Dear Donna: How Do I Take Better Care of Myself as a Caregiver for My Dad?

Dear Donna: How Do I Take Better Care of Myself as a Caregiver for My Dad?

Dear Donna,

I’m the primary caregiver for my aging father, and I also work full-time. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night because I keep thinking of what I have to do the next day. Often I don’t even have time to eat.

If something happens to me, I’m not sure how he’d manage. I’d like to stay healthy, but I can’t seem to find the time. How can I take care of myself as well as my dad?


Gina in Holland, MI

Caregivers Should Also Care for Themselves

Dear Gina,

Caregiving is an important but exhausting role, as you know. It is easy to get overwhelmed or feel guilty for taking time out for yourself. Unfortunately, caregivers who constantly put others’ needs first are likely to experience stress, burnout, and other health issues. Without proper self-care, you probably can’t give your dad the care that he needs.

How to Take Care of Yourself (and a Loved One)

  1. Be mindful of your own physical health

Although you may put your loved one’s health needs before your own, caring for yourself is even more important.

  • Make sure you are getting regular checkups.
  • Ask your healthcare provider for advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Make sure you are getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night. Follow good sleep hygiene.
  • Set aside time to prep healthy meals or snacks you can grab on the go.
  • Schedule time for yourself, including exercise, as you would any other appointment.
  1. Don’t try to do it alone

Whether you need help with caregiving duties or just moral support, it’s okay to ask.

Look for local support groups specifically for caregivers. Online forums or social media groups can help, too. Stay in touch with supportive friends and family.

For help with your dad, reach out to local community programs, such as home health aides or meal delivery services. Many senior communities offer respite care that lets caregivers take some time off.

If you have family members or friends willing and able to help, ask them in specific ways, such as driving your dad to an appointment or spending time with him on a Sunday afternoon.

  1. Practice mindful relaxation.

Even short periods of relaxation, as little as five minutes, can help reduce stress levels and increase your energy.

  • Consider taking a yoga class to help you stretch and relax your body.
  • Download a free app to help you practice deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.
  • You may want to set aside time to journal, which can help you process the thoughts and emotions that might otherwise keep you awake at night.

It is also important to not feel ashamed when you are tired or frustrated. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or for taking some time for yourself.

I hope this advice helps you stay healthy and minimize stress.

Best wishes,


Peace of Mind for Caregivers and Loved Ones

Heritage Senior Communities provides quality care throughout Michigan. Appledorn Assisted Living community in Holland, for example, provides numerous opportunities to improve seniors’ quality of life and reduce caregiver stress. Contact us today to schedule a tour.

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How to Manage Sleep Problems in Adults With Alzheimer’s

How to Manage Sleep Problems in Adults With Alzheimer’s

Sleep problems are common among older adults, but especially among those with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. A lack of sufficient rest can lead to irritability, anxiety, daytime drowsiness, disorientation, and additional behavioral issues that can create stress for both senior loved ones and their caregivers.

Follow these tips and consult a physician to help your loved one get a better night’s sleep.

  1. Discuss the issue with a physician.

Although sleep problems are common among adults with Alzheimer’s, other underlying issues can make them worse. It is a good idea to consult with your loved one’s primary care provider to determine whether the sleep disturbances are caused by something that can be managed, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or depression.

Some medications may also cause sleep disturbances. If this is the case, you may want to ask the provider about changing medications or ask if your loved one can take it at a different time of day.

  1. Keep a consistent bedtime.

Consistency and routine are important for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and that applies to bedtime as well. Caregivers can help their loved ones go to bed at the same time every evening. This may also include regular waking times and meal times.

  1. Encourage exercise.

Experts frequently recommend exercise as a way to improve sleep without medication. It is best to do this earlier in the day, as exercising a few hours before bedtime can disrupt the sleep cycle.

The best type of exercise will vary depending on your loved one’s physical health and the severity of their symptoms. Walks around the block, simple stretches, fitness video games, or water aerobics are a few possibilities.

  1. Get natural daylight.

Bright, natural daylight in the morning and early afternoon often helps people achieve a normal sleep/wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. For seniors in less sunny climates, or during the winter, a light therapy box may help simulate daylight.

Make sure your loved one experiences plenty of natural light soon after waking up and throughout the day. In the early evening, dim the lights. It may be a good idea to limit screen time as well—the brightness can interfere with the sleep cycle.

  1. Make the evenings relaxing.

Caregivers of seniors with Alzheimer’s may want to plan more physically taxing activities, such as doctor appointments or family visits, for earlier in the day. This can help keep your senior loved one from becoming overly tired and agitated later in the day which can make it more difficult for them to sleep.

For the same reasons, seniors with Alzheimer’s should avoid consuming large meals, alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants too close to bedtime.

While sleep disturbances are common in seniors with Alzheimer’s, there are ways to manage them. These tips can help seniors and their caregivers establish good habits that promote restful sleep.

Quality Care for Seniors With Dementia

Heritage Senior Communities provides quality care for seniors across Michigan, including specialized dementia care for residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Contact us today with questions or to schedule a tour.

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New Friends: Helping a Loved One Connect After a Move to Senior Living

New Friends: Helping a Loved One Connect After a Move to Senior Living

Dear Donna,

My dad recently moved in to an assisted living community after we decided that his house was too much for him to manage by himself. Although he’s glad to not worry about housekeeping or meals, it’s been a difficult transition.

He was pretty close with his old neighbors and is having a hard time getting to know people in his new community. What are some ways he can make new friends?


Steve from Saline, MI

Making Friends in a New Senior Residence

Dear Steve,

One of the major benefits of moving to a senior living community is the opportunity to get to know people and make new friends. Unfortunately, it takes a little time to settle in when an older adult is transitioning from their house to a senior community.

With a few small steps and friendly gestures, however, your dad can start to make new friends soon.

Tips for Making New Friends in Senior Living

  1. Smile and say hello.

Sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference. Rather than avoiding eye contact or small talk, encourage your dad to be warm and friendly in a way others respond to. Simply saying hello with a smile in the hallway or communal areas can be enough to start a conversation.

  1. Join others for meals.

Mealtimes provide an easy way to meet new people. If he’s been eating alone in his apartment instead of the dining room, encourage him to enjoy his meals with fellow residents instead. He might ask to join others at their table and introduce himself to start a conversation.

  1. Watch the calendar.

Most senior communities have event or holiday calendars with various activities for residents to enjoy. This may include group games, a religious service, or fitness activities. Your dad might watch the calendar for activities he enjoys or something new he’d like to try. Have him start by choosing one activity every week and planning to introduce himself to at least one new person there.

If he’s reluctant to go alone, join him for a few activities. Senior living communities welcome and encourage family involvement.

  1. Stay positive.

Sometimes we avoid new people because we are afraid of what they will think of us. If we assume that other people will not like us, that’s a good way to sabotage potential friendships. You can encourage your dad to avoid this attitude by being positive and open and assuming that others will like him and enjoy getting to know him.

  1. Invite people over.

Making new friends does not have to be complicated. Another simple way your dad can get connected is to invite neighbors into his home. This may include coffee, a snack, playing a game, or watching a movie or TV.

  1. Be patient.

Adjusting to a new community can be hard work, so be patient with your dad. Encourage him to be patient with himself and with his neighbors. Change is difficult for most of us, so give your Dad time to adjust and settle in.

Best wishes,


Building Community for Senior Loved Ones

Heritage Senior Communities, including our Linden Square Assisted Living location, provides support to residents in a comfortable, home-like setting that encourages community. Contact us for more information.

10 Hydrating Foods to Beat the Summer Heat

10 Hydrating Foods to Beat the Summer Heat

Did you know that you don’t have to just drink water to stay hydrated? Although drinking water is important, it’s not your only option. During the summer, plenty of different foods can help you beat the heat.

10 Foods That Help Keep You Hydrated

  1. Watermelon

For a hydrating summer treat, there’s nothing better than watermelon, which is more than 90% water. It’s also low in fat and calories and contains a decent amount of vitamin C. Keep a bowl in your fridge or take some to the park or the beach to stay hydrated.

  1. Cucumber

At 96% water, cucumber is one of the most hydrating vegetables available. Cheap and plentiful in summer, it’s great to consume with dips or in salads to increase your water intake.

  1. Celery

The next time you crave something crunchy, consider celery sticks over potato chips. Not only is it lower in fat and calories, but celery will also help keep you hydrated better than saltier snacks. It’s also full of nutrients like vitamin K, potassium, and dietary fiber.

  1. Lettuce

Whether used in salads or added to sandwiches, adding more lettuce to your diet can be refreshing and hydrating. The more color, the better: choose lettuce with dark green leaves to get more nutrients.

  1. Peaches

A ripe, juicy peach in the summer can satisfy your sweet tooth and your thirst. Besides being full of water and low in fat, peaches are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and potassium. Choose fresh peaches over the sugary, canned option.

  1. Zucchini

Vegetable gardens overflow with zucchini in the summertime, making it a good option for getting more water in to your diet. Since cooking can remove a lot of the vegetable’s water content, consider consuming it raw, such as spiralized into noodle shapes.

  1. Yogurt

Not only does yogurt contain a significant amount of water, but it is packed with protein, vitamin D, calcium, and gut-healthy cultures. Rather than buying yogurt cups packed with sugar and other additives, consider buying plain, low-fat yogurt and adding your own choice of fruit and other flavorings.

  1. Tomatoes

Did you know that one medium tomato provides about a half cup of water? Tomatoes also contain fiber, antioxidants, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Add them to soups, salads, or salsas.

  1. Soup

While it may not be the first choice for a hot summer day, soup is another easy way to get more water. Opt for broth- and vegetable-based soups rather than rich, cream-based varieties. A cup of soup with a salad or small sandwich makes for an easy, light lunch.

  1. Cottage cheese

If you need a low-fat protein choice that also increases your fluid intake, cottage cheese is another good option. Choose a low-fat variety and mix in some fruit for added nutrients and flavors.

Health and Nutrition for Senior Loved Ones

Heritage Senior Communities provides healthy, balanced meal options to help improve and maintain quality of life for residents. Contact us today to learn more about our living options or to schedule a tour of one of our residences.