Accepting Change

As we go through life, we experience changes. While some changes are marvelous, other changes are painful; whatever it’s countenance, change is inevitable, and because this is true, we all need coping strategies to deal with change.

 If you have ever raised children, you will remember having to make changes in your home or your lifestyle to meet the changes in your children as they grew. Once the baby began to crawl, everything had to come up off the floor. Once the teenager began to drive, car rules and seating arrangements needed to be modified. The same holds true as we grow older and our ability to do the things we once did, or to live the way we once did, changes.

 These age-related changes can be frightening and even dangerous in some instances. But, with proper knowledge and planning, they can be handled in stride, and you can achieve the best results because of your attention to the issues you are facing.

 Let’s consider dementia first. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias impact a significant number of older adults in our society today. With no cure on the horizon, Family Caregivers need to be knowledgeable of these diseases and their warning signs, as well as coping strategies for successful outcomes.

 People with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit forgetfulness, anxiety, wandering, and personality changes. Eventually, as the disease progresses, they may not be able to feed themselves or manage essential physical functions. These symptoms may be hidden at first through the use of avoidance or humor, but as time passes the confusion, anger, and frustration with their loss of memory becomes apparent.

 The Family Caregiver who works with someone who has dementia needs to understand strategies for coping with the challenging behaviors these illnesses present because early intervention is crucial to keeping a potentially dangerous situation from developing. The first step is to see the problem coming. The second is to know how to achieve a quick intervention to avoid the crisis. The third is to take swift action to bring about a successful conclusion to the event.

I don’t mean to frighten you, but the reality is, you only have about thirty seconds to engage your loved one, implement your strategy, and successfully achieve your desired outcome.

 Sound complicated? Not really, if you are equipped and know what you are doing. And, as the Family Caregiver, you are uniquely equipped with an arsenal of intimate details that can assist you with implementing your strategy.

 Here are four suggestions for how to avoid a volatile situation with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Offer choices to reduce stress and the potential for upsetting your dad. Having options gives him a sense of control in the midst of his out-of-control illness. Keep these simple; something like, “Would you like to wear the red sweater, or the blue jacket today?” assumes that he will wear one of them. And if instead, he chooses the green sweatshirt, you’ve still gained the victory.
  2. Try to redirect the person from their objective using something you know they like doing. For example, if your dad worries that the neighbors are going to steal his car (and you know this is not the case) but you know your dad likes watching old war movies suggest that you find one to watch together on TV. Reassure him that you will make sure the car is safely locked up, then move him to the other room to watch TV.
  3. Apologize if he accuses you of something you did not do. Don’t try to convince him that you didn’t do what he is accusing you of, simply apologize and offer to help resolve the issue. If he accuses you of having stolen his wallet, for example, tell him you can look together to find his wallet, or suggest that it is lunch time and you will help him search later for his wallet.
  4. As a final resort, remove your loved one from the room, or the object on which s/he is focused. Sometimes a simple change of venue will win the day.


Lastly, always remember that what works this time may not work the next, so try three different techniques to have your best success. Choose your fight carefully when you are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Don’t argue or correct your loved one if they claim something to be that has never been, or if they tell you they never liked a particular food. You should only intervene if the activity they are focused on could injure them or someone else in some way. “Lose” the car keys if he insists that he needs to drive to work. Modify the door knobs to exterior doors, or attach deadbolt locks to prevent wandering away from home. And enlist the help of family, friends, and neighbors to give yourself a break from time to time.

 As the disease progresses, you may come to a time when facility care is necessary for the safety of your loved one. If this season happens, don’t feel like you have failed. It is but one possible outcome of the disease. Appreciate the time you have spent personally investing in the life of your loved one, and visit often. We will talk more about facility care at another time because there is a place for it in the spectrum of aging care issues. But for now, we hope you will join the conversation below, and share your heart.



New Beginnings

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Whether or not you observe this favorite tradition, it’s always good to take a little time each year to step back and take stock of where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’re going. Take this opportunity to celebrate your victories over the last few months, consider where you might have done things differently, and then set a course for improvement in the coming weeks and months.

Without this exercise, I frequently feel stuck, like I’m accomplishing nothing with my life. It also helps me to write down my goals. There’s just something about putting them down on paper. When I come back a few months later to check my progress, I’m often surprised by how much I’ve gotten done.

If you are the primary, or only, care provider for your loved one, you might feel like one day blurs into the next, with no real high points to celebrate during your care journey together. My mom’s days were like that in 2017. Day by day, the clock moved slowly forward. Her Home Instead CAREGivers would try to break up the monotony with conversation, activities or getting out to run errands; phone calls and visits from family members and friends were the high points for her each week. I tried my best to focus on these when I would call her, and when I visited, I told her stories about my children’s lives to give her a window into another world.

Take care of yourself and your care recipient in 2018. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your New Beginnings list:

  1. List three things you are grateful for from 2017, and if possible, ask your loved one to do the same. Write these down, maybe in your journal, and make a habit of doing this periodically!
  2. List one to three things you’d like to accomplish in 2018 and do the same with your loved one. These should be attainable, and things that will make you feel good. For example, perhaps you want to learn to paint or play a musical instrument. Maybe your loved one would like to read or listen to a biography of someone they admire, or perhaps they would like to record a message for their grandchildren. Set a deadline and celebrate your accomplishments together!
  3. Be good to yourself. Keep your preventive maintenance appointments throughout the year. Take some “me” time each day to find your balance.
  4. Be social on a regular basis. It helps you stay connected, and it’s also good for your loved one to spend time with others while you are gone.
  5. Keep your spiritual foundation strong. Join a Bible study group, even if it’s online. Attend church services when possible, or ask your minister to drop in for visits if you cannot get out regularly.
  6. Exercise! Your body and your brain need regular workouts to maintain their ability to function at optimal levels. Try for every day, but three to four times weekly is your absolute minimum. Even bending and stretching is a great way to start this discipline.
  7. Don’t forget that your body and your brain also need sleep and healthy nutrition. Give each of these a healthy dose of priority in your New Year’s planning.

Think about what you want 2018 to look like in your role as a Family Caregiver. Pray about it, plan for it, and write it down. Keep it where you can see it, and you’ll be on your way to a great new beginning in 2018!


Winning at Caregiving

What does being a Family Caregiver mean to you? This concept means different things to different people. If you are retired, or if you don’t work full-time, you might be able to devote many hours to caring for a loved one. If you live far away or work full-time in a demanding job, you probably need to involve others in your care plan. If your loved one’s needs advanced care beyond your capabilities, or if you are sick or injured yourself, you will need to modify your care plan to supplement or replace the care you have been giving. The key word in all of these scenarios is FLEXIBILITY.

Flexibility is the hallmark of a champion Family Caregiver. When you take each day as it comes, and deal with each challenging situation as it arises, you will find yourself developing strategies that work most of the time. And if the same technique does not work every time, then have a couple of backup ideas. Through practice with what works and what doesn’t, you can hone your skills and refine your playbook.

Just like with any serious athlete, it takes courage for a Family Caregiver to get up day after day and start all over again. Because one day is never like the next, you always have an opportunity to build on the good moments and minimize the hard ones. Your courage to work through good times and bad, to step back when necessary and regroup, to try new ideas when routines fail you, and to accept your failures when they occur establishes a foundation for winning at caregiving.

In addition to your efforts, remember that victorious caregiving is a team sport. While the Family Caregiver’s role can feel terribly isolated, your game plan should include others who care for you and will offer help before you are at the end of your rope! Just like any championship sports team, you probably also have people on your bench who are just waiting for the opportunity to assist. Accept their help when it is offered, and ask for it when you need help. Take breaks to regain some balance in your own life. Utilize a professional caregiving service like Home Instead Senior Care if you need additional resources. It takes a team to support a winning Family Caregiver, and your team can make you a superstar at giving care.

When you are a Family Caregiver, one thing is certain: every day is different, and each one holds its own challenges. Your championship strategy is to remain flexible, practice what works, step into your caregiver role with courage and confidence, and involve others when you need them. Courage, consistent practice, and a great game plan will carry you all the way to win every day at caregiving!



When Your Christmas is Blue

With all of the holiday cheer during this season, it’s hard for some people to understand how others could feel sad, lonely, or depressed. The media, retailers, and our neighbors all project the perfect holiday season, and everyone’s life looks perfect from the outside. Good cheer seems to permeate the very air we breathe! But for many people, the holidays bring loneliness, isolation, and regrets. These emotions are driven by a number of reasons, but they are valid for those who feel them.

Some people feel depressed around the holidays because they are grieving losses that have occurred during the last year. This may mean the death of loved ones or the loss of ability or even freedom of time and focus. Whatever the cause, loss requires a period of recovery and time to grieve. Others simply feel that their holiday experiences won’t measure up to our culture’s picture-perfect images of smiling families and bright, shiny packages in perfectly decorated homes.

Some people feel a physical impact with the advent of shorter days and longer nights. They are emotionally impacted by reduced light exposure, and if you are one of these people, you should consult your doctor, because there are therapies that can help with this medical condition, known as a seasonal affected disorder or SAD.

Whatever the cause of your depression, if you are one of these people who feel sadness during the holidays, don’t be hard on yourself. Very few people experience perfect holidays. And if you are a Family Caregiver, you are tasked with managing holiday observations and celebrations for others as well as for yourself.

There are things you can do to give yourself an instant mood-lift during the holidays. Bake cookies, or simply sprinkle some cinnamon on a baking sheet and pop it in a warm oven for a few minutes. Your kitchen will smell like a bakery in no time, with no added calories! Light scented candles, or make a flavored tea and sip on it while you relax in some “me” time. For longer-term mood lifters, simplify long-held holiday traditions, or ask for help from others to make everyone’s memories extra-special again this year. Explain to other family members how things have changed, and implement a plan to balance your responsibilities and obligations to those you care for with the expectations of others in your life during this special time of year.

The important thing is to remember why we celebrate this time of year. My family celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who came to save the world from its sins. When we are focused on this point of celebration, the joy of our holiday celebrations shines through any difficulties we face.

Gift Ideas for Family Caregivers

What’s the best gift you could imagine for yourself as a Family Caregiver? Does something immediately come to mind? Would you love to have a subscription to your favorite magazine or a gift card to a favorite restaurant? How about a foot spa or one of those pads that gives you a chair massage? Even better, how about a gift certificate for a session with a massage therapist? Or better yet, a year’s membership to a local spa that will give you a massage every month? Maybe get a manicure while you’re there?

It’s easy for me to think of gifts you might like, but how could I possibly guess what your best present might be? And, actually, you might not be so quick to make suggestions, either. Most Family Caregivers are so attuned to the needs of others that they are slow to recognize their own needs. And usually, if they are brutally honest with themselves and others, most Family Caregivers would tell the gift-givers in their lives that they need help. But most of us won’t admit that until we reach a critical point of overload or burnout.

We’ve talked at length over the past few months about finding balance in the Family Caregiver’s world. Establishing balance will allow you to care for yourself while caring for others. It’s not an easy achievement, but it is so worthwhile if you can build it! Balance means different things to different people; it’s not a cookie-cutter concept. Here are some ideas for Family Caregiver gifts that might help you, or someone you love, achieve balance in caregiving:

  1. A gym or yoga membership, or a workout DVD.
  2. An attractive journal for tracking the caregiving journey.
  3. Vouchers or gift certificates for house-cleaning services.
  4. Gift certificates to a favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or spa.
  5. Vouchers for respite care to take a break and do something fun.
  6. A devotional book or magazine for caregivers.
  7. Info on a local Family Caregiver support group with a commitment to come and cover while the Family Caregiver attends the sessions.
  8. Hobby supplies, or a gift certificate to the local hobby store.
  9. Two tickets to a cultural event, with a promise to cover the loved one while they attend with a friend.
  10. A commitment to emotional support and time are the two best gifts any Family Caregiver could ever receive.

If the item is expensive, family members might go in together to purchase it. And remember, gifts don’t have to only happen at Christmas and birthdays! An unexpected gesture of support and appreciation is always appropriate and might be exactly what was needed to get through an unexpectedly challenging day.

The best gifts aren’t the ones that cost the most but are the ones that come from the heart. Join the conversation and share the best gifts from your heart.

Family Feuds

“Over the river and through the snow,

To Grandmother’s house, we go!”

Every December my husband and I would pack our kids in the car for the 7-hour drive to Georgia to spend time with his family for their annual holiday gathering. We would sing, laugh, play games, listen to audiobooks, and then tumble out of the car at Mema’s house for a few days of good food, laughter, and reconnecting with aunts, uncles, and cousins not seen for many months. The family filled the house to overflowing, and the laughter never stopped.

Family gatherings fill the weeks between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day for most people, and these are an essential part of our traditions. But if you are a Family Caregiver, this custom can bring lots of added stress to your holidays, and not the least of this is the discord that might arise if families clash about the care you are giving to your aging loved one, or if they fail to recognize your sacrifice of time and energy.

When aging parents need help, conflicts may arise from several directions. When there are several adult children, there may be conflict over who becomes the primary decision-maker for arranging care. Usually, if one adult child is local, that person takes on this role, and may even become the primary caregiver. Other siblings might disagree on the type of care or the amount of attention your aging parent needs. Conflict may also arise if there is a cost involved in receiving care, and sometimes families disagree on how the money is spent. If sibling rivalry has been an ongoing issue within the family, this can create additional strain within the family dynamics as well.

Family feuds are never fun when they impact a Family Caregiver. If you feel caught in the middle, your best recourse is to involve an impartial 3rd party expert who can listen objectively to the issues the family is dealing with and help broker a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Such disagreements might involve the senior’s actual condition and needs, estate planning, financial management, interpersonal roles and rivalries, and the burden of care. Your 3rd party expert might be a minister, a doctor, a geriatric care manager, or even someone from a homecare or hospice agency.

The most important thing is to try and keep your ego out of the mix. As the primary Family Caregiver, you have to always keep your loved one’s best interests in the forefront. If you can help your siblings and other family members do this as well, you have a much better chance of coming up with a plan that everyone will support, and your holiday gatherings will be merry and bright!

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Handling Holiday Traditions as a Family Caregiver

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or is it? Maybe we should change the words of that song to be: It’s the most…stressful time of the year? Maybe it’s the most hectic time of the year? Or it’s the most frustrating time of the year? Well, at least that one works rhythmically 😉

Our family loves the holidays. The music, the lights, the food, and the traditions are all near and dear to our hearts. We decorate the weekend after Thanksgiving and take it all down sometime in January. It’s a busy season, with church events and concerts, parties, end-of-year obligations as business owners, and shopping for gifts large and small. We have traditional recipes we use year after year. We read the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, and A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore on Christmas Eve before bed.  We’ve taken the same Christmas morning photo of our kids in their Christmas PJ’s on the staircase that comes down to the kitchen from their bedrooms for ten years now. This year will be different because we will have an extra “kid” as our son-in-law joins the ranks on Christmas morning!

This year our Christmas will be a little different in another way as well because we don’t know what our holiday season will hold with Betsy’s mom’s recent change in health. Betsy knows that her brother could call at any minute to say she needs to come quickly. Of course, we have all known for years that this could happen, but it feels much closer now since her mom’s change in condition.

As a Family Caregiver, you know how unpredictable your schedule may be on any given day. Depending on the condition of the person you care for, or the care plan you have set up, you might have the freedom to keep up with a hectic holiday schedule, but it also might not be worth the effort. Ask yourself this question: do you have room to breathe deeply, to relax, to soak in a hot tub or enjoy a quiet cup of tea every day during the holidays? If not, you might want to rethink your schedule and your stress level!

Here’s an exercise to help you determine what might be negotiable this holiday season.

  1. Make a list of everything that is “tradition” during your holidays.
  2. Next to the items on your list, give each item a value of zero to five, with five being most important things you love about the holidays and zero being completely unimportant.
  3. Remove all the items that ranked as a zero. (Duh!)
  4. Now, look at your list one more time, to make sure there are no more zeros hiding there.
  5. Look at everything ranked one, two, or three and consider to whom you might delegate these items. Delegate them, or ask yourself, if it didn’t happen this year would it matter? If the answer is “no”, then re-rank it a zero and remove it from your list.
  6. Look at all the fives on your list. Do you really love all of these items? If you do, then make room for them in your schedule and enjoy them for all they are worth. Do the same for the traditions you ranked with a four as well, as you have time.
  7. Consider the ones, twos, and threes that you didn’t delegate. Seriously, to whom can you transfer these traditions? Or can they happen outside of the holiday crush? You could enjoy Christmas cookies in January when it’s cold outside. Skip hosting a get-together until after the holidays, when people are moving more slowly and looking for something to do.

Now, look at your list one last time. All you should have left on your list are the things you truly love about the holidays. These won’t feel like chores; they will be highlights of your month. They should bring you joy and pleasure and will make you a better Family Caregiver for your loved one.

What ranks as a five on your list? Join the conversation and share your heart!