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.
Young children are often a joy to grandparents and older relatives. The patter of little feet and squeals of joy can bring warm smiles to faces covered in wrinkles and age spots. Especially if the little ones live far away, the visit is usually highly anticipated by older grandparents or relatives.
But visiting little ones can also create special challenges for family caregivers and those they care for when the quiet solitude of home is shattered by shrill voices and quickly moving little bodies that bounce around the room like a pinball. The sudden introduction of running, shouting, laughing or quarrelsome young children into a normally sedate environment can add a great deal of stress for every resident of the home. Even pets can become unpredictable when the invasion occurs.
Hearing deficits, mobility challenges, or vision loss can add a great deal of frustration to a visit that should be sweet and loving. Children’s high-pitched voices are much more difficult to understand for someone who experiences difficulty hearing, and reduced vision can create fall risks not normally present. If you care for someone who has problems walking or is prone to falls, running children and their toys create dangerous hazards for your loved one. Add to this a home that is not child-proofed and you have an environment that can invite broken knick-knacks, broken hips, and broken hearts.
But when visits with children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren are well planned, they can connect generations and strengthen family ties. Grandparents get to experience their living legacies and the joy of their youth. Grandkids get to learn of their family’s history and heritage. A sense of family continuity can be fostered from an early age when visits are well orchestrated.
Here are some tipsfor managing a multi-generational visit that will have everyone feeling wonderful at the end of the visit! Since these are targeted toward the parents of the little ones coming to visit, feel free to share these suggestions prior to arrival, so everyone is on the same page.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing family visits successfully.
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.
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:
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.