Category Archives: Caregiver

Exercise and COPD: an oxymoron?

COPD

Does Mom say she feels too weak to exercise? Does Dad run out of breath just walking down the street? People dealing with COPD often believe that exercise will make things worse. Actually, in moderation, quite the opposite is true.

Very real benefits. Even people with severe COPD can become more physical. Something as simple as arm lifts or singing can improve breathing and reduce fatigue. Exercise also helps with the fuzzy thinking many older adults experience with their COPD—because it gets more oxygen to the brain. Plus, people who engage in physical activity even just three times a week have been able to reduce the severity of COPD flares. If they have to be hospitalized, they get home sooner. Best of all, it’s not that hard to achieve these improvements.

Talk with the doctor first. Don’t challenge your loved one to a mile starting out! A balanced approach is required with COPD. The goal is to stretch breathing capability and stamina a little bit at a time without getting overly tired. Your family member’s doctor can give guidelines about when to stop and when to push past that initial feeling of “today is not a good day.”

Ask for pulmonary rehabilitation. The doctor may be able to prescribe a special exercise class for people with COPD. Exercising under supervision supports your loved one to feel safe. A class also presents the chance to talk with others who face the same challenges, which helps combat the isolation and depression that are common with COPD.

Tips for making it easier. Have your loved one

  • pick an activity that is pleasurable;
  • start small and increase gradually;
  • find an exercise buddy. This adds fun and supports commitment;
  • ask to be trained on “pursed lips breathing.” This technique makes it easier to exhale deeply and bring in enough oxygen.

Does better breathing feel impossible?

At Senior Life Management we have seen how people with COPD who didn’t think they could exercise can actually improve their breathing with very light, supervised activities. Even a physical therapist coming to the home a few times can guide your relative to exercises that will reduce that scary feeling of air hunger. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you get the support needed to make each day the best it can be.

Savoring Good Experiences

positive experiences

Sharing positive experiences is like sharing a good meal, warms and strengthens friendships and family bonds. There are other benefits to savoring positive experiences. Even in the privacy of your own thoughts, reflecting on pleasant memories is an easy and effective way to increase your overall happiness.

Hard wired to focus on the negative

Have you noticed that even a small negative event can grab your attention repeatedly over the day? Positive events, by contrast, rarely come back to mind. That’s human. Our brains are hard wired to pay attention to threats.

Retraining our brains

As a family caregiver, you may find yourself focused on the things that aren’t going well. This zaps your energy. It also sets you up for depression, a common occurrence when caregiving. Fortunately, as humans we can retrain our brains to notice the positive for a more-balanced assessment of our days.

Try this exercise

  • Before bed, write down three good things that happened over the day. They don’t have to be big events. Just things that felt positive. Maybe a good conversation or a leisurely walk. Include as much detail as you can.
  • For each one, also write down “why” it was positive. Knowing what uplifts you tunes you into future opportunities for positive activities.
  • Take 30 seconds to relive or savor each memory. Close your eyes. Were there particular smells at the time? Sounds? Thoughts? Immerse yourself in the full memory of the event.
  • If possible, tell others about the event over the next few days. The recounting of it helps seal it in your awareness.

Why it works

Neurons that fire together wire together.” The more memory traces you create of positive experiences, the more adept your brain will become at recognizing the positives. You won’t lose your ability to identify threats. But you will form more-accurate assessments of your life and increase your overall sense of happiness.

Does the positive elude you?

If finding the positive experiences is difficult, it may be a sign that you could use some caregiving help. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Managementunderstand that it’s a lot to shoulder. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. Let’s talk and see what we can do together to bring more positives to your day.

When your Parent Drinks Too Much

parent drinks

Alcohol is a sensitive subject. Consider asking your parent’s doctor or a respected friend to initially bring up the subject. Tell them the reasons for your concern: slurred speech, unexplained falls or bruises. Be specific in your examples. Your parent will have less face to save with a trusted friend or professional than with their own child.

If you do talk, don’t say “alcoholic.” Even if it’s applicable, this is a loaded term. Tread lightly. A confrontation will just make your relative defensive and could jeopardize your relationship long term.

Instead, clear yourself of judgments about what he or she “should” do. Your relative is an adult and has the right to make unwise or unhealthy choices. He or she is doing the best they can, using the coping strategies that are readily available to them.

Open the door. Let them know that you notice some things aren’t working well and that you care. Rather than preach, create an invitation: “I notice you’ve been falling” (or losing weight, or seeming kind of withdrawn). “Are you concerned? Want to talk?” If yes, great. If no, just make it clear you’re available any time.

Casual help. Rediscovering meaning, purpose, and connection is one route to recovery. Separate from a conversation about alcohol, help your loved one explore ways to feel engaged with life, perhaps through involvement with others. Maybe you can go together to a social activity to make the first time easier. Or you might help remove barriers by providing transportation or covering costs.

Formal programs. Older adults also respond well to short-term interventions that address the specific isolation and loneliness of late life. If your loved one shows interest, help him or her find a recovery program that is geared to the needs and concerns of aging.

Is alcohol a problem?

Alcohol use is surprisingly common in late life. At Senior Life Management we see it frequently. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you strategize about optimal ways to approach the situation. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.

Late-life veterans’​ issues

late life issues

If the person you care for is a combat veteran, you may not have heard much about those experiences. You are not alone. In generations past, veterans made it a point to put the war behind them and “forget.” But things can take a dramatic turn in later life. As they face the challenges of serious illness, many vets start having symptoms that appear to be a delayed form of PTSD.

Common triggers

Physical pain, need for medication, or dependence on others can bring up old, traumatic memories. Dad may start to have nightmares or insomnia. Or you might notice an unexplained change in Mom’s temperament. Researchers believe this comes on because the stress of illness makes it too hard for the mind to continue suppressing the bad memories. For instance:

  • Trouble breathing from an illness such as COPD brings up past anxieties.
  • Pain can provoke memories of one’s own or another’s injuries.
  • Medications for pain or other conditions can cause fuzzy thinking. This in itself interferes with keeping combat memories at bay.

Moral and spiritual concerns

Sadly, combat veterans have seen the worst humanity has to offer. Your family member may have had to bury feelings about things he or she was called on to do in the line of duty. As the reality of “meeting one’s maker” draws closer, however, overpowering emotions of shame, guilt, and regret may arise.

What you can do

Veterans typically don’t like to talk about their wartime experiences. But they will talk with another vet. The Veterans Administration is aware of these late-life issues. They have counselling available for vets and for family members. In addition, hospice and palliative care programs often have a “We Honor Veterans” program. Their practitioners are specially trained to support the care needs of those who selflessly answered the call of duty.

Let us help.

At Senior Life Management we have deep respect for the contribution of our men and women in uniform. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can guide you to resources that will help ease the invisible wounds your loved one carries from their service. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.

Signature Strength: Courage

courage

In the tradition of “positive psychology,” we encourage family caregivers to know and use their signature strengths. These personality traits can become reliable tools. Courage, for example, has many faces beyond bravado and derring-do. See if you recognize yourself in these descriptions.

Honesty and integrity are facets of courage. Are you a person who insists on living by your values? Do you prize authenticity? Courage is at the root of what it takes to

  • know your limits and take respite breaks when you need to;
  • talk compassionately with a family member about behaviors that are not healthy;
  • ask a sibling to participate more in helping out with Mom or Dad.

Steadfastness. Another aspect of courage is the willingness to continue even if the going gets tough. Think about ways you advocate for your parent with the healthcare system. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself calmly handling once-unimaginable tasks in personal care or wound care.

Maintaining focus. Courage also involves feeling several things at once, yet staying focused. A courageous person may feel fear. But they steady themselves with a belief that they can have an impact. The thoughtfully courageous assess situations with eyes wide open. They see the risks. Rather than run, they look for ways to reduce the chance of a negative outcome.

Tempering qualities. The roar of a lion—a blustery manner or righteous indignation—may look like strength. But that type of courage is not usually constructive in family dynamics. Better to remember that lions can be tender too, and they work for the overall good of the pride.

Courage may not be something you think of as your signature strength. This fresh look at the many sides of courage may help you see the daily bravery you exhibit as a family caregiver.

Are there days when you don’t feel like a lion?

We all feel that way from time to time. Usually it’s when there is more to be done than we think we can accomplish. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management can help you look authentically at the situation, and find your courage to take the next step. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season

vaccine

 

Did you know that 60% of people with flu symptoms leave the house during their illness?

Furthermore, 70% of them go to the drugstore.

That’s a good reason to stay clear of the pharmacy during peak cold and flu season!

Good preparation involves a lot more than a vaccine. Cold and flu germs are highly contagious. If an infected person sneezes, anyone within a 3-foot radius is likely to get exposed. And those flu germs live up to 24 hours on hard surfaces. Not to mention that the sick person unwittingly starts spreading germs as early as three days BEFORE feeling any symptoms and continues to be contagious up to 24 hours after the natural break of a fever.

Tips for yourself and for your loved one

  • Get the flu vaccine. Even if it’s not a perfect match with this year’s influenza virus, it will minimize the intensity of symptoms.
  • Get eight hours of sleep at night. In one study, those who got fewer hours were three times more likely to catch a cold.
  • Wash hands often. Touching hard surfaces (counters, doorknobs, the poles on public transit) is a sure-fire way to bring germs into your body.
  • Frequently clean surfaces at home and work.
  • Shy away from crowded situations.

Avoid the pharmacy by stocking up ahead of time on

  • soups, teas, and other fluids to keep well hydrated;
  • fever reducers: Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin;
  • saline drops or a neti pot to gently flush nasal passages;
  • honey and/or cough drops to soothe the throat;
  • decongestants (to dry up the nose), cough suppressants (for nighttime sleeping), expectorants (for daytime purging of mucus in the lungs). Consult with the doctor beforehand to be sure there are no conflicts with prescribed medicines;
  • lots of tissues. Don’t keep used ones around;
  • humidifiers to ease breathing;
  • wedged pillows to sit (and sleep) more upright.

We all feel that way from time to time. Usually it’s when there is more to be done than we think we can accomplish. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management can help you look authentically at the situation, and find your courage to take the next step. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.

Preparing for Joint Replacement

joint surgery

If your loved one is slated for joint surgery, don’t underestimate the impact. Expect that he or she will have reduced energy and greater needs.

Limited mobility will create surprising challenges. Things you take for granted will need extra care and attention for joint surgery.

Plus, the body simply needs time and energy to rebuild bone, muscle, and nerve connections after joint surgery.

There is much you can do ahead of time to help prepare a smooth path for recovery.

Support physical preparation for success

Please Note: Senior Life Management does not specifically endorse the activities of these organizations, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.

Signature Strength: Wisdom

positive psychology

Each of us has strengths . . . and, well, areas that could use improvement.

As a family caregiver, you may often feel inadequate. Or guilty. Or think that you aren’t doing enough.

Such negative self-assessments are common.

A more balanced assessment would acknowledge that you also have qualities that shine.

Most of us believe that to be better people, we need to focus on our trouble spots. Over the next months, we will be drawing on the science of positive psychology, which shows that cultivating what works is just as productive as scrutinizing the things that aren’t working well. For example, each of us has characteristic “signature strengths.” Wisdom may be one of yours.

Wisdom and knowledge

Are you the type of person others turn to when they need advice? If so, you probably have the strength of wisdom and knowledge:

  • Curiosity and a love of learning
  • Willingness to look at all sides
  • Ability to change your mind
  • A tendency to take time to reflect, look inward
  • An understanding of social dynamics
  • Empathy

Wisdom is more than being smart. It’s a special kind of intelligence that blends the heart and the brain. The more life experiences you have had—including losses—the more opportunities you have had to develop a wider perspective. The wise individual is able to listen to the heart but not be overcome by emotional extremes.

Using both sides of the brain. Wisdom is commonly associated with age. Brain studies reveal that older adults use both sides of their brain—the analytical side plus the more intuitive side—more equally than do younger adults. As one scientist put it, “they are in all-wheel drive.”

Cultivate your wisdom. Learning from the habits of wise individuals can help you foster this strength. Explore something unfamiliar. Try a new perspective. Pause and reflect. Strive to interpret the actions of others with kindness and compassion.

I don’t need your help part 3

helping elderly

It’s not easy to lose abilities and admit you need help. The reluctant elder in your life is more likely to ease into acceptance if you provide good listening, compassion, and a commitment to working together. In this third installment of our series, we look at elders’ concerns around privacy and pride.

Privacy. Having someone underfoot can feel intrusive, especially if your relative is used to living alone. Perhaps he or she fears being judged, or that word of unhealthy food choices or alcohol use may get back to the family. Maybe your relative tends toward hoarding and is embarrassed. Or has worries about safety with a stranger or the risk of theft. All of these are reasonable concerns for any adult who values their independence. You can address privacy concerns by

  • starting with part-time help;
  • hiring a friend;
  • working with an agency that does background checks and drug testing.

Pride. “Do you think I need a babysitter?!” Our culture values self-reliance. Anything that implies a need for help suggests weakness or incompetence. When you approach your relative,

Please Note: Senior Life Management does not specifically endorse the activities of these organizations, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.

When you Need an Energy boost

elderly home care

When caregiver fatigue strikes, many of us reach for caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, cola, chocolate, or an “energy shot” drink, the effects are immediate. Like a reliable friend, caffeine seems to help us keep going.

Pros and cons

Studies have shown many benefits from caffeine. It can enhance performance. It increases productivity and elevates mood. It may even reduce or delay Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

On the other hand, caffeine can be hard on the heart. It’s like giving your heart a stress test on a regular basis. It’s known to cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat and can contribute to high blood pressure. Insomnia and anxiety are also common side effects.

Too much of a good thing?

High-caffeine energy shot drinks are increasing in popularity, especially among older adults. Take caution. In a four-year time span, the number of adults going to the ER because of energy drink intake doubled. Among adults age 40 and older, the rate quadrupled! Although the numbers are small, clearly there is a trend. Symptoms ranged from palpitations and anxiety to actual heart attacks.

The Food and Drug Administration says that 400 mg of caffeine per day is likely safe. A 5 oz. cup of caffeinated coffee has about 100 mg. A can of cola about 50 mg. Energy drinks, by contrast, vary dramatically, having from 200 to 500 mg of caffeine.

If you want to quit

Caffeine can be addictive. Tapering off, or down, is easier than going cold turkey. One approach is to make your coffee or tea half decaf. Or switch to smaller servings or fewer drinks per day.

Another option is to respect your fatigue. Try to get enough sleep at night. And if life allows, consider a short nap midday. Listening to your body may be a wiser approach than reaching for a cup of joe or a high-impact energy shot.

 

I don’t Need Help” – Part 2

older care

Helpful tips for family caregivers

Family caregivers face many decisions with life-altering consequences. In this July issue of our newsletter we explore the financial consequences—and possible remedies—of leaving your job to care for an aging relative. We look at the emotional consequences when an elder is facing the need for help at home. And last, we offer guidance about addiction concerns as a consequence of needing to take pain medications for a serious illness.

When a loved one obviously needs help at home but refuses to allow it, it’s frustrating! Below are two common concerns, with suggestions for ways to problem solve together.

Cost is a very practical barrier. Many older adults feel particularly vulnerable where money is concerned. They don’t want to spend! But the cost of help depends on the type of help needed.

If licensed care providers are what your relative needs—for example, home visits with a physical therapist after a hip surgery—Medicare and supplemental insurance usually cover these costs.

If nonmedical help is needed (cooking, laundry, errands), there may be resources to assist. Maybe your relative has long-term care insurance. Perhaps he or she is eligible for VA benefits. Consulting with an Aging Life Care™ Professional can bring those possibilities to light.

Or it may be that your loved one does not have an accurate picture of his or her financial resources. If you are the person your loved one trusts with money matters, ask if you can review the facts together to better understand his or her concerns.

Retaining control over their life. It’s common for accepting help to symbolize “the end of my independence.” That’s a scary thought. Realistically, though, all of us will need assistance at some point. You might try asking, “Under what circumstances would you see yourself accepting help at home?” This allows your loved one to explore his or her own red flags. Plus, it gives you insight about what life event might make home care acceptable and why.

When hiring help, look for ways your relative can retain as much control as possible:

  • Pick the caregiver.
  • Choose the days and times for help.
  • Decide on the care attendant’s tasks and participate in giving the instructions.
  • Clarify if this is a short-term or long-term arrangement.

Get the full guide here.

Before you Quit your Job

quit job

It may be true: Your aging relative needs more and more care. You know you are the best person for the job. But it’s too much to do on top of your own work. Think twice before exiting the workforce, however. There are some stiff financial consequences.

For example, if you are mid-career, you are in your prime income-earning years. This is when you want to double down on retirement savings. If your employer offers retirement matching funds, you want to be in a position to grab them! And continue contributing to Social Security.

According to a Met Life study:

Men age 50 and over who left work to care for a parent lost an average of $89,107 in wages. The impact on their Social Security benefits was $144,609. Loss of pension income, $50,000. Altogether, early retirement cost male employees $283,716 over their lifetime. Caregiving women age 50 and over got hit much harder. They tended to leave work sooner. Lost wages averaged $142,693. Women lost $131,351 in Social Security. Figuring lost pension at $50,000, early retirement cost female employees $324,044.

Consider these options:

Hiring help at home may be less expensive than losing your wages. Suggest sharing the cost with your siblings. (Show them this article!) Then no one among you bears the sole financial burden. You might take advantage of an adult day center to provide care during your work hours. Ask about flex-time options so you can work when others can care for mom or dad. Investigate Family Medical Leave. If your company is big enough, you may be able to take weeks or months off. (It is unpaid.) That may get you through a crisis and buy you time to make other arrangements.

In your generous desire to help, be careful you don’t shortchange your own future.

Thinking of a family vacation?

At Senior Life Management we have observed that a special family trip builds priceless memories. Don’t let a disability quash the thought! As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you identify needed support services and find an outing that matches well with your loved one’s abilities. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.

To find the accessibility of national parks service, go to the National Park Service website. Select a park of interest. Under the “Plan Your Visit” menu, go to the page for Accessibility.

Memory loss and advance care planning

memory loss

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 topic?

You may fear an angry response or denial that anything is wrong. Or perhaps you worry about depression. Try reframing the conversation:

  • Prior planning: Often, advance directives have been included in estate planning documents. Focus on updates and distributing to current physicians.
    Work on your directives together. Everyone needs an advance directive. Share what your thoughts are for your own directive (even if it’s complete already). Then ask about your relative’s wishes.
  • Consider it an act of love: You want to know what kind of care your relative wants and what they most fear. With this, you can advocate for their preferences.
  • Choose a decision maker: If nothing else, it’s a good idea for your loved one to pick one person to be his or her medical decision maker. If the need should arise, this person would coordinate with the medical team to carry out your relative’s end-of-life wishes.

Other tips with dementia:

  • Talk to your loved one shortly after the diagnosis: Awareness is high, and your relative is more lucid than he or she will be in the months or years to come. The earlier you have the conversation, the more likely it will be that the person has the capacity to sign needed documents.
  • Plan on several conversations over time: People with dementia are easily overwhelmed. Keep the conversations short and focused.
    For more tips, see TheConversationProject.org. They have a Starter Kit for families of persons with dementia.

Not sure how to get started?

At Senior Life Management, we understand that advance care planning can be a sensitive topic. Put our experience to work for you. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, know how to guide this conversation, helping your loved one understand the concept and express his or her wishes.

Give us a call at 949-716-1266.