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.

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:

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.

Family Caregivers are SuperHeroes!

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As we move from the holidays into a new year, Betsy and I would like to thank you for sharing your hearts over the past two years about caring for older family members. Your stories of family conflicts, the need for support groups, and dealing with feelings that range from joy to desperation have touched our hearts. You inspire us each day to strive to help you in your caregiving journey. The issues family caregivers face are sometimes simple, but at other times they boggle the mind.

Every situation is unique, and every family caregiver needs to equip themselves with a vast array of resources to draw from so they can successfully manage almost any situation imaginable! You must be flexible, resilient, resourceful, and faithful to the tasks and responsibilities you have taken upon yourself. Some days are harder than others, and every hour holds its own challenges. You might not have chosen this path, and nobody ever aspires to it, but if you find yourself needing to care for another, we want you to know that you are not lost or forgotten.

You are the unsung superheroes of our society. Nobody writes books or movie scripts about you. Rarely are you recognized on stage with a plaque or a trophy. Most of your work is done behind closed doors, and there is no audience giving you applause. Being a family caregiver is mostly thankless work unless you draw your strength from sources other than worldly praise. God sees what you do every hour of every day. He knows how hard you try to manage, and He will give you the strength to keep going through even the most difficult of days.

There may not be a building named after you, but you are a towering presence in your loved one’s life, and one day your faithful walk will be rewarded. Just hold on and press ahead, one step, one minute, one breath at a time. Reach out to God and others to share your journey and ask for help. Every superhero needs supporters. Find yours.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about tools and techniques that help you be someone’s caregiving superhero.


Finding Joy in Christmas

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December 24: Finding Joy in Christmas

 Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let Earth receive her King! It’s one of my favorite carols; I want the whole world to know the King has come! He was promised for so long, and in so many ways throughout scripture, Israel was told to anticipate his coming with joy and anticipation. But hundreds of years and many generations passed before the Promised One arrived. Israel grew tired of waiting and wondered what to expect.

When He did arrive, the Messiah was nothing at all like the waiting people imagined. A tiny baby was born to a young woman who conceived the child before she was married, and her betrothed who chose to take her as his wife and raise her child as his in spite of her embarrassing condition. Both were visited by an angel beforehand who gave them encouragement and instruction. Mary and Joseph were humble and obedient, but together they wondered at the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. They were no doubt frightened, confused, and apprehensive about what lay ahead for the infant they brought into the world that night.

And then the choir of angels appeared in the sky, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men (people) of good will!” The shepherds heard this heavenly announcement and came to see the baby lying in a manger. They were amazed at what they saw, and they went away rejoicing. The shepherds were probably the first people to actually experience joy on this strange, mysterious, wondrous night.

Joy is exuberant, an explosion of deep peace, contentment, celebration, elation, and glee. Joy exceeds happiness because it is more profound than one’s immediate circumstances. Joy is an overarching emotion that casts brilliant light into all the dark spaces of our hearts and leaves us radiant with hope. The shepherds were the lowliest of society at that time. They lived in the wilderness with their sheep. They mostly slept in caves or out in the fields. They rarely bathed, had virtually no creature comforts, and were only important as field hands who tended the flocks. Their lives were hard and offered few opportunities for rejoicing, but they found overwhelming, undeniable joy in this first Christmas.

When your caregiving journey seems unbearably long or is nothing like you imagined it might be, take a breath and a step back. During this Christmas season find a moment’s joy in the unexpected blessing of a tender moment with your loved one, or a surprise visit from a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Ponder the words in a favorite Christmas carol. Lose yourself in the mystery of the advent of a Messiah who came to save the world but started out small, helpless, and completely dependent on others to accomplish his purpose. Just think, you don’t have to be a savior; you only have to find a spot of joy in each day. When you do, you’ll find the strength to make it through another minute, another hour, another day, and the joy will increase as you continue to collect those moments.

This week we finally get to celebrate the advent of the Christ, come to the world as an infant but with the hope of all creation resting on His shoulders. And His shoulders are strong enough to bear that weight for all of us. Allow yourself to celebrate the Calm, the Peace, and the Truth of Christmas. Daily seek to find your joy in Jesus and let Him direct your paths.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding Joy in the promise of Christmas.