Talkin’ Turkey with Aging Loved Ones

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Chris and I love Thanksgiving! We host a large family gathering at our house each year. We cook far too much food, laugh frequently, and reflect with gratitude on the many blessings in our lives. This week, as our adult children return home and extended family members make the trip north, we are busy making extensive shopping lists and dusting everything in sight!

Often when adult children come home to their aging parents for the holidays, they are surprised to see that mom and dad aren’t keeping up with things like they once did. I reflect on my own experiences with my mother in her last couple of years. My visits home increased in frequency, and I became aware of several warning signs that she needed more help.

  • First, there was the kitchen. Clean dishes and storage containers were left out on the counters instead of being put away in cabinets. These items were more comfortable to reach when my mother needed one, but in her small kitchen, it also eliminated counter space for meal preparation.
  • This observation reinforced my second conclusion: virtually all of her meals consisted of pre-packaged foods that needed no preparation or just needed to go into the microwave for a few minutes. Her nutritional health was compromised by these convenience choices.
  • My third realization was how she was dressing. My mother never tried to be “smartly dressed,” but she always wore clean clothes and was well-groomed. I became concerned the day she asked me if I thought she smelled unpleasant. I had already observed that she frequently wore the same outfit for several days in a row, even when food stains were visible to my eye.
  • Then there was the problem of bathing. Taking a bath took considerable effort, so she only bathed a couple of times weekly, even though she had a CAREGiver from Home Instead who could have helped her wash more often.
  • Because she worried that she might have body odor, my mom began to only go out socially on the days she took a bath. I noticed this trend as a fifth warning sign. The woman who never missed any church gathering and worked actively in her church until she was well into her 90’s was now more inclined to sit at home on Sunday morning and watch TV church.

If you get to spend time with aging loved ones this Thanksgiving holiday, tune-up your observational skills and notice the little things. Maybe the house isn’t as clean or neat as it used to be, or the yard isn’t well-tended. Perhaps you see stacks of bills, and a few are 2nd notices. The food in the frig doesn’t look too fresh, and there’s not a tasty variety of groceries.

As I observed my mother’s increasing need for more help at home, I was in a position to know what needed doing. I talked with my brother, and together we approached our mother with our concerns. As a united front, we created a plan that gave our mother more help when we couldn’t be there and gave us more peace of mind about her safety and health.

Is it time to talk turkey with your parents and explore whether they may need some extra help with their daily routines? If one of them appears to be in a more significant decline, consider whether caregiving responsibilities could be too much for the other. Assure them that asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not of infirmity. It’s much better to embrace a little help early on than to resist assistance and end up in trouble later on. Here are some great tips to help start the conversation! There’s also a printable booklet if you prefer a hard copy.

Chris and I are thankful for all those family caregivers out in our communities this holiday season, and we pray God’s abundant blessings on this season of your life. We hope you will join the conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about talking turkey with your aging parents or relatives.

Going Home after Hospitalization

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If you’ve ever cared for a loved one who has come home after an extended hospital stay, you know it’s not care as usual. Former patients frequently come home with a whole host of new requirements after they are discharged. Everything from physical hygiene routines to dietary requirements to new medication regimens may be introduced during the discharge process and the transition back to home. While a small percentage of seniors may not be able to return home after a hospitalization, most can and would choose to do so, but the transition period is fragile for many and as a family caregiver your awareness of and ability to do what will be required is critical to the success of this mission!

Before your loved one was discharged were you able to speak with a doctor, nurse, or social worker who explained the next steps and answered your questions? If so, you may have been overwhelmed with the complexities you face as you help your mom or dad go home. New medication schedules, new meal plans, follow-up appointments with specialists, rehab exercises and home health visits are common in the post-hospitalization spectrum. If hospice services have been suggested, you should also begin to explore your options here if you haven’t previously done so.

If you did not get to meet with someone for the discharge plan, don’t be discouraged. It’s not too late! Most discharged patients come home with paperwork. Read it, and then call back to ask questions if something isn’t clear. Be sure you know when follow-up appointments should happen and make one if it’s not already scheduled. Check for new prescriptions or dietary changes. You might need to go to the store or pharmacy. If special equipment like a hospital bed or wheelchair will be needed your home health or hospice company can usually set this up prior to discharge. To work ahead, you can initiate these questions, as well as a possible timeline for discharge, early in your dad’s hospital stay. Keep asking the same questions until clear answers begin to emerge.

As you think about helping your aging loved one make the transition back home, carefully assess whether you will need extra help over the next few days or weeks. Be realistic, and don’t be embarrassed to ask for assistance if you need it! You might not feel comfortable bathing your dad if this wasn’t already in your routines. Your mom might have mobility issues now that weren’t present prior to her fall, and you might not be physically strong enough to do a full-body transfer. Home Health services, often covered by Medicare benefits, may well be a part of your care plan for the first few weeks. Utilize these services, and if you need more than the visit plan prescribed, reach out to your support base of family and friends or a professional, reliable home care company like Home Instead Senior Care to supplement the care you give. Considering that 20% of hospital readmissions of seniors are avoidable with adequate post-discharge care, your efforts to plan and execute a well-formed strategy that utilizes all your resources can mean the difference between success and failure at this critical juncture.

For more tips on how to successfully navigate a transition from hospital to home, click here, and Betsy and I hope you’ll join the conversation this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing a loved one’s care after a hospitalization.

 

Dementia and Night Wandering

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A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia brings its own unique set of challenges apart from typical aging issues. This class of disease robs one of their mental capacity while leaving their physical body unscathed. The result is someone who may be physically strong and healthy, but without the ability to reason, make good decisions, or even communicate their wants or needs to their caregiver. Aging brings its own challenges with advancing years. Loss of flexibility makes us more vulnerable to falls, changes in dietary needs may make us gain or lose weight to unhealthy levels, and reduced ability to see or hear further limits our connection to the world we live in. Add to this the confusion and frustration of dealing with dementia and you have a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.

One common fear most of us have as we age is the danger of falling, especially at night in the dark. As we age, we may get up in the night for bathroom needs or a drink of water. When someone with Alzheimer’s disease feels these urges they might not remember where the bathroom is, or what to do when they get there. If they begin to wander at night as the disease progresses, they could end up injuring themselves badly if they trip and fall.

Does this possibility prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep? If so, you’re not alone. It’s quite reasonable to fear your mom or dad will become a victim of their nocturnal rambling in the dark. If this worry disrupts your sleep patterns, you could end up getting sick yourself and become unable to provide the care they need. Many family caregivers struggle with getting enough rest when their loved one becomes a night wanderer, but there are things you can do to make the situation safer and more conducive to helping you sleep through the night.

For starters, you might put a baby monitor in your loved one’s room so you will hear them when they get up at night. There is also technology that puts sensors under the mattress or on the floor beside the bed that will emit an alarm when the sleeper gets out of bed. And if you really need to sleep through the night, you could ask a family member or hire a professional caregiver to sit up at night outside your loved one’s bedroom door so they can intercept the wanderer and help them get resettled in the night. Here are more suggestions for managing wandering both at night and during the day. It’s true that the better you can rest, the better care you can give.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about losing sleep over things that go bump in the night.

When You Need a Back-Up Plan

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Family Caregivers shoulder a lot of responsibility when they accept their role in caring for an aging loved one or spouse. In addition to the responsibilities they already have, they must now also handle the needs and wants of another person, and sometimes handle the other’s obligations as well. We make God laugh when we try to tightly control our lives because He is always in control and He already has a plan laid out for us. Surprises come out of left field that leave us staggering back, wondering how we can manage this along with everything else. Because your life is complicated and unpredictable, having a back-up plan is critical to managing all you do as a family caregiver.

The great news is that none of us are in this alone! The better you get at building a support team around you, the more secure you will feel when you need to activate your Plan B. No matter how skilled, how flexible, how healthy and well balanced you might be, there will be times when you have to trust someone else to step in and give you a hand when you can’t be there. When this need arises, you don’t want to be scrambling and trying to figure out what to do at the last minute. Rather, you want to have your resources in place so the transition to the new plan can be as painless as possible for you and those you care for.

Knowing where to turn to find the help you need is the first and most important step to help you win at caregiving. For this, you need to fully understand and be able to communicate your responsibilities to someone who can help you put a plan in place. You might have this conversation with other family members, your pastor, a parish nurse, someone in the medical community, or a professional provider in the senior care industry. You could also talk with a friend who has been down this road before and ask where they found their best resources. Keep in mind that having these strategic conversations doesn’t mean you are weak or incapable of fulfilling your caregiving commitments. If anything, it means you are looking ahead and taking full advantage of every opportunity to make certain your loved one has the care they need, even if you can’t be there.

From here, you will want to explore the avenues that have been suggested to you and choose the best path to follow. Begin to schedule time to have additional conversations within your chosen direction. Ask questions, describe in detail what would be needed, and listen to your heart even as you listen to the answers being given. Don’t be afraid to be graphic or to challenge statements that seem less than committed to the task at hand. A family member who suggests they might be able to help out probably won’t when the crisis is at hand. You must feel your way through this part, but don’t let that frighten you. Remember, God is STILL in control, even through your planning process. Let Him direct your path and bring forward the best solution to meet your needs.

Once you have your Plan B in place, you will want to periodically revisit it, just so things don’t get out of phase. Touch base with the people or professionals who have committed to being your back-up plan. Revisit and update the care needs of your loved one. Maybe even involve them periodically in a respite-care situation so you can take a break and they can build a relationship with your loved one. Then if you have to be away unexpectedly there is already familiarity with the situation.

When you work through this process all the way to the end, you’ve positioned yourself and your loved one in the best possible situation. You’re doing a great job as a family caregiver, and if you need help in a pinch, you’ve got that covered as well!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding reliable helpers.

 

What’s On Your Nightstand?

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What’s On Your Nightstand?

Family caregivers are often very hard on themselves. It’s easy to feel as though you never do anything right when one day seems to fade into the next without any noticeable improvement over your current conditions. But did you know that what you read, watch or listen to feeds our souls and influences our thoughts and actions in surprising ways? Music, television, movies, podcasts, books, and social media all contribute to how we engage and interact with the world around us. When so much of that content is about bad things, it’s easy to feel like we can never be good enough again.

 Research has shown time and again that people who feed their minds with positive thoughts are happier, more productive, and more hopeful than those who dwell on their “half-empty glass” experiences. But if you are someone who struggles to stay positive, what’s the best way to overcome those negative thoughts?

 One way to turn your thought processes around is to change your routine to include reading or listening to something positive and uplifting before sleeping at night. Think about what’s on your nightstand. When you go to bed at night, do you read before you turn out your light? Studies show this is a great way to unwind and calm your mind before you go to sleep. Alsoreading or listening to material that is positive, uplifting, inspiring, and makes you feel good is a better choice than the latest suspense novel or a great murder mystery.

 A scriptural devotional collection or your Bible is an excellent option for consideration; some of those Biblical heroes and heroines have highly engaging stories. Biographies or autobiographies of people you admire are also excellent choices, as are tales of heroism in the face of adversity. Even feel-good novels like the Mitford series by Jan Karon can lift your spirits and increase your “feel good” hormones.

 Audio podcasts are also a great source of positive messaging you could listen to before you go to sleep. If you’re not into readingconsider an audiobook subscription. The focus of this exercise is to take in good thoughts, positive words and ideas, and concepts that motivate and influence you to change your learned thought patterns from negative to positive. When you change how you think, you change how you feel, and that can change your life!

 Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you nourish your heart and soul to keep yourself mentally strong, emotionally positive, and totally amazing!

 

 

As the Weather Turns

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Temperatures are finally cooling off, and the changing weather brings opportunities to refresh wardrobes and get a change of scenery. Right now pumpkins and fall mums seem to be everywhere you look! Leaves are turning brilliant reds, oranges and yellows before being swirled into the wind as they fall from the trees. The sun’s light even seems more golden in the evening at this time of year. All of creation is signaling that the seasons are changing.

This is a great time to pick up a new sweater or pull one out of storage from last year. Freshen up cozy throws and winter coats that have been packed away. Warm fuzzy socks are a welcome haven for cold feet. During the summer months we didn’t do a lot of baking, but now it’s time to fire up the oven for pies, cookies, and hearty soups. Maybe you will even need to turn up the thermostat as mornings are chilly in the kitchen. Afternoons call for a hot mug of tea, freshly baked cookies and a good book to read.

For a more active lifestyle, the cooler temperatures always tempt me to go on a walk through the neighborhood or along a path in the woods. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can get. It’s aerobic, it’s weight-bearing, and it’s good for stiff joints. Added to all that goodness is God’s creativity on display everywhere you look with autumn’s vivid display of colors. What better way can you think of to get a little exercise and burn off some stress while taking full advantage of the season?

 Look for activities you can do together to create memories. Bake those cookies, hang a fall wreath on the door, go for a drive. Pick up some colorful leaves from the yard or along your walking route and create a vivid leaf collection to enjoy indoors. During my mom’s final months her gingko tree, her pride and joy, was pure gold and held onto its leaves far longer than usual. I went out one afternoon in November and filled a shallow bowl with the bright yellow leaves and brought them into her bedroom so she could see how lovely they were. I described the tree to her; the leaves that surrounded it on the ground seemed almost to shine their own internal light. The yellow leaves in the bowl held their color for weeks and she enjoyed them until she closed her eyes for the last time. Those memories are mine now to cherish, and I often reflect on the joy simple things brought to us in my mother’s last few weeks.

 We hope you’ll join the conversation this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about enjoying God’s handiwork with those you care for.

Renewing Your Faith

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“I am the vine and you are the branches…if you abide in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

How does your spiritual life feel these days? Are you on a mountaintop or are you in the desert? Do you feel energized and excited by worship when you are alone or with others, or do you feel uninspired and distracted? Does the Holy Spirit call you to scripture study each day, or does reading your Bible feel like an obligation or an imposition on your time?

Providing care for an aging loved one is hard work. Unlike professionals, Family caregivers usually don’t receive compensation, have difficulty taking time off, and may have a limited support system to backfill for them when their health or obligations take them out of action for a time. The pressure of managing a caregiving journey could leave you feeling empty, lonely, hopeless, angry, overwhelmed, and a whole host of other emotions.

 Jesus knew that the disciples were going to experience all of these emotions in the days ahead when he spoke with them about being the vine in John 15. He was giving them hope before they even knew they needed it! He wanted them to remember that He was their source of energy, strength, and productivity. He wanted them to continue on their mission, to bear fruit, even after He was gone from their sight, and He wants to have a vibrant, living relationship with each one of us today. His love for us is overwhelming, extravagant, and always sufficient for our needs. He promises that if we remain in Him we will bear much fruit. As a family caregiver, the fruit we bear (Galations 5:22-23) is truly all we need to thrive in our role of nurturer and provider for those who depend on us.

We all go through spiritual deserts when it’s hard to get excited about much of anything related to our faith walk, but Jesus will never leave us or forsake us and as we keep on crying out to our Savior, He will carry us to the mountaintop of His love again and again. Dwell with Him and He will renew your strength and restore your hope each day. Cling to Him through personal worship, corporate worship, and scripture study. Rest in His arms and find revival.

 Chris and I hope you’ll join the conversation this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding spiritual renewal while caregiving.