Honoring family caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month. We want to express our gratitude to you, who are part of the 40 million people (one in six Americans) who care for an older adult friend or relative. So many family caregivers feel invisible, we thought we’d give you some perspective on the scope of family caregiving across the country.

Suppose they don’t get better …

Are frequent visits to the ER a significant part of the past six to twelve months? Does your loved one seem more fatigued? Less interested in eating? Perhaps a bit withdrawn? These symptoms may be hallmarks of a serious illness your relative will overcome. But it’s also possible that these signal that your family member no longer has the reserves to beat their condition.

Palliative care for seriously ill veterans

Palliative care for seriously ill veterans

If the person you care for is a veteran and is seriously ill, they may qualify for a VA program designed to control symptoms that cause pain, discomfort, or mental or emotional distress. Called “palliative care,” this program is available even if the problems are as a result of treatments, not just the medical condition itself.

Putting anticipation to work for you

Putting anticipation to work for you

Do you ever wish you could wave a magic wand for more joy? Patience? Optimism? Motivation? Maybe less irritability and stress? It’s actually accessible now, no wizardry required. Just a shift in attention. Welcome to “anticipation.”

What is Lewy body dementia?

What is Lewy body dementia?

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are many other conditions that also bring on memory problems. It is important to accurately identify the cause, even if there’s no cure, because this will shape the best strategy for addressing difficult symptoms.

October is National Crime Prevention Month

October is National Crime Prevention Month

It’s unpleasant to imagine that your loved one might become the victim of crime, but it’s worth considering. There are valuable preventive steps to take. Unless your relative lives in a high-crime neighborhood, their greatest risk is a property crime in or around their home.

Who is who in skilled nursing facilities?

Who is who in skilled nursing facilities?

If your loved one is discharged from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility (SNF), their care will be in the hands of a team of specialists. It’s a good idea to understand the players’ roles so you know whom to call upon for what.

When your loved one is depressed, suggest exercise

When your loved one is depressed, suggest exercise

Depression is common in older adults. It’s long been known that brisk exercise can help reduce depression. But it turns out that exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to make a difference. Even mild exercise can be effective.

Are you prepared for a disaster?

Are you prepared for a disaster?

No one likes to dwell on the possibility of disaster. But we all need to prepare for one, just in case. Help your relatives gear up for safety. Whether you live across town or across the nation, the action items are the same.

Could medicines be the culprit?

Could medicines be the culprit?

If your loved one has balance problems, the culprit may be in the medicine. Many common medicines have side effects that can impair balance and lead to a fall. Over 40% of persons age 65 and older take five medications or more. This increases the chance that at least one of the drugs has side effects of dizziness, blurry vision, drowsiness, or muscle weakness.

Caring with a stepparent

Caring with a stepparent

Has your parent remarried? If so, you may be sharing the caregiving with a person you don’t know very well. Biological families often encounter tensions when it comes to eldercare. Add a stepparent and the challenges can grow exponentially.

Noncancer screening tests

Noncancer screening tests

Medicare pays for many screening exams, and even counseling sessions, to help nip common illnesses in the bud. Screening tests are designed to identify problems before symptoms emerge. They are usually for people who are considered to be “at risk” for getting a specific disease. Here are some of the most common noncancer preventive services that Medicare covers. Ask the doctor if your loved one should be tested.

Listening: The other half of the conversation

Listening: The other half of the conversation

Good communication requires both speaking and listening. Oddly enough, if you make a specific effort to listen, it can open doors. Once “heard,” the other person may be more willing to hear your point of view. Deep listening is more difficult than it sounds. It’s not passive. It requires concentration. It also takes humility and empathy.

The doctor interview

The doctor interview

After you have scoured the Internet to help your relative find a potential new doctor—someone on their plan and with no obvious red flags—it’s time to get more specific. The doctor’s website may provide some descriptive information, but most likely, you’ll want a conversation.

Caught in a cycle of negativity?

Caught in a cycle of negativity?

For most family caregivers, frustration and guilt are common, as is anxiety and resentment. These feelings are normal and reasonable under the circumstances. It’s not realistic to eliminate negative emotions. Caring for an ailing family member IS emotionally taxing, especially in the case of memory loss. But sometimes the negativity can feed on itself.

Senior centers: Worth a fresh look

Senior centers: Worth a fresh look

Even pre-COVID, many 90-year-olds adamantly refused to go to a senior center, saying they didn’t want to be around “all those old people.” (!) Does this sound like your loved one? Admittedly, the senior centers of the past tended to focus on bingo and crafts. These activities are of limited interest to the newest generation of older adults. Happily, senior centers have been updating. Bingo and crafts are still there. But the upswing in technology use during COVID catapulted many centers into the 21st century

Combatting dehydration

Combatting dehydration

With summer’s warm weather, be on the lookout for dehydration in your loved one. The signs include confusion, fatigue, weakness, and sleepiness. Some people become dizzy and their balance is thrown off. Dry mouth, headaches, and muscle cramps are other symptoms of dehydration.

Dementia and finances

Dementia and finances

If the person you care for has dementia—memory or thinking problems from a condition such as Alzheimer’s, a stroke, or Parkinson’s—unpaid bills or a messy checkbook may have been your first sign that something was amiss. Certainly, in the later stages of dementia, your loved one won’t be able to manage their finances. But what about the in-between?

The “Sandwich Generation”

The "Sandwich Generation"

Elderly parents are living longer. Children are often dependent for more years than expected. Add to this the ongoing responsibilities to spouse/partner and jobs, and there is little wiggle room for the millions of family caregivers who find themselves squeezed in the middle as the “Sandwich Generation.”

Swollen legs and feet

Swollen legs and feet

Many older adults experience swollen legs and feet. For some, it’s because of sitting a lot and leading a sedentary lifestyle. For others, it’s the water retention side effect of a medication. And for others, the swelling—called “edema”—is a symptom of a chronic or even serious illness such as heart failure or liver or kidney disease.

Does brain training work?

Does brain training work?

The brain is another organ to keep fit, and regular workouts are a good thing! Our brains enable many types of thinking: Problem solving, planning, attention, and memory. They manage our emotions and help us understand the emotions of others. Our brains also control movement (balance, speed, and coordination). And it’s where we process our spatial awareness—used for packing a suitcase or reading a map.

Understanding the rhythm of a disease

Understanding the rhythm of a disease

Much of the strain of caring for a loved one lies in the loss of a predictable routine, a sense of “normalcy.” Understanding the course of your loved one’s condition—the rhythm of how it unfolds—can empower you to respond more flexibly to its challenges.

Text message scamming: “Smishing”

Text message scamming: "Smishing"

Your loved one may be watching for phishing scams on email, but now there are scams carried out by short message service (aka, texting). “Smishing” scams rose 58% in 2021. Nationwide they cost victims over $10 billion. Seniors are a prime target, as three out of five now own smartphones. While convenient, smartphones present new opportunities for getting scammed. Time to alert your relative to smishing.

Caregiving with kids

Caregiving with kids

Children generally like to feel included. But they may not know how to relate to an ill family member with limited abilities. Here are some ideas for home-based activities with elementary-age children.

Living with cancer as a chronic condition

Living with cancer as a chronic condition

Has your loved one been diagnosed with cancer? The vast majority (67%) of people with cancer live for another five years or more. A cancer is considered “stable” or “controlled” when tumors shrink or at least temporarily stop growing. This is not the same as being cured—no tumors—but it does make cancer more of a manageable chronic disease, like diabetes or asthma.

When you envy others

When you envy others

Do you ever look at friends and find yourself mad or upset because they have free time? They don’t have a relative that needs help? You might even wish they had it harder, had some real challenge in their life. And then you feel guilty. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Envy is a natural human emotion.

Primary care providers

Primary care providers

A primary care provider (PCP) is charged with monitoring and treating a person’s whole body. Specialists abound and indeed are important. But we are more than the sum of our organs. Your relative’s PCP helps ensure that specialists are not doing things that counteract each other. If you are looking for a new PCP, there are several types of providers to consider.

Cooking tips for the visually impaired

Cooking tips for the visually impaired

Is low vision making it harder for your loved one to cook? If food preparation has been one of their pleasures, they are probably grieving not only the change in their eyesight, but also the loss of creating and serving delicious meals. Even if cooking has not been a passion, the ability to safely prepare food for oneself is critical for maintaining independence and self-esteem. Fortunately, there are ways to empower your relative with simple strategies and inexpensive tools. Here are some techniques that augment and use all the senses. They also protect safety.

Interrupt the stress cycle with deep breathing

Interrupt the stress cycle with deep breathing

We’re breathing all the time. But when it comes to stress relief, not all breathing is equal. Our bodies are built to handle periodic crises. When we sense danger, our bodies release “stress hormones” that enable us to respond powerfully and fast. When the crisis is over, those hormones are no longer released. The body returns to relaxed, “normal” mode. But chronic stress is damaging. When we’re stressed every day, the “fight-or-flight” hormones keep running. Not a lot, but enough to upset the body’s balance and undermine physical health and mood. The body is distracted from its routine tasks of repair and maintenance. This can result in significant consequences.

Poetry and dementia

Poetry and dementia

If the person you care for has dementia, you may have noticed their withdrawal from conversations, movies, even from reading books or the newspaper. Anything with an involved plot line is now too difficult for them to follow. Poetry, on the other hand, involves rhythm and images, which can stimulate memories of experiences, emotions, smells, tastes, and other sensations. All quite accessible by persons with dementia. Plus, many older adults went to school when poetry was an active part of the curriculum. Exploring fun poetry together may tap into positive memories from the past.

Organ donation

Organ donation

Those who donate organs, eyes, or tissue leave a tremendous legacy, often the gift of life itself: Allowing someone a steady heartbeat. Or the vision to see a grandchild. Or healthy skin to cover a burn or cancer site. National Healthcare Decisions Day (April 16) is when everyone is encouraged to create or update their advance directive. These end-of-life documents include a section for letting family members and healthcare providers know whether you choose to be an organ donor.

Should Dad move in?

Should Dad move in?

Combining households has many benefits: Less hassle running back and forth between two residences, less worry about Dad eating well and remembering his meds, more family social time for him, cost savings on rent and utilities, etc. But if things do not work out, disentangling could cause hurt feelings and damage your relationship. Consider these questions before you move in together.

The journey of late life

The journey of late life

Families spend three to five years caring for an aging relative. At first it may be light chores or small errands now and then. But over time, health challenges emerge and needs grow. In his book, My Mother, Your Mother, geriatrician Scott McCullough outlines eight “stations” in the journey of late life. For each one, he offers insights and tips to help you counter the modern system of “fast medicine” with personalized solutions he calls “slow medicine.”

“Chemobrain”

"Chemobrain"

People who go through chemotherapy for cancer often complain about “chemobrain.” If your loved one is under treatment and is having trouble with memory, thinking, and concentration, it is likely from the chemo drugs. The fuzzy thinking may not go away right when chemo stops. But it usually recedes over time.

Caregiving apps

Caregiving apps

Juggling multiple schedules, keeping other relatives informed, ensuring prescriptions are filled … these are but some of the many duties you may face as a family caregiver. In some instances, a simple spreadsheet can do the trick. But an app makes it easier to coordinate with others.

Psychological first aid

Psychological first aid

Anxiety and stress commonly accompany family caregiving. The ongoing pandemic and its stream of variants are only adding to that. Perhaps you could use a little “psychological first aid.” These are skills or techniques first responders are trained to teach or apply to distressed persons after urgent physical issues have been addressed.The goal of psychological first aid is to help people feel safe (physically and emotionally), calm, and hopeful. Connected to others. Sound good? Try these strategies on yourself.

When your relative has money questions

When your relative has money questions

Is Dad asking if he should sell the house now that Mom is gone? Or perhaps Aunt Mary is anxious about her stock investments. Even if you are good at managing your own money, helping a relative make financial decisions can bring a lot of pressure. Consider hiring a professional to advise you.

Reducing the nausea of chemo

Reducing the nausea of chemo

If a loved one in your life is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, very likely they are dealing with the common side effects of nausea and vomiting. Not fun. Encourage them to follow these tips.

Protecting the house from Medicaid

Protecting the house from Medicaid

Care in a nursing home is expensive. For an extended stay, most people will need to pay quite a bit out of their own pocket. If there are no savings, Medicaid—the joint state-federal health insurance for low-income individuals—will step in.

Signs of an online “sweetheart scam”

Signs of an online "sweetheart scam"

Romance crime is on the rise. Over 25,000 people reported a sweetheart scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019, a threefold increase since 2016. Individuals age 65 and older were the hardest hit, with a median loss of $9465 (across all ages, the median loss was $2500 per individual). If your loved one has been taken advantage of, they are not alone! Romance scams are the second most common crime reported to the FBI.

Subtle signs of a heart attack

Subtle signs of a heart attack

We all know the classic heart attack portrayed over and over again in movies and on TV: Someone writhing in sudden, severe chest pain.

But many heart attacks aren’t like that at all. Instead, they start slowly, typically with some mild, on/off pain or tightness in the chest. These signs are so much less dramatic than what people expect, they too often are ignored. The result, sadly, is often fatal when in fact a prompt response could have saved a loved one’s life.

When your relative is actively dying

When your relative is actively dying

In the last two weeks, as a loved one is nearing death, it is natural to want to be at their side. But then, what? Especially if you have never been in this situation before, you may feel uncertain—even awkward—about what to do. The ideal is to be a calm, reassuring, and loving presence focused on keeping your relative comfortable. Here are some tips.

Need a new doctor?

Need a new doctor?

The pandemic has brought on a wave of physician retirements. Perhaps one of your relative’s doctors has sent a letter announcing the close of their practice. Yikes!

When choosing a new physician, it’s worth the time to do some research. The right fit is critical to your loved one’s health and well-being.

Friends? Who has time?

Friends? Who has time?

If you are like most family caregivers, your social life has dropped in priority as you juggle your loved one’s needs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up all your friendships in addition to your family responsibilities.

A spouse’s grief in the face of dementia

A spouse's grief in the face of dementia

Grief is the expected response to a loved one’s death. We expect to mourn, and we receive comfort from others. But in the context of a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the loss is not as clear cut. Your partner is “here but not here.” And you do not receive the same support or acknowledgment for the very real losses.

Making the best use of your time off

Making the best use of your time off

Time off from caregiving is precious. But after a break, many family caregivers find they don’t feel as refreshed as they hoped they would. Current research provides insights about how to get the most from a respite break.

Writing the last chapter

Writing the last chapter

If your loved one has health challenges, they may be feeling a loss of control. Add to that a terminal diagnosis and a sense of doom may prevail. But recognizing that life is coming to a close does not have to mean one waits glumly for the end. Following are some of the many ways hospice patients have chosen to take action and purposefully write their own “last chapter.” Perhaps one of these might appeal to your loved one:

Private pay services for care at home

Private pay services for care at home

Typically, it’s family members who fill in to perform the necessary tasks. But for many, perhaps including you, there are obstacles to helping on a regular basis. (Quitting your job to provide care is risky. Leaving work midcareer jeopardizes your retirement options and savings.)

Hearing the TV better

Hearing the TV better

Is your loved one having trouble hearing the television? Closed captioning isn’t helping enough? Check out these possible solutions.

Engaging activities for persons with dementia

Engaging activities for persons with dementia

It is usually obvious what a person with dementia is no longer able to do. But finding things your loved one CAN do may feel like a challenge, especially if memory loss is severe. Here are some tips:

Help at home: Community programs

Help at home: Community programs

For nonmedical support, check out community programs. Many are provided by nonprofit organizations. Others by faith communities. And still others by local government. Most offer discounts or a sliding-scale fee.

Holidays without your loved one

Holidays without your loved one

The holiday season is a festive time of year, but it may not feel much like a celebration for people grieving the loss of a loved one. Holidays are an especially tender time for missing those who are no longer with us.

The special needs of Vietnam-era vets

The special needs of Vietnam-era vets

Almost 3.5 million members of the military served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975. Was your relative one of them? This group of veterans continues to face physical and mental health problems.

Products for addressing incontinence

Products for addressing incontinence

There are many undergarments designed to help with incontinence. They can’t prevent it, but they can help your loved one feel more comfortable with outings and retain their dignity despite the embarrassment of accidents.

Is Medicare Advantage the best choice?

Is Medicare Advantage the best choice?

Once a year, Medicare offers the option to change plans. In 2021, the Open Enrollment period is October 15–December 7. Your loved one may be considering a switch to a “Medicare Advantage” plan. There are pros and cons.

Depression after a scary diagnosis

Depression after a scary diagnosis

If the person you care for has a life-threatening illness, you might think it’s only natural for them to feel down. Even hopeless from time to time.

But weeks of sadness are not a side effect one simply has to tolerate. It is not uncommon for someone with cancer or a similarly scary diagnosis to become depressed. But depression can and should be treated. Effective treatment makes for better quality of life. It can also improve other symptoms, such as pain and insomnia.

Too many pills: When less is more

Too many pills: When less is more

More than half of older adults take five or more medications per day. That’s “polypharmacy,” and can be dangerous. Taking too many medicines can cause problems such as dizziness, mental confusion, and heart failure. It can create an increased risk of falls, which often lead to the end of independent living. An estimated 10% to 30% of older adult hospitalizations are due to medication problems.

What is a daily money manager?

What is a daily money manager?

A financial advisor manages investments. A daily money manager (DMM) is someone who comes to the home once or twice a month to handle the mundane aspects of personal finances: Paying monthly bills (but your loved one signs the checks). Balancing the checkbook. Navigating health insurance claims. Resolving billing errors. Tracking donations. Organizing paperwork. Gathering documents for tax time. Their job is to catch unnecessary expenses while making sure important payments are made on time.

The decision to stop dialysis

The decision to stop dialysis

Dialysis is life sustaining yet also quite taxing for the patient. About 25% of people who choose dialysis later decide to stop. Typically, this is because the burdens of this kidney disease treatment have severely reduced their quality of life. The tradeoff becomes no longer acceptable.

Learning to forgive yourself

Learning to forgive yourself

According to psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, we all have an inner critic and an inner protector. Together they help us maintain a balanced perspective. But too often as family caregivers, we have an overload of guilt, shame, and remorse, always feeling our performance is subpar, that we haven’t done enough. This is not healthy. The inner critic has an important role, but it’s not to pulverize our self-esteem.

The healing power of music

The healing power of music

Can listening to calming music actually ease pain? Can singing silly songs make you happier? Researchers say this isn’t just a folktale—it represents some of the measurable effects of music on the mind and body.

Although it’s not yet clear exactly how music works its magic, studies show that it is strong medicine, both in the moment and as treatment over time. Among the benefits, music

Dealing with criticism

Dealing with criticism

Receiving criticism is never a pleasant experience, especially from family members. Whether it is a sibling griping about how you care for a relative or complaints from the person you are caring for, you may feel suddenly flooded with difficult emotions. Perhaps anger, shame, or confusion.

We can’t stop others from giving criticism. But we can become wiser about how to deal with it. Try these tips:

What is a Medicaid spend down?

What is a Medicaid spend down?

There are two forms of government health insurance:

– Medicare. Basically, age-based insurance for older adults (age 65+), regardless of income and assets. (Assets include money and belongings, such as a house or car.)
– Medicaid. Income-based insurance funded with federal and state dollars. (The state where your relative lives may have a name different than “Medicaid.”) This insurance is for individuals who have very little means. The financial asset threshold is often set at $2000 or less.

Medicaid will sometimes pay when Medicare will not.
The most common expense covered by Medicaid is long-term care in a nursing home. Speaking very generally, Medicare pays for the first 100 days after a hospitalization. If a person needs to stay longer—permanently move into the facility—they must cover the cost from their own savings. Once nearly all their resources have been exhausted, they can apply for Medicaid, which will pick up the tab.

Bladder issues

Bladder issues

If making it to the bathroom in time is a frequent concern for your relative, they may have an overactive bladder. More than 33 million Americans contend with this condition, in which misfiring nerves cause the bladder muscles to contract involuntarily. Your loved one may be too embarrassed to bring it up with the doctor, or even with you. But it should be checked out. It’s not a “normal” part of aging. Overactive bladder (OAB) is a real and treatable medical condition. And you certainly want to be sure it’s not something else.

The basic symptoms of OAB include an urgent need to urinate more than eight times in a day and/or more than once or twice a night.

Many people let incontinence worries run their lives. They stay close to home for fear of accidents. They withdraw from social activities, dreading they have an odor from leaks. They may become anxious or depressed. And multiple nighttime trips to the toilet can result in insomnia and fatigue, bringing on more depression.

What’s involved in giving care?

What’s involved in giving care?

Perhaps you call regularly to offer emotional support. Maybe you handle finances. Perhaps you visit weekly. Or you may live with your loved one 24/7. Caring takes many forms. You may feel this is simply what a loving daughter/son/partner would do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time and energy from your day. Or night, if you skimp on sleep to create time to help.

Whether you provide hands-on care or assistance from afar, you ARE a family caregiver. And that means you need to watch for burnout. Use this list to take an inventory. Consider what is realistic for you. And think about options to help manage the load: Friends, family, community programs, paid help.

Explaining your needs to others

Explaining your needs to others

Are you worried that asking for help sounds like whining? You may believe you “should” be able to do it all without assistance. Or think you are “just” doing what any good or loving daughter (or son, or spouse) would do. Like many caregivers focused on family harmony, you may have become used to minimizing…

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Medical management without dialysis

Medical management without dialysis

Dialysis typically buys a person some time. But it rules their life—and possibly yours. It requires strict adherence to the schedule. Also, severe food restrictions. Your relative’s energy level will fluctuate. That makes planning for other activities difficult. There is an increased chance of infection because of the access port for dialysis. And there are side effects: Itchy skin, trouble sleeping, headaches, and dizziness. Cramps, nausea, weight loss, and fragile bones are not uncommon.

Giving “awesome” new meaning

Giving "awesome" new meaning

It turns out that feelings of amazement, marvel, and wonder are beneficial emotionally AND physically. Exposing yourself to an awe-inspiring experience twice a week can replenish your well and increase feelings of connection. Learn more about the science of awe and what you can do to bring it more regularly into your life. Check out our blog for family caregivers.

Signs of financial abuse

Signs of financial abuse

Older adults are frequently targeted for financial abuse. They typically have more funds than their younger counterparts do. They tend to be generous and naïve, not understanding all the ways they can be scammed. Some have memory and thinking problems. And even if they do realize they’ve been “taken,” they may be too ashamed or…

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Seeds of family resilience: Focus on rewards

Research on stress often involves family caregivers. No matter how much you love the person you care for, taking care of an ailing relative can be stressful! To offset the stress, consider the power of positive thinking. Studies show that people who “seed their lives” with moments of positive emotions are more resilient in the…

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How to get durable power of attorney

There may come a time when your loved one will need help handling financial matters. Maybe filing taxes. Or interacting with Social Security. Or signing a contract to move into a new residence. If your relative is unable to do these things because of illness or problems with dementia, you will need to show a…

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Transitioning from curative care

At some point, the burdens of treatment may just become too much for your loved one: The nausea of chemo. The rigors of dialysis. Wearying trips to the ER. Perhaps the person you care for is already having these thoughts, to let nature take its course and stop fighting for health that stubbornly eludes them….

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Managing arthritis pain

The most common arthritis is osteoarthritis, which occurs most often in the hands, knees, hips, lower back, neck, and feet. It affects roughly half of those age 65 and over. With osteoarthritis, the smooth layer of cartilage between the bones in the joints deteriorates, causing bone to scrape directly on bone. Ouch! If your loved…

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Should you take over Mom’s checkbook?

Money matters are often intensely private. And no one wants to infringe on a family member’s independence. Yet it is through (sometimes expensive) financial mishaps that you may learn of changes in your parent’s memory and thinking. Signs of a problem Diseases that affect memory also tend to impair arithmetic skills and reasoning. That’s why…

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Dementia dogs

Dog training organizations are looking toward a new challenge: Training highly skilled “dementia dogs.” These dogs are individually trained to meet the needs of persons with memory loss problems. They provide safety and companionship. They also relieve the anxiety of family caregivers. To support a person with dementia, dogs are trained to help with memory…

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Time for smart monitoring?

From sensors and cameras to remote alarm systems, today’s marketplace offers a plethora of technology to help older adults safely age in place. Those devices with monitoring features are particularly useful if your loved one lives on their own, whether near to you or far away. Indeed, many apps and devices can help you stay…

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Coping with vision loss

It’s common for those newly diagnosed with a vision-loss condition to feel anxious and depressed. Understandably so! They worry about losing their independence. Also, that they will need help with many activities of life. This in turn suggests a loss of privacy. Many newly diagnosed persons report a sudden lack of confidence and feelings of…

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What is “cremation authorization”?

With National Healthcare Decisions Day coming up on April 16, it’s good to review who your loved one has chosen as their healthcare power of attorney (sometimes called a “proxy” or “agent”). This is who will make decisions for them when they are no longer able to do so themselves. Often this occurs in end-of-life…

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Is Dad taking his meds “as directed?”

Did you know that nearly half of adults taking prescription medications for a chronic condition make errors in taking their meds? The most common problem areas: Memory. Forgetting to take a medication Organization. Failing to order a refill in time and running out Convenience. Being away from home and missing dose(s) Side effects. Experiencing unpleasant reactions…

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How to read an Explanation of Benefits

Before your loved one pays a medical bill, wait for the insurance’s Explanation of Benefits (from Medicare, this is called a “Medicare Summary Notice”). This document indicates what services were billed by which providers for what days. It is an important summary to help you catch errors, duplicates or, sadly, even identity theft or fraud….

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Maximizing your resources

When we think of “resources,” as family caregivers we might think of money. Or time. But there is another resource we’re using every day that is often overlooked: Emotional energy. Our emotions and mood contribute mightily to our ability to deal with challenges. When circumstances are difficult, it’s hard to generate enthusiasm or initiate projects….

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When kidneys fail: Dialysis?

If the person you care for has chronic or advanced kidney disease, dialysis will come up as a treatment option. This procedure mimics the cleansing function of the kidneys. It mechanically “rinses” the blood to take out toxins. Dialysis is not a cure for kidney disease. But it does buy some time. People often live…

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When high blood pressure goes untreated

Don’t confuse a lack of symptoms with a lack of risk. A person with high blood pressure usually feels “just fine.” And that makes it easy to also feel unconcerned. Your loved one may not be motivated to treat high blood pressure. Or may want to stop taking medications because they don’t notice any difference….

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Dementia communication: Speaking

Nearly every type of dementia compromises the ability to process language. It’s harder for the affected person to grasp words, to comprehend their meaning, and to track what’s being said. Communication with your family member may seem a frustrating struggle. Still, aim for interactions that maintain a positive relationship. Your emotional tone is key: Pay…

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Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a very common condition affecting the retina of the eye. It causes blurry vision and dark spots in the center of the visual field. This makes it challenging to read, drive, and recognize faces. Although AMD typically gets worse over time, it does not lead to total blindness. It is,…

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“For better or for worse …”

Are you supporting a relative who is also a caregiving spouse? Many long-lived couples see it as both a duty and a privilege to walk that last mile with their partner, fulfilling vows of “for better or for worse.” That does not mean the journey is easy. Caregiving partners often experience physical challenges as they…

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Keeping blood pressure in check

Only 24% of people with high blood pressure have it under control. The remaining 76% are at very high risk for death or disability through heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. In fact, in 2018 high blood pressure was listed as a primary or contributing factor in nearly a half million deaths. With COVID-19, high…

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A robo-pet for companionship?

There is no doubt that seniors are suffering emotionally, and physically, from the social isolation of the pandemic. Those with dementia have been especially hard hit. Even elders who live on their own with no memory problems are struggling with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. How is your loved one doing emotionally? Want to introduce a…

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Slowing the progression of glaucoma

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among older adults. It causes pressure in the eyeball to build up to a point that the optic nerve is damaged. There is no cure or repair. That’s a grim reality if your loved one has been diagnosed with this disease. Fortunately, glaucoma’s progression can be slowed and…

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Problems with hygiene

It’s not uncommon for a holiday visit to reveal that things with mom or dad are newly amiss, particularly in the area of personal grooming. Maybe mom has always been fastidious about her appearance, and now she’s disheveled. Or dad didn’t change clothes the entire time you were there, and maybe even had a strong…

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Repairing identity theft

It’s a fact that scam artists prey on older adults. Scammers steal identifying information and use it to obtain cash, make purchases, or open new credit card accounts. If your relative’s identity has been stolen, take action quickly. But be methodical! Keep track of every report you make. Log every call. Send any documents by…

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Montessori for people with dementia

Caring for a loved one with moderate-to-advanced dementia often leads to bewilderment. And sadness. Perhaps your relative seems withdrawn. Or is fidgety, pacing, or wandering. They may seem to recede each day. How can you connect with them now? How can you keep them engaged? Experts in dementia care are culling tips from pioneering educator…

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Accessible national parks

If the person you care for has trouble getting around, you can still go on a family vacation. Many of our national parks have special accessibility programs. Our parks are our treasures, and park staff are working to ensure that all Americans have access. To find a park with accessibility services, go to the National…

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When your passenger has dementia

Unbuckling the seat belt, grabbing the steering wheel, opening the door when traveling. These are not actions that make sense. But for a person with dementia, they seem like reasonable actions to stop a frightening or frustrating situation. When you are the driver, such actions can be dangerous. Your attention needs to stay focused on…

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Arthritis and Senior Fitness

May 30 is Senior Health and Fitness Day, and May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. Sounds like a great time to talk about the ways physical activity can help reduce joint stiffness and pain! Did you know osteoarthritis afflicts more than one-third of American adults over age 65? This arthritis comes on slowly with age…

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Safety tips for summer

For youth, summer is pure pleasure. As our bodies age, however, we become less able to maintain the physical “inner cool” that safeguards our health. To avoid heat-related health problems for your older relatives this summer, keep these words in mind: water, air, dress, rest. Signs of too much heat Sweating is our body’s natural…

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Make lemonade. Really?

“When life hands you lemons…” Well, you know the rest. While this adage can feel a bit trite, there is a certain grounded wisdom to it. In fact, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have been studying stress and coping strategies. It turns out there are coping skills that are effective, and others that are not….

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Mother’s Day without Mom

Mother’s Day was the brainchild of Anna Jarvis of West Virginia. In 1908, Anna held a memorial service to honor her mother’s deep commitment to love and compassion. Her mother epitomized kindness by caring for wounded soldiers. Far from a commercialized event, Anna envisioned Mother’s Day as a day to show profound appreciation through letters…

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Phones for every disability

Staying in touch with friends and relatives does a world of good for older adults. This is especially true for those who live alone. The ability to easily reach out is important for well-being. And it can make a life or death difference in emergencies. Limitations of aging, however, can make standard telephones difficult to…

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Advocating for a good night’s sleep

Sleep has been underrated. There is no doubt that miracles occur daily in hospitals. But in the race to vanquish disease, simple things like sleep can get short shrift. Choosing Wisely, a white paper by the American Academy of Nursing, has listed several common hospital practices that unintentionally get in the way of a solid…

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Memory loss and advance care planning

If the person you care for has received a dementia diagnosis, talk with them NOW about their wishes for medical care at the end of life. It’s a critical time to update their advance care directive. For both your sakes, the sooner you start this conversation, the better. Are you hesitant to bring up the…

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Red flags for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung condition that gets steadily worse over time. It frequently involves “flares,” or “exacerbations,” periods when breathing suddenly becomes more difficult. It can be very frightening and often results in a dash to the Emergency Room. It’s important to know the early signs of a flare and to…

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Is breathing difficult?

If the person you care for has a lung condition, there may be times when breathing is a challenge. Start by noticing patterns: is there a time of day, type of activity, or emotional state that triggers the difficulty? Is the person sitting, lying, or standing? Consider these options: Home environment Remove dust and replace…

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When family is paid for care

In many families, care of an elder relative falls predominately to one person. This typically begins with assisting occasionally for a few hours, and it can be a very loving connection. But as the needs increase, so do the hours. While the care may be given willingly, it does eat into the care provider’s personal…

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Empathy: Can you have too much?

Our brains are predisposed to feel the emotions of others. This capacity, called “empathy,” fuels our most altruistic acts as humans. And it fosters sweeter and deeper relationships. But it is possible to be overly empathetic. If the doorway to your heart is always open to feeling another’s emotions—pain, sadness, anger, fear—you are on a…

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Wheelchairs and your car

Transportation can be challenging when the person you care for uses a wheelchair. There are two ways to ease the situation. A transport wheelchair If your loved one does not need a wheelchair all the time, consider a special “transport wheelchair.” Transport chairs are easy to lift, fold, and store. They are ideal for running…

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Write your cares away—carefully

For centuries, journaling has been a tool for self-discovery. With reflective writing, your words do not have to be carefully arranged. It’s your private world and your private thoughts. You can ramble. Mention the unthinkable. Explore ideas with no worry about the consequences. Writing as personal therapy Journaling can help us turn a jumbled set…

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Walking your way out of the hospital

“The bed is not your friend.” This is the overall message concerning the benefits of walking when hospitalized. In one study, patients who walked frequently were able to go home an average of 36 hours earlier than those who did not walk very much. After staying in bed for just two days, an older adult…

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What does “prognosis” mean?

It’s natural to wonder how bad a serious condition is. Will treatment be effective? The prediction of recovery, in medical terms, is called a “prognosis.” Many conditions are difficult to predict. Cancers, on the other hand, run a fairly expectable course. A cancer prognosis, for instance, depends on the cancer. What type of cancer is it?…

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Who will care for Fido?

Pets often become members of the family. They provide companionship and love, especially for an ailing elder. Your relative may be worried about a pet’s future when he or she is no longer able to provide care. Consider what you can do to make arrangements ahead of time to ease that worry. Formal arrangements Formal…

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Signs of stroke or “TIA”

A stroke is a disabling, and potentially deadly condition. A blood clot gets lodged in the brain, denying blood and oxygen to those cells. In a very short period of time, that part of the brain can be damaged permanently. Depending on the location of the clot, a stroke can impair functions such as speech,…

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Drug misuse

Surprising but true: Adults over age 65 are candidates for drug overuse and abuse. Drug abuse is not common among elders. And it is often unintentional. But the misuse of prescription drugs poses exceptional dangers. Older adults are prescribed more drugs than any other age group. Roughly 80 percent of those over age 65 have…

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The role of humor in caregiving

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” So quipped comedian Victor Borge. And indeed, studies bear him out. Laughter, especially when it’s a shared joke, creates a bond between people that generates a feeling of intimacy. Humor reduces tension and lowers stress. It also helps people to think more creatively and come up with…

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If your loved one becomes seriously ill while traveling

Taking Mom to visit family this holiday? You may rest more easily knowing there are options for getting home if she gets sick or injured on the trip. Air Ambulance If your family member becomes critically ill, hire an air ambulance. An air ambulance is a chartered plane or other aircraft outfitted with life-support equipment….

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Is a reverse mortgage appropriate?

If your loved one is worried about having enough money, he or she may be considering a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage enables a homeowner to turn some of the equity in a home into cash. You might think of it as an advance payment on the accrued value of the home. An approved lender…

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Cataracts can be corrected

Too often older adults assume that poor eyesight is a given. Indeed, half of us will have cataracts by the time we are 80 years old. But surgery is easier now and extremely effective. The importance of monitoring Cataracts involve a clouding of the lens of the eye. Cataracts develop slowly and require regular checking….

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Take a break: Options for respite

Go to bed when you’re ready, sleep without interruption, and do what you want all day. Ahhh… If you’re providing full-time care for your loved one, you may long for a night to call your own. Better yet, a few days and nights of R&R. An extended respite break isn’t indulgent, it’s smart. Providing care…

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When family comes visiting

If you have family coming to visit this season, you may be feeling both excited and concerned—excited about brightening your loved one’s life with family gatherings and holiday events, and concerned that your loved one may become tired or anxious with the extra activity. It is wise to think ahead about factors that could add…

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