Laughter is Healing

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I don’t typically seek out comedies when I’m looking for something to watch on TV. I’m more into mysteries; a good detective story with twists and turns will usually hold me fast. When my office closed 11 weeks ago, and everybody moved to work from home, the learning curve we all experienced was exponential and exhausting! Add to that the emotional toll of continually changing information, empty grocery store shelves, business closures, and rising death tolls, and my brain didn’t want to solve anything it didn’t have to. I find that I need brainless entertainment and laughter to combat the heaviness of the times we’re living through.

Laughter is good for all of us. According to an article in Forbes from 2017, it releases serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, that elevates your mood much like antidepressants or a brisk walk around the block. It alleviates stress, promotes deeper breathing, and gives you better clarity of thought. Different kinds of laughter activate different areas of the brain, and hearing laughter actually makes your brain work to define whether the laugh is joyous, tickle-motivated, or taunting.

Laughter is also contagious. It connects us socially in ways physical presence and even verbal communication cannot achieve. Simply put, laughing just makes us feel better overall, but many family caregivers don’t find much to laugh about in their situation.

Caregiving brings about significant stress under normal circumstances, and these times are anything but normal for most of us. If you are feeling like you can’t live this way anymore, maybe laughter is exactly what you need! Watch a silly sitcom on TV or read something light and humorous. Lewis Grizzard was an author and humorist from Georgia that wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among his many published works was one of my favorites: “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny…You Know Them Taters Got Eyes!” Your librarian can also probably point you in the right direction for books or audiobooks you could listen to while going about your daily tasks.

Recently Chris and I hung a couple of birdfeeders in our backyard to watch the birds. I have greatly enjoyed the chickadees, cardinals, doves, and nuthatches that have become daily visitors, but the squirrels have given me unexpected opportunities to laugh! They perform amazing acrobatic feats as they attempt to win the day over their winged rivals. (Please note, the link to the squirrel obstacle course is NOT our backyard!) The birds remind me of God’s promise in Matthew 6:26 to supply my daily needs just as he feeds the birds, but the squirrels are the comic relief I find myself needing every day. Just a few minutes of real belly laughs can do wonders for your ability to continue onward. When you find reasons to laugh often you might see an improvement in your overall health, and those you care for will also benefit from your levity.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how laughter lightens your day.

 

Valuing Our Older Americans

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Older adults are our most precious resource! Betsy and I would like to take the opportunity during Older American’s Month to recognize the wisdom our elders can offer to enrich the lives of future generations.

Older Americans have seen so much life. Most can remember when there were no automobiles, TV, computers, cellphones, tablets, or space travel. Many lived in homes with no indoor plumbing. Life was more straightforward; the family was closer and more connected, and for most people, life held moments of stillness that we seem to have rediscovered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the opportunity, our oldest citizens can interpret today’s current advances and difficulties through a lens formed by many decades of experience. Still, with technological advancements happening at lightning speed, our society doesn’t always encourage the sharing of lessons learned by our elders.

Family caregivers might be in a valuable position here. They have a unique opportunity to capture stories that will enlighten family histories for generations to come. If your loved one can still remember their earlier years and experiences they had, you can explore those memories together. Ask simple, open-ended questions about experiences your older family members lived through. Their answers can yield a treasure trove of wisdom and insights that can enrich your life as well as your time together. You should have a notebook and jot down notes or keep a video or audio journal of these conversations. Later generations will appreciate your diligence to capture these stories in ways they can be shared.

Betsy had many opportunities to do this with her mother in her last couple of years. The two talked about her mother’s Marine Corps experience, her teaching career, and even college and graduate school memories. They went through old photo albums and letters Sarah had kept for decades. Betsy gained new insights that she has shared with our children. This time together deepened Betsy’s relationship with her mother. Also, it helped her realize the importance of putting away technology for a time to just sit and be together.

Time taken away from daily tasks, schedules, emails, social networks, and television can be reinvested in our older loved ones with excellent yield! For ideas of how to start a conversation, click here. Those hours spent in questions, discussions, and memories hold great rewards and will never be regretted.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about valuing our older Americans this month.

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Memorial Day is a day set aside for us to remember and honor those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. The holiday was initially observed on May 30 from 1868 until 1970, when it was moved to the last Monday in May. While the memorializing elements of this holiday are frequently lost in the onset of the summer vacation season, many older Americans still observe the holiday more traditionally. And this year’s pandemic has made the opening of vacation season sluggish at best.

Lesser-known as Decoration Day, many people observe this holiday by wearing poppies and placing flags on graves in military cemeteries across the country. Parades and special programs are traditionally held to honor veterans and remember the ultimate sacrifice they made while serving our country.

If your aging family member knows veterans who died in service to our country, perhaps you could visit their grave to place patriotic flowers or a flag. If your loved one is homebound, ask about memories of family members who were in the military. Look at photos and talk about those times. You might learn something surprising!

Perhaps your mom or dad didn’t have family members or friends who served during wartime. They probably have powerful memories about pivotal military moments such as Pearl Harbor, D-Day, or Desert Storm. If it is possible and not painful, ask if they would share those memories with you. If they resist or seem uncomfortable about talking of such memories, then change the subject and leave it alone. Not everyone’s remembrances are pleasant when related to military action.

Betsy’s family knew military service well. Her maternal grandfather was an infantryman during The Great War, and all four of his children served in either World War II or the Korean War. Her mother joined the Marines and served stateside so “another man could go and fight” while her father joined the Army and saw action in southern Europe and Northern Africa. He was always reluctant to discuss what he witnessed while there. 

The important consideration for you as a family caregiver is that Memorial Day is intended to honor and remember sacrificial service. Consider how you can best do this with those you care for. There probably won’t be lots of parades and local gatherings this year, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shares seven ways to celebrate at home here. If nothing else works, enjoy the warm weather and promise of summer just around the bend.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about Memorial Day memories.

 

Family Caregivers and COVID-19 Now

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Back in February, I celebrated my 60th birthday by running in the Disney Princess 10k with Chris and two of our children. That celebration allowed us to travel to Orlando, stay on property at Disney World, stand in a crowds comprised of thousands of runners for hours before the race, and then afterwards enjoy a day at Epcot. We noticed people wearing masks but didn’t worry too much about it. The Coronavirus was like the flu, right? Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and be smart and you should be fine. And then our world changed. Over the next few weeks more information emerged, and less than a month after returning from Orlando we moved our office staff to working from home, met with all of our CAREGivers to review safety practices when working with our clients, and began to learn how to practice social distancing and self-isolation. Eight weeks later, we are still diligently working to support our clients and their families, our office team, and our CAREGivers as we move from day to day wondering when this will end and life can return to “normal”. COVID-19 has certainly made a significant impact on all our lives over the past several months!

For family caregivers some things may have changed drastically while others have remained amazingly consistent. Grocery store runs have become like scavenger hunts for such mundane items as toilet paper or meat products. All our hair salons and nail salons were forced to close. Even obtaining basic prescription drugs from the pharmacy could be a challenge with delayed shipping times and limited visits from pharmaceutical reps. The virus has disrupted such unexpected industries as auto parts manufacturing and sales, shipping, travel and tourism, and retail sales everywhere. Amazon has seen remarkable growth, and UPS and USPS report volumes similar to Christmas! Family caregivers everywhere struggle to balance the wants and needs of aging loved ones with the cautions and constraints the virus has placed on everything in our world. Social isolation and distancing is the order of the day, but one that is universally detrimental to older adults, because research shows that social engagement promotes increased brain function, enhanced emotional health, improved dietary habits and better overall physical health. Older adults who are socially active have more reasons to live, and they live longer and more satisfying lives.

How can you help your vulnerable older family members stay safe at home, but at the same time keep up their social interaction with friends and family members who might not be self-isolating like they should be? The answer might be easier than you think. Modern technology enables us to be, and feel, connected even when we are far apart. While nothing takes the place of a warm and hearty embrace, six feet of distance make that impossible. The next best thing might be a video call over a smart phone or tablet. Some tablets, like GrandPad, are designed to be senior-friendly with larger apps and use of cellular technology if WiFi is not available in the home. Playing games like Bingo or Solitaire can help with brain function, and some games like these are designed to allow for online opponents to increase social engagement. Sharing pictures frequently can help a loved one feel more connected when they cannot attend events like weddings, baptisms, and funerals. These events are all important family gatherings, and extremely dangerous to older family members during the pandemic. Even more frequent phone calls from distanced family members can break up the monotony of a lonely day. And, contrary to popular belief, it is still safe to let a professional caregiver supplement the care you give. These wonderful people, if hired through a reputable agency, are well trained in infection control as well as social distancing and self-isolation. The agency will have safety measures in place to monitor employee health and won’t knowingly send a sick employee to care for your loved one.

As many people begin to emerge from their forced hibernation, we all need to remember that the virus is still present. Self-isolating and social distancing has flattened the curve for hospitals and medical intervention in many areas, but for now there is no vaccine and none of us has an immunity to the virus. It is still developing in and being spread by people who may not even know they are sick. What can you do to continue to protect those you care for?

For starters, continue to be smart. Wash your hands throughout the day, and every time you go out into the community try not to touch things like door handles, railings, and counters. Don’t touch your face while you are out. Wear disposable gloves if you have access to them. Wear a mask if you have symptoms. Don’t gather in close, large groups. Basically, keep doing what you have been doing. Until a vaccine is available, your older loved ones are still the most vulnerable population, and your extraordinary measures taken now can save lives.

The Centers for Disease Control continues to update their website with current information about the virus. Click here to get the latest updates.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about coping strategies as we find ways to resume living with COVID-19.

 

Honoring our Mothers

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This Sunday, Betsy and I will celebrate Mother’s Day as we each remember the amazing women who gave us birth and raised us to love the Lord and listen for his calling in our lives. Although they are gone now, both had unique and special qualities that we both treasure still.
My mother was a special lady. She was the physical embodiment of Proverbs 31 in almost every way. She worked hard all her life, overcame many challenges, and raised my four older siblings and me to respect our elders, to work diligently at our jobs, and to love Jesus with all our hearts. We didn’t have much growing up, but we had our mother’s love, and she shared it generously with us all.
Betsy’s mother taught her that she could be whatever she wanted to be, that God was faithful in all things, and to seek His will for her life. She also taught both her children to be solid citizens and to always live with integrity.
Mothers are remarkable people, and this week we honor and remember them for giving us life, teaching us how to live, and loving us through all the mistakes we make. Even when we don’t listen or take their advice, our mothers are still our biggest cheerleaders.
If your mother lives long enough, as both our mothers did, you may find that in some ways, roles get reversed in your mother’s golden years. Where she once cooked for you, did your laundry, and took you to church or medical check-ups, now you may do those things for her.
If you are your mother’s caregiver, I hope you realize how truly blessed you are. You have the opportunity to give back some of the patience, nurture, and love she poured over you during your lifetime. Just as your childhood experiences weren’t always pleasant for her to manage, neither will every day now be bright and happy. Still, if you choose to cherish the time you share together, your love and appreciation for this special woman in your life will grow even more profound. Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about honoring your mother or her memory this Mother’s Day.

joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
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joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Addressing Mobility Challenges

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Family caregivers have to deal with so many little things that come up in their day. Sometimes the issues are small and require little effort, like doing laundry or loading a dishwasher. Even handyman chores can be accomplished with relative ease.

Other issues require a significant amount of intervention. Loss of mobility can impact a broad spectrum of abilities that allow us to be relatively independent on many levels. Walking, rising from a chair, bed, or toilet seat, feeding oneself, personal hygiene, and the like all involve the ability to move our arms and legs and maintain our balance. All of these skills require a certain amount of strength and agility.

A catastrophic event like an automobile accident, a bad fall, a stroke, or a heart attack can cause a sudden loss of mobility that mandates immediate intervention with significant levels of hands-on care. Still, sometimes the loss occurs gradually over weeks or months. This loss might not even be noticeable to the untrained eye of a casual observer.

When Betsy was traveling to be with her mother monthly during the last two years of Sarah’s life, she began to see her mother’s declining mobility in ways that her brother had not noticed. While he checked in on their mom almost daily, she was usually seated in her recliner and didn’t get up during his visit, so he didn’t see how she struggled to rise or how unsteady she was when she walked down the hallway to the bathroom. When Betsy visited, she was with her mom in the house all day. She realized her mother was rapidly losing her ability to rise and walk unassisted, and she had to act quickly. The house was old; the doorways were too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair comfortably, and the bathroom would have become entirely inaccessible if Sarah could no longer walk. She would have been forced to move into facility-based care if she could not regain her mobility.

As we age and become more sedentary, either because of career changes or personal choices, our “move” muscles begin to lose their vitality. Muscles not used regularly start to lose flexibility and capacity. We simply aren’t as strong as we used to be when we were younger and more active. Some of this happens with age, regardless of our routines. We have the power to make decisions that slow our muscular degeneration and rebuild our strength and mobility when the loss comes from lack of use.

Betsy first reached out to her mother’s doctor to request a referral for a local home health company and had her mother evaluated for services. That referral paid off, and Medicare paid for the services provided. The home health coordinator created a comprehensive plan of care that built a partnership between their team and Sarah’s care family. Sarah’s Home Instead caregiver reinforced weekly visits by Physical and Occupational therapists (PT and OT). She encouraged daily PT/OT exercises along with regular walks to the mailbox and frequent “chair breaks” (where Sarah would have to get up out of her chair and walk around in the house for a few minutes). 

This path was not easy for Sarah or those who cared for her. She would argue with her caregiver that she didn’t want to walk to the mailbox, or claim that she had already done her leg exercises for the day. There were days when the chair breaks simply didn’t happen. Nobody’s perfect, and we all have good days and bad. But she did enough, incentivized by some straightforward reminders of what could happen if she didn’t build up her leg strength, and the plan paid off. Through teamwork and consistent messaging from those who loved her, Betsy’s mother regained enough mobility so that she was able to remain at home until her death several years later.

When mobility has been lost and cannot be regained, the picture is very different from what Sarah experienced. When the ability to move is significantly compromised or eliminated entirely because of an accident or a stroke, a new care plan is needed that can identify and address the skills required to meet emerging needs. Recovery usually begins in a rehabilitative facility setting that follows hospitalization for the primary event. A home health agency that provides rehabilitative therapies like PT and OT can be instrumental in helping your loved one continue their rehab once they return home. Prescribed exercises similar to what was used in the facility may be modified for home usage to continue progress toward regaining additional range of motion and ability to control movement. Home health can also be of assistance by suggesting adaptive equipment and showing you how to modify your approach to providing care. Alternatively, if the new care needs exceed your abilities, information can be provided to help identify other community resources and services that might be of benefit to you in the coming weeks and months.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing mobility challenges.

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You Need a Vacation!

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During the current COVID-19 pandemic with its social restrictions, many of us find ourselves with far too much time at home. We cannot get out and go like we are accustomed to doing, and we are far more isolated than many of us would like. Ironically, this is the world in which most full-time family caregivers find themselves regularly. COVID-19 may not have changed your daily routines so much except for hand-washing frequency. For most of the world, the season of social distancing and self-quarantining will come to an end after a season, but for many family caregivers, one day flows into another with no end in sight. Burnout is very real and can quickly happen if you don’t have an opportunity to take a break every now and then to recharge your batteries. Let’s face it, you need a vacation from caregiving! 

Vacations are beneficial for everyone. While everyone can’t all afford to hop on a plane or drive far away annually for a week or two, everyone needs a break from time to time. For best effect, your time away needs to be more than a few minutes or hours. A real vacation requires several days to get away and clear your head. Chris and I find we need the first two or three days of our time away to stop thinking “work thoughts” and move into mental free space. The value of this kind of time away is immeasurable on every level of your life.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially we all need this kind of break every so often. Taking a real break from your daily routine as a caregiver can give you more energy physically, more mental clarity, better emotional balance, a stronger spiritual bond, and feed your social animal. Click here for more details. All these benefits can’t be denied and are clearly desirable, but as a family caregiver, you might feel like a vacation is an impossible goal for you in this season of life.

Always remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Have you prepared for others to step in when you cannot be there? If not, begin now to work toward that plan. You are not alone in caring for another; perhaps adult children or friends or neighbors can come alongside to learn your routines so you can have some time away.

You also have many brothers and sisters who follow the same caregiving path as yours. Reach out and find a support group in your community or online where you can ask for advice or resource suggestions. Even a professional home care service like Home Instead can provide respite care that will let you get away for several days to restore yourself. Vacation time is every bit as important as time away for medical procedures or personal obligations. Planning is the key to your success.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about making time for a well-deserved vacation.