Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Thanksgiving & National Family Caregiver’s Month

Caregiver with his motherNovember is National Family Caregivers Month, and rightfully so, with more than 65 million family caregivers in the United States, alone. Family caregivers are full-time partners with their loved ones, and because of the complexities involved in providing care at home, entire families are affected. This is a great time for caregivers and their families to express gratitude, not just to the caregiver, but to the one being cared for, as well.

If you want to express gratitude to the caregiver in your family’s life, here are some ideas:

  • Give tickets to an upcoming local event and offer to stay with your loved one while the caregiver takes a friend or other relative.
  • Consider a magazine subscription in a hobby of his or her choice and be sure the subscription can be read online, if the caregiver prefers to read e-books.
  • Home-cooked meals are almost always welcomed by caregivers.
  • Offer to simply come and keep the two of them company for a few hours. Pull out the old hard copies of photos and reminisce together.
  • Bring casseroles for the freezer in microwave or oven-safe dishes for “bad days.”
  • Stop by with a picnic lunch or tea party in the middle of the day. Be sure you call first to avoid doctor’s appointments and arrive early enough to set it up in time for lunch. Make sure you do all the post-party clean up, too.
  • Have flowers delivered.
  • Stop by for a visit with no expectations. See what unfolds.
  • Give the gift of an afternoon off, with a gift certificate for a pedicure or movie.
  • Plan an evening to relieve the caregiver, but bring a designated driver so the caregiver can go out for a few drinks without worries.
  • Ask your siblings or friends to bring potluck and photos for an evening of nostalgia. Be sure you stay to clean up afterwards.
  • Offer to visit while the caregiver tends to personal needs like doctor’s or hair appointments.
  • Pay for a haircut.
  • When you are doing your weekly shopping, buy some special foods you know your family will enjoy. Add in some paper products so the clean up is easy and stop by with a “Care Package.”

Respite

Thanksgiving Dinner should be a time for family unity and a chance to share gratitude, spend time with loved ones, but for the family caregiver it is often just one more thing to manage. As our families age and adult children relocate, our traditions change with our needs. If you are the caregiver for your aging parent(s) you may be expected to resume or resurrect old traditions. You may need to compromise. If your siblings have created new traditions, discuss ways you can include your parents so the burden of a full-blown Thanksgiving celebration doesn’t fall entirely on you. Consider if it may be time to create a new tradition and remember not doing things the way they’ve always been done is not a tragedy. It can be the beginning of something better.

hugRemember to always be grateful and to show your appreciation, even in little ways, it can make a big difference.

 

 

 

Self-Care

If you’re a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself, in addition to the one in your care. If you don’t, some day, someone will be taking care of you!

bottle

Definition of a word
Self-care
The care of oneself without medical or professional assistance or oversight from anyone else.

Question of the month
I live hundreds of miles from my grandmother, but visit at least once a year and I’ve noticed she seems to be declining more each time I visit. I think she’s thinner and I don’t think she can take care of herself properly. Should I mention this to my parents or aunts who live closer and check on her more than I can?

You owe it to your grandmother to tell those in a position to do something. Tell your parents your concerns, but don’t say just that you are worried about Nana. Give specific reasons for your alarm and be prepared to meet resistance from them or their siblings who may not be ready to acknowledge their mother needs assistance. It’s natural to delay discussing this subject and because they see her more often than you, it’s easy to overlook her gradual decline. Make a list of exactly what you have noticed changing from year to year and have some suggestions ready for intervention, including how you can help. With your grandmother’s permission, ask the entire family to pay to hire a housekeeper who also cooks and acts as companion. Including the whole family gives everyone a sense of control and your grandmother’s condition could improve.
nana
Caregiver Resource
CareNotes.com prints helpful brochures that are offered free in hospital or hospice chapels and other healthcare facilities. Caring for Yourself when You’re Caring for Someone Ill is only six pages, but covers the subject of self-care thoroughly. CareNotes  publications cover hundreds of topics and can be purchased individually or in bulk.

Hot Topic
Properly administered self-care
How you choose to provide self-care will depend on your particular personality, needs and your support team.

  • At the very least, learn to pace yourself and realize that relinquishing care to another family member or professional for a few hours is not selfish; it’s vital in the long run.
  • Recognize your own strengths and accept that you may need to call on outside sources to fill in some gaps. It is a sign of strength to request  help.
  • Find someone you can trust when you need to talk and don’t be embarrassed to discuss your negative feelings.
  • Be sure to include someone who will help you laugh.

Bongos Mary

Nurture your body with good nutrition and exercise, because if you don’t care for yourself, you cannot care for anyone else.

Fruits and Veggies

Feed your spirit, too. You may need to start by writing a wish list of things you want to do, events you hope to attend, places you’d like to visit when your caregiving tour comes to an end, and remember, it will come to an end.

Heron at Viera Wetlands1

Stress Relief Tips
Recognize your own needs before you offer to provide care for someone else. According to the staff of Kairos Support for Caregivers, caregivers fall into two categories:

  • those who act out of pity and ignore their own needs
  • those who act out of compassion and recognize the importance of caring for themselves as well.

Learn to recognize signs of caregiving stress and act to provide the best self-care possible.

first aid center

 

 

 

 

 

Who can be a Caregiver?

Caregivers come from all walks of life. They may be married or single, have a large family or no children at all. They may work full time, part time or be retired. Caregivers own homes and rent. Caregivers might provide care for parents, children, spouses, siblings and friends. Some are licensed by state agencies or other entities and for some, the only license needed is love.
Acute Care: Care that is generally provided for a short period of time to treat a certain illness or condition. This type of care can include short-term hospital stays, doctor’s visits, and surgery.
 Question of the Month:
How do I deal with the lack of feelings towards me from the one I provide care for every day? I sometimes think Dad would be better off in a home, without me.
First, realize that you are not alone. Secondly educate yourself about the particular condition that has caused the apathy. Does he have Alzheimer’s or other dementia? Has he been through a stroke or is he suffering from Parkinson’s Disease or something else? There is strength in knowledge. Reach out to other caregivers, online or in your community. Be honest with yourself. If you feel angry or frustrated, don’t take it out on your father, but express your emotions to others.
 This month’s Hot Topic – Advance Directives

old desk

Before the coulda, woulda, shoulda sets in, families need to have honest discussions about Advance Directives, those documents necessary to be sure life is lived according to individual wishes. Before it’s too late, talk about what you want to happen in case of an emergency.
Emergencies can happen at any age and to anyone. If you don’t have a family to support you through the end of life, you can appoint someone as your guardian, or the court might.
If you do not want to be revived after a heart attack, a tragic accident or other debilitation, you will want to be sure you have a Do Not Resuscitate order in place.
A Living Will spells out exactly what you do and do not want toward the end of your life. Ice cream for breakfast every day? Make it so! Feeding tube to prolong life? Make it happen. Love to eat and think a feeding tube is unnatural? Spell it out in your Living Will.
If you designate a Healthcare Proxy now, that person will make medical decisions for you – based on your conversations – in the event that you cannot speak for yourself.
A Durable Power of Attorney allows your designated person to make both financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf.
Talking about these issues will not create a need, but it will create peace of mind. Be sure everyone who may need to know your wishes, does know. Do not assume everyone will tell the others in your circle of family and friends.
Keep a copy of your Advance Directives in a folder, near you or in a designated location for first responders and other medical personnel.

 

Caregiving Ends but Giving Care Continues

End of days

Even though my immediate HANC tour has ended, my writing about caregiving has not. I’ve been writing a column for Senior Life called Caregiving Counts as a way to continue my tribute to my mother and to HANCs everywhere.

My first column was simple, yet important tips for caregivers that I pulled from the Internet. Here is where you can read the full  article.

You may also read here:

10 Tips for Family Caregivers from caregiveraction.org

  1. Seek support from other caregivers.  You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Each month I include a question of the month such as this one:

My father has Alzheimer’s Disease and some days, I just don’t think I can manage when he yells at me and tells me to go away. What should I do?

The best thing you can do is remember that everything ends. One day, you will wish your father was still around to yell at you. When he has tantrum moments, try to understand he isn’t trying to hurt you. The disease causes him to say things and act in ways he would never do, otherwise. This isn’t personal, but it does hurt. Be sure you have a strong support system you can call on at these times and as soon as you can, put some space between your father and yourself. If it’s safe to do so, take a walk when he demands you leave. By the time you return, he will likely have returned to his gentler self.

Some months I offer a definition.

Caregiver

Merriam Webster defines a caregiver as: a person who gives help and protection to someone such as a child, an old person, or someone who is sick.

If you have a specific question about caregiving, please contact me by leaving a comment through Facebook or email me: mary@marybrotherton.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Make Self Care a Priority

HANCs – those people who call themselves housekeepers, activity directors, nutritionists and companions – may actually fantasize about the hour their roles as care givers will end.

ClockNo matter how difficult the path you are on, once your need to provide care comes to an end, know that your life will forever be changed. Many who ensure a better quality of life for others suffer long-term health problems, especially if they did not have a sufficient support team in place to help provide proper respite and long enough breaks for the care giver.

running out of timeIt’s not that care givers want to do everything themselves or that we are claiming our territories or that we feel no one else is capable of providing the level of care our loved ones have come to expect. We do not wish to impose on our friends and family members, despite their reminders to, “Call me if I can help.” Sometimes,  arranging a break seems to cause more work than relief and when your phone rings with question after question, while you are trying to relax, it’s often easier to just cut your losses and return to handle whatever crisis caused the confusion.Time blurs when you're having funTime and death wait for no one. While you are planning to take a break, some day in the future, your loved one could pass away or your own health might be compromised. Don’t wait to plan your breaks tomorrow. Find the help you need, today! Stop relying on those who promise to do better and have great intentions.

Five o 5Remember: most people work five days a week for eight to ten hours, then take two days to recuperate, run personal errands, relax and rest. They often get a full week’s vacation (or more) from their jobs and some receive pay for that week off. Professional care givers – whether in nursing home, assisted living facilities, or in-home providers –  typically work in three shifts, each no more than  eight hours each. They do not work 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year – with only occasional, sporadic breaks and often no compensation. They do not sacrifice their personal lives in the same ways.

Time

Take time for yourself. Take a break. Take more than one. If you do not take the necessary time to care for yourself, no one else will step in to volunteer, despite their best intentions. Don’t wait until it’s too late or you find yourself unable to provide care because you are in the midst of a personal crisis. Care enough for yourself to make this a priority.

It is that important.

A Corner Office for a HANC

I’ve been promoted!

The new position didn’t come with a pay increase, but it did come with a corner office.

Office in the corner

Each morning, if I get to work early enough, I can sit at my desk and watch the sunrise. Since it’s on the ground floor, I’m able to observe birds in nearby trees, which can be a momentary respite for my eyes.

Small bird

            My new office also comes with surround sound, a fully stocked refrigerator and a snack drawer with all my favorite munchie-crunchies. Finally, I have a personal assistant who reminds me when it is time to eat or take stretch breaks. Perhaps one of the best perks of the job is how much freedom I have to be with family and the out-of-office scenic tours I’m expected to conduct.

bridge over untroubled water

            The truth is, nothing has changed but my perspective. I’ve been using my mother’s fifty-year-old kitchen table as a desk since I moved in with her. It’s still a kitchen table.

table

When I’m not at my computer or cooking or cleaning, I am with Momma, who may not appreciate being called my personal assistant.

Appointment checks

I realized I needed to adjust my point of view.

Sidewalk view

Rather than seeing her as a frail, elder demanding attention through pleas for constant snacks or drives to nowhere, I now see her as my private helper and partner in our grand adventure.

Road in Santee

            Whether I am blogging, editing, posting photos, writing or just goofing around with social media, it’s easy to lose track of time on the computer if someone does not distract me. When I go for walks, especially if I take my camera, I become lost in my own world. I tune everything else out.

Holding a camera

No boundaries and no timers or schedules are good for my art, but bad for the rest of my life.

Calendar

            My new outlook keeps me attuned to the truly important things – my relationships and my Self. My physical, emotional and spiritual self, with a capital S, deserves my focus. Rather than seeing my life through the dutiful eyes of a daughter who has given up much to provide support for a loved one, I now see myself as an executive HANC, with a side job that occasionally takes me away from fun excursions with Momma.

Female executive

            As her health and stamina slowly return to her, we’ve all noticed her personality is also making a comeback. Her wit and humor, long subdued by malnourishment, pain and dulled by medications, entertain anyone willing to spend enough time interacting with her.

Relationships

            Although it might be nice to have the hefty salary expected with a large, naturally lighted office, who needs that kind of stress?

Office building

Put it in Perspective

My lifestyle isn’t the only thing I’ve adjusted since making the decision to become my mother’s caregiver. I’ve had to alter my attitude, which has not been easy. Almost as difficult, I’ve adjusted my sleep-habits to accommodate hers and fine-tuned my diet to make her mealtimes easier, because I discovered the difficulty in trying to get her to change – anything.

My perception of reality is in a constant state of change.

Time

I remember when I believed my mother was Amazonian in strength and fiercely independent. She was always honest – brutally so – but she was usually agreeable and understanding.

Cookie goddess

She is still strong-willed and sometimes she can be contrary, despite her desire to be compliant. Like mother-like daughter!

In her heyday, this woman could hear a muffled childish giggle and immediately know which of her many children was up to mischief. Today, her hearing is so compromised that she habitually stares at the television without understanding. This leads to boredom I can’t always counteract. One or two in every bunch

Normal conversations are frequently lost to her and she sometimes mutters, “I still don’t understand, but I guess I don’t need to.” Yet, if we raise our voices so she can hear, she thinks we are cross with her.

            She sometimes acts like a child, but we both know she is an adult. Her aging  must be harder for her than it is for us, though it seems we are the ones making all the adjustments. I remember telling my husband that we should try to keep things as normal as possible for her. Her normal life means ours must sometimes take an unnatural detour.

Skydive to the destination

Once we moved in, I had to accept that I could not move the furniture – ever – because that kind of change disrupts her reality.

furniture

Once, she scolded my husband and wagged her index finger at him, saying, “Listen here! I am going to have my way, because this is my house. You hear me? It’s my house!”

pointing boy

My brother later asked my husband, “Which finger hurts more, this one or this one?” while brandishing his middle finger opposed to his pointing finger.

We all laughed over that and we now refer to it as the finger incident.

loose point

Many days, my husband and I must remind each other of our reason for being here. It’s not for family estate or an immense reward. Nor is it for recognition or honors. It is for the love of the woman we call Momma.

Mother of many

There are days I wish I’d hesitated or made a different choice when my husband asked, “Why don’t we move in with your mom and help her?”

Then, I put things in perspective and adjust my idea of reality and truth. I know I am where I need to be right now and I’ll greet each day to see what comes next.

It boils down to love. It’s not that I love my mother more than my siblings do, but love drove my husband and me to choose this life – at this time. I’m not the family saint or any kind of angel. Despite the adjustments and sacrifices, I am the lucky one.

Clover

My mother and I are making memories that I will cherish the rest of my life!Enjoy life

Some Days Need a Tea Party

Today, my mother and I had a tea party. Just the two of us.women in hats

My sister, Bernie is the ultimate tea party hostess. Once she and her granddaughter brought an elaborate portable tea party to us, I knew I could never compete with that.

Mobile tea party

Still, today, I knew that only a Tea Party would lighten the somber mood that had taken over since the recent winter storm that did little but provide an interesting photo op for me.ice on leaves

Momma and I wore hats and toasted each other with wine glasses filled with orange juice – and we ate leftovers.

Toasting with Juice

We didn’t have a bouquet of fresh Spring flowers or pink lemonade in champagne flutes. We did have fun, though.

            Most days, Momma wants to eat half a grilled cheese sandwich or maybe some soup, sometimes, an omelet. She eats quietly and quickly and soon is back in her recliner, searching for words in one of her books – when she’s not channel-surfing and grousing about other people not calling her.

tv remote

Today, I decided we needed a tea party, complete with toast points and the mush that is leftover from porcupines, a meatball made with rice and hamburger. I knew I could get Momma to eat a few apple slices, but only if they were presented properly, and she tried a Romaine leaf with some cheese and sausage.

Party food

We giggled together and remembered when Bernie brought Gabby out for a tea party.

Child behind flutes of lemonade

Momma filled up on a variety of tasty tidbits and for a moment, she wasn’t bored or blue. I live for those moments.

Stop, Drop & Roll!

fire

As a caregiver, you must know your limits. If you don’t, you may find you reach them quicker than expected. Before you burnout, remember what you learned about fire, when you were a child.

STOP, DROP & ROLL!

Three way stop

Stop what you are doing and find a new, spontaneous outlet for yourself.

Lake Sunset

Drop whatever tool is in your hand, whether it’s pruning shears, a broom or a wooden spoon and pick up your phone to call for backup.

Roll Out

Roll out! Go somewhere offsite quickly and change your focus so you can return fully charged and ready to resume your duties.

Angel at rest

Stop thinking you are the only person who can do what you are doing. You are not alone and martyrdom does nothing to help anyone.

clocks and more clocks

Drop that magic wand and put up your cape. Admit you need help. Use your support system, whatever it is. Skip the guilt. Take a break. If once a month isn’t working for you, take more time off.

bee hovers

Roll up your creative sleeves and stop worrying about how much it will cost or how little time you can afford to take away from your duties. If you break down, how much good will you be then? If you are irritable and moody, who will want to be near you?

 time runs out

If all the old things you did for yourself are no longer working, remember to stop, drop and roll. Before it’s too late.

 

Where is my Oxygen Mask?

sparkly shoes

Many years ago, while visiting my sister who lives in Mississippi, I learned my siblings had called me Goody-two-shoes when we were youngsters. Even I’ll admit I don’t care to get my hands dirty – literally or figuratively. No wonder they were all surprised I took on the role as my mother’s housekeeper, managing activities for her, guarding her nutritional needs and serving as her live-in companion. It’s not a job for the squeamish or a compulsive cleaner, though some days, the compulsion to sanitize everything in the house seems logical.

Dog's bathroom

Not long after my husband and I moved in with my mother, another sister told me, “We all know you’re in charge there. You’ve been pissing on all the trees.”

Her comment hit me hard in the command center of my ego. If I’m in charge, why do I feel helpless? Why do I feel “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” about so many things?

Military uniforms

Flight attendants on commercial airplanes tell passengers “Take your own oxygen first.” You cannot help anyone if you are in distress.

Care for you, too

 

Take Your Oxygen First – Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss is a book that addresses the need for caregivers to make taking care of themselves a priority. Written by geriatrician Rosemary Laird, celebrity Leeza Gibbons and licensed clinical social worker and psychiatrist James Huysman, the book combines advice for caregivers with information and a candid snapshot of the Gibbons’ family’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease.

take a break

As so many support groups, Take Your Oxygen First stresses the need for frequent, planned breaks from caregiving, but It’s hard to take a break when one of the reasons I became her HANC was because everyone else in the family has hands-on jobs they cannot perform remotely. I know a caregiver must take care of the caregiver or everyone suffers. Still, I feel guilty when I plan time away from my mother, thinking her needs must take priority over mine.

When my mother says, “I know you don’t need my help, but I need your company,” I know the decision to move – when we did – was right.

Angry boy

Some have told me how wonderful and selfless I am for being a HANC. I don’t feel wonderful. I feel tired, frustrated and angry. Selfish for wanting time to myself – my own oxygen, I chastise myself for becoming angry.

movie poster

There is no magic pill for memory loss, no way to undo her physical disability. She is as she is. What frustrates me is a condition that has plagued her since birth. She’s always – always – always had a problem most people don’t discuss, except with their doctors.

constipation

Well, dammit! I am in charge here and this is my territory. I have a point to make, in my goody-two-shoes superior way, so I’m going to fix her all by myself! How hard can that be? Constipation has been her nature for 86 years. Surely, I can change her nature. By golly, if I can’t!

pretty two shoes

I did, for a short while.

wine glass of juice

We had a custom where we talked in the kitchen while I made wholesome, fresh juice from all the vegetables and fruits and berries we both enjoyed – and a few we weren’t fond of – mixed with the tastier ones. I served it in martini glasses and wine glasses and teacups and coffee mugs and jelly jars. Together, we drank to our healthy digestive systems.

sick dog

After a couple of months, she became very ill. Her body missed the chemical compounds it had become dependant upon, despite of the cleansing effect of the juice. Within a few weeks of her illness, we resumed our regular routines, but a month later, she was sick again. The next time her malady struck, she became dehydrated and needed hospitalization.

That’s when I learned.

fresh vegetables and fruit

Despite my attempts at tasty, nutritious meals and that healthy morning drink, her body needs additional help. Too much raw fiber causes gas; not enough causes blockage. Too much pulpy juice actually slows down her digestive system. A better option for her is cooked, fibrous vegetables, fruits and some fresh berries – when she agrees to eat them. Hydration becomes so much more important as we age, especially when we can’t remember how much or when we last drank.

soda

I worry about keeping her hydrated when the last thing she wants is to drink. Recently, after encouraging her to drink ginger ale – anything – and after tending to her needs during a quarterly bout of digestive distress, my husband reminded me that I had not eaten all day.

mask decor

Now, where did I put my oxygen mask?

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