November is National Family Caregiver Month, a month dedicated to providing support and raising awareness for the 66 million Americans who are providing care for ill, disabled or aging relatives.
If you are caring for a senior loved one in Michigan, you know that this job can be both rewarding and demanding. But you may not be aware that helping an older adult with daily-living tasks could be taking a serious toll on your health and relationships.
Caregiving can be harmful to your health
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, family caregivers report more health issues and seem to suffer from a lowered immunity. About 10 % report that assisting a loved one with hygiene, meals, medications, errands and housecleaning has caused their own health to decline. A stunning 40-70% of caregivers report symptoms of depression.
Most family caregivers devote about 20 hours a week to their loved ones in need. Research shows that adults who spend more than a few hours a week caring for others are more likely to suffer from physical illness and mental strain. They are also less likely to visit a doctor, to exercise and to eat a balanced diet.
But there is good news. Studies confirm that that education, access to resources and community support can relieve a lot of the stress and strain of caring for an aging parent, whether they are in the home or in an assisted-living community.
Resources for healthy caregiving
These websites can help you locate the information, resources and services that will support you as a caregiver.
- AARP Home and Family Caregiving: An educational resource where caregivers can learn strategies for juggling work and caregiving, dealing with stress and living healthier lives. This is also home to a busy online community where you can talk with other caregivers and ask experts for advice.
- The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center: If you are providing Alzheimer’s or dementia care, this is a great resource for support. You can talk to others in the caregiver discussion boards and access materials that may ease your caregiving duties. This website also offers a Community Resource Finder that can help you locate events, services and support options in the Great Lakes State.
- Michigan Aging and Adult Services: These government agency websites offer links to educational resources, support groups and workshops that can make caregiving less stressful. You can also find information about adult-day care and enrichment programs, assistance with in-home care and services like home-delivered meals.
- The National Caregiver’s Library: A storehouse of information covering every aspect of caregiving. This helpful resource includes a section dedicated to educating employers of caregivers.
- Video Caregiving: An online library of informative mini-documentaries where people share their stories and offer informative tips to support caregivers.
Please help us spread the word about National Family Caregiving Month by sharing this article with your personal network of family and friends!
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As we grow older, it isn’t uncommon to experience minor vision problems. It might be dry, irritated eyes from staring at a computer too much or red, watery eyes that are the result of an allergy. But sudden changes in vision can be a warning signs of something more serious. From a detached retina to a stroke, there are vision issues older adults and caregivers shouldn’t ignore.
Vision Problems that Need Medical Intervention
Here are a few tips to help the Michigan caregivers who follow our blog identify the warning signs of potential problems:
- “Floaters” in Vision: A vision issue that requires immediate medical assistance often begins with what look like “floaters” in your eye sight. It is often a warning sign of a detached retina. A burst of light or color is another common symptom. It is important to get medical attention without delay to prevent blindness.
- Change in Vision: A sudden loss of vision or blurred vision in one or both eyes should never be ignored. Both can be warning signs of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It requires immediate medical intervention. People sometimes wait to see if the symptoms disappear before calling for help. When someone is having a stroke, time is a critical factor for receiving life-saving treatment. Call 911 without delay!
- Dark Spots in Vision: If a dark spot appears in the center of a senior’s vision, it can be a symptom of macular degeneration. Problems distinguishing one color from another or difficulty reading signs are other early signs. Call your physician if you or the older adults you care for experience any of these symptoms. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in seniors.
- Blind Spots in Vision: When a blind spot appears in a senior’s vision, it can be a warning sign of several different medical conditions. High blood pressure and diabetes are a few of the most common. Call your primary care physician to see if they want you to come to their office or go to the emergency room.
- Halos or Cloudy Vision: Both of these warning signs can be symptoms of cataracts. Many seniors don’t realize how serious the condition can be. Left untreated, cataracts can cause blindness. Ask your primary care physician for a referral to an Ophthalmologist if you don’t already have one you work with.
Medicare Coverage for Vision Problems
Many vision issues are preventable if caught early. Routine vision screenings are the best way to identify potential problems. To learn what eye exams and screenings your Medicare benefit will cover, visit Your Medicare Coverage.
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If you have ever kept a diary, you probably already know the clarity getting your thoughts down on paper can bring. Writing is a therapeutic form of self-expression known to relieve anxiety and stress.
The Therapeutic Value of Journaling for Caregivers
Caring for aging parents or another senior loved one can be tough on many different levels. There are moments of joy and then there are times of sadness. The rollercoaster of emotions is often difficult to manage.
Journaling is one tool family caregivers can use to process their own feelings and record life events. It provides family caregivers a safe place to honestly record their innermost thoughts.
Words that Heal
Journaling can also be a powerful healing tool for caregivers. A few common benefits include:
- Physical Health: Journaling positively impacts physical well-being. Research shows it can reduce symptoms of chronic diseases like arthritis and asthma.
- Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Caregivers may experience a wide range of emotions every day from sorrow and despair to joy and gratitude. Writing can help you understand and process difficult feelings like anger and resentment. It can also allow you to find moments of happiness amidst the toughest days of caregiving.
- Personal Time: Every family caregiver needs a few minutes of personal time every day. Journaling is a way to slow down and focus on your own feelings and fears.
- Problem-solving: Writing your worries down on paper allows you to access the right side of the brain. It’s the part of your brain where creative thought comes from. Let’s say you’ve been struggling with how to talk with your mother about her diabetes and the impact a poor diet is having on her health. After journaling about the problem, you may realize one solution is to talk with your mom about moving to a Michigan senior living community. Healthy meals that meet her dietary restrictions will be provided for her.
Journaling Prompts about Caregiving
If you would like to give journaling a try but aren’t quite sure how to get started, this exercise will help.
Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes once every day. Use the time to write freely and to complete each of the following sentences:
- Today I feel…
- I’m looking forward to…
- I’m worried about…
- I’m grateful for…
Remember, when you are a caregiver, it’s important to make an extra effort to take care of you. By caring for your own health and well-being, you can be present to more fully care for your senior loved one.
Keeping medications that are no longer needed or those that are expired around the house can create problems for people of all ages. In households where older adults live, it can lead to the wrong medication being taken accidentally or to grandchildren finding one and ingesting it.
Experts estimate that 71,000 kids under the age of 18 are taken to the emergency room because of unintentional overdoses caused by a prescription or over-the-counter-medication.
What can you and your Michigan senior loved one do to safely dispose of medications that are no longer needed?
There are a few resources that can help you figure it out.
Guidelines for Disposing of Old Medications
Here are the guidelines recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ):
- Take Back Programs: Take advantage of prescription take back days in your local community. Pharmacies typically offer them a few times a year. You can check to see if one is coming up near you by visiting the Department of Justice Office of Diversion Control
- Ask the Pharmacist: Check the instructions that come with each prescription medication to see if it indicates how it should be disposed of. If you didn’t save the safety insert, call the pharmacy where it was filled. (The phone number should be on the label.) The pharmacist can provide you with that information.
- FDA Database: The FDA maintains a list of medications that can safely be flushed down the sink or toilet. For these medications, it is considered the best way to keep small children and pets safe. Do not flush medications down the sink or toilet unless the instructions for disposal specifically indicate you should do so.
- Coffee Grounds and Kitty Litter: If the medication you want to dispose of didn’t come with any instructions, experts say to take the medicine out of the container and mixed it with coffee grounds or kitty litter. Don’t smash or crush the pills just mix them with either of the two products. Seal the entire mixture in a leak-proof bag and place it in the trash.
- Avoid Identity Theft: Make sure you remove or scratch out any identifying information on pill containers before disposing of them. This is an important step for reducing the risk of identity theft.
We hope these tips help you create a home environment that is safe for all generations!