The Benefits (Gifts) of Caregiving

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As Baby Boomers age, they might be setting their sights on retirement, travel, taking up that old hobby or starting a new one. Instead, many of them find themselves as the primary family caregiver for elderly parents, taking on management finances and routine of medication dispensing when they expected to be stepping away from routine and responsibility. Today, the National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that 65 million people in the U.S. are unpaid family caregivers, seven in 10 caring for a person older than themselves.

Yes, becoming a caregiver has re-routed many plans. There are many reasons people accept the challenging job, sometimes out of a sense of duty or obligation to “do what’s right” by their loved ones. As the cost of services rise, some are financially obligated to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility. Some are fulfilling a promise made to a loved one and others’ recognize that their mom or dad responds better to their care, and therefore has higher sense of well-being because he or she is looked after by a family member.

Eldercare: Redefining Families

There are certainly physical and emotional impacts on a family caregiver. Caregivers often get less sleep because of being up in the night or adhering to round-the-clock medication schedules, and they are often required to lift a person who is bedridden or help him into and out of the bath. Caregiving also takes an emotional toll, ranging from anger at being the one to shoulder the burden to anxiety, isolation, exhaustion and then guilt, for having the feelings in the first place.

But this post is about benefits of caregiving, because despite the hardships, stepping up and caring for your elder can give you gifts.

Get to know your parents better. As children, the world revolves around us; as teenagers, we are the world; as young adults we explore the world; and often as adults we’ve turned into parents and we are someone else’s world. When you’re caring for your parent, you are afforded time to sit and listen and share a world.

Quality time is at hand. On one hand, you may feel isolated, not being able to run to the store whenever you need to or take a friend up on lunch. On the other hand, when you slow the pace from breakneck speed to a crawl, there are card games to be played, newspapers to discuss, recipes to share.

Story sharing preserves family history. Now is a good time to record stories from the past. If eyesight is bad, but memory is good, talking about days past may be just what your elder needs. At the same time, you get a chance to learn about your history.writingstories

Giving back love. They kissed scraped knees, reinforced why you’re grounded (again) to hopefully teach lessons, cooked meals, endured nights in a tent, hosted sleepovers and vacuumed up the resulting popcorn, celebrated when you mastered the potty. Caring for elderly parents gives you a chance to return that love and care.

Supervising the family funds. Managing your parents’ finances puts you in the loop. Whether you work with a financial planner or do it on your own, you have the opportunity to talk about finances and have a true idea of the financial picture.

Draw the family together. The world is not perfect, and siblings may fight over how mom and dad are cared for, where the money goes, and why isn’t our youngest brother helping? But often having a reason to come together opens doors for more communication between siblings who have drifted apart or simply haven’t made time to talk.

One writer recalls in her compelling story of stepping up to be the “Good Daughter,” the road is not easy, and each gift is not neatly wrapped. But if you choose to become the family caregiver, there is good balanced with hardship.

Resources for Caregivers

As the number of unpaid family caregivers grow, more recognition is being brought to the issue. November has been named National Family Caregiver month, and there are resources of all sorts, from online support groups to resources about finances, finding outside care, sharing information, advocacy and more. One example is the National Family Caregivers Association. This wealth of support and information they and others offer may lighten the family caregiver’s load.

Home For the Holidays: Can a Resident of Assisted Living Visit Home?

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“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” say the lyrics to a popular Christmas song. And as friends and families gather to celebrate their beliefs or enjoy traditional meal around a table, the absence of a family member can be very difficult. Is grandma, grandpa, mom or dad allowed to leave his or her assisted care facility or nursing home to join in the holiday festivities?

Many residents of assisted living facilities and residential care homes are able to leave the facility for special occasions, as long as family members give notice ahead of time, are able to care for their loved one while he or she is home and the resident is healthy enough to endure travel. Make sure you have wheelchair access if necessary, that you stick to medication schedules and adhere to special diets.

Concern over Medicare Coverage

If your loved one’s stay in a nursing home or care facility is funded in any way by Medicare, you may be concerned that you’ll forfeit Medicare coverage if he or she leaves the facility. According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc., that is not a necessary concern. The Medicare Benefit Policy manual recognizes that leaving for a short time to attend a religious service, holiday gathering, family occasion or even a trial visit home, does not indicate a resident no longer needs skilled nursing care. Nursing home residents are permitted to leave for a short time without giving up Medicare funding.

Ways to Celebrate In the Assisted Living Facility

Although you may feel like the holidays aren’t the same without grandma or dad at home with the rest of the family, consider whether or not the visit is the right thing for them. Returning home–for just a short time–may trigger feelings of homesickness and loneliness upon their return. Are you having them home to satisfy your need for a family holiday, or theirs?

If it’s not feasible for your loved ones to come home, there are many ways to bring the holidays to them. Share photo albums from holidays past and talk about old memories. If your loved one has special ornaments or decorations, get them out and decorate his or her space. The taste of a favorite food may bring back memories of a happy time or satisfy the need for tradition. And most facilities go to great lengths to help their residents celebrate, inviting church choir groups, children’s groups, other seniors and families to participate in activities.

You may wonder, if your family member has dementia or is suffering from Alzheimer’s, why bother making an effort? Carol Bradley Bursak, editor-in-chief of ElderCareLink, says that even if your loved one is suffering from memory problems or dementia, their short-term memory is often foggy while they are able to remember things from the long-ago past. Ornaments and photos may provide a sense of familiarity and comfort. In fact, new items or recent pictures may add to his or her confusion. At the very heart, including an elderly loved one in your traditions reaffirms their humanity. Make each moment count.

Assisted Living Today’s Weekly Roundup

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It’s a season for random acts of kindness, reflecting on the year gone by and sharing time with our loved ones. Remember to take time from your busy routine to visit your elderly friends and relatives in assisted living and nursing facilities. The best gift you can give is your time and attention.

And while Santa is busy at the North Pole, and here at Assisted Living Today, we’re double-checking our lists for noteworthy news and trends. Enjoy!  And let us know of any interesting, relevant news you’ve encountered in the past week.

Weird But True

Just as President Obama won another four years in office, he was honored by scientists at Yale who named a lizard species after him: Obamadon gracillis, generally meaning “straight toothed and slender.” The only drawback? The lizard is already extinct! Read it and other weird but true stories at this week’s NY Post.

Senior Lifestyles

A study conducted by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice found that seven out of 10 Americans die from chronic disease and, as Americans live longer and longer, many families have no end of life game plan in place. But having a plan, say health care advocates, not only gives patients and their families greater peace of mind, it can save the healthcare system a lot of money. Read more on MSN.

Senior Health

Go 4 Life, from the National Institute on Aging, has a success story to share–just for fun. Grisel, age 60, stays fit by dancing her heart out. Want an idea on how to rejuvenate your exercise plan? Listen to Grisel and turn up the music!

Age in Place offers a good reminder about the elderly and flu season. Chance are you’ve heard the reminders, heard a report on the evening news or noticed the signs at the pharmacy, but in case you’ve ignored it, it’s flu season! Don’t forget to take heed, and follow the recommendations offered by the CDC.

Senior Living

Sometimes it helps to put a face and tag a voice to the issues that many face quietly every day, like adults taking care of their elderly parents with dementia. David Cassidy, one time teenage heartthrob and still a performer on Broadway, is also the spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation. He tours the country talking about his experience caring for his mother who had dementia, reminding people that caregivers are not alone. Read his story.

Trends in Technology

Maybe you’ve heard of Nanotechnology, but how about “nanatechnology?” Check out USA Today’s interactive that highlights where new technology can be placed throughout the house to keep your loved one safe at home. From an online medicine cabinet in your bathroom that links directly to the pharmacy mailbox alerts to let elders know when the mail has arrived, there are all kinds of new gadgets in the works to make homes not only smart, but brilliant.

When To Hang Up the Car Keys: Driver Safety and the Elderly

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No one wants to watch his or her independence slip away or be the one to take that independence away from a loved one, and losing the ability to drive oneself at will is a significant loss of independence. It’s not easy, but there comes a time to consider both your loved one’s safety and the safety of other’s on the road when an older driver is behind the wheel.

A recent Harvard study showed that adults aged 40-49 were the age group most likely to worry about a loved one’s driving capabilities. Of those concerned, more than 33 percent had not yet voiced their fears because of worry of a negative reaction, feeling unsure about how to bring the subject up or feeling concern about the lack of alternative transportation.

Physical limitations as a person ages

Not only do physical change to a person’s body and mind occur as he or she ages, but a body 70 years or older is at much higher risk of severe injury or death as a result of a car crash as opposed to a younger person in the same crash.

  • Vision: night vision may decline, sensitivity to daytime glare can increase, it may becomes more difficult to judge of others’ rate of speed and depth perception changes.
  • Hearing: horns, emergency vehicle sirens and other warning signals may be muffled.
  • Slower response time due to limited mobility.
  • Chronic conditions like insomnia, arthritis, heart disease, Parkinson’s may affect a person’s ability to focus attention on the road.
  • Side effects from medications may cause confusion or drowsiness.
  • Dementia and other cognitive problems can lead to confusion on the road.

How to know when it’s time

The Office of Aging lists warning signs pointing to unsafe driving in older adults. Does the driver:

  • have difficulty maintaining posted speeds
  • find it uncomfortable or intimidating to drive at night
  • show erratic movements such as abrupt lane changes, jolted acceleration or confusion between gas and brake pedals
  • get lost easily
  • feel easily taken off guard by a car or pedestrian that “wasn’t there a second ago”
  • have difficulty reading signs
  • demonstrate a failure to use turn signals or obey other rules of the road
  • drift into other lanes or hit curbs
  • incur traffic citations
  • have difficulty looking over shoulder because of limited range of movement

These are signs that driving is becoming difficult and potentially dangerous.

How you can help

Your loved one likely won’t  hand the keys over without resistance, but the suggestion is easier to hear from a family member or close friend rather than the DMV or a court order. Here are a few tips on making the conversation go a little easier:

  • Be empathetic–this is a hard transition!
  • Help figure out alternative transportation or develop a schedule so that your loved one doesn’t feel helpless or stranded.
  • Use resources like the free online course offered by AARP, The Hartford and MIT Age Lab called We Need To Talk, providing information on fostering meaningful conversation between family members about adult safety issues.
  • Seek outside expertise from a Comprehensive Driving Evaluation. Evaluations are given by an occupational therapist who can provide a clinical assessment of vision, cognition, reaction time as well as a behind-the-wheel assessment of driving skills. For a list of occupational therapists, visit the American Occupational Therapist’s website.

In general, older adults have high seatbelt usage and low citations for driving under the influence, reckless driving and speeding. So if medications or clear cognitive issues are not problematic, consider a trial of self-imposed limitations. Don’t drive at night or in bad weather conditions and avoid rush-hour traffic times.

The key is safety, for your loved one, for the drivers’ passengers and others on the road. As difficult as the conversation may be, a tragic result will be even more difficult to handle. Consider using family time together over the holidays as a time to observe and possibly talk to your loved one about retiring the car keys.