone visits your home ask them before they enter if they have a cough, a fever, or difficulty breathing, or if they have been around someone who has these symptoms. It’s much better to be safe than sorry. Perhaps you could ask regular visitors like friends from church to make their visits by phone in the next few weeks.
  5. Don’t hug or shake hands! This is so hard for me because I’m a “hugger,” but I have moved to giving “air hugs” at my office so as to keep several feet between me and the person I’d like to hug. We both laugh and find a little levity in our day.
  6. Visit coronavirus.govto get the latest information and recommendations to help keep you and your loved one healthy and safe during this pandemic.

Spring Into Action!

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Family Caregivers are continually challenged to stay on their toes. No two days are alike, and every situation requires a dynamic process that can turn on a dime. When something unexpected happens, are you ready to spring into action? Let’s consider a few scenarios that could throw a wrench into your best-laid plans.

Your day begins with a sore throat, a cough, and a slight fever. Your child wakes up with a burning fever and a rash. Your car won’t start and needs to go to the shop. Your water heater springs a leak, and you need to stay at home and wait for the repair person. Your child is in an accident at school, and you need to get there immediately. If any of these situations arise, what will you do to keep those you care for safe and healthy?

Now let’s switch gears. Your mom’s dementia is getting worse, and yesterday she refused to get out of the car at the doctor’s office. Your dad can’t be at home alone because his balance is poor, but you need to take your mom to the doctor again today and are hoping for a better outcome. How do you balance taking care of both parents at the same time in different locations? Or what happens if one parent suddenly needs to go to the hospital and the other cannot remain at home alone because they might wander away?

These are just a few very real situations that play out every day for family caregivers all over the world. And, even worse, what worked yesterday may not work today or next week. It’s essential to keep track of what makes your plans crash and burn. It’s a rare person indeed whose life never falls apart because of illness, accidents, and domestic disasters. Just like having insurance, you need to build a savings account of resources to draw from when your original roadmap hits a sharp turn or dead-end.

The first thing you should do here is to think about when your plans have been unavoidably rerouted. I’m not talking about the time you forgot it was “Bring your Parent to School Day” until the morning your child asks why you are still in sweats when you need to be at school in 15 minutes. (Although a proven resource pool would be useful here, too!) I’m talking about how to look back and recognize where your plans may need retooling. Start a journal going forward to track what throws things off. After a few months, you’ve got a great way to look back and evaluate how well things worked. Then you could ask other family members or friends to help you be objective and brainstorm ideas with about how to have strategies to meet these occasions before they arise. If nothing else, this oversight by others might just open their eyes to how much you have on you, and someone might step up and ask about helping out either regularly or on occasion. They might also know someone or an agency that could pitch in on short notice to fill the gap and keep things balanced.

Your back-up plans, when designed well, can successfully overcome those life obstacles that previously would put you in a tailspin!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing the day-to-day crises that challenge your caregiving plans.

Spring Renewal

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It’s March, and that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and the promise of spring! Wherever you live, this time of year tantalizes us with winter’s imminent demise. When temps hit the 60’s and 70’s, I want to throw open the windows and embrace the warm breezes!

During this time of year, all of nature seems to shake off the cold and dark and burst forth with new light and life. Flowers bloom, baby animals appear, and bright colors everywhere seem to greet the sun’s warm rays. Spring is a season of life celebration, and there is so much to celebrate!

For a family caregiver, especially one whose road is challenging, this is an opportunity for you to embrace revival and experience personal renewal as well. There’s nothing like taking a few minutes to sit in the sun with a good book and a cup of tea to renew your energy and refocus on your sense of purpose. Of course, there are plenty of tasks that need doing to ready a home for warmer weather. While you put away cold-weather clothing and winter coats, talk about the places you went and the good times you shared there. Ask your mom which outfit she likes best while you look for spots, spills, or repairs needed before placing items in winter storage. Sort gloves, scarves, and hats while you get your dad to talk about his memories of winters long ago. And as you pack away the winter months, don’t forget to introduce spring! Freshen up sweaters and light jackets, watch for early spring flowers, or plant seeds in a window box and try to guess when the first sprouts will appear. As you freshen up memories of laughter and tender moments shared through the long winter months, you may find your passion for being a family caregiver rekindled.

If your journey is long and arduous, pray for strength and joyful peace as you walk this caregiving road. If you can do nothing else, try sitting in the sun while your loved one naps, and bring in some spring flowers to put around the house. Watch birds build their nests in that tree in the yard and open a window on warmer days to bring in the sounds and smells of emerging spring.

If you are one of those people who feels compelled to clean house in the spring, here’s a link from Caregiver Stress that will offer great suggestions for that as well.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you dust off and bring the shine back to your caregiving experience in the days ahead.

Avoiding a Family Feud

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When aging parents need help, the last thing anyone wants is a family feud about how to manage the situation, but conflicts may arise from several directions. When there are several adult children, there may be tensions over who becomes the primary decision-maker for arranging care. Usually, if one adult child is local, that person embraces this role and may even become the primary caregiver. Other siblings or extended family might disagree on the type of care or the amount of assistance your aging parent needs. Chris and I experienced this difficulty with both of our families when our mothers began to need care. Conflict may also arise if there is a cost involved in arranging care, and sometimes families disagree on how the money is spent or even who should foot the bill. If sibling rivalry has been an ongoing issue within the family, this can create additional strain within the family dynamics as well. Sadly, when family members feud about caring for an aging parent or loved one, the one being cared for is frequently the one who is hurt the most by the battle.

Family feuds are never fun when they impact a Family Caregiver. If you feel caught in the middle, your best recourse is to involve an impartial 3rd party expert who can listen objectively to the issues the family is dealing with and help broker a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Such disagreements might involve the senior’s actual condition and needs, estate planning, financial management, interpersonal roles and rivalries, and the burden of care. Your 3rd party expert might be a minister, a doctor, a geriatric care manager, or even someone from a home care or hospice agency.

With the guidance offered and information shared, the family should discuss potential future situations and begin to make a plan. Sharing the care and decisions about that care may help create harmony in family interactions during this difficult time.

The most important thing is to try and keep your ego out of the mix. As the primary Family Caregiver, you have to always keep your loved one’s best interests at the forefront. If you can encourage your siblings and other family members to do this as well, you have a much better chance of coming up with a plan that everyone will support, and your family gatherings will be much more pleasant and productive. Go here for more ways to avoid the feud.

Chris and I hope you will join the conversation below and share your heart about finding yourself in a family feud.

How’d You Sleep Last Night?

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Sleep is a seriously undervalued resource in most people’s lives. When our oldest daughter was small, she would resist naptime and dreaded having to go to bed because she thought she might miss something important. Most people recognize cranky behavior in infants and toddlers as a good indicator the child needs sleep, but what about you? While you might not have time each day for an afternoon nap, do you get enough sleep at night? If not, you might find yourself feeling tired, irritable, short-tempered or even depressed! And as a Family Caregiver, you owe it to yourself and those you care for to put your best foot forward each day when you get out of bed.

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be at their best. This sleep time is necessary for you to function at your best as you care for others. A good night’s sleep equips you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to fulfill your obligations each day.

Your body uses sleep to store energy in cells that will carry you through the next day. While you sleep your muscles, skin, and bones get to rest and rejuvenate. Your digestive system keeps working to flush out what needs to be eliminated and send nutrients to all areas of your body, nourishing and regenerating you physically so you will be ready to go back to work the next day.

Your brain is a little computer in your skull. In order to function at its maximum capacity, your brain must process its daily input and file information where it needs to go, clearing space for the next day’s activities. This happens while you sleep. By freeing up space during sleep time, you may even find your memory improves over time!

Emotionally you will feel more balanced and not as prone to angry outbursts, feelings of depression and hopelessness, or other negative outlooks when you get enough sleep each night. By feeling more rested, you will be able to set the right tone for your day as well as those you care for.

Spiritually, l find that when I feel rested I also feel more aware of God’s presence in my life. I am more focused in my prayer life and when I study God’s Word I am more open to His teachings. God can work better through me when I am equipping myself for His work, and part of that process involves getting enough sleep.

So, what do you need to do to get more sleep? It’s a good question, and the answer is a little different for everyone. Experiment, and try making little adjustments over a period of time. Keep a sleep journal and make notes about what helps you settle down and get your Zzzzz’s.

Here’s my magic formula for getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Make your bedroom cool at night, about 65 degrees. It should also be dark and relatively quiet.
  2. Have a warm mug of unsweetened almond milk at bedtime, with a dash of maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and ginger. It gives you a protein boost that stabilizes your blood sugar through the night. Let me know if you want the recipe!
  3. Don’t watch TV or look at your iPad or iPhone except for a brief check before you turn off the lights.
  4. Avoid caffeine after midday or avoid it entirely.
  5. Go to bed at about the same time each night and get up at a consistent time each morning.

Click here and here for more tips on getting a better night’s sleep.

Chris and I hope this information helps you to improve your sleep as well as your days. We also hope you will share with us what works for you. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of Family Caregivers everywhere, one day at a time. We hope you will join the conversation below and share your heart about how to get a better night’s sleep!

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A friend who follows Heart of the Caregiver came to us a while back with a story and a request. Here it is:

My wife and I were caring for her mother for the last couple of years. We both have demanding careers and we are still raising children in addition to caring for my mother-in-law. We were honored to be caregivers to a special lady, but our marriage suffered greatly during this time. Can you share tips for how to keep the flame alive while caring for an aging loved one?

Family Caregivers who are married, dating, or in a romantic relationship must find ways to maintain the intimacy of their relationship while managing the rigors of caring for a loved one. This is not an easy task, as caregiving can leave little energy for romance of any kind. To be successful at balancing your love life while providing care for another, you must consider your options, make a plan, and then implement! Sound familiar? This is the strategy you must employ repeatedly to find balance in all areas of your life, including romance.

First, what are your options? Romance doesn’t come in one size, and neither should your choices when it comes to this important component in your relationship. The “date-night” template might not be your best option. Perhaps mornings are the best time in your schedule, when you feel rested and refreshed. Maybe a midday lunch with roses and chocolate would work. Also, intimacy is not restricted to one activity or moment. Loving words and gestures go a long way to nurture your relationships. Regularly exercising your partner’s primary Love Language can greatly strengthen your bonds and enhance your energy as well. If you don’t know what your partner’s love language is, find out here.

Once you’ve determined your Love Language and that of your partner, sit down together and make a list of activities or actions that fit each of your primary Languages. If you both like games, make a game of it by putting these in a bowl and drawing out one each every so often. Maybe you decide to draw one a week, and then make it happen. Just be sure you are both on board with the plan and stay flexible to gain the most benefit from nurturing your relationship.

I know that Betsy’s Love Languages are Gifts and Quality Time; I also know that she loves surprises. The best way I can romance my wife is to surprise her with an unexpected lunch, dinner, or night out at a local luxury hotel or B&B with phones turned off, or even something as simple as flowers delivered to her at work for no particular reason. These simple things delight her, and I love to see her smile. She knows that my Love Languages are Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation. When I take her out for dinner, she holds my hand and talks about things I’m involved in. She compliments me or affirms decisions I’ve made or positions I’ve taken in my role as a legislator. Knowing your partner’s Love Language can make small gestures go miles in keeping the flame alive between you.

Sometimes it’s hard for the Family Caregiver to get time away for romance. This is where Respite services are critically important to the success of your efforts to find balance and nurture your relationship. Respite care can be provided for only a few hours, or even a week or more. Local homecare companies like Home Instead can provide temporary service up to around-the-clock care for several days or weeks. Some local Assisted Living facilities also offer respite services; in most cases these are offered for a 7-day period and require moving your loved one into the facility. Home Care and facility-based care will be private-pay, unless your loved one qualifies for respite care benefits through government programs like the Veterans’ Administration. If you cannot afford paid help, perhaps you have family that can step in and provide care for the time you will be away. If this is the case, be sure to ask your rescuer to come for several days prior to your time away, to be certain they understand the responsibilities and time required. This will help minimize interruptions during your time away.

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The important thing to remember is that romance should be practiced regularly with your partner. Date night should not end with marriage, or children, or caregiving. And if the person you are caring for is your romantic partner, the romance is more important than ever. The Family Caregiver can still be the spouse of the one receiving care and should fan the flames as often as possible. Small romantic gestures between you both can help your relationship’s different facets sparkle like fire. A healthy romantic partnership will energize your caregiving relationship and your entire life.