Are You Lonely?

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How lonely are you? A 2018 Cigna Loneliness Survey revealed that nearly 57% of adults in America have no meaningful social interaction in their day, so if you are feeling isolated in your role as a caregiver, you are not alone. Many family caregivers struggle with the social isolation they discover when they accept the role of caring for aging loved ones. Take the Cigna Loneliness Survey here to see how you measure up.

When Betsy stayed with her mother during the last few weeks of Sarah’s life, she struggled with the loneliness of being out of her routines and away from family and friends. In her words, “That time was richly spent with my mom, but socially I felt cut off from my family and friends back at home in Virginia. The social isolation I experienced left me feeling tired, frustrated, depressed and angry in turn, and my experience was only a microcosm of what most family caregivers go through over the months, years, or even decades they navigate while caring for those they love.”

Social isolation has many dangers; among these are emotional eating, sleep disruptions, depression, weight gain or loss, cognitive decline and other physical symptoms that can reduce your capacity to care for yourself or someone you love. In fact, research shows that social isolation or loneliness has the same impact on death rates as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

Conversely, people with healthy, regular social engagement are healthier overall and lead more productive lives. We are all made in God’s image, and He made us as relational people. We need a relationship with God and with each other to live healthy lives that avoid social isolation. We can accomplish this through church activities, coffee with a friend, a book club or caregiver support group, an exercise class, or even by having regular online or phone contact with distant family members. The important thing is to make it happen.

If you feel socially isolated, reach out to others for help. Ask a friend or family member to come and stay with your loved one for an hour or two regularly so you can connect socially with others. Hire a homecare company to fill in a little or a lot so you can regain some balance in your life. With some effort, you can get reconnected and feel socially supported by your safety net of family, friends, and others in your resource pool.

We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing and avoiding the dangers of social isolation in your own life.

 

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Dialing Up a Healthy Life

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 Do you know the secret to staying healthy and aging well? Actually, it’s not a secret at all, and it’s also not just one thing; it’s several components that, when used together, create harmony, balance, and energy in your life.

 I realize this might sound like eastern mysticism, but I promise you it’s not. Actually, it’s more like keeping an automobile in good working order. When we learn to drive, we all have to learn how to read the dashboard dials to know the health of the vehicle. The gas gauge, oil and water levels, battery life, tire pressure, and speedometer all give us valuable information that guides us on how to keep the car running safely and efficiently. Likewise, when one of these dials indicates a problem we attend to the need in a timely manner.

As family caregivers, we all need to stay healthy and strong in order to help those we care for have their best possible life. To facilitate good health and adequate strength we must establish and follow a healthy routine that includes prayer, scripture study, robust nutrition, adequate hydration, daily exercise, and sufficient sleep and social engagement every day. Think of these focus areas as your life’s dashboard dials.

So how do you rate when it comes to your seven dashboard dials? If your answer is a resounding, “I’ve got this! I pray daily, eat healthy most of the time, get in my exercise several times a week, drink lots of water, sleep well and spend time with friends at Bible study weekly,” then good for you! Keep up the great work and look for other family caregivers you can encourage and support.

But if your immediate reaction is a discouraged sigh as you realize your dials need a lot of work, don’t be disheartened! With just a little attention and some fine-tuning you can turn what feels like a clunker into a well-tuned machine. Start by focusing on just one dial. Make a commitment to changing one thing in your day or week. Take small steps and celebrate your victories often. Perhaps you could start by having a healthy breakfast every day or every other day. Start a new Bible study or carve out a daily time to pray. As one dial comes into alignment you may find yourself inspired to begin improvements in another area. Over time you can undergo a complete transformation in all areas of your life. You might even inspire those you care for to begin making their own life changes when they see your progress. That’s not mystical, that’s just smart!

 Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver to share your heart about dialing up a healthy life in mind, body, and spirit.

 

Seasonal Memories with Alzheimer’s

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 Every season is anchored by our memories of routines, those events that happened again and again during specific times of the year. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter all have their own unique rhythms and holidays. The school year dictates schedules and routines that impact the community as a whole. For Christians, the church calendar holds sway over the Advent and Lenten seasons. This ordering of life begins when we are very young and continues as we advance in age. Its routines give our lives a framework by which to make plans and arrange our tasks and activities. 

But if someone you care for suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, their ability to hold onto these routines might be hindered by the disease’s progression. The ability to sequence, or order their thoughts, can be severely impaired by dementia of any kind. This impairment can be seen in the inability to follow directions in a recipe or do sequential tasks like buttoning buttons or tying shoelaces.

There are some things you can do to help your loved one reestablish some of those memory pathways, even though the result is usually short-lived. Looking through old photographs, listening to favorite musical selections, and even cooking family recipes can trigger memories that might bring back memories while opening up a whole new world to you as you share these special moments together. Click here for more suggestions to open up more good times.

You might start by gathering and sharing family stories from Septembers long ago. Ask family members to help you collect memories from the end of summer, school starts, autumn activities and beyond. Build your arsenal so you can be ready in the seasons ahead to continue this exercise. I promise it will enrich your time together with those for whom you provide care.

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

A New Season of Caregiving

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While we are still technically in summer, already the days grow shorter and the leaves have begun to show a little color. I don’t know about you, but I always welcome the end of summer because it brings a time of endings and new beginnings. There is a sense of anticipation and curiosity about what the new season will bring. Will autumn come quickly or will October temperatures rival those of July? As summer’s relaxed pace quickens into fall will we be able to keep up with increased responsibilities and demands on our time? The holidays are just around the corner; will we be able to better manage that season this year than we did in 2018?

For many family caregivers, time seems to move at a much slower pace than the passing of the seasons. One day fades into the next with very few changes in terms of the life rhythms of the caregiver and those they care for. How about you? In this season of caregiving do your days hold a sense of anticipation or dread? Do you have hope that your situation will improve, or do you fear that you can’t keep up with the demands that caregiving places on your time and energy?

Whatever you are feeling, my hope would be that you can embrace this season of change with a sense of celebration and hope. God didn’t call you to this task only to abandon you here. He asks that you keep your eyes on Him in the midst of the physical, mental, or emotional storm that surrounds you. Trust Him to equip you with enough strength and resources each day to meet the challenges that will come. Ground yourself in prayer and scripture study.

Maybe you could even go back to school in a sense. Try to approach today’s challenges as an opportunity to discover new strategies, try out different ideas, stretch yourself to become more than you were in days gone by. Promote yourself to a new class of caregiving and celebrate the opportunity to care for the one you love. You will both benefit from your efforts.

 Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about learning new lessons in caregiving.

Sleeping Beauty

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How did you sleep last night? Sleep is a beautiful thing, but most family caregivers don’t sleep all that well at night for lots of excellent reasons. What keeps you awake? Do you have to get up to assist your loved one? Are you worried about issues like money, other family obligations, or even your personal health? Whatever the cause(s), it’s critically important that you get enough sleep every night to keep yourself healthy.

 Sleep has many benefits to offer. Most people need somewhere between six and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep time to feel truly rested. Good sleep helps improve your memory and ability to focus. Slumber enhances your ability to solve complex problems, and it even helps with weight management. Betsy and I both know from personal experience what it’s like to fight the battle of the bulge!

 There are several strategies you can employ to get a better night’s sleep. First, if you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, try to reduce or eliminate these from your diet. If this seems too extreme, maybe you can avoid caffeine after lunch. Establish a routine before bedtime that lets your body and mind know it’s time to rest. Make your room a few degrees cooler if possible or purchase a fan if cooling the entire house would make your loved one too cold at night. A cool, dark room is most conducive to restful sleep. If pets disturb your sleep, find a way to relocate their sleeping area so you can rest undisturbed. Finally, try to get some exercise each day and avoid alcohol, as it can be more disruptive to good sleep through the night.

 If caregiving tasks weigh upon your mind at night, keep a notepad next to the bed and jot down what troubles you. Then give it to Jesus and rest in the assurance that He will help you with whatever you face. If necessary, you can take up the list the next morning and work on solutions to address matters that kept you awake the previous night. For other suggestions on how to sleep better, click here.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Your support network needs to know that you are struggling and not sleeping well. Perhaps others can pitch in and offer respite care to give you a night off from time to time, or you can hire a professional agency to provide overnight care so you can relax and rest in the assurance that your loved one receives the care they need.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the beauty of better sleep.

Depression’s Downside

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Depression is fairly common among senior adults who live into very old age. Older seniors may experience many losses that affect their emotional wellbeing. The death of a beloved pet is difficult for any animal lover but consider how you might feel if over a matter of months or years you outlived all of your siblings, most of your friends, your spouse and even one or more adult children. These losses build up over time and can create chronic depression for seniors who live a very long time. Add to this grief-stricken state the losses of eyesight, hearing, driving privileges, mobility, a sense of purpose and the onset of chronic pain and illnesses and a senior has every reasonable reason to be depressed. How do you know if your loved one is really depressed or suffering from some other condition? 

Most of us know that signals such as loss of appetite, disinterest in having lunch with friends or attending church services, and declining hygiene habits are some of the warning signs of depression. But these can also be harbingers of dementia or other chronic conditions. Unexpected behaviors like forgetfulness, confusion, and even medication avoidance or mismanagement that develop suddenly and progress quickly can also indicate your loved one is experiencing acute depression, or they might be caused by an organic issue like a severe urinary tract infection. And all these symptoms could also be caused by a medication’s side effects or polypharmacy, which happens when one or more prescribed medication interacts negatively with another one. The best way to avoid this problem is to use the same pharmacist over time and develop a relationship so your pharmacist knows all the medications your loved one takes.

Here is a checklist on signs of depression and more information from the National Institutes of Health.

A visit to your loved one’s primary care physician might offer some answers to help brighten the day for both you and the one you care for. If depression is diagnosed, the doctor might suggest a medication or changing routines in the home to bring a sense of purpose and self-worth back to your loved one’s life. If a chronic condition is to blame for their symptoms try to learn as much as possible about the condition and how to manage it for optimal outcomes. Caregiverstress.com has some great resources here on coping strategies.

Developing a new hobby that is suited to your loved one’s current abilities might bring a smile back to their face and a light to their eyes. The important thing is to be aware and observant. Because you are with your senior frequently, you might miss changes that occur slowly over time. Try asking less frequent visitors to alert you if they notice unexpected changes.

Finally, trust God to give you and your loved one the strength and encouragement you both need to get through each day with a purpose and a plan. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish when you both start the day with an intentional direction in mind. Celebrate the little wins. Like I used to tell my mother, “If you are still breathing, then God isn’t finished with you yet!” It always made her smile.

 

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about Depression’s Downside.

 

When It’s Time to Downsize

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Many family caregivers find it necessary to help their loved one consider moving from the old family home where they raised children and created so many memories to one that is smaller and easier to care for. Sometimes this decision is driven by financial factors or practical considerations like an open floor plan and one-story living. Other concerns might include moving to live closer to family members who can help with caregiving responsibilities. Declining physical ability or illness might drive this decision in quick or unexpected ways.

 Whatever the reason, the decision to downsize brings a wide range of emotions and a tremendous amount of work to pack up, decide what to keep and what to discard, give away or sell. Most seniors have spent a lifetime accumulating their possessions, and they find it very difficult to part with treasured belongings. As the family caregiver, much of this responsibility could fall to you. If it does, you need to move very carefully to preserve your loved one’s dignity and sense of self-worth even as you break up their lifetime’s accumulations.

The decision to downsize, or “right-size” into the next home, can be both painful and exciting for the senior and their family. You can take several steps to ease this transition and make the best of it. Caregiverstress.com has some great suggestions like making a photo album of the old home filled with family, friends, and celebrations. The Life Storage Blog emphasizes the need to keep communication open and talk through why downsizing is the right decision. When everyone is on the same page the move will go more easily and more happily.

 Be sure to involve other family members to assist with deciding what should stay or be given away and what will go to the next home. Be smart and hire a professional moving company to help with the heavy lifting of packed boxes and prepping furniture for the big day. This can save lots of heartache and backaches! A good company won’t damage the furniture that is going to the new home and moving professionals know how to lift and move the heaviest of boxes without needing to see a chiropractor the next day!

If you find yourself needing to help your loved one decide it’s time to move, reach out to your support team for prayer and encouragement. With your loved one’s input decide what the best next step will be, whether it is to move in with you or another adult child, move to a smaller house or apartment with an age-friendly design, or move to a retirement community. If possible, begin this process early enough to take your time, visit several options, and find the right one for both you and your loved one.

 Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about deciding to downsize.