Category Caregiving

3 Caregiving Joys (That You Don’t Want to Forget!)

Caregiving is often looked down upon by society. Caregivers are pitied with phrases like “You have your hands full” or “I could never do that.”  Even compliments like “Wow, you must be a saint” leave you squirming.

It’s easy to feel discouraged in the midst of caregiving, especially in this social media age when your friends’ too-perfectly cropped and filtered Instagram story gives unrealistic expectations of how to find fulfillment in life. Even though caregiving can be one of the most difficult things you ever do, embracing the silver lining can bring a new perspective to caregiving that you don’t want to forget!

1. Dependence

Ok, so this doesn’t sound like a silver lining at all. Independence is something almost all Americans covet. We all want the freedom to do things we want to do on our own time.

But as the wise words of Bill Withers tell us, “Lean on me when you’re not strong… for it won’t be long ‘till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” It’s inevitable that we all will need help. When you fall victim to the flu and desperately need chicken noodle soup and ginger ale, or your car breaks down and you need a ride, or you have a life-altering decision and need some advice, we all need help at some point.

It’s a tremendous privilege and joy to care for the elder who cared for you when you were once helpless. They once sacrificed greatly for you–and if you’ve had kids you know how much they did! To now be able to care for your elder is one of the most life-giving and rewarding ways to show your love and appreciation for your elder.

2. Having a Relationship You Never Had

Being cared for is usually a humbling experience. The physical closeness of caregiving (you never thought you’d help bathe your elder, did you?) often paves the way for a renewed relationship.

Regardless of the previous dynamics you had with your elder, caregiving opens a door to a new and deeper relationship with them. A little compassion and understanding goes a long way in tearing down old barriers so new relationships can blossom. The extra time you spend together allows for conversations that would never have happened. You can slow down and learn about them in ways you couldn’t before. What a blessing to have a renewed relationship!

3. Self-Discovery

While caregiving can bring extra burdens and tensions, you will probably discover things that you never knew about yourself! Maybe those stressful extra doctor appointments reveal that you’re a pro at organization; maybe you didn’t realize your capacity for empathy and compassion; or maybe the patience you’re learning while dealing with a challenging elder is improving the relationship with an estranged child.

Our character and capabilities grow most through testing. While it is easy to grumble about the extra work, embrace the challenge and watch yourself change in ways you would never expect! Choose to see the joys; let caregiving be a maturing process.

Conclusion

Caregiving is undeniably tough! While it’s easy to wish for independence, embracing the challenge of caregiving can bring life-giving joys, restored relationships, and new discoveries for yourself.

P.S. Do you need some rest? Here are my 5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers.

What You Need to Know about Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

You’re at a family get-together when you notice something is not right with your usually sharp-minded and witty mother. She didn’t remember that her first great-grandson was born a few months ago or the name of the neighbor who has lived next to her for twenty years. She tried to tell you about her trip to the supermarket but stumbled through the story and repeated tiny details. When do you attribute these things to old age, and when do you begin to wonder it’s something more?

What is Dementia?

According to the National Institute on Aging, dementia is the dying of brain neurons which results in the loss of cognitive functioning. This includes thinking, memory, and reasoning skills, as well as behavioral changes that interferes with daily life and activities. Individuals with dementia struggle with:

  • memory (especially recalling recent events)
  • communication (unable to find the words they want to say)
  • poor safety judgement (using a knife to get their toast from the toaster)
  • inability to focus (easily distracted or repeating information and questions)
  • self-care management (poor hygiene)

Everyone experiences the loss of brain neurons as they age, but those with dementia have an accelerated loss. For example, it’s normal to forget where you put your keys every once and a while, but it’s not normal to misplace them every day. Or, it’s normal to forget the name of that fancy cheese you had at the bridal shower, but it’s not normal to forget which present you brought to the shower.

Dementia is not a disease, but a collection of symptoms that can be caused by other diseases. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses many diseases, including:

  • Alzheimer’s (further explanation below)
  • Vascular (loss of blood to the brain, usually from a stroke, that results in neuron loss)
  • Lewy Bodies (protein build-up in the brain that impairs memory and motor skills; often associated with Parkinson’s Disease)
  • Frontotemporal (degeneration of the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, impairing behavior, emotions, and decision-making skills)

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.7 million Americans. Although AD can develop in persons younger than 65–called Early Onset Alzheimer’s–96% of cases are in individuals 65 or older.

AD occurs when certain proteins build up (called plaques and tangles) on the brain neurons, disrupting communication and ultimately leading to neuron death. While most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, those with AD have many more. They develop in the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and then progress to other areas of the brain, causing personality changes, difficulties with activities of daily living (ADLs), and the other signs of AD.

Since there is no cure for AD, the plaques and tangles continue to spread through the brain, killing more and more neurons. Unfortunately, the prognosis for AD is poor. Life expectancy after diagnosis depends on many factors; most people live 4 to 8 years, while some can live up to 20 years.

The 3 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

AD progresses through 3 stages. The time in each stage varies depending on the person, their treatment, and other factors.

The first stage is called Mild of Early-Stage AD. In this stage, the individual is able to maintain a functionally independent life, however, family and friends will start to notice difficulties in the individual’s concentration, communication, and memory.

The second stage is called Moderate or Middle-Stage AD. This is the longest stage, and can last for years. The individual will require a greater level of care, as they struggle with greater memory loss and confusion, bowel and bladder control, and wandering tendencies. Perhaps the most difficult decline to observe is the change in behavior, as the individual becomes moody, delusion, compulsive, and angry, often becoming someone that loved ones don’t recognize.

The last stage is called Severe or Late-Stage AD. Unfortunately, the individual no longer interacts with their environment. They cannot carry on a conversation, perform personal hygiene, and eventually lose the ability to move. Behavioral changes and memory loss also continue to get worse. Because of these significant challenges, the individual will need 24-hour care for all their needs.

What Can I do if I suspect Alzheimer’s Disease?

While there is no cure for AD, early detection is vital to helping the affected individual have the best quality of life.  The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 early signs and symptoms of AD. They are:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulties completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble determining colors, distance, and visual images
  6. New problems with words in speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood or personality.

If you suspect dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease for you or a loved one, make an immediate appointment with a doctor. If AD is diagnosed, you can create a care plan team of doctors, nurses, specialists, therapists, nutritionists, support groups, and more. These professionals aid the individual and their family through drug and non-drug measures to slow the progression of the disease and keep them healthy for as long as possible.

Conclusion

Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses many diseases that result from brain neuron death. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. While there is no cure for dementia or AD, early detection improves the individual’s quality of life. Early drug and non-drug interventions slow the progression of the disease. If you suspect dementia or AD for you or a loved one, make an appointment with a doctor!

5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers

If you’re one of the 43.5 million Americans providing care to another adult or child, you know the toll that caregiving takes on your body. When your priority is caring for another, it’s easy to push the care for yourself to the back burner.

However, this should only be a short-term solution, as caregiving is linked to a long list of health risk factors. The increased stress and sleep disturbances can lead to more infectious illnesses with longer recovery times, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, type II diabetes, certain cancers, and more. In one study, almost a third of caregivers report depression.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be you! You can find renewed joy in serving your loved one. Taking a little time each day to care for yourself breaks the cycle of stress and emotional build-up. When you are refreshed, you are better equipped to provide quality and loving care to others. That’s something that benefits everyone!

1. Give Yourself a Break

It’s easy to give a long list for you can’t take a break. Sometimes the hardest part is just admitting you need one! Many caregivers feel like they are the only one holding everything together or that they’re failing if they need help. Far from it! Knowing your boundaries and when you need a break ensures both you and your loved one stay happy and safe. You’re not failing when you reach out for help!

We all need time and space to recharge, and there are more people willing to help than you realize. Even if you don’t have relatives or friends who are able to assist you, there are respite care services such as Nurse Next Door.

Additionally, take some time throughout the day to recharge and do something you enjoy. Its tempting to stay busy while your loved one is resting or doing an independent activity,  but don’t feel guilty taking some down time for yourself. Even simple deep breathing exercises can significantly reduce your stress levels.

2. Find an Activity that’s Truly Restful

We’ve all been there: you’ve had a long and exhausting day. All you want to do is watch your favorite TV show undisturbed while eating chips and ice cream. While this kind of rest is not always bad, it’s usually counterproductive, leaving you grouchy and craving more alone time.

Finding an activity that is truly restful and leaves you feel rejuvenated. Dust off some of your old hobbies or pick up a new one! Quiet your mind with yoga, reading, baking, or crafting. These types of activities reduce your stress levels and help you be ready to continue caring for your loved one.

3. Find an Organizational System that Suits You

Balancing your own life with caring for your loved one is challenging. It’s understandable to feel frustrated when you have to miss your daughter’s soccer game for your father’s podiatrist appointment. Finding an organizational system that works for you will provide greater control and predictability over your schedule.

You may prefer a day planner, a wall calendar, or setting up reminders on your phone for appointments. (If your loved one is battling dementia, a wall calendar is an excellent idea for their memory, too!) File away all medical paperwork and bills in filing cabinets for easy recovery later. Keeping a flexible routine provides structure to your day and comforting predictability for your loved one.

4. Advocate for Your Own Health

When you spend your day caring for others, it’s difficult to exert more energy figuring out a healthy meal or exercising. However, making the choice to eat a balanced diet and exercise benefits everyone—and no one regrets being healthier!

Thankfully you don’t have to go to the gym to exercise: a 10 minute walk in the sun, dancing to music (maybe even with your loved one!), yoga, gardening or lawn care, or any number of activities that raise your heart rate gets endorphins flowing to reduce depression and stress and improve your health.

Take a few minutes throughout the day to plan and prep meals; if you have healthy meals and snacks ready to go, you’re less likely to give into cravings and junk food. Little changes are an easy way to start but make a big difference! Replace red meats with lean proteins, white bread with whole grain bread, cooked vegetables with fresh vegetables, and cutting back on your serving of cake.

5. Join a Support Group

Especially in this social media age, you may not even have to leave your living room to engage with others who share your experiences. Facebook and support group pages abound, as well as support groups where you can meet in person. There are search engines to find a group for your situation in your location, and many hospitals offer support groups.

If a support group isn’t for you, it’s important to share your experiences, frustrations, and joys with others. Talking about your day with a friend or family member helps relieve stress and keeps you from feeling isolated.

Conclusion

You are doing a wonderful and sacrificial thing by caring for your loved one, but you don’t have to let your personhood and health suffer because of it! By implementing one or more of these suggestions, you are making a positive change that benefits your overall health so that you can be the best caregiver for your loved one.