Every season is anchored by our memories of routines, those events that happened again and again during specific times of the year. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter all have their own unique rhythms and holidays. The school year dictates schedules and routines that impact the community as a whole. For Christians, the church calendar holds sway over the Advent and Lenten seasons. This ordering of life begins when we are very young and continues as we advance in age. Its routines give our lives a framework by which to make plans and arrange our tasks and activities.
But if someone you care for suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, their ability to hold onto these routines might be hindered by the disease’s progression. The ability to sequence, or order their thoughts, can be severely impaired by dementia of any kind. This impairment can be seen in the inability to follow directions in a recipe or do sequential tasks like buttoning buttons or tying shoelaces.
There are some things you can do to help your loved one reestablish some of those memory pathways, even though the result is usually short-lived. Looking through old photographs, listening to favorite musical selections, and even cooking family recipes can trigger memories that might bring back memories while opening up a whole new world to you as you share these special moments together. Click here for more suggestions to open up more good times.
You might start by gathering and sharing family stories from Septembers long ago. Ask family members to help you collect memories from the end of summer, school starts, autumn activities and beyond. Build your arsenal so you can be ready in the seasons ahead to continue this exercise. I promise it will enrich your time together with those for whom you provide care.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about restoring seasonal memories.
While we are still technically in summer, already the days grow shorter and the leaves have begun to show a little color. I don’t know about you, but I always welcome the end of summer because it brings a time of endings and new beginnings. There is a sense of anticipation and curiosity about what the new season will bring. Will autumn come quickly or will October temperatures rival those of July? As summer’s relaxed pace quickens into fall will we be able to keep up with increased responsibilities and demands on our time? The holidays are just around the corner; will we be able to better manage that season this year than we did in 2018?
For many family caregivers, time seems to move at a much slower pace than the passing of the seasons. One day fades into the next with very few changes in terms of the life rhythms of the caregiver and those they care for. How about you? In this season of caregiving do your days hold a sense of anticipation or dread? Do you have hope that your situation will improve, or do you fear that you can’t keep up with the demands that caregiving places on your time and energy?
Whatever you are feeling, my hope would be that you can embrace this season of change with a sense of celebration and hope. God didn’t call you to this task only to abandon you here. He asks that you keep your eyes on Him in the midst of the physical, mental, or emotional storm that surrounds you. Trust Him to equip you with enough strength and resources each day to meet the challenges that will come. Ground yourself in prayer and scripture study.
Maybe you could even go back to school in a sense. Try to approach today’s challenges as an opportunity to discover new strategies, try out different ideas, stretch yourself to become more than you were in days gone by. Promote yourself to a new class of caregiving and celebrate the opportunity to care for the one you love. You will both benefit from your efforts.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about learning new lessons in caregiving.
How did you sleep last night? Sleep is a beautiful thing, but most family caregivers don’t sleep all that well at night for lots of excellent reasons. What keeps you awake? Do you have to get up to assist your loved one? Are you worried about issues like money, other family obligations, or even your personal health? Whatever the cause(s), it’s critically important that you get enough sleep every night to keep yourself healthy.
Sleep has many benefits to offer. Most people need somewhere between six and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep time to feel truly rested. Good sleep helps improve your memory and ability to focus. Slumber enhances your ability to solve complex problems, and it even helps with weight management. Betsy and I both know from personal experience what it’s like to fight the battle of the bulge!
There are several strategies you can employ to get a better night’s sleep. First, if you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, try to reduce or eliminate these from your diet. If this seems too extreme, maybe you can avoid caffeine after lunch. Establish a routine before bedtime that lets your body and mind know it’s time to rest. Make your room a few degrees cooler if possible or purchase a fan if cooling the entire house would make your loved one too cold at night. A cool, dark room is most conducive to restful sleep. If pets disturb your sleep, find a way to relocate their sleeping area so you can rest undisturbed. Finally, try to get some exercise each day and avoid alcohol, as it can be more disruptive to good sleep through the night.
If caregiving tasks weigh upon your mind at night, keep a notepad next to the bed and jot down what troubles you. Then give it to Jesus and rest in the assurance that He will help you with whatever you face. If necessary, you can take up the list the next morning and work on solutions to address matters that kept you awake the previous night. For other suggestions on how to sleep better, click here.
Finally, remember that you are not alone. Your support network needs to know that you are struggling and not sleeping well. Perhaps others can pitch in and offer respite care to give you a night off from time to time, or you can hire a professional agency to provide overnight care so you can relax and rest in the assurance that your loved one receives the care they need.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the beauty of better sleep.
Depression is fairly common among senior adults who live into very old age. Older seniors may experience many losses that affect their emotional wellbeing. The death of a beloved pet is difficult for any animal lover but consider how you might feel if over a matter of months or years you outlived all of your siblings, most of your friends, your spouse and even one or more adult children. These losses build up over time and can create chronic depression for seniors who live a very long time. Add to this grief-stricken state the losses of eyesight, hearing, driving privileges, mobility, a sense of purpose and the onset of chronic pain and illnesses and a senior has every reasonable reason to be depressed. How do you know if your loved one is really depressed or suffering from some other condition?
Most of us know that signals such as loss of appetite, disinterest in having lunch with friends or attending church services, and declining hygiene habits are some of the warning signs of depression. But these can also be harbingers of dementia or other chronic conditions. Unexpected behaviors like forgetfulness, confusion, and even medication avoidance or mismanagement that develop suddenly and progress quickly can also indicate your loved one is experiencing acute depression, or they might be caused by an organic issue like a severe urinary tract infection. And all these symptoms could also be caused by a medication’s side effects or polypharmacy, which happens when one or more prescribed medication interacts negatively with another one. The best way to avoid this problem is to use the same pharmacist over time and develop a relationship so your pharmacist knows all the medications your loved one takes.
Here is a checklist on signs of depression and more information from the National Institutes of Health.
A visit to your loved one’s primary care physician might offer some answers to help brighten the day for both you and the one you care for. If depression is diagnosed, the doctor might suggest a medication or changing routines in the home to bring a sense of purpose and self-worth back to your loved one’s life. If a chronic condition is to blame for their symptoms try to learn as much as possible about the condition and how to manage it for optimal outcomes. Caregiverstress.com has some great resources here on coping strategies.
Developing a new hobby that is suited to your loved one’s current abilities might bring a smile back to their face and a light to their eyes. The important thing is to be aware and observant. Because you are with your senior frequently, you might miss changes that occur slowly over time. Try asking less frequent visitors to alert you if they notice unexpected changes.
Finally, trust God to give you and your loved one the strength and encouragement you both need to get through each day with a purpose and a plan. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish when you both start the day with an intentional direction in mind. Celebrate the little wins. Like I used to tell my mother, “If you are still breathing, then God isn’t finished with you yet!” It always made her smile.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about Depression’s Downside.
Many family caregivers find it necessary to help their loved one consider moving from the old family home where they raised children and created so many memories to one that is smaller and easier to care for. Sometimes this decision is driven by financial factors or practical considerations like an open floor plan and one-story living. Other concerns might include moving to live closer to family members who can help with caregiving responsibilities. Declining physical ability or illness might drive this decision in quick or unexpected ways.
Whatever the reason, the decision to downsize brings a wide range of emotions and a tremendous amount of work to pack up, decide what to keep and what to discard, give away or sell. Most seniors have spent a lifetime accumulating their possessions, and they find it very difficult to part with treasured belongings. As the family caregiver, much of this responsibility could fall to you. If it does, you need to move very carefully to preserve your loved one’s dignity and sense of self-worth even as you break up their lifetime’s accumulations.
The decision to downsize, or “right-size” into the next home, can be both painful and exciting for the senior and their family. You can take several steps to ease this transition and make the best of it. Caregiverstress.com has some great suggestions like making a photo album of the old home filled with family, friends, and celebrations. The Life Storage Blog emphasizes the need to keep communication open and talk through why downsizing is the right decision. When everyone is on the same page the move will go more easily and more happily.
Be sure to involve other family members to assist with deciding what should stay or be given away and what will go to the next home. Be smart and hire a professional moving company to help with the heavy lifting of packed boxes and prepping furniture for the big day. This can save lots of heartache and backaches! A good company won’t damage the furniture that is going to the new home and moving professionals know how to lift and move the heaviest of boxes without needing to see a chiropractor the next day!
If you find yourself needing to help your loved one decide it’s time to move, reach out to your support team for prayer and encouragement. With your loved one’s input decide what the best next step will be, whether it is to move in with you or another adult child, move to a smaller house or apartment with an age-friendly design, or move to a retirement community. If possible, begin this process early enough to take your time, visit several options, and find the right one for both you and your loved one.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about deciding to downsize.
Remember when you didn’t worry about your parents? They took care of their own affairs, and it never crossed your mind that there might come a time when they wouldn’t be able to keep house, run errands, cook their own meals, do the laundry, pay the monthly bills, and attend church like they’d been doing for as long as you could remember. These things were so much a part of your reality that you took them for granted. Sure, after your mom’s illness she needed help for a few weeks with little things around the house, but mostly your dad managed these. And when he began to forget little things here and there, everyone laughed about it and your mom may have covered for him more than anyone knew.
For some family caregivers, the role emerges gradually. You pitch in from time to time, and one day you realize you are planning your week around when you need to be available to help your aging loved ones. You find doctor’s appointments intruding on little league practices or high school performances. You notice the house isn’t as clean as it once was and feel the need to tidy up when you come for a visit. You take a load or two of clothes home to wash while you do your own housework, just to keep your dad from having to go down into the basement. You notice stacks of unopened mail lying around the house, and some have colored labels signifying second notices or cut-off warnings. Suddenly you realize that, in addition to managing your own life, you have taken on the management of your parents’ lives as well.
If you find yourself needing to be the manager of everything these days, the situation can feel uncomfortable for everyone involved. Your parents may not realize how dependent they have become, and question why you do everything for them; a spouse or siblings might resent your managerial role with your parents or question why you felt it necessary to take charge. Your own family might even resent your self-acquired responsibility for your parents and their well-being because your children or spouse feel neglected or forgotten.
One or more family conversations can help everyone get on the same page about when and why your managerial role is necessary right now, and what needs to happen next to make the best of the situation. The 40-70 Rule is a great resource for having these conversations.
An objective professional can also help guide the family dialogue through the necessary steps to manage everything in its turn. Geriatric Care Managers are a good resource for this type of intervention, but so are home care professionals who have many years of giving counsel to families dealing with situations like yours. They can make recommendations, give referrals, and offer solutions that can help you balance out your life and responsibilities while caring for those throughout your corner of the world.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing your life and your parents’ lives as a family caregiver.
Family caregivers deal with issues that are both common and perplexing when caring for an aging parent or relative. One of these issues is their loved one’s loss of appetite. Loss of appetite is common among older people. Partly this is a natural occurrence because as our bodies age, we don’t need as much food to keep us going. But sometimes loss of appetite is caused by other factors like illness, disease, wear and tear on the digestive system, and even loss of control or depression.
One primary reason for a change in appetite is the loss of taste or smell. As we age, our taste buds change over time. Foods we did not like as children we might develop a taste for when we are older. Tomatoes were like that for Betsy. She hated tomato sandwiches as a girl, and now they are a favorite treat.
Conversely, if your aging loved one enjoyed a food when they were younger, but now they say it has no flavor, you might try adding a little spice or some herbs to pump up the taste. I’m not suggesting you salt everything well, because that’s not a good idea! But try a little curry powder or add raisins or chopped dates to raise the sweetness naturally. If a texture is a problem as well, you could add some nourishing soups made with coconut milk, which adds both protein and fat. Here’s a link for some recipe suggestions using coconut milk.
Older adults might also resist eating if medical conditions cause unpleasant physical problems like digestive discomfort or socially unacceptable results like passing gas. They may also decide they want to die as Betsy’s mother did, and so stop eating. This is usually a sign of depression driven by the loss of control or a sense of isolation in their lives. To overcome these issues, you need to become creative by asking your loved one to help plan meals. Make occasions of mealtimes by inviting other family members or friends to join in. Many older people don’t like to eat alone. Try setting the table with the good china, lighting candles, and preparing colorful foods whose flavors are boosted by spices and seasoning to engage your loved one at mealtime. A little excitement might make them more enthusiastic about mealtime.
We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to overcome an older person’s appetite loss.