Every adult needs to complete an advance directive (and that means you, too!). It is the health care planning document that medical professionals follow if a patient becomes too ill to speak for him or herself. It gives your loved one the option to name someone as decision maker. And it is the place he or she can state preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment.
More than medicine
Death and dying is more than a medical event, however. Like birth, a family member’s death is a profound part of a family’s life journey. Just as an expectant mom might contemplate where to give birth and the emotional tone of the environment, your loved one may have thoughts about where to die and those surroundings. This may involve his or her religious or spiritual beliefs and preferences. Or may simply reflect personal rituals and symbols. The advance directive is a vehicle for your relative to describe these wishes, but you might need to start the conversation.
Some questions you might ask:
- Is there anything you would like us to do that is rooted in your faith? Tell us everything you can about what you might like. Any faith leader you would like us to call?
- Where would you prefer to pass? At home? Somewhere else?
- How do you envision the room? Special photos or prayers? Poems or music?
- To provide a sense of who you are, how shall we describe you to the doctors, nurses, or other helpers who may not have met you before? “Above all, he/she was a person who _____.”
A final gift
Capture your relative’s wishes on paper. Have him or her sign the document and attach it to the advance directive. Knowing your loved one’s spiritual wishes enables you to give him or her a final gift of comfort and dignity.
Is this an uncomfortable topic?
We at Senior Life Management understand this is not always an easy discussion. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you and your loved one get started on an advance directive and even explore these more personal, very meaningful aspects—”spiritual planning.” Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
“Chronic pain” is pain that lasts for 12 weeks or more. The cause is usually nervous system misfiring, like a faulty car alarm system. Often there is no specific trigger, which makes treatment difficult.
Chronic pain is common, affecting 50%–66% of adults age 50 and older. Opioid drugs are recommended for pain control in life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. For those with chronic pain, however, a mix of pain relief strategies is better.
With chronic pain, a full recovery to “no pain” may not be realistic. Instead, it’s a matter of finding ways to help your loved one adjust so he or she can continue activities that bring meaning to life despite the pain.
Pain is physical, and the experience of pain can be reduced with physical changes. Pain is also highly affected by mental perception. In other words, how negatively we think about it. These two qualities open the door for many nondrug strategies of pain management. For instance:
- Physical therapy. Exercises to gain strength and flexibility can improve overall comfort.
- Occupational therapy. Learning new ways to accomplish daily tasks may reduce pain.
- Exercise. Low-impact physical activity—walking, swimming—releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer.
- Quality sleep. Lack of sleep makes pain worse. Good rest supports resilient coping with pain.
- Relaxation techniques. Special techniques can train the mind and body to interrupt the pain cycle (in which pain triggers fear and tension, which brings more pain).
- Meditation. Mindfulness practice can help your loved cope by “seeing” the pain from a new perspective.
- Counseling. Counseling can help your relative identify and change the thoughts, feelings, and actions that amplify pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often the most helpful. It can also address depression and anxiety, which then lowers pain.
Looking for pain management strategies?
Of course the first step is to talk with a doctor to get a diagnosis and find out about nonnarcotic, nonaddictive sources of relief. At Senior Life Management we have seen that a combination of therapies works best. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we know how difficult it is to care for a loved one in pain. We also understand your concerns about opioids and other drugs. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. You don’t have to navigate this alone.
Bathing brings many discomforts. Bathrooms can feel cold and drafty when a person is wet. And running water can be noisy. Nudity makes bathing very intimate, which can be distressing when a modest person needs help and may not recognize the helper.
Plus, bathing is a complicated process with many steps in a specific order. People with dementia may become confused and frustrated. They also may forget about the purpose of cleanliness.
Here are some tips to ease bath time:
- Guard the senses. Sometimes people with dementia are hypersensitive. Heat the bathroom ahead of time. Be gentle and avoid scrubbing. Check the water for temperature—too hot?—and the water pressure from the shower—too hard?
- Promote independence. Encourage your loved one to do things themselves. If you do need to take over, tell them what you are going to do before you do it. And give them a role so they can participate, such as holding the soap.
- Preserve modesty. Even if you are helping a spouse, have a towel at the ready for undressing and dressing.
- Maintain a routine. Most families notice that certain times of day are better than others. Bathing at the same time each day may make it easier.
Sponge baths work just as well. In terms of hygiene, all that’s needed is a twice a week wash, and even that can be just the highlights: armpits, folds of skin (under the breast, on the belly), groin, genitals, feet. Remember to keep the rest of the body covered with warm towels to minimize any chill.
- Try singing together. Or play music or old radio shows for distraction.
- Consider using bath wipes. Warm by putting an open package in the microwave for 10 seconds. Find out How to keep the bathroom dry.
- Call it “spa time.” Use no-rinse soap on moist, warm midsize towels and massage in gently. Wipe off with warm, moist washcloths.
Tired of the bathroom battlefield?
As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management have developed many strategies and insights that can help you make bath time more pleasant. Make a vote for peace in the household and give us a call at 949-716-1266.
Many of us admire people who have the gift of remaining calm. Calm as a signature strength is the ability to respond to threats from a place of appropriate confidence. To remain “centered.”
It’s not always easy to achieve. Our bodies react to the stresses of modern life—including family caregiving—with the same fight-or-flight hormones that saved us in more physically dangerous times.
That said, you can intentionally cultivate the skills involved in remaining calm. People who are calm
- have the ability to physically relax. You might use strategies such as focused breathing. Perhaps a mindfulness practice. Or activities that release tension.
- accurately assess threats. It’s easy to overestimate the negative. Or get stuck thinking about “what ifs.” Calm individuals notice threats, yet keep them in perspective. Here’s where you want to apply a healthy dose of reality. Assess a problem situation. Yes, do look at the worst-case scenario. But remember to consider the likelihood of that extreme. Calm individuals spend most of their time focusing on the more probable outcomes in between chaos and serenity.
- observe the situation with an awareness of their strengths. Calm individuals have self-confidence. They have an accurate and balanced assessment of their personal strengths. To develop this, take an accounting of your internal gifts. Also identify the external supports you have. For instance, your finances, friends, support services.
- reduce anger. Anger clouds rational thought. It’s not that calm individuals do not get angry. They simply recognize their triggers. And they use strategies to calm themselves effectively before they blow. You might start by watching your thoughts. Avoiding judgment and fault finding in others may help you stay at ease.
As you look to become a more resilient family caregiver, you may find that cultivating the strategies of calm individuals helps keep your own journey centered.
Does calm feel far away?
As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management understand how stressful it can be to care for a relative in need. It helps to talk with someone outside the situation to get a clearer picture of the threats, as well as your genuine resources, to develop the confidence needed to remain calm. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. You don’t need to do this alone.
What to get for the “chronologically gifted?” The age-friendly ideas below address the special interests or concerns of persons in their later years.
Providing an experience. Don’t add to household clutter—give an activity! This way, you give the fun of anticipation as well as countless hours of enjoyment afterwards, remembering. Ideally, arrange the gift as something your loved one can do with someone—you or a friend. After all, “a joy shared is twice a joy.”
- A gift card for a favorite restaurant.
- A book of movie passes.
- Tickets to a theater or musical performance.
Supporting connection. If your family member has been outrun by the pace of technology, a simple device might be fun. But only if you can be the tech advisor to set it up and maintain it! Or can provide for in-person tech help as part of the gift. Consider:
- Fax-to-email converters. Your relative can write a note and put it in the machine to be emailed out to others. Conversely, a converter fax can receive emails to print out on paper. No computer or Internet required!
- Simplified phones and tablets. These come with a special interface that has large buttons and limited options. Without the whiz-bang features older adults don’t need, these devices let non-techies enjoy the connective opportunities of the Internet.
Honoring cherished memories. Over time, your loved one has doubtless accumulated many fond memories of people and events. Reminiscing is fun, even if your relative has memory problems. Help your loved one savor recollections of beloved people and experiences with:
- A puzzle made from family photos. Another, similar option is to have a blanket printed with photos of your choosing.
- A digital photo frame. Connect a “smart frame” to Wi-Fi and you can even upload new pictures remotely. (Again, be sure to include tech assistance as part of the gift!)
Looking for distinctly practical gifts?
Perhaps your loved one needs help getting around. Or he or she may need a grab bar or other safety device. If you are concerned, give us a call at 949-716-1266. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management can do an assessment to give you a sense of the most appropriate device or services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.