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.

Working It All Out

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Working It All Out: Finding Balance Between Caregiving and Exercise

During the last year of my mother’s life, I would pack my workout clothes when I would travel to visit her. I’m certainly no expert, but at 57 years of age, I’d learned that going for a walk/run every morning helped me deal with the stress of my day, whether I was at work or being a family caregiver. This was especially challenging when I visited my mom. You see, I needed to get up early to get a workout in before my day of caregiving began, but she liked to stay up late and wanted me to stay up with her. It was quite the balancing act to make it all work out…and sometimes it totally crashed and burned!

I was up until about 12:30 one night, watching TV with her and then helping her get settled for the night. I finally got to sleep, with an alarm set for 8:30. Usually, when I was there, she would sleep until well after 9:00 am, and sometimes even 10:00 or later. My morning workout took about 45 minutes, so I usually planned to leave the house at 8:45 am and get back by 9:30.  That morning, however, my mom surprised me by getting up at 8:30 am, so no early morning workout for me. Well, I thought, I’ll get it in later when she takes a nap.

And then the second surprise happened. After breakfast, my mother, 97 at the time, nearly fell…again. She couldn’t understand why she was so prone to falls, and it worried my brother and me that she was at home alone for most of every day. But she was stubborn, obstinate, and insistent that she did not need help…until she did, and then it was too late. Fortunately, I was with her that morning when the almost-fall happened. I was visiting for a few days to give my brother a break, and my mother was in her bathroom. As she turned from the sink to leave the room, she cried out and I saw her body begin to collapse. She simply had not remembered to stand up straight and was in a sort-of squatting position. I quickly reached around and supported her. She sagged into me, and I coached her to stand up straight, which she finally did. She could not walk at all in those moments, so I had her sit down on her walker’s seat and I pushed her to her recliner in the den, where she spent most of her days. She napped as I wrote this, and I sat and pondered what to do for my mother, and how I would take care of myself today and in the days ahead, while also caring for her.

I share that morning’s experience to make a couple of points.

My first point is this: regular exercise does lots of great things for you. It balances your blood glucose levels, releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones), strengthens your bones and builds lean muscle mass. Working out helps you sleep better, too. It focuses you mentally and gives you more energy to be a better caregiver. It also relieves stress, as I mentioned earlier.

Regular exercise should include both cardio workouts, which elevate your heart rate, and weight-bearing exercises that build lean muscle mass and strengthen your bones. There are lots of resources out on the web or in bookstores that can give ideas of how to structure a workout that fits your schedule. I’m no exercise physiologist, but here are some of my favorite workouts:

  • Brisk walking for 45 minutes (I occasionally do a little light jogging) in good shoes. I put in wireless earbuds and listen to a good book on Audible, or a podcast, or music with a beat that matches my pace. This is something you can do almost anywhere. You can even walk around in the house, or run in place if it isn’t safe for you to be outside.
  • Yoga. You can do this in the privacy of your home or at a studio if you can get away. Start with a beginner workout if you’ve never done Yoga before. Yoga counts as weight-bearing exercise and helps tremendously with flexibility as well as strength.
  • Free weights or machine weights. If you haven’t tried this before, be sure to go to a gym and work with an instructor first. You can really hurt yourself if you don’t know what you are doing!
  • Zumba. I love this because it’s like Latin dancing, but in a studio setting with other people. It’s fun, I sweat and get a great cardio workout, and I feel amazing afterward!
  • Biking. Our town has some great bike paths, so my husband and I get on our bikes and ride! You can also take a spin class and get the same benefit, but I love the feeling of the wind in my face. You don’t need a fancy bike, but you do need one with working gears and a good bike helmet. Remember, safety first!

These are just a few of my favorite ways to exercise. The important thing is to find something you really enjoy doing, and then find time to do it several times a week. Enlist the help of a friend if the person you care for cannot be left alone, or take advantage of times when s/he is engaged in another activity, like sleeping or watching television, to go into another room. Even doing a few dips, squats, wall push-ups, or planks will make you feel better. If you are just starting out, get your doctor’s permission first, and then try to walk 250 steps every hour. Wear a fitness device like a FitBitRor even a simple pedometer to help you keep track of your movement. But start moving and keep moving to help you continue moving into your own old age.

My second point is this: always have a back-up plan in case your day crashes and burns. When your original plan for exercise gets derailed, don’t just give up for the day. Know what Plan B is, and implement it accordingly. If your morning workout time gets hijacked, have an alternate plan for taking care of yourself later in the day. And if your day completely falls apart, which can happen when you are a Family Caregiver, don’t beat yourself up. Just breathe deeply, accept the current reality, and focus ahead on the next day. When I miss my morning walk, my Plan B is Yoga, which I also love. I would do yoga in the next room while my mom was napping.

Chris and I hope you will join our conversation, and share your heart on where movement fits into your caregiving strategies, or what challenges you face when finding the time to work out.

What’s For Dinner?

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I’m not sure when my mother’s dietary habits changed. I lived far away and came home every few months. As the years passed, her refrigerator’s contents went through a metamorphosis. Once filled with fresh fruit and veggies, meat, and condiments when I was younger, in her last decade, it mostly held onion dip, pimento cheese, yogurt, orange juice, and expired bottles of ketchup and mustard. The freezer contained Stouffer’s single-serve meals and several pints of ice cream (mostly for when my brother came over). The pantry had pre-packaged tuna salad, starchy veggies in cans, and bottles of Ensure.

My mother’s dietary routine in her last months looked like this: For breakfast, she ate a single serving of peach pie with a small glass of OJ, a hot cup of coffee, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a glass of water with which to take her morning pills. Her lunch was usually a cup of soup with a few crackers, and dinner was a bottle of Ensure. She also had many packages of snacks and cookies on her countertop next to the frig. For me, it is hard to even think about eating this type of menu day after day, but I could not argue with her health. She took very few medications and had no chronic diseases, and she lived to the ripe old age of 97.

As we age, changes occur with our taste buds and our caloric needs. Our digestive habits may also shift depending on chronic diseases or maintenance medications. These changes are real, and the successful Family Caregiver must recognize them and make modifications to their loved one’s diet to provide appropriate, adequate nutrition in their later years.

To overcome our failing taste buds as we age, we must find foods with stronger flavors. Use a variety of spices, pungent cheese, or hot sauce to make meals more appealing. Choose fruits and vegetables in different colors to add visual stimulation. Foods must also pack more nutrients in smaller portions to meet decreasing caloric requirements while delivering substantial nutritional value. You will manage these challenging changes through research and education.

Chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes or Crohn’s Disease can necessitate significant changes to dietary habits in one’s later years, as can some medications used to manage various conditions. Allergies like lactose or gluten intolerance could develop as well. Depending on the severity of the situation, or the risk related to medication reactions, significant changes in menus might be necessary. Old habits die hard, so creativity and coaxing might save the day! Again, research and education for you as the Family Caregiver could make the difference between an unsatisfying existence and a thriving lifestyle. Consistency is critical to maintaining the changes you introduce during this time. Excellent time and resource management will allow you to keep healthy foods in the house and on the table at mealtime.

Finally, research shows that having companionship while eating is crucial for a healthy, happy senior. Try to eat at least one meal every day with your loved one. If you use a home care service to provide companion support, or if you have neighbors who come over and spend time, ask these people to share a meal on occasion. A single cup of soup might become a luncheon or dinner party with the right planning, and laughter makes everyone feel better.

Here are some resources to help you better navigate your caregiving landscape with regards to healthy nutrition for your aging loved ones. We hope they give you innovative insights and ideas for how to pump up healthy eating in your household as well as in that of your loved one.

https://www.caregiverstress.com/fitness-nutrition/senior-cooking/

https://www.caregiverstress.com/fitness-nutrition/senior-cooking/being-prepared/

https://www.caregiverstress.com/fitness-nutrition/elderly-nutrition/4-convenient-steps-healthier-eating-seniors-us/

Share your thoughts below on how you find ways to make your loved one’s mealtime exciting and appealing. And thanks for all you do each day as you care for those you love.

Taking Care of Yourself

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Caring for the Caregiver is Hard Work!

Do this: take a deep breath, inhaling for a count of 8. Hold that breath for a count of 4, then exhale slowly and see how far you can count. Really push all the air out! At the end of the exhale, inhale deeply again. Repeat this pattern at least 3 times. How do you feel?

When you’re a Family Caregiver, it’s easy to forget about your own needs. In the crush of daily life, when everyone and everything is demanding all of your time and attention, things like sleep, food, exercise and prayer or meditation, or even taking a deep breath can quickly get crowded out. A Caregiver who is sleep-deprived, nutrition-starved, stressed out, and socially and spiritually disconnected cannot properly care for another person because their entire being is depleted and exhausted!

Whether the ones you care for are very young or very old, disabled physically or mentally, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or a related dementia, or another chronic disease or illness, one thing is certain. You must take care of yourself in order to be able to give those you care for the best possible care. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing tips and strategies for improving your own health and wellbeing. To start with, take this survey.

  1. How’s your sleep? Do you get fewer than 7 hours nightly on the average?
  2. Do you eat fast food more than 2 times weekly?
  3. Do you exercise fewer than 30 minutes at least 3 times weekly?
  4. Do you find yourself missing church activities or opportunities to spend time with friends like you once did?
  5. Do you frequently feel tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you could definitely benefit from spending some time on improving your health and wellness! If you answered yes to ALL of the questions, DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!! You are not alone, and a healthier you could be within reach just by making just a couple of small changes in your lifestyle. We would encourage you to choose just one of the questions above and begin there. Next week we’ll be talking about Sleep and the Healthy Caregiver, so that might be a great place to begin.

For now, start with this one small thing: just breathe deeply. Try to practice deep breathing throughout your day, and see if you don’t see a change in your attitude and outlook on life. It will make you a better Caregiver, and you will thank yourself for this healthy beginning.

Understanding Homecare’s Benefits

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As a family caregiver, you know that there is an arsenal of resources available to you, but it is important that you know how to use those resources when the time comes. This week we will consider Homecare as a resource for supplementing care.

When you are caring for an aging family member, it’s important to also care for yourself. One of the most common mistakes family caregivers make is their failure to involve others so the primary caregiver can take a break from time to time. Many family caregivers do not have other family or friends nearby to help bear the burden of care, and that may be where Homecare can help.

Sometimes referred to as Homemaker services, Homecare began to emerge as an industry more than four decades ago, and in the past dozen years, it has burgeoned as a resource for family caregivers. Homecare agencies provide individuals who will assist with companionship, preparing and serving meals, doing laundry, housekeeping, and running errands. More technical skills might include assistance with “Activities of Daily Living” such as bathing, dressing, toileting, mobility, and feeding. These “Personal Care” services require more skills and in some locations, the Homecare Agency offering them must be licensed and in good standing with the governing state agency which issues the license.

Currently, Medicare does not cover Homecare services unless it is offered as a bundled service with other more medical services. Options for payment include Long-Term Care Insurance if the policy covers this service; Medicaid may cover Homecare if your loved one qualifies for this benefit, but private pay arrangements are most common. To determine the approximate cost for care where you live, check out this website from Genworth: https://www.genworth.com/about-us/industry-expertise/cost-of-care.html?network=google&camp=brand-fl&gclid=CjwKCAiAjuPRBRBxEiwAeQ2QPtBivlEWrDijN2z0u4BEcJ2Bqyc9rIxhcKyBOcyLeWPaKbgBWUKb-hoCcRQQAvD_BwE

Whether or not your state requires licensure for Homecare agencies, there are certain things that you need to know when you are choosing a reputable provider. You want to be sure that the individual who comes to your home, and the agency that employs them, is reliable, competent, and caring. Here are a few questions to ask when shopping Homecare agencies:

  1. Does the agency run a background check prior to hiring, and continue to do random background screenings after an employee is hired?
  2. Does the agency do drug testing prior to hiring and ongoing on a random basis?
  3. Does the agency provide competitive pay and benefits to their caregivers, including paid time off and bonus opportunities so the aides will provide better care to their clients?
  4. Does the agency check verify certifications such as C.N.A.?
  5. Does the agency provide professional level orientation and training for its employees, and continuing education to keep its employees on the cutting edge of their field?
  6. Does the agency have 24/7 phone coverage for both clients and caregivers, so after-hours issues can be handled in a timely fashion?

For a more complete list of features to look for in a great Homecare company, please leave a comment below and request our document: Homecare: what to look for when you need it.

Finally, we always recommend that you use an agency when looking for care that supplements what you are providing. While private duty caregivers may be less expensive, the burden of organizing care will fall to the family caregiver, and if the private duty caregiver becomes ill or needs a day off, you will be left needing to come up with a back-up plan. Also, you will need to manage the taxes and other employment withholdings with a household employee, whereas with an agency all of these legalities are handled by the agency.

Often we talked about the need to keep yourself healthy so you can give the best care to your loved one. Finding help so you can take a break is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy. If Homecare is your best option for this, then find a good agency and start a relationship. It can make a world of difference to you and those you care for!

 

Family Caregiver 101

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Being a family caregiver certainly isn’t a job for sissies! This is a commitment that requires careful consideration and thoughtful preparation. It’s not for everyone! But if you are called to this avocation for a period of time, you need to understand several important elements involved in becoming a family caregiver. Among these are the time requirement, the level of care needed, the cost to you, others in your life and your job or career, and whether you are physically strong enough to deliver the necessary care.

Account for the time required. For some family caregivers, only a little time is required to provide the care needed. Maybe you will be driving your mom to occasional doctor’s appointments because she can’t navigate the complexities of the medical system. Perhaps you will find yourself needing to provide more care over time if she has dementia or if her physical health is declining rapidly. And if a catastrophic event occurs your time requirement might become 24/7 with no notice at all. You need to take a realistic look at whether you can make the commitment to cover whatever time is needed to provide the care.

Bearing the burden of care can be overwhelming. Defining the type of care needed is also essential before you become a family caregiver. While your dad might need bathing assistance and you think you can probably help him with that, you need to ask yourself if you would be comfortable providing intimate care and if he will allow you to perform this task for him. My brother told me he could never have helped our mother with a bath, but I performed that task every time I visited during the last year of her life. Assistance with personal care needs like bathing, toileting, dressing, walking and getting up or down from chairs or beds is both physically demanding for the caregiver and personally embarrassing for the care recipient. Talk with a medical professional to learn about your loved one’s care needs, and if you don’t feel competent or physically able to provide the necessary level of care, ask if there is a service available in your community that might be able to help with those tasks you cannot do.

Count the cost to you and others. When you become a family caregiver, there is definitely a cost to be considered. If your care will require you to take time away from your marriage, raising your children, volunteer organizations or even a job or career, be certain that you can afford the emotional and financial cost to you and those around you. If you are stepping away from your workplace, ask if you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act. This can help you keep your job security while you work out longer term care needs. Be clear in communication with your spouse, partner, or others in your life as you make the decision to invest in your loved one’s care needs. Ask yourself and others if becoming a family caregiver will require major changes in your own life, like moving in with your loved one or quitting your job to provide care. Are others in your life supportive of your decision, or will negative emotions complicate the situation?

As in all things, if you are or have been a family caregiver, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, so what are your “ABC’s” that might help someone else whose caregiving walk is just beginning?

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about things you learned along the way as a family caregiver.