National Cancer Survivors Day is coming up (June 4), which celebrates the fact that 66% of those ever diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years later. Help your loved one get a jump on any potential cancer by taking advantage of these free screening tests.
Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears
Nearly one in four older adults experiences ringing in the ears, called “tinnitus.” For some, it interferes with concentration and is so severe it leads to insomnia, depression, and anxiety. In honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, we highlight what you can do to help your loved one address this all-too-common condition.
Moving to memory care
Once you decide memory care is the wisest path, the next step is choosing a facility and creating a smooth moving day. Many memory care communities have a “move-in coordinator” or other family liaison. Rely on this professional for guidance.
Lessons from the seriously ill
A long-time hospice nurse—someone deeply committed to caring for the seriously ill—created this list of the top five deathbed regrets she frequently observed in her patients. She vowed to take these lessons to heart. Do any of these ring true for you?
The care plan and meeting
If your loved one is admitted to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare requires the staff develop an initial, personalized care plan within the first 48 hours. This describes who should be doing what. Then, within the first 14 days, the staff must assemble a comprehensive assessment, which must include your loved one’s needs and strengths.
Do you strive for perfection?
It’s important to do the best you can when caring for a loved one. But aiming for perfection can bring on problems. For yourself, in terms of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. And for your relative and other family members, who may feel burdened by living under the stress of constant measurement and judgment.
For many people, a pillbox is just the ticket. But as we age, we may take more medicines. Filling the box requires more concentration. Remembering to take the meds can become more challenging. Many families turn to technology to help an aging loved one.
Gather important documents
If you are the person most likely to step in if your loved one is unable to get to the bills—a hospitalization, dementia—you need to get oriented. And organized! It’s easy to lose track of paperwork, especially someone else’s. Professionals recommend gathering important documents in a file or binder for safekeeping. Put that in a locked and fireproof location. Consider a small home safe. Or a safe deposit box at the bank.
Calling a family meeting
April 10 is Siblings Day! How are things going with your siblings? Does everyone in your family participate in the care of your loved one? Is there agreement on the problems? The solutions? If not, you aren’t alone with this issue. But you could probably use a family meeting or two to get everyone rowing in the same direction.
If your spouse is younger than 65 and has received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you may feel in a world all your own. You probably don’t know anyone else in this situation and may sense a social stigma. It can be scary. Lonely. And feel just not fair!
Did you know “false teeth” need to be brushed daily, just like “real teeth” do? Learn how you can help your loved one avoid infections, maintain good nutrition, and extend the life of their dentures.
Choosing a meal service
Food is so profoundly linked to health and love, it can be distressing to realize that someone you care for is missing meals or otherwise eating poorly. There are many services available to help, each with their own special procedures. Learn about the questions you’ll want to ask.
Is it time for memory care?
People with moderate dementia are rarely aware of their need for help. It will be the family members who make any placement decisions. How do you know when this option should be explored?
If you are not the primary caregiver
If someone else in your family has primary responsibility for the care of your loved one, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Far from it! Caring for an older adult is more than one person can do alone. There are many ways to lend a hand (even if you don’t live nearby).
Addressing fatigue in heart failure
February is Heart Month. If your loved one needs frequent naps and gets out of breath easily, he or she may need a daily life energy budget. (This is especially true for people with heart failure.)
Home modifications for vision loss
If the person you care for has a low vision diagnosis, three types of modifications to the home can make life easier: Lighting, glare control, and the use of color contrast. Fortunately, these strategies are relatively inexpensive.
Where are the paid caregivers?
Frustrated in your search for a paid caregiver? You are not alone. There is an extreme shortage of helpers right now. Even before COVID, the demand for aides was greater than the supply. The “Great Resignation” hit the caring professions hard. Caregivers close to retirement left early. And many younger workers decided to opt for safer, less demanding jobs. In some states, as many as 38% of direct-care workers chose other occupations last year.
Caring for a parent long distance brings its own challenges. With planning, organization, and frequent communication—plus a little help from technology—you can provide effective support.
The yearly “Wellness Visit”
Catching things early is big with Medicare. Every year, all Medicare enrollees are eligible for a free “Wellness Visit” with their primary care doctor. This is NOT an annual physical, so don’t use that term when making the appointment. Beyond basic vitals—height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse—there is no physical examination. If a physical exam is done, your loved one may have to foot the bill.
Are you the primary caregiver?
Being primary can be quite a job. In many cases it involves driving to the doctor and managing medications, handling finances, providing for daily needs, coordinating care services, and keeping the elder’s spirits up. If you are that person, don’t try to do it alone—even if it seems like that’s the only choice.
Dry eye syndrome
Our eyes show us the world. If something goes wrong with them, it can affect our total well-being. Dry eye syndrome makes eyes feel gritty, burning, itchy, and sensitive—discomforts that are hard to ignore! It typically manifests with age and affects as many as 30% of older adults.
Cold weather safety tips for indoors
The dangers of cold weather are obvious outdoors. But there are dangers indoors, too, most often because the house thermostat is set too low. People can die from being too cold. Older adults are especially at risk.
Healing torn relations
Take any roomful of people and likely two-thirds of them have relatives who aren’t talking to each other. Families are messy. Hurts abound. Some people wait until a serious diagnosis to reconcile. They often regret the years of separation they can never retrieve. Others try forgiveness earlier in the process. There’s no right or wrong.
Dementia and small children
The grandparent–grandchild relationship can be precious, like no other. But even young children notice if Grandma or Grandpa isn’t acting the way they used to, or the same way others do. And they will have questions.
Is your home safe for older guests?
If you expect older visitors this season, check your home for hazards. Older adults often have impaired balance and vision. This makes them prone to falling, especially in new surroundings. And fragile skin and bones can mean double trouble if someone does take a spill.
Not taking meds as directed?
Taking the right medicines at the right time is extremely important to health management. But 75%–96% of older adults admit that they frequently make mistakes with their medication. Is your loved one among them?
Gifts for those with memory loss
Deciding what holiday gifts to give a person with memory loss can be challenging. From seasonal activities to digital picture frames or fuzzy robo-pets, we’ve got suggestions!
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
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
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?
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
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?
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
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?
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?
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
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
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
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.
When grandpa has dementia: Teens and tweens
For a teen, a relative’s dementia can turn a close relationship into one that’s now awkward, confusing, and embarrassing. And creates feelings of guilt.
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?
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
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
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
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”
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
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?
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
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”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.”
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.
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
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.