Tag Archives: caregiver

Balancing Act

The word for today is ‘Balance’. It’s a buzzword we hear about all the time. Balance, it seems is the key to a happier, healthier life. Keeping our lives in balance is something we all strive to achieve. Our sense of justice demands it, but an honest evaluation may reveal that we are falling rather short of the goal. When we are ‘out-of-balance in some area of our lives it can be painful. But at times, the ability to find balance becomes incredibly elusive. Trying to keep up with all the daily demands in life can have us going to bed exhausted and waking up tired.

In order to find a sense of balance in our busy lives, it is first important to define what balance actually is. One definition is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. But remember, what balance means to each of us is different. Since we all have unique strengths and abilities, we can’t compare ourselves with anyone else. Only you know when you find that mysterious spot between the rock and the hard place. Sometimes it can be difficult, and you may wonder if you can go on, but as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.

3-legged stool

We’re reminded to eat a balanced diet and as well as to get plenty of rest while keeping up with all our varied responsibilities. It can be enough to cause despair.

But wait! There’s hope. It turns out that little changes added to an existing routine can help pave the way to bigger changes.

The idea of balance can be illustrated by comparing it to the famous 3-legged stool.

Leg #1, DIET: For instance. Can’t find the time/energy/money to eat a balanced diet? Try bananas. According to MedicalNewsToday, Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason. Eating them could help lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer and asthma. Bananas are a healthy source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. Bananas don’t need refrigeration, they are compact, tasty, and easy to peel and eat. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone who is allergic to them, they are healthy for you, and very inexpensive. If your life is so busy that you find yourself rushing out of the door without breakfast, or running through a drive-thru in order to get a meal, try taking a few bananas with you to eat and you may find yourself less hungry and able to save a bit of money on the fast-food meals. Icy cold water in a water bottle can also be a healthy and money saving idea.

Leg #2, EXERCISE: Now, for those who are currently living with your loved-one. Who has time to exercise when we’re constantly jumping up a couple of times every night to provide care, hoping to it in order to fetch items and fix meals, and springing up to offer assistance? But if you do happen to tilt toward the sedentary, it can leave a person off kilter. Adding a five-minute stretch every morning or evening is an easy add-on to your existing routine. One way is to sit on the side of your bed, lay back and stretch out your hands over your head. Wait for five minutes. Hint: it’s a bit harder than it sounds, but worth it to help stretch out your core.

Here’s another thought about balance. Usually, when someone refers to living a ‘balanced lifestyle’ they mean it in an intellectual or intangible way. But actual balance (the kind that keeps you from falling over) is important as well. My daughter, who is a massage therapist, reminds me about the importance of balance. I have a post on my blog, MAINTAINING A GOOD BALANCE that explains some of the reasons that good balance is so important.

According to WebMD,  Keeping muscles fit matters:  In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room,  Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.

I have found I can work on it every time I brush my teeth. I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance.

Leg #3, SLEEP: No matter how busy and demanding your day is, somehow, sleep has to happen. If your loved one is active at night, you might have to consider exploring the possibility of overnight respite help so you can get some sleep. However, according to an article by the Family Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.

The National Institute on Aging offers a couple of tips to help you fall asleep

  • You don’t really have to count sheep—you could try counting slowly to 100. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself it is 5 minutes before you have to get up, and you’re just trying to get a little bit more sleep.
  • Some people find that relaxing their bodies puts them to sleep. One way to do this is to imagine your toes are completely relaxed, and then your feet, and then your ankles. Work your way up the rest of your body, section by section. You may drift off to sleep before getting to the top of your head.

At times, I have trouble falling asleep. When that happens I recite Psalm 23 and try to picture the green pastures and quiet waters from the sheep’s point of view. That usually helps. If after a little while it doesn’t help, then get up and read until I get sleepy.

Caregivers typically put other’s needs before their own. But remember, it’s not selfish to get a good night’s sleep, it is essential in order for you to take care of yourself as well as provide quality care for your loved one.

Unlike the standard 3-legged stool picture, once you become a caregiver your life (as you know), becomes much more complex. Not only do you have your own diet, exercise, and sleep to consider, you now have someone else’s as well. For instance, if you have three hours to be up and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment, you may find yourself streamlining and shortcutting your own routine in order to prepare your loved one for the appointment. That’s what reality looks like right now. Remember the definition of balance is that it is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. When you thoughtfully plan out a way to shortchange your own routine in order to adequately care for your loved one, you are arranging the time required into correct proportions.

Bananas, stretching, sleeping, and standing on one leg, these are all elements of a good balancing act.

Road Scholars

While my husband Wayne was a tour bus driver, some of his favorite trips were the “Road Scholar” excursions.

Wayne driving a tour bus through the beautiful Trinity Alps in Northern California.

Their adventures took them to a wide variety of interesting places – not just the touristy spots, but also out-of-the-way destinations with educational value.

That is why I was so pleased when I learned that the Road Scholars would be offering Caregiver Grants to adults age 50 and over who help care for a loved one. The grant would also offset the costs of arranging substitute care while attending a Road Scholar learning adventure.

You are an eligible caregiver if you are the primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).

A quote found on the page of the Road Scholar website states: “The leaders took a personal interest in me, and in each of the participants. They understood I was on a respite from caregiving for my daughter who is very ill and in hospice care. I felt I had permission to sleep as much as I needed and to socialize only as much as I was able. Each presented their topics in such a way that I was inspired to learn more when I got home, or to restart former activities such as painting and Tai Chi. They gave me a new lease on life and I am so grateful.” — Road Scholar Caregiver Grant Recipient

If you are a caregiver, or know someone who might benefit from a Road Scholar trip, please check out their website: Road Scholar’s Caregiver Grants

If you have any questions regarding Caregiver Grants, you may contact Participant Services by emailing registration@roadscholar.org, or by calling toll free at (877) 426-8056, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.

Less Taxing

This is the time of the year when even the best of procrastinators have to reluctantly gather all the bits and pieces received from various financial institutions such as banks, employers, Social Security, brokers as well organizations that send retirement benefits.

When I was (much) younger, my Mama had me help her do their taxes so that I could be her backup if she couldn’t do them. That was back in the late 1970s when taxes were a whole lot simpler. I found that I actually enjoyed it. One day, I happened to hear about an IRS program that helped folks file their taxes and thought it would be worth looking into.

The first year that I volunteered, I took the classes in Redding with the intention of working at a tax site in Red Bluff. We opened a site, but it didn’t get a lot of response. The next year I discovered a group that had been trying to accomplish the same thing so I joined them. Classes were held at the First Baptist Church in one of their Sunday School rooms.

They took place in January and the only source of heat was from a wood burning stove – so along with pencils and calculators,  students were also required to bring a piece of wood for the fire. Those were the good ol’ days – we also used carbon paper and folks had to mail in their completed forms to the IRS. The tax classes had been taught by IRS employees, but they wanted to expand and advertised for instructors. I immediately volunteered.

Over the past 30+ years that I have been involved, the tax program has evolved to a much higher level of sophistication – we now use computers instead of pencils and carbon paper and e-file the returns instead of mailing them to the IRS – it is a more accurate and quicker way to accomplish this annual project. One thing that has not changed is our dedication to provide free help to anyone who needs to file their taxes.

To that end, the TaxAide program in Tehama County is in full swing for this year’s tax season. To make an appointment, call 727-8298 – you will hear a recording prompting you to leave your name and number so that someone can call you back with the details. TaxAide also has a web site with a few more details about the program TehamaTaxAide.weebly.com

USA.gov has a web site that may be helpful as well: Filing Your Federal Taxes

We have a knowledgeable, kind and caring crew of volunteer counselors who look forward to assisting you file your taxes.

P.S. We are always looking for volunteers.

“What can she do?”

…that was the question a friend of mine asked me recently. She told me her Mother-in-Law just moved in with her and her husband from a rehab center following a knee replacement. The family had begun to notice she was beginning to become forgetful and was repeating herself fairly often, so they were worried about her living alone.

My friend loved the idea. She had some time off work and looked forward to spending some quality time with her lovely Mother-in-Law. At first, it worked out well – they had fun visiting and enjoying each other’s company. But then my friend had to go back to work. Suddenly, Mother-in-Law got bored.

I asked what sort of things did her Mother-in-Law like to do in the past. It turned out that she used to sew. Due to dementia, it seemed too risky to have her use a sewing machine, so we discussed other types of sewing, such as mending or hemming.  My friend remembered that she used to love to quilt, so she was going to find out if sewing the blocks together by hand might be an option – finishing the quilt wouldn’t be the goal – rather simply enjoying the process.

Discovering what your loved one enjoyed or was talented at prior to the onset of dementia is the key. Did they knit or crochet? Perhaps something like a working on a jigsaw puzzle might also be an option if your loved one has an interest in it. Grown-up coloring books have become very popular and might appeal to an older mind.

An important thing to keep in mind is that even though your loved one has diminishing abilities and might even act like a child at times, their likes and dislikes are still mature. Don’t insult them with a Barbie coloring book or puzzles with pictures of ‘Sponge Bob’

Each person has their own individual set of interests, skills, and talents, so it may take a while find just the right type of activities that will keep their interest. This process may require you to be both patient and flexible.

Sometimes a person just wants to feel useful. My Mama loved folding towels so I would sometimes quietly throw a bunch of clean towels into the dryer to fluff them up for a few minutes and then bring the whole pile of warm towels to her to fold. Mama loved it! At first she would hug the towels for a few minutes and enjoy their warmth and fragrance. Eventually, she would become surrounded by little stacks of neatly folded towels.

I also found a list that might also contain some helpful ideas: 10 Stimulating Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients

At the end of the day, your loved one simply wants what we all want – to know we’re loved. Some days will be better than others, but remember: You’re doing the best you can, and so are they.

Twiddle de dee

I remember watching my grandma twiddle her thumbs back when I was a little girl. It fascinated me. She did it all the time – usually while she was sitting in her favorite chair and either visiting or watching TV. She told me it was good to have something for your hands to do while you were waiting. That made sense to me and I remember trying to copy her when she wasn’t looking. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal now, but back when I was very young, teaching my thumbs to twiddle felt like a huge accomplishment.

finishing-well-in-life-twiddle
This one is from AbuelaVicky found at Etsy.comhment.

It turns out that no matter how old you become, it is still good to have something for your hands to do. Last year I wrote a post called For that Fidgety Feeling” about something called Fidgety quilts. I loved the idea.

When my Mama lived with us while she was in the middle stages of dementia, she constantly needed something to do. Prior to the onset of dementia, she both knitted and crocheted. But as the dementia became more and more pronounced,

BizzieLizzieKnits
This one is from BizzieLizzieKnits found on Etsy.com

she found it difficult to maintain any type of ongoing focus.  She would quickly become bored and forget what she was working on.

We kept her busy with short-term activities such as folding warm towels, sorting colored beads into small bowls according to their color, and one of her favorites: picking lint off of sweaters. Before dementia struck, Mama was very detail oriented. It made sense as she was a laboratory scientist and paying attention to details was extremely important.

If I had heard about fidgety quilts back then, I believe that Mama would have loved the idea. The fact that they don’t require any special skills or knowledge to play with the various ribbons, buttons and interesting items attached to the quilts makes them perfect for every ability level.

I recently watched a short news video on BBC titled: “Lancashire knitters ‘twiddle muffs’ dementia tool plea” where there was a plea for area knitters to make and donate “twiddle muffs” to local hospitals. The muffs are a great idea – especially if you are a knitter. If you don’t knit, you can still purchase a Twiddle muff for your loved one. They seem to be a bit less expensive as well as more portable than the ‘Fidgety Quilt’ so would make a marvelous Christmas present for a loved one who tends to get fidgety.

Twiddle Kitty
Twiddle Kitty

Once you begin to look, you will discover a whole world of items designed to help give loved ones’ fingers something to do and perhaps reduce periods of agitation.

If you happen to be a knitter perhaps you might consider creating a few extra twiddle muffs to bless someone who could use a thoughtful and helpful gift this Christmas season.

Are you a Caregiver? Do you know one?

William Shakespeare wrote:  “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Most family Caregivers I know fall into that last category.

It turns out that November is National Family Caregivers Month. Caregivers are typically folks who stepped up to finishing_well_in_life_cargvrthe plate and accepted the role of caring for parents, spouse or other loved-ones.

This is a good time to celebrate the contribution of those volunteer friends and family members who care for loved-ones – not by a pat on the back, but in some concrete ways. Family Caregivers are certainty heroes, but not ‘Superhero’s (meaning they can go on endlessly and never tire).

Usually, Caregivers are not complainers and are often reluctant to ask for help. Because of that, I thought I would offer a few suggestions that will provide concrete help for those who are either a Caregiver or a friend of one.

  1. Friend: provide a meal for someone who is caregiving. Caregiver: Accept/request a specific meal.
  2. Friend: Offer to sit with a loved one.  Caregiver: Accept the offer for someone else to sit with or visit your loved one.
  3. Friend: Offer to run errands.Caregiver: Accept the offer and make a list.
  4. Friend: Clean/do laundry (even taking larger bedding to a laundromat.  Caregiver: Accept the offer – you can’t do it all.
  5. Friend: Ask your friend specifically what you can do to help.  Caregiver: Accept the help, answer honestly.

Additionally, ‘Alzheimers.net’ offers some very specific ways to help the unsung heroes in our world. Click on the following link for ideas: 7 Ways to Celebrate  Caregivers 

Additional resources include:

Remember, you can’t do it all whether you are the caregiver or friend. Sometimes the best help may be a welcome visit that provides a temporary distraction.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Help, my Mother-In-Law is moving in….

….and I think she has dementia. There are so many ways this post could go from this headline, but today, I am going to focus on the ‘Safety’ aspect of bringing an elderly loved one home. The person who inspired the title of this post had a toddler, so she had already done some ‘baby proofing’ such as securing cupboard doors, pulling knobs off the stove, and plugging outlets. Adults, however, bring a whole new set of safety issues – essentially you may need to senior-proofyour home.

Once Mama came to live with us, we began the practice of keeping the doors leading outside locked at all times. We thought that was enough to keep Mama from going outside alone. We were under the mistaken impression that dementia would prevent her from remembering how to unlock doors.

That’s when we discovered ‘Muscle Memory’.  It turned out that evenfinishingwellinlife-lock though her mind didn’t remember how to unlock a door, her fingers remembered and were able to turn the lock quite nicely. It didn’t take too long to discover there was much more to be done.

My husband Wayne quickly went to the ‘big box’ store and bought a new lock he could install near the top of the door where Mama would never think to look and couldn’t reach. We also hung a very large Christmas bell around the finishingwellinlife-bellsdoorknob to create noise for added security.

There were a few things we could do right away that made a big difference. Since falls are a leading cause of injuries, we removed throw rugs and anything else that could cause her to trip. We noticed that Mama liked to sit in a certain place on the couch, so we made it ‘her’ place.  We also placed a folded blanket under the couch cushion to bring it up higher so she would have an easier time standing back up. Adding more, and brighter lighting, as well as several night-lights were also easy to do.

The bathroom needed more attention. We obtained a raised toilet seat, a shower chair, grab bars for the walls and a bubble bath mat for the shower—there was already a shower wand that extended the facet. I always set the water for Mama, so there wasn’t a problem with getting the hot and cold mixed up.

A Place for Mom” has an “Elderly Home Safety Checklist” which can be printed and filled out for handy reference.

“Good Call” has a resource as well, “A Guide to Helping Senior Citizens Stay Safe at Home” it is accessible and reader-friendly, with larger font and compatible with screen-reader technology. Their optimized guide also includes a printable PDF version to share to those who can’t access the internet.

For additional help and resources, use the federal government’s Elder Care Locator  to find your local office, or call 800-677-1116 to inquire about home modification loans and services available to seniors.

Remember, at the end of the day, we can only do what we can do to make a home a safe place for our loved one. My sister and I would tell each other all the time, “We’re doing the best we can, and so is Mama.”

Send in the Butterflies

Back when my Mama was in the early stages of dementia, we tried to help her be as active as possible by taking walks, eating at restaurants and walking laps at a local gym that has an indoor pfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_1ool.

In the course of these outings, we naturally came across folks who didn’t know that she had dementia. Since Mama was very social and friendly, she would often initiate a conversation with someone. It usually didn’t take too long before the other person would begin to suspect that the nice lady they were chatting with was not functioning at 100 %. Sometimes it was a bit of a dilemma; we didn’t want to dishonor Mama by talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but at the same time, we needed to clue them into what was going on.

We would try to catch the person’s eye and mouth the word dementia’.  A puzzled expression was quickly replaced by a smile and nod as understanding dawned.

A couple of recent articles has proposed excellent solutions for those ‘awkward moments’.

The first one tells about a using a card the size of a busfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_2iness card to relay the information: New ‘purple card’ system would help people with dementia 

Madeleine Fraley’s husband has dementia, so she created a simple card explaining the situation that she could discretely hand to someone. The purple-hued card  states, “My companion has memory problems. Please be patient. Thank you!” 

What a brilliant idea! That would have been quite useful to have on our outings.

The other clever idea is really more for a hospital or medical situation. They are using butterflies to help ifinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_3dentify patients who are suffering from dementia. The butterfly symbol is stamped on everything associated with the patient. Staff is trained  to keep an eye out for the symbol so they can support and treat the patients appropriately.

Francesca Hall, the hospital’s dementia champion states, “It’s vital that people know that a patient has dementia so they can treat and support that person appropriately to ensure the best care possible.

The important thing here is to keep your loved one as active and social as possible while continuing to treat them with dignity and honor.

Drink up…habits worth brewing

My drinking habits have finally been vindicated! Coffee in the morning (it used to be all day, until I began to experience ‘wakefulness’ at night), and tea in the evening. My favorite blend is decaf Earl Grey and Chamomile with vanilla.

I just finished reading an article  about the health benefits of both coffee and chamomile tea. Yea!

Evefinishing-well-in-life-tean in the warm summer season, my husband and I enjoy our coffee and tea habit. There’s something relaxing about sharing the events of the day while sipping tasty tea from pretty cups with saucers.

When my Mama was just in the early stages of dementia, we used to have coffee in the afternoon as a treat. It became a regular habitl we would sip our coffee and sing songs. I always snuck some chocolate syrup in Daddy’s coffee because he needed to gain some weight and I added a bit of sugar-free creamer to Mama’s coffee since she didn’t.

I rejoiced to read the article, but thought that  a bit of Googling might be in order to see if there were any other studies available that would confirm what I had just read. It turns out that there is finishing-well-in-life-coffeequite a bit of information regarding these beverages.

More welcome news is that the coffee benefits come from both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.

NPR reported on a study, published in the journal Circulation,

“The findings, published in the journal Circulation, build on a body of evidence linking a coffee habit to potential health benefits. As we’ve reported, previous research has pointed to a decreased risk of stroke. And, there’s some evidence that a coffee habit cuts the risk of Type 2 diabetes, too.”

As for Chamomile tea, a study published in The Gerontologist  finds that drinking the tea can help older women live longer.

Another Chamomile tea study in ScienceDaily reports that New Evidence Supports Health Benefits
It states that drinking chamomile tea is associated with increased antibacterial activity. This could help explain why the tea appears to boost the immune system and fight infections associated with colds, according to the researchers.

It summarizes the study by stating:
“For centuries, people who’ve felt sick or stressed have tried drinking chamomile tea as a medicinal cure-all. Now, researchers in England have found new evidence that the popular herbal tea may actually help relieve a wide range of health ailments, including colds and menstrual cramps.”

This is supported by yet another study by WebMd that says:

“German chamomile is used and studied the most. A German governmental organization (Commission E) has approved its use on the skin to reduce swelling and fight bacteria and as a tea or dietary supplement for stomach cramps. “finishing-well-in-life-tea2

So, the bottom line here is: If you, or those in your care enjoy a nice cup of coffee or tea, it’s fine to include it as part of your daily habit. And, as the studies suggest, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

De-mystifying De-list-ifying

My phone rang while I was eating lunch today. Grabbing my phone, I saw an unfamiliar number. I decided to answer anyway because the care home where my Mama lives have several phone lines and I didn’t want to take the chance that it was a number from them that I hadn’t added to my ‘contacts’ yet.

Nope, it was a sales call. Annoyed, I resumed my lunch. It suddenly occurred to me that I had read an article in a publication sponsored by the California Bar Foundation that addresses unwanted phone calls. It listed various places you can call or visit online to get your name and contact info off of call lists. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I hadn’t followed through yet.

As soon as I got the chance, I hunted down the publication and began the process of getting off of the call lists. There is a phone number listed for the National Do-Not-Call Registry, which is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To register, call 888-382-1222 or go to the website www.donotcall.gov.finishing-well-in-life-phone

I decided to go to the website, where they tell you that this list never expires and very kindly allow you to check to see if you might already be on it. After clicking on the blue ‘Verify Here’ button, I simply entered my phone number and email address and in a short time, received an email from them that said, “National Do Not Call Registry – You Are Not Registered”. Easy. And then all I had to do was to go back to where I began, but this time, choose the brown ‘Register Here’ button.

The article also provided a site to have your name removed from mailing lists www.dmachoice.org which can be filled out online, or downloaded and mailed in.

But wait! There’s more! You can also ‘Opt out’ of credit agencies’ pre-approved credit offer mailing lists. Call 888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or opt out online at https://www.optoutprescreen.com.
This may seem like too much work just to save ourselves the time of hanging up on sales calls, or tossing junk mail but, remember; those with cognitive impairment are incredibly vulnerable to these types of pitches.

We used to have a neighbor who loved ordering things from catalogs. Because of that, her name must have been sold to lots of lists because she was constantly being solicited by both telemarketers and door-to-door sales visits. If we saw someone knocking on her door, my husband would usually go check out what was going on to interrupt and intervene in some way if need be.

It is up to us to keep our loved ones as safe as we can from those who would try to prey on their emotions through sales pitches. A little time spent now will save in many ways later.

What experiences have you had with unwanted sales pitches?