Alzheimer’s Awareness

Last weekend Chris and I participated in our local Alzheimer’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Along with hundreds of other people in our community, we raised money and raised awareness of this devastating disease. Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias impacts everyone in our community over the course of our lifetimes. Perhaps you are caring for someone with dementia, or have someone in your family who has the disease. Maybe you have noticed someone at church, or in your community, who seems disoriented or confused when they are in a social setting. You might see an older person become agitated or argumentative when they are eating at a restaurant, or shopping in the grocery store.

Many people who have undiagnosed or recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia still live alone within their communities. When the disease process is in an early stage, symptoms are often dismissed as normal forgetfulness, signs of old age, or they might even be camouflaged through humor or avoidance. As the disease advances, behavior changes cannot be hidden and the truth comes to light, but sometimes awareness comes too late. Early intervention through support services, medication management, and a progressive plan of care can make the difference between a high quality of life and a complete loss of quality of life.

Here are some things to look for if you are concerned about a family member, neighbor, or friend at church. While Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia may not be the cause, these are all indicators that the person you care about needs some help at this point in their life.

  1. Is the house that was usually kept clean and neat now cluttered and dirty? Does the exterior of the house need maintenance, and do the lawn and shrubbery need upkeep?
  2. Does the mail or paper sit uncollected in the box for days at a time, or do bills go unpaid until utilities get turned off?
  3. Has someone stopped attending church or social functions when they once regularly attended these activities and enjoyed them?
  4. Is your neighbor’s car showing signs of neglect, or damage from minor scrapes and dents? Has your neighbor forgotten to put the car in park and had it roll back into shrubbery or a tree?
  5. Is someone who used to be well-dressed and put together now wearing dirty clothing and neglecting personal hygiene?
  6. Does someone forget to take their medications, or exhibit uncertainty about whether or not meds have been taken according to doctor’s instructions?
  7. Is someone making poor nutritional choices or is there out-of-date food in the pantry or refrigerator? Have you noticed weight gain or loss?
  8. Has speech becomes repetitive or confused?
  9. Do you notice a marked decrease in physical activity levels from previous norms? Have you noticed a general decline in physical, mental, or emotional characteristics and ability?

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.alz.org. For more tips on caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, visit https://www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com.

Chris and I hope you will join the conversation, and share your heart!

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Working It All Out: Finding Balance Between Caregiving and Exercise

When I travel to visit my mother, now 97 years old, I pack my workout clothes. I’m certainly no expert, but at 57 years of age, I’ve learned that going for a walk/run every morning helps me deal with the stress of my day, whether I’m at work or with my mom. This is especially challenging when I visit my mom. You see, I need to get up early to get this done before my day of caregiving begins, but she likes to stay up late, and wants me to stay up with her. It’s quite the balancing act to make it all work out…and this morning it totally crashed and burned!

I was up until about 12:30 last night, watching TV with her and then helping her get settled into bed. I finally got to sleep, with an alarm set for 8:30. Usually when I am here, she sleeps until well after 9:00 am, and sometimes even 10:00 or later. My morning workout takes about 45 minutes, so I planned to leave the house at 8:45 am and get back by 9:30. Surprise! My mom got up at 8:30 am, so no early morning workout for me today. Well, I thought, I’ll get it in later when she takes a nap.

And then the second surprise happened. After breakfast my mother, now 97, nearly fell…again. She is perplexed by why she is so prone to falls, and it worries my brother and me that she is in her house alone for most of every day. But she is stubborn, obstinate, and insistent that she does not need help…until she does, and then it’s too late. Fortunately, I was with her this morning when the almost-fall happened. I quickly reached around and supported her. She sagged into me, and I coached her to stand up straight, which she finally did. She is napping as I write this, and I sit and ponder what to do for my mother, and how I will take care of myself today and in the days ahead, while also taking care of her.

I shared my 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 you 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.
  • 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 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 great afterwards!
  • 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 FitBitR or even a simple pedometer to help you keep track of your movement. But start moving and keep moving to 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 like mine did today. 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, like mine did this morning, then you 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 can do it in the next room while my mom is napping. So, if you will please excuse me, I must implement Plan B before my mother wakes up from her nap!

Chris and I hope you will join the conversation, and share your heart on where exercise fits into your caregiving strategies, or what challenges you face when finding the time to work out.

What to Eat…or Not to Eat? That is the Question!

Let’s face it, we can’t live without food! But some foods are our friends, and others might be our enemies. Hopefully you grew up in a household where someone, maybe your mom, put a healthy meal on the table at least once a day, and maybe more. My mom never let us leave the house in the morning without breakfast, and my brother and I usually ate lunch at school. Dinner was a regular occurrence, and almost always it was a home-cooked meal. We would have roast beef, ham, pork chops, or spaghetti most often. Occasionally there was a salad, though this was not a regular occurrence. There was always bread, and a jar of mayonnaise was a staple condiment! On rare occasions we had chicken, turkey, or fish, but these were rare because my mom didn’t like cooking them.

My husband and I grew up in the south, where cooks are plentiful and wonderful! Most of my favorite foods are sweet in some way: chicken salad has a little added sugar, baked beans and spaghetti sauce has brown sugar added in significant quantities, and, of course, all those wonderful cakes, pies, and tasty treats! Then there are the drinks served on hot summer days (or all year round…): sweet tea, lemonade, fruit tea, mint juleps, and the like. It’s enough to make almost anyone diabetic! But it’s the culture we were raised in, so it’s all we knew. As adults, we have both struggled with weight issues, mostly because we didn’t know how we should be eating to make food our friend rather than our enemy. Now, to be truthful, God made each one of us differently; to be at our optimal health, our nutritional needs are different from one individual to the next.

 Here are a few nutritional concepts you should consider as a family caregiver:

  1. How does your food make you feel? Do you come away from a meal energized and ready to move? Are you sharp and focused, or are you dragging and tired? Do you need a nap after eating? If these descriptions sound familiar, then what you are eating is not your friend! Try keeping a food journal for a month. Jot down what you are eating, and then set a timer. An hour or two after your meal, ask yourself how you feel, and jot that down. See if any trends emerge. This can build a guide for which foods are your friends, and which are not.
  2. How often do you eat? If you skip breakfast, grab a quick lunch/brunch at drive-through, and then order carryout for dinner, you’re probably not getting enough nutritional bang for your bucks! You should eat five to six small meals throughout your day if possible. Instead of eating a little breakfast, a light lunch and a big dinner, try to think of it this way. Consider all the food you eat in your day, and imagine putting it all together, then dividing it out into five or six portions. This is about what you should be eating. And whether you are into Atkins or Paleo, Vegan or South Beach, Weight Watchers or another dietary option, every “weight loss” plan out there suggests having regular meals and snacks in between. This is why. If you eat five or six times daily, and let every “meal” have some complex carbs, lean protein, and fiber, you will sustain energy throughout your day!
  3. Do you eat enough fruits and veggies? That “apple a day” thing really works! You say you don’t like apples? Try some other fruits, or better yet, have a smoothie for breakfast!
  4. Where do your carbs come from? You should try to limit your simple carbohydrates like bread, cookies, flour-based pastas and bready casseroles. Most of your daily carbs (which give you energy) should come from your fresh or frozen fruits and veggies. Some are better than others, but all have benefits for your health.
  5. Do you have some lean protein at every meal? Lean protein doesn’t have to be animal protein. There are lots of plant-based proteins that are healthy, lean, and tasty!
  6. How much your water do you drink each day? I cannot say enough about this important concept. Your body is mostly made of water, so a little dehydration can wreak havoc on your health and energy. Try adding a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice if you don’t like the taste of water. Invest in a water filter if your tap water has added chemicals like chlorine (which most municipal water has). But drink up! I shoot for 100 oz. each day, and I usually succeed. Of course, there is a side effect to increasing your water intake: you’ll go to the bathroom lots of times throughout the day. But the upside is that you’ll always know where the public restroom is when you need one! The water flushes impurities from your body, helps with digestion, and keeps you regular, if you know what I mean…

I could go on and on, but I’m no nutritionist. I’m just a family caregiver who has struggled over the years with being overweight, fatigued, foggy-brained and depressed. When I began to put together how much difference the food I was eating could make on how I felt in the rush of my day, I began to make changes and discovered the power of food in my life!

By the way, when I suggested in #3 above having a smoothie for breakfast, I don’t mean the ones you can pick up at the drive-thru. Those usually have massive amounts of sugar, because Americans think it has to taste sweet if it’s a smoothie. And, if you didn’t already know this, added sugar can leave you feeling foggy-brained, tired, and slow. But if you make your smoothie at home with a good blender, you can start your day (or have lunch) with fresh spinach, kale, berries, pineapple, coconut water or coconut milk, and some hemp hearts for protein. It’s delicious, and you have a complete meal in a glass! Even better, you won’t feel tired or draggy afterwards, and it will keep you going for hours! Here’s my go-to website for ideas on great smoothies: https://www.simplegreensmoothies.com

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I can still have the occasional slice of cheesecake. It’s still my guilty pleasure, but it’s an indulgence, not a reward, and not a comfort food. My health and energy are too valuable to give cheesecake that kind of power in my life. It’s my energy, my health, and my life, as well as the health and life of my loved ones. When I eat friendly foods, I give better care. It’s that simple.

Join the conversation below, and share your heart on this and other issues affecting family caregivers!

The Word “Fine”

This week’s blog is from guest contributor Marla Brown.

I grew to despise the word…..FINE.  Starting out in the early stages of progressive Alzheimer’s with my Mother, I too, believed she was FINE.  After all, her husband of 44 years had passed and now she was alone.  Still, FINE was not a great word to describe her status, it was an OK word to use.

As the weeks turned into months however, her phone calls to me escalated and I could not see anything positive in the word FINE.  NO now, she was not FINE.  “Oh, your Mother is FINE”, she just misses your father.  She “is still grieving”.  “Leave her alone, she will be OK”.  DUH – if I had indeed left alone, she would never have made it alone being FINE.

The friends/family that used this word frequently did not partake in Mom’s care as closely and frequently as I did.  They did not go to her home 5 out of 7 days a week to check on her/bring her food/help her in her home,  they did not answer her 20 phone calls per night.  Mom did not show up at their backdoor frantic and panicked because she couldn’t get me on the phone.  They didn’t see the declining issues with cognitive impairment and memory (oops maybe they did) – let me reword that – they probably did notice it, but they didn’t have to DEAL with it as I did.  Her eating habits had caused her to lose weight, her once impeccable hygiene was lacking, the front yard had grass over a foot high, her physical appearance was deteriorating, her mood swings were now obvious (well I can speak for myself), and her short term memory had plummeted.

Mom was FINE?  I think not.

Then there are always the family members that want peace and tranquility for all. The Clan needs to stick together.  It sounded a little lopsided to me – but OK I tried.  But I have to refer back to the FINE word.  Now it is not even listed in my words used to describe Mom.

I am stressed, frustrated beyond human endurance and all that is needed is tranquility and for us all to get along?  Meanwhile I continue taking care of Mom, my own family, working full-time 30 miles away and driving to Mom’s house to check on her at least 4 times per week.  I straighten up her home, I wash her clothes, I clean her bathroom—because I love her and it needed to be done.

Then, I had a great idea.  I offered those who verbosely expressed that I needed to “leave Mom alone and get off her back” full care of Mom.  I told them we could drive to the elder attorney’s office and I would gladly switch my DPOA over to them!  Great idea, I thought.  Then, we will see if they still think Mom is FINE.  I can guarantee you, they wouldn’t have. But to my disappointment, none accepted my offer!  But why not I asked?  You are more than happy to take over Mom’s care….full time care.  Judging by biting comments, I assumed they could and would be more competent than I was.

I even had one friend of my parents whose children I grew up – suggest (and she was serious) that I move IN with MOM on a full time basis.  Simply she said, quit your job, pack up and move in with your Mother.  She needs you.  This way I could take care of Mom’s hygiene, nutrition, errands, housework, appointments, and yard.  OK I said….one minor problem.  Are you going to pay my SALARY after I quit my job to move in with MOM?  This in turn helps make our mortgage payment.  Well….if you guessed her answer was no, you would be correct.

I asked her if she had lost her mind. The sad thing is, she was serious.  She had done this with her Mother – but one huge difference, she had never worked outside the home.  We never spoke after that conversation.

Being scrutinized as caregiver was one of the hardest issues I had to deal with.  I received complaints and comments – but when I offered – no one else wanted to take over the responsibility.

You know what?  I will go to my grave knowing I did the best job humanly possible taking care of my Mother.  Loving her, protecting her, standing up for her rights, and treating her with the dignity and respect that she deserved.

I know she is watching me from above, and is very proud of me.

 

How Did You Sleep Last Night?

Sleep is a seriously undervalued resource in most people’s lives. When my oldest daughter was small, she would resist naptime and dreaded having to go to bed because she thought she might miss something important. Most people recognize cranky behavior in infants and toddlers as a good indicator the child needs sleep. So what about you? While you might not have time each day for an afternoon nap, do you get enough sleep at night? If not, you might find yourself feeling tired, irritable, short-tempered or even depressed! And as a Family Caregiver, you owe it to yourself and those you care for to put your best foot forward each day when you climb out of bed.

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be at their best. This sleep time is necessary for you to function at your best as you care for others. A good night’s sleep equips you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to fulfill your obligations each day.

Your body uses sleep to store energy in cells that will carry you through the next day. While you sleep your muscles, skin and bones get to rest and rejuvenate. Your digestive system keeps working to flush out what needs to be eliminated and send nutrients to all areas of your body, nourishing and regenerating you physically so you will be ready to go back to work the next day.

Your brain is a little computer in your skull. In order to function at it’s maximum capacity, your brain must process it’s daily input and file information where it needs to go, clearing space for the next day’s activities. This happens while you sleep. By freeing up space during sleep time, you may even find your memory improves over time!

Emotionally you will feel more balanced and not as prone to angry outbursts, feelings of depression and hopelessness, or other negative outlooks when you get enough sleep each night. By feeling more rested, you will be able to set the right tone for your day as well as those your care for.

Spiritually, l find that when I feel rested I also feel more aware of God’s presence in my life. I am more focused in my prayer life and when I study scripture I am more open to His teachings. God can work better through me when I am equipping myself for His work, and part of that process involves getting enough sleep.

So what do you need to do to get more sleep? It’s a good question, and the answer is a little different for everyone. Experiment, and try making little adjustments over a period of time. Keep a sleep journal, and make notes about what helps you settle down and get your Zzzzz’s. Here’s my magic formula for getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. My bedroom is cool at night, about 65 degrees. It’s also dark and relatively quiet.
  2. I have a warm mug of unsweetened almond milk at bedtime, with a dash of maple syrup, cayenne pepper and ginger. It gives me a protein boost that stabilizes my blood sugar through the night. Let me know if you want the recipe!
  3. I don’t watch TV or look at my iPad or iPhone except for a brief check before I turn off the lights.
  4. I avoid caffeine after midday, and usually avoid it entirely.
  5. I go to bed at about the same time each night, and get up at a consistent time each morning.

I hope this information helps you to improve your sleep as well as your days. I also hope you will share with us what works for you. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of Family Caregivers everywhere, one day at a time. Join the conversation below and share your heart!

Here’s a link to find more tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/getting-better-sleep.htm

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips

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 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 a better person!

Are You a Caregiver?

Many Caregivers find themselves needing to become more involved in providing care for aging parents or other family members as they get older. This brings a special set of challenges.

Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes. They range in age from very young to ancient! They come from all walks of life, and they are known for their kindness, generosity, and their caring heart.

The heart of the Caregiver feeds their passion for caring for others. It is this unique characteristic, this overpowering drive, that pushes a Caregiver out of their comfort zone from a very early age. They hold doors open as children or have special relationships with grandparents and elderly neighbors. As they grow older, they nurture friendships and develop close bonds with those around them. At work they are known as good listeners, and colleagues who are always willing to pitch in and lend a helping hand when needed. Others know that a Caregiver can be counted on to be a great team player. If married, they might care for spouses, parents or grandparents, in-laws, neighbors, and their own children. There is no retirement age for caregiving. Caregivers are loving, nurturing individuals who enrich our lives and influence our society in innumerable ways.

Many Caregivers find themselves needing to become more involved in providing care for aging parents or other family members as they get older. This brings a special set of challenges. Caring for a parent or relative might need to be long-distance if the Caregiver lives in another city. A family member might be resistant to receiving care, or might be embarrassed or uncomfortable with a son, daughter, or grandchild providing the needed care. The family Caregiver might not even be properly trained to provide the services needed, or might not be able to take time off from work to meet the care needs of local family members. These and many other challenges can be overcome, but only if they are recognized and appropriately addressed.

My brother is a family Caregiver, and I would never have guessed this when we were children, mostly because I was too self-absorbed! He had close friendships growing up, and became a compassionate and caring man as a friend, father, and business owner. His community knows that they can count on him when they need help with any number of things. His friends know that he won’t let them down. And he cares for our mother, now in her late nineties, every day. He coordinates care through the local Home Instead office to cover several hours each day. The professional CAREGiverSM assists my mom with bathing, dressing, errands, housework and meals. She then leaves in the afternoon, and my mom is alone for a few hours. Every evening my brother comes by and visits for a while, just to check in and make sure the day has gone well. My mom presents a number of challenges for my brother, but he overcomes them as they arise, and my mom still lives in her home where she has been for over 50 years. I travel 400 miles every month to spend a few days to a week, and give my brother a break. I appreciate my brother for his caring heart. The care he gives our mother, provided both personally and professionally, gives her independence, and it gives me peace of mind when I live so far away.

So, are you a Caregiver? If you answered yes to this question, then we salute you for the important role you play in your family, your community, and your world. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many people around you! You should feel proud of every smile, every “thank you”, every sigh of relief or appreciative gesture you generate as you move through your day, helping others as you go. Your acts of service honor God even as they help those you care for.

If you believe that you are NOT a Caregiver, then think of the Caregivers who have helped you along the way. Take a little time today and in the days ahead to reflect on people in your life who are Caregivers. Share your appreciation for the ways their care has helped you. Say thank you. In those two simple words, you will be caring for a Caregiver, and in that one small act you will share the care!