Caregiver awards

It turns out that the government has declared November as “Family Caregiver’s Month”. Who knew? It’s well deserved and a great idea since, for the most part, cargiving can be a rather isolating endeavor. Those caring for their loved ones continue to show up day after day despite the odds, hours and obstacles.

Caregivers are not blind to hard reality. Or to the fact that short of a miracle, no matter how much they try, and how hard they work, their loved one’s abilities will continue to diminish and disappear until their time on earth finally draws to a close. Caregivers are often on a first name basis with such difficulties as isolation, financial strains, feelings of guilt and uncertainty as well as the uncomfortable reality of a shift in roles.

Why continue to labor in such a thankless and lonely burden of love? What keeps a person going? Part of the secret may be that they have discovered the ability to find sparks of joy in their everyday life as they celebrate even the tiniest victories.

The vast majority of these heroes will never be recognized for their tireless efforts. Of course, recognition is not what drives them. It is a sense of love mixed with duty that is usually the compelling force. Yes, there will always be those who simply find they have no other choice, but that is a fact of life.

I recently came across a study that provides one of those sparks of joy and reason to celebrate while caregiving.

It turns out that a study led by Johns Hopkins suggests that caregivers actually live longer, (no, it’s not that it just seems that way)

According to the Johns Hopkins-led study published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, an analysis of data previously gathered on more than 3,500 family caregivers suggests that those who assist a chronically ill or disabled family member actually enjoy an 18 percent survival advantage compared to statistically matched non-caregivers. Indeed, caregivers in the study lived a full nine years longer than non-caregivers over the course of the six-year study.

Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates,” says first author, David L. Roth, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health.

He adds that “In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition, and gratitude from their care recipients.  Thus, when caregiving is done willingly, at manageable levels, and with individuals who are capable of expressing gratitude, it is reasonable to expect that health benefits might accrue in those situations.

So, while being a caregiver may have its share of demands and difficulties, try to find ways to appreciate the benefits of caregiving as well as the challenges.

Happy. Happy? Holidays

According to the Hallmark and Norman Rockwell, the holiday season is a wonderful time filled with family, fun, and food. The reality is often quite different for those facing the challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Especially with the added burden of shopping, preparing, and all the extras that can go along with the season.finishing-well-in-life-greetings

Since stress is a part of everyday life for caregivers, it’s not always easy to tell when you are reaching a crises point.

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

Do you have signs of caregiver stress? Some signs include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:

  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Financial difficulties
  • Living with the person you are caring for
  • Higher number of hours spent caregiving
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Lack of choice in being a caregiver

Searching through a variety of resources, such as AARP, Mayo Clinic, friends, as well as personal experiences, I’ve isolated 10 keys to help keep your stress in check.

1. Take care of your physical needs first. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of water. Try to avoid sweets or excess alcohol. Get as much sleep as possible; if you have trouble sleeping at night, try napping during the day. See your doctor to get recommended immunizations and screenings. Try to find time to exercise, even if it means you have to ask someone else to provide care while you work out.

2. Be social. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Isolation increases stress. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.

3. Join a support group. A support group can provide both validation and encouragement. As an added benefit, others in the same situation can help with problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.

4. Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery may be available. Other service providers can include home health aides, homemakers and home repair services. Volunteers or staff from faith-based or non-profit groups might be of help as well.

5. Take a break. You need it. Your loved one might benefit from someone else’s company. Think about respite care by friends, relatives or volunteers. Or try for a weekend or longer vacation by turning to a home health agency, nursing home, assisted living residence or board-and-care home; these facilities sometimes accept short-term residents. Adult day centers, which usually operate five days a week, provide care in a group setting for older people who need supervision.

6. Focus on what you can do. Accept the fact that you simply can’t do everything! Resist the urge to take on more activities, projects or financial obligations than you can handle. If someone asks you to do something that will stretch you too thin, explain honestly why you can’t — and don’t feel guilty.

7. Get organized. Simple tools like calendars and to-do lists can help you prioritize your responsibilities. Always tackle the most important tasks first, and don’t worry if you can’t manage everything. Create a list of ways that others can help you so you can be ready with an answer when someone offers to help.

8. Give yourself grace. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.

9. Deal with your feelings. Bottling up your emotions takes a toll on your psyche — and even on your physical well-being. Share feelings of frustration with friends and family. If you experience symptoms of depression — extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death — talk to a medical professional.

10. Stay positive. If you have to, paste on a smile and do your best to avoid negativity. Hold a family meeting or call an elder care mediator to resolve conflicts with siblings and other relatives. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, pat yourself on the back for how much you are doing, and focus on the rewards of caring for someone you love.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these issues, please try to find some way to reach out for help.

If you have found others way to cope, please share with the readers.

More on: Neurobic exercises

In a previous post, ”Upside Down and Backwards”, I wrote about the benefits of Neurobic on brain function.

According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.

Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. Use your five physical senses as well as your emotional sense in unexpected ways to help you to shake up your everyday routines

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. You don’t need to make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”

Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both care-giver and those being cared for.

According to “Keep Your Brain Alive” by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D.,
there are conditions that make an exercise Neurobic.

It should do one or more of the following:

  1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context. By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance: Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. Eat a meal with your family in silence. Or combine two or more senses in unexpected ways: Listen to a specific piece of music while smelling a particular aroma.

  2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the background of everyday events and make your brain go into alert mode, an activity should be unusual, fun.

Begin with your morning routine:

They suggest such activities as, changing the usual smell you wake up to in the morning. Instead of coffee or tea, using a different smell or freshly baked bread will activate new neural pathways and change your usual morning olfactory association. Also try vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight container on your bedside table for a week and release it when you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. By consistently linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating new neural pathways.

  1. Shower with your eyes closed. Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good before you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren’t aware of when you are “looking.”

Physioherapy-treatment.com also offers some of the following suggestions:

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to eat food, brush hair or write. Also try brushing your teeth (don’t forget to open the tube and apply toothpaste in reverse, too).
  2. To use the side of your brain you don’t normally use close your eyes to wash, dress, open the front door, find your keys. This will help you strengthen your sense of touch.
  3. Getting dressed with the eyes closed.

These are only a few. Give them a try. I’ll keep a look-out for more and post them periodically.

Benefit from it, you will. 😉