Trust, but ask for help

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July 16: Finding Support for you: getting the help you need

Everyone hits a wall now and then in life. Whether you are a career professional, a new parent or spouse, or have lived many decades, you can think of times when you faced something that seemed insurmountable. As a family caregiver, you probably experience days where you feel you don’t have an ounce of care left to give. Every family caregiver has been there or needs to be warned that those days will come over time.

Truth is, being a caregiver of any kind is hard work, and not for the weak. When you feel like giving up and throwing in the towel, remember that you are not alone in this struggle. Many have experienced what you are going through and may have suggestions to help you get through the difficult times, but it’s up to you to send up an SOS and ask for help. Your family and friends can’t read your mind, and God didn’t put you on this path to let you fail. He will give you the strength to endure and the resources you need to do what you must. Some of those resources might just be your family and friends, but you might not ever know this if you don’t make your needs known.

 One thing about our God: He’s never a minute late, or a second early. He does things in His own perfect time. God exists outside the boundaries of our chronology, so He has the ability to know when the exact moment is for His solution or resource to have the greatest effect on your situation. The Holy Spirit knows your needs and He will supply everything necessary for you to provide the care your loved one requires. His one requirement is for you to put all your trust in Him and acknowledge His presence and His working in your life and circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that when we do this, He will direct our paths. From my perspective, that’s the best place to be, on the path God has shown me!

 God also knows when you need others to step in and give you a break. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people around you who know about your situation and care about you and your loved one. Watch to see how God stirs their hearts and opens up their ability to provide support and assistance in His perfect way. Then, when He does, share your story to encourage others in their time of need.

 Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how God supports and provides for every need in your caregiving journey.



Beat the Heat!

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Beat the Summer Heat!

How is your summer going? Are you staying cool and comfortable as we enter the hottest part of the season? How about your mom or dad? When the summer heat rises, your job is to make sure your loved one is safe and secure. Seniors’ bodies don’t adapt quickly to changing temperatures, so you should build in strategies to protect your older loved ones from overheating during the dog days of summer.

For some seniors, chronic diseases or their managing medications can impair the body’s internal thermostat, making them more intolerant to extreme heat or temperature swings like moving from an air-conditioned house or car into the sweltering sunlight. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and fibromyalgia are a few of these chronic conditions that impair a senior’s ability to tolerate summer’s heat. Poor circulation can also make a senior feel cold even when temperatures are hot, leading to inappropriate clothing choices that trap body heat which could lead to heat stroke.

Here are a few suggestions to help you successfully keep things cool as a family caregiver:

  1. Proper hydration is essential for both you and those you care for during hot weather. Keep a glass of water on hand. Encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day- most doctors recommend 8 glasses. If water is distasteful, add a little fruit juice or carbonation for a more interesting drink. Be careful of sugary soft drinks, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages as these don’t offer adequate hydration!
  2. Wear seasonally appropriate clothing, keeping in mind that you both probably need to dress in layers so you can add or subtract as needed when moving from one extreme to another throughout the day. Consider that your loved one might prefer to have the house warmer than you would like; my mother always kept the thermostat set in the upper 70’s no matter the season!
  3. Summer meals should contain lots of locally sourced fruits and veggies, and cold foods like salads and fruit are all smart components that can help you manage your loved one’s comfort and health during the hottest weeks. Avoid using the oven if possible or use it early in the morning when temperatures outside are lowest. Try using the microwave or toaster oven to avoid heat buildup in the kitchen.
  4. Try to plan errands and appointments first thing in the morning to minimize temperature swings as you move between indoors and outside, and leave the car windows cracked to help with heat buildup. A windshield shade is also a great idea. Activities like gardening or walking should be done in the early morning or after sunset. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are excellent additions to everyone’s summer wardrobe!
  5. If the house isn’t air-conditioned, summer is an excellent time for day-trips to the library, your local senior center, going to the movies or enjoying a meal out. Doing these activities during the hottest part of the day can give both of you a much-needed break from the warm house.

For more tips on how to keep yourself and your senior cool during a long, hot summer, check out these 12 Summer Safety Tips for Seniors. And remember, working ahead and having a plan is the best way to navigate family caregiving and stay cool during summer’s heat! Chris and I hope you will join our conversation and share your heart about ways to stay cool this summer.


Independence and Age-Related Decline

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Our nation will celebrate her 243rd birthday this week! These United States are a nation of fiercely independent individuals who like to blaze their own trail and stand on their own two feet. From those early days of pioneer settlers who struggled to exist in a hostile and foreign environment until today, Americans are people who find a way to make good things happen over and over again.

For this reason, when age combined with chronic illness or disease begins to rob your aging family members of their independence, and they begin to need help, they may try to deny this truth or hide their frailties from you and other family members and friend. Reasons for this can range from pride to fear, but whatever motivates their reluctance to admit the need for help, their feelings are valid and need careful understanding and creative solutions to address their concerns and get them the help they require.

Imagine your dad’s embarrassment when he becomes incontinent. Wearing adult diapers might be the answer, but a urologist should also be consulted to see if there is an underlying cause that could be treated or cured. If he hides this inconvenient and uncomfortable health concern from you and others, it will probably restrict his social interactions. Perhaps he stops playing golf with the Thursday morning gang or doesn’t want to go to the coffee club at Hardee’s anymore. The sudden cessation of healthy social interactions is a big red flag that something is going on.

What if your mom can’t remember how to make the grandchildren’s favorite cookies? Maybe she suggests they go get ice cream instead; one time isn’t a trend, but you should watch to see if her memory is failing her. Ask some simple questions that will require her to remember something complex and see if she can answer it. If she can’t, don’t panic! We all have bad days now and then, but observe over time, and if you see indications that her memory isn’t what it used to be, it could fall to you to ease into a conversation about where help is needed and how to find solutions that might improve her situation.

Any conversation about an aging parent’s need for help might feel like fireworks at first, but can give you some tips on how to avoid the gunpowder and enjoy the light show when things get better. Many individuals who resist assistance at first find that once a helping routine gets comfortable, their lives are much better, and they have a renewed sense of independence.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about the best ways to enhance and celebrate independence.

Finding Your Tonto

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While caring for my mother in her last months, I sometimes felt like nobody really understood what I was dealing with. My brother, who lived right next door, couldn’t see how rapidly she was declining because he saw her every day. I would go a few weeks between visits and when I returned the changes were startling. Even at the very end, close family friends and neighbors couldn’t believe that she was nearing the end, but by that time I was living with her and knew we didn’t have much time left. The intense grief I felt was paired with the hope that she wouldn’t suffer very long. There was also guilt because Christmas was approaching with its complexities of holiday traditions and family expectations, and I couldn’t be with my family because I was with my mother. The professional caregivers that were there to help me were truly a blessing, but there were many days when I felt isolated, abandoned and alone.

When you are a family caregiver, that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto to show up when the going got tough. We all need one or more people that we can turn to when we need assistance in providing consistent, quality care for aging family members or friends. If you have a large, close-knit family in the area, you are truly blessed! If not, how about neighbors or friends, or your church family? Try to involve them in caring for your loved one if they are willing and available. Don’t expect them to guess where you need their help but be specific in asking for support. Invite them to observe and learn about what you do so they can feel confident in helping out, and also so someone else will know the ropes if you should need to take an unplanned break due to illness or injury.

If you don’t have a trustworthy support network close by, explore options for community-based services or private-pay agencies that could fill in as necessary from time to time. That’s why my brother and I asked the local Home Instead office to help out with my mom. She had been a client for five years, so going from just a few hours a day to around the clock care was a dramatic increase, but the relationship was already established so expanding her care was a breeze, and took a tremendous load off my shoulders for providing help when her needs moved beyond my limited ability. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without those wonderful caregivers!

Before you get to the end of your rope as a family caregiver, remember that God called you to this work, and He will provide for your needs and carry you through every situation you face if you lean on Him and let Him guide you in getting the help you need. In addition to possibilities like extended family, friends and neighbors, your church family and professional caregivers, God is also on your side. When you think of it that way, you can move from a position of desperation to one of gratitude and abundance!

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about finding your Tonto.



Managing Medications

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Medication management becomes more complex for many people as they age. Chronic diseases, health complications, and even supplements to assist us with maintaining a healthy lifestyle can mean many people take lots of pills throughout the day. As a family caregiver, you have a big job if you are involved in managing the details of each medication your loved one takes. You need to know important details about each medicine, like what time of day it should be taken, whether it should be taken with food, whether there are foods that cannot be eaten while taking it, and when a refill is needed. Furthermore, your loved one’s medical team needs to know every single medication s/he takes, even if it is only taken when needed, like seasonal allergy medications. Click here for more information on how to keep your health team informed of the medications your loved one takes.

When older people experience a hospitalization for an illness or surgical intervention it is critically important to keep their medication schedule on track. This is not easily accomplished in the hospital or a rehab facility and may require not only your input but also your strong insistence that meds are taken according to doctor’s orders. This happened when my brother-in-law was hospitalized after a fall. He has Parkinson’s Disease, and the hospitalist had him on less than a third of the dosage his primary physician had prescribed for the medicine that managed his tremors. He couldn’t even do the required therapy exercises to fully recover until my sister intervened and insisted that his medication be increased dramatically. Don’t be afraid to speak up for those you provide care for. You might be the only voice advocating for them!

If your loved one is on several medications that are taken at various times of the day, a pill organizer system is very helpful to keep these on schedule. Following directions on when and how medicine should be taken can make a world of difference in how your loved one feels and how effective the medicine is in improving his or her quality of life. It can also mean the difference between continuing to recover at home and returning to the hospital or rehab due to a relapse in physical condition. Home Instead did a webinar on this subject. Here’s the link to that resource.

 When you are managing a loved one’s medications, don’t forget to manage your own as well. Keeping you healthy is the best way to help others in your life! We hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about solving the mystery of medication management.


Caring for Fathers

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My father was loud, opinionated, a great storyteller and a fast friend. From the day I was old enough to know it, I was confident that he loved me and would do his best to take care of me and provide for my every need. Of course, he wasn’t perfect, and over the years he said and did a lot of things that were hurtful to me and others. But he taught me to drive, he nurtured my love of horses, and he gave me a passion for fishing! He couldn’t figure out how to relate to me after I grew into womanhood, and so in some ways, we drifted apart. We stopped going fishing together, and whenever I called home he would ask if everything was okay, then hand the phone to my mother, but I always knew he truly loved me and wanted only the best for me.

Daddy died just two years after I married Chris. He never knew my children, and I’m sorry they never met their grandfather. This week he would have been 100, and I still miss him 28 years after his death. While I was never my father’s caregiver, I was always his little girl.

If you provide care for your father, Chris and I hope you know how precious your time with him is. While giving care has its rewards, sometimes being a family caregiver may be embarrassing, awkward, or frustrating. If your dad has dementia, you may feel like you are caring for a stranger. If he has lost the ability to attend to his own intimate needs, you could find yourself helping him with toileting, bathing, dressing, eating, and many other things that he helped you with when you were little. If your father raised you, don’t let yourself forget that this man taught you many of the things that make you who you are today. Maybe he isn’t able to thank you for the care you give; perhaps he doesn’t even know who you are, or is angry or embarrassed when it feels like he is the little child now and you are the parent, but remember what is important here. He is your father, and you are no longer a small child, but an adult who is gifted and equipped to provide the care he needs in this time of his life.

This weekend we celebrate Father’s Day, a Sunday set aside to remember our dads and the ways they influenced us over the years. If you are your father’s caregiver, you honor him every day as you care for his needs with your gentle touch, attentive assistance, and encouraging words. Just as he cared for you when you were little because he loved you, now you have the opportunity to care for him from that same motivation.

If the care you provide is not motivated by love, but by obligation or necessity, pray and ask the Father above to give you a heart overflowing with love and joy. Ask Him to help you find the wellspring of love that only He can provide. We don’t all have great relationships with our dads, and they may fail us many times, but our Heavenly Father never will. His command to honor our parents didn’t stipulate that we do so if they are worthy of our honor.

If you’ve lost your father as I have, or even if you’ve just lost the connection with him, make a list this week of all the ways he positively influenced your life. Reflect with gratitude on your list and try to share it with him if he is still a part of your life. If you provide care for him, take a few walks down memory lane and let him experience the profound joy of sharing with his child again. Let this renewed connection give you both strength for this season of care.

We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about memories of your father.

Taking a Vacation from Care


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Typically, Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer vacation season for most people. Everyone enjoys getting away for a few days from time to time, and summer’s long, warm days are a perfect invitation to break our routines and do something different. Schools end the academic year and give students a break, and many workplaces even practice the principle of summer shutdown for a week or two rather than managing various employees’ vacation schedules.

But for a family caregiver, the idea of a vacation may seem impossible to consider. If you find yourself feeling this way, you need to remember that we all need a break from time to time and you are no exception to that rule! Take ownership of the reality that in order to be a good family caregiver you need a vacation from time to time.

There are ways to approach taking time off that will benefit both you and the one you care for. Planning is the key. As a family caregiver, you really don’t have the option to simply decide tomorrow morning that you need to take a week off. You owe it to yourself as well as the one you care for and other family members to create a strategy that will work for everyone involved.

Most great plans begin with good conversation. Find a time and sit down with everyone involved in caring for a family member. If you need to, explain why time away would be beneficial for you as the family caregiver. Ask for support in this decision as well as help in making plans to cover the care needed while you are away. If there are no other family members that are able or willing to fill-in for you then check with local professional caregiving services to see if they offer respite care. We have written previously about the benefits of having a respite care back up plan. This might mean professional caregivers come into the home or could even involve your loved one moving into a care facility for a short stay.

Involving others, whether family and friends or a professional service, can give you the break you need and make you a better caregiver when you return.

We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about taking a vacation from care!