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December 11: Great Gift Ideas for Seniors

When fishing for ideas of what to get your loved one for Christmas, does any of this sound familiar?

“Oh, don’t get me anything,” or “I really don’t need anything, I’ve got everything I could ever want!”

How about, “Spend your money on your family, I’m okay.”?

 These were all things we heard from Betsy’s mother as she lived to a very advanced age. Each year Betsy struggled to find just the right gift for her mother, something she would be able to use and enjoy throughout the year. You see, my mother-in-law was rarely one to enjoy something that would be put on a shelf and looked at. Always a pragmatic woman, she saw little value in trinkets and the like. But give her something that she could use and enjoy, and you won her heart!

 One year, Betsy had each of our daughters make both of their grandmothers fleece lap blankets. She bought two large pieces of the fabric for each of our mothers. One piece was solid, and the other was patterned in a complimentary color array. The girls cut fringes on each edge and then knotted the two pieces together all around. That gift was treasured by our mothers for as long as they lived, and now each daughter has a blanket that belonged to their grandmothers.

 Remember, Christmas is about more than presents, or candy and sweets, or parties. There are lots of things you can do as a family caregiver to create new Christmas memories for your love one that are unique and greatly appreciated! Whether your gift comes in a box or as an experience, keep in mind your loved one’s abilities and preferences. Betsy’s mother probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a cooking class, and mine would have been game for almost anything! But the best gifts come from the heart, and Betsy and I have got ideas for what to get your aging loved one that they would never consider asking for! Consider these:

  1. Host a caroling party with family members or your mom’s friends. Sit around the living room and rattle the rafters with some favorite tunes! Tell stories about caroling years before, and see what funny tales emerge.
  2. Let the grandkids come over and bake Christmas cookies. Let Grandma or Grandpa be the taste tester, and then take some to the neighbors tied up in a pretty bow.
  3. Have a decorating party. Arthritic joints and balance problems make decorating difficult for many seniors, and it doesn’t really feel much like Christmas without the trimmings. Pull out seasonal decorations and talk about family traditions as you dress the house up a little for the holidays.
  4. Take a drive and see the lights. This used to be one of our favorite holiday traditions when I was young, and when seniors don’t see as well at night, driving may be reduced, restricted, or abandoned. Go out to dinner and drive through some well-decorated neighborhoods on the way home. “Oooh’s” and “aaah’s” will definitely be worth it!
  5. Write Christmas cards together or help her address hers for an afternoon. Talk about the people these cards will go to and catch up on little details as you do.

 For more suggestions on great experiential Christmas gifts, click here. For other ideas on ways to pump up the holidays for a senior loved one, visit this site.

 Betsy and I hope you’ll share your heart about thoughts on new perspectives for giving meaningful gifts to aging loved ones this year and the years ahead.

 

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Remembering Our Heroes

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This week we will observe Pearl Harbor Day in America. For older loved ones, this day has special meaning, and it should not be lost in the chaos of the holidays.

I remember listening to my mother as she shared her memories of the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That memory was powerful for her.

On December 7, that day of remembering the attack, the sacrifices made by our service men and women, and the loss to their families and to our society, Chris and I find ourselves thinking about ways to honor our mothers’ memories.

Ask your loved one if they remember Pearl Harbor or other significant milestones that affected our country in this manner. Listen to their reflections and ask questions. They will feel valued, and you might even learn something! These memories hold powerful emotions, so be prepared if grief is one of the feelings your loved one experiences as they talk about these events.

Ask questions that are open-ended and not those that can be answered with a response of yes or no. This way you will encourage conversation and open memory doors that were long shut.

If possible, attend a special service for veterans, or write notes together to honor those who serve today to carry on the legacy of defending our freedoms. Look at pictures of service men and women today, and compare them to pictures of World War II. If you loved one resists talking about war memories, as my father always did, then don’t force this experience. My dad served in the Army during WWII; he was in North Africa and Europe, and I’m sure he saw unimaginable things, but those memories are gone forever now.

 We hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver to share your thoughts on honoring military service and sacrifice during the holidays.

Destressing the Holidays

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Let’s face it, the holidays are filled with stress! Whether it’s shopping, parties, cooking, writing Christmas cards, or decorating, there’s more than enough pressure to go around for people with “normal” lives, but for family caregivers, everyday life is anything but ordinary! Added to the caregiving challenges you face, the pressures and complications of the holidays probably make you wish you could just skip Christmas and move on into the next year of your life.

To make matters even worse, you might feel like a complete failure as you enter the end-of-year crush. Everywhere you turn, you see your best-laid plans lying in ruins all around you. Perhaps last year you promised yourself you’d get an early jumpstart on those Christmas cards next year, or you’d do your shopping early. Neither of those things happened. The closet you meant to clean out is still overflowing with unworn clothing. Those 10 (or 50) stubborn pounds are still hanging around. You planned to cook ahead and freeze holiday casseroles and desserts so they are ready to go, and you had the best of intentions when you RSVP’ed all those Christmas parties, but when the time comes you just don’t have the energy!

This year it’s time to take control of your schedule and your life! You’ve committed to being a family caregiver, and that commitment means more than baking a few cookies or decorating a tree. It may feel impossible, but you can destress your holidays by following a few simple rules, starting with this one:

Take time to breathe this holiday season!

The first rule for destressing the holidays is to take care of yourself. If you don’t do this, you can’t take care of anyone else, and without breathing, you cannot survive. Create some margin in your life that will help you focus, find your center, and renew your energy.

The next rule for destressing the holidays is to involve others in your daily plans and routines to help you balance your responsibilities and manage your schedule. When others offer to help, be ready with a list of ideas for how they can help out. They will appreciate your organizational skills and will enjoy feeling they are genuinely needed during this holiday season.

Click here or other tips and ideas for destressing your holidays so you can regain clarity on the real Reason for the Season: the birth of the Christ Child, our Savior. God’s gift of his Son was, hands down, the best gift of all, and none of us can ever top that. Embrace this truth, and let the stress just melt away as you relax into the joy of pure celebration. Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her King!

Here’s a new favorite recipe for our family that will definitely make you slow down, if only while the dough rises! It’s a Giant Cinnamon Roll that will serve lots of people or last a super long time! Here’s the recipe.

Chris and I hope you’ll share your heart about other ways to manage your stress through the holidays and beyond.

 

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving Day traditions are so important! They anchor us to the values and traditions of our past, tie older generations to younger ones, and reinforce life lessons that set us up for successes in the future. Much more than simply watching parades or football games, these traditions help us remember from whence we came and where we might be going. And, perhaps most importantly, they keep us focused on who we are thankful to: our Savior Jesus Christ and our God and King.

For our family, we blended some old traditions and started some new ones that our children now carry on. From our past we brought roasted turkey and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Both were and continue to be an important part of our holiday traditions. In addition to a long list of annual menu favorites, we have added over the years a few delicious new favorites, including the “cranberry-horseradish stuff” we shared last week. This recipe is so popular that this year our oldest daughter’s mother-in-law sent a picture of her version to share with our family! New to our traditions is participation in an annual 5k walk/run that benefits our local homeless shelter, a cause our family has long supported. Now we can come to our table guilt-free because our exercise for the day is already done!

Ask your loved one what their favorite holiday traditions were for Thanksgiving. Where did they spend the holiday? Did their family travel, or was their home the gathering place? What dish did they most look forward to enjoying? See if you can discover the recipe and make the dish to savor between you. This exercise will value your loved one while letting you learn a little of their unique history and legacy. Take time this holiday season to ask questions and listen for stories and a lifetime of wisdom. Practicing presence during this season might yield great riches in family lore and traditions. See what you might learn during this season of Thanksgiving!

One of my family’s favorite holiday veggies is the lowly Brussels Sprouts. A few years back, we discovered a recipe for Brussels slaw that quickly became a favorite of hours. Here’s the link to the Southern Living site where you can find the recipe. It’s good the day you make it and for a day or two more. Enjoy, and we hope you will join our conversation here to share your holiday traditions, as well as those of your loved ones. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Holiday Highs and Lows

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Holidays bring their own set of stresses and joys, and this is certainly true for family caregivers.

Between caring for aging family members, nurturing a marriage and maybe even raising children, not to mention a job or career, it might seem like you’ll never be able to manage all that falls to you, but when the holidays bring even more busyness, you might feel like your head will explode!

For the next several weeks Betsy and I will be looking at the holidays from several different perspectives. We’ll consider the stress of the holidays, the joys of the holidays, as seen through young eyes and old, the memories you make each year that will last forever, and the foods of the holidays that will make your mouth water! We’ll post some of our favorite recipes!

One of the things that should not stress you out during the holidays is food! While everyone has favorite holiday treats, don’t go over the top for a dessert that takes days to prepare. Choose something fun and simple, and let others help. The best ways to handle food stress is to choose light and easy, and enjoy the fellowship more than actual food.

Here’s a favorite recipe we’ve used for the past 20 years every Thanksgiving and Christmas. We call it “Cranberry Stuff”. It’s a Cranberry Horseradish sauce that we serve over cream cheese as an appetizer and then straight up as cranberry sauce on the table with the turkey. It takes a little prep, but in 30 minutes it’s ready to enjoy.

We hope you’ll join us at Heart of the Caregiver dot com as we embark on a holiday journey that we hope will leave you feeling filled with holiday cheer!

Cranberry “Stuff”

1 16-oz can whole-berry cranberry sauce
12 cup sugar
13 cup onion   minced
2 tablespoons horseradish   prepared
12 teaspoon salt
1 8-oz package cream cheese
3 sprigs rosemary

Stir together first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat. Cover and chill 1 hour or up to 3 days.

When ready to serve, spoon Cran-Horseradish Sauce over cream cheese on a plate. Garnish, if desired. Serve with crackers.

If you like canning, this cans really well also, and makes a great hostess gift!

 

How to Supplement Medicare Coverage for Long-Term Care Needs

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This week we are happy to host guest blogger Hazel Bridges, who is the creator of AgingWellness.org, a website that aims to provide health and wellness resources for aging seniors. She’s a breast cancer survivor, as is Betsy. Hazel challenges herself to live life to the fullest and inspire others to do so as well. Welcome, Hazel!

Medicare is an excellent resource for seniors over the age of 65 in America. This federal insurance program helps cover the costs of healthcare that tend to increase in old age. Medicare covers the costs of hospitalization, outpatient procedures, doctor’s appointments, and preventative costs. Seniors can also invest in additional Medicare plans that help cover things like prescription drugs and other costs.

Medicare is invaluable for many seniors, but it provides little coverage when it comes to assisted living or nursing home care. Seniors end up needing an average of 904 days of long-term care. There is over a 65 percent chance that a senior citizen will become physically or cognitively impaired within their lifetime. One out of three senior citizens will enter a nursing home. The average annual cost of a nursing home in the United States runs around $76,680. These costs have to be covered either by the senior themselves or their family. Some people end up spending their entire life’s savings on the care they need in the last few years of their life.

When it comes to covering costs, you can relieve a lot of the burden off your family by planning ahead of time. While not every senior ends up needing long-term care, having the funds ready and waiting can provide a sense of security when it comes to worst-case scenarios. Knowing all your options can help you save and prepare for these expenses responsibly.

Selling Life Insurance Policies

Many people buy life insurance policies when they have kids as a way to protect their family in the case of their death. When they reach their senior years, a lot of life insurance holders decide to sell their policy as a way to free up funds they can use for retirement. Selling a life insurance policy is also a great way to access funds for long-term care. If you are over 65 or have a serious illness, you are generally eligible for selling a life insurance policy. However, policy values should be at least $100,000 before they are qualified for a cash payout.

Reverse Mortgages

If you own property, taking out a reverse mortgage can leverage that ownership for quick access to cash. Getting a reverse mortgage means you will be borrowing against the equity in your home. The payout can be received as a lump sum, a monthly allowance, or a line of credit. Reverse mortgages are not the best option for everybody — it really depends on the circumstances of the person borrowing. However, in certain situations, borrowing against the value of a house can end up leaving money for your family after you are gone.

Downsizing Lifestyles

In cases where you own property but a reverse mortgage is not a smart financial decision, selling the house and downsizing to a more manageable living situation can help free up a lot of cash for long-term care. Not only does downsizing have a plethora of financial benefits, but living with less can make you happier and relieve stress. If you downsize and get rid of belongings to fit into a smaller place, you are also giving your family members the gift of less stuff to sift through after your passing. Can you really put a price on that?

Medicare is a federal insurance program that helps Americans over the age of 65 pay for the increased costs of medical care. While Medicare is an invaluable resource that saves lives, it doesn’t cover everything. For instance, a lot of the expenses associated with long-term care have to be paid out-of-pocket. Planning for these costs can relieve a large burden off your family’s shoulders. Consider funding your long-term care with tactics such as selling a life insurance policy, getting a reverse mortgage, or downsizing to free up cash.

 

What’s Scary about being a Family Caregiver?

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When we are little, it’s the unknown in our world that scares us. As a young child, Betsy would take a flying leap from the door of her room to get in bed, because she was afraid some monster would grab her ankles and pull her down if she got too close. My fear was the dark. My family lived in the country when I was growing up, and at night it was very dark outside; I was afraid of what hid in the woods just beyond our yard. My fear and Betsy’s was driven by what we didn’t know but could only imagine… dangerous things that lurked in the dark, just beyond our view. These things didn’t even have faces, but they certainly made my heart race!

Some family caregivers are well equipped and prepared for the task of caring for an aging family member, but for others, the role might come shrouded in mystery. The unknowns may be found in techniques of providing care, the changing aspects of a developing disease or chronic ailment, and how long care will be needed. While all of these considerations should give one pause, it just might be what you do know as a family caregiver that scares you the most.

 Family caregivers know that their loved one needs their help, giving rise to doubts of their own ability to provide the required care. Here are tips from AAR for overcoming those doubts.

 Family caregivers know their own needs and responsibilities must also be met, and wonder where they will find the energy to handle everything. Click here for ideas on how to manage the energy challenge.

 Family caregivers know there will be added costs incurred by themselves and their loved one during this time, leading to worries about money management. Cost management suggestions will be addressed in next week’s blog.

 Family caregivers know their boundaries and borders are about to change dramatically, and this stretching is always frightening! But if we aren’t stretching and growing, we are dying, and with stretching comes expanded flexibility and better health. Here are tricks  for handling tasks outside your comfort zone.

 Most of all, family caregivers know they must commit themselves to the task before them. This commitment requires courage, which leads to new competencies and more confidence in providing care. These are the 4 “C”s of caregiving.

 Don’t let fear of the known or the unknown dissuade you from your calling as a family caregiver during your caring season. Embrace it entirely and watch to see how God works in surprising ways in your life and in those around you. He truly is miraculous!

 Betsy and I hope you’ll join the conversation below and share your heart about the scary parts of caregiving.