How Can I Enjoy the Holidays When I’m Busy Caregiving?

How Can I Enjoy the Holidays When I’m Busy Caregiving?

Dear Donna:

I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for over four years. Every year during the holidays, my normal caregiving stress significantly increases. My family always looks forward to the season, but now I dread it. I just can’t seem to find a way to enjoy myself without worrying about my mom.

Do you have any suggestions that can help me better navigate caregiving and holidays?


Sam in Saginaw, MI

Holiday Survival Tips for Caregivers

Dear Sam:

You aren’t alone. We often hear this from family caregivers. The joys of the holiday season typically come with a whirlwind of activity. From attending the kids’ and grandkids’ seasonal events to baking pumpkin roll for the family potluck, your holiday to-do list might seem never-ending. When you add the responsibilities of caring for a senior loved one to the list, this festive time of year can easily become overwhelming.

Here are a few holiday survival tips you might find useful this year:

  • Identify your biggest stressors.

Start by trying to pin down the activities or tasks that are causing you to experience the most anxiety. For family caregivers, there can be a wide range of causes, including:

  • Worrying that your loved one will feel left out if you attend holiday gatherings without them
  • Struggling to find enough time in your schedule to complete traditional holiday tasks
  • Feeling as if you are neglecting your own family’s needs or desires in favor of caregiving duties

Once you’ve identified your sources of stress, it’s easier to find solutions.

  • Reset your expectations.

Caregivers are often reluctant to ask for help. Many believe no one will care for a loved one like they can. During the holiday season, when the demands on everyone’s time are greater than usual, a caregiver is more likely to experience overload or burnout. Give yourself permission to not only seek outside help in caring for your mom, but to also scale back holiday traditions.

Accept only those invitations that mean the most. Decline requests that require time you don’t have to give, such as baking for the church bake sale or helping the garden club decorate for the holiday parade.

If you don’t have anyone who can help with your mom’s care, consider a few days or a week of respite services at a local assisted living community. That can give you an opportunity to handle holiday tasks, such as shopping and baking, while also attending or hosting seasonal gatherings.

  • Remember your happiness matters, too.

Caregivers often put their own well-being low on the list of priorities. They may skip meals or rely on fast foods instead of taking time to plan healthy menus. Exercise and sleep might also be sacrificed. Caregivers may decline party and event invitations they would love to accept. While it may seem like a luxury, it’s also important to make your personal happiness a priority.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Sam. If you decide to explore respite care, I hope you will consider one of the Heritage Senior Communities. Call the location nearest you to learn more!

Kind regards,


How to Help a Senior Winterize Their Car

How to Help a Senior Winterize Their Car

Winter is nearly here again for those of us in Michigan and Indiana. When it arrives, ice, snow, and frigid temperatures can be tough on a vehicle. Yet, winterizing the car is sometimes overlooked.

Even if your senior loved one doesn’t drive much anymore, it’s still important to check their vehicle for winter readiness. This list is a great resource to help you learn how to winterize their car.

Winter Safety Checklist for a Loved One’s Car

  • Have a mechanic check the brakes and exhaust: Snowy streets and parking lots can cause drivers to use their brakes more often than in good weather. It’s important to make sure they are in good condition before the snow flies. Ask your mechanic to check them out. While you are there, also have them check the exhaust system for carbon monoxide leaks. This is especially essential during the winter months when car windows are mostly kept closed.
  • Test the heater, defroster, headlights, and taillights: Drivers count on each of these car features on cold winter days. Since there are fewer daylight hours during winter, making sure no lights are burned out is vital. The heater and defroster are equally essential to safe driving, so make sure to try those out as well.
  • Check the tires: Tire tread depth and tire pressure are two additional items that need to be inspected on a senior loved one’s vehicle. The penny test is an easy way to determine the status of the tire treads. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for the recommended tire pressure. It’s best to replace aging tires before the snow falls and roads become hazardous.
  • Replace or refill fluids: Coolant, wiper fluid, and oil all need to be refilled or replaced on a regular basis. This is another task the vehicle owner’s manual will provide guidelines on. Unless you have experience maintaining cars, you’ll probably want to leave the oil change to a professional.
  • Invest in a senior-friendly ice scraper: Most people who live in colder climates will be scraping ice and snow off their car windows during the winter. That’s why it’s important to have a sturdy scraper. One that also has a brush to dust off snow is best. These reviews might be helpful in finding a long-handle or extendable ice scraper for your senior family member.
  • Keep a winter safety kit in the car: Put together and stash a winter safety kit in the backseat of the vehicle. Stock it with essentials the senior might need in case of an emergency. While no one likes to think the worst will happen, it’s best to be prepared. A flashlight, cell phone power bank charger, blankets, flares, candles, matches, protein bars, and bottled water should all be in the bag. Also consider adding a change of clothing, boots, and essential medications.

More Winter Safety Reminders for Older Adults

While you are preparing a senior for winter weather, here are a few additional tips drivers should keep in mind:

  • Watch the tank: Keep your gas tank at least half full during the winter. Should you need to pull off to the side of the road, having enough gas will allow you to turn your car on every 30 minutes to stay warm.
  • Monitor the weather: Even a quick trip to the grocery store can become dangerous when an unexpected winter storm blows through. If you don’t already, consider adding a weather app to your smart phone. You’ll be able to receive alerts when hazardous weather is on the horizon.
  • Keep cupboards stocked: No one wants to be forced to drive on a cold, snowy day or stand in long lines at the grocery store as a storm approaches. That’s why it’s important to keep an adequate supply of food and medication on hand all winter long. Don’t forget to do the same for your pets, too.
  • Explore alternative transportation: Ride sharing services or local Dial-A-Ride programs can help older adults avoid driving during the winter. If you aren’t familiar with those in your loved one’s area, call their local agency on aging. They’ll likely have a list of transportation options they can share with you.

If you need some ideas on how to get your loved one’s house ready for winter too, this information might be useful.

Let Heritage Do the Driving

Transportation is one of the most popular resident services at Heritage Senior Communities. From physician appointments to trips to the local shopping mall and other popular attractions, call a nearby Heritage community to learn how our transportation services work!

Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

Dear Donna:

I’ve been caregiving for my parents for several years now. They still live in their own home and I visit multiple times each week. Lately, I’ve noticed some changes in my dad.

He’ll be 84 in April, so I understand he’s getting older. But I’m concerned there might be something wrong. He is very forgetful and seems less interested in hobbies and friends than usual. My dad’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at about the same age.

How can I tell the difference between normal aging and the early signs of Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia?


Cindy in Saline, MI

Does My Senior Loved One Have Early Signs of Dementia?

Dear Cindy:

Like you, family members often aren’t sure if changes in a senior loved one are a normal part of aging or an early sign of something more serious. This is especially true when adult children notice some of the red flags commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as forgetfulness or getting lost.

While memory loss is a classic sign of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, there are other health concerns that closely resemble the disease. It may be helpful to learn more about the early symptoms of dementia as well as medical conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some of the early warning signs of the disease are:

  • Being unable to hold a conversation
  • Having trouble concentrating, especially for reading or writing
  • Misplacing belongings around the home
  • Losing track of time and what day it is
  • Struggling to complete familiar tasks
  • Gaining or losing weight unintentionally
  • Getting lost going to and from familiar places
  • Making frequent mistakes with personal finances
  • Experiencing a change in personality or disposition
  • Losing problem-solving or planning skills
  • Forgetting to attend personal appointments or important events

While the symptoms outlined above might be the result of Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia, they could be caused by something else.

Health Issues That Present Like Alzheimer’s Disease

If you continue to see a pattern of changes in your dad, document them and schedule an appointment with his physician. His doctor will likely want to conduct a physical exam and order blood work to rule out other health conditions that have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, such as:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Infection (especially bladder infection)
  • Medication side effects
  • Interaction between medications
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Fortunately, some of these medical issues are treatable with proper interventions.

If your dad’s physician rules out all of the conditions above, the next step may be to refer him to a neurologist for more testing. Because there isn’t one definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease, the neurologist will have their own protocols for making a diagnosis. It may include a variety of testing, a CT scan, an MRI, a PET scan, or even a lumbar puncture.

I hope this information is useful to you, Cindy. If you have questions about dementia or dementia care at an assisted living community, I encourage you to call a Heritage memory care community near you! One of our experienced team members will be happy to help.

Kind regards,


How Does Medicare Part A Differ from Part B?

How Does Medicare Part A Differ from Part B?

Medicare is the nationwide insurance program for individuals who have qualifying disabilities and seniors. For many of the over 61,000 people who participate in Medicare and their loved ones, the benefit remains confusing. The program has several parts ranging from A to D, and each one covers a different type of care.

Medicare Part A versus Medicare Part B

Medicare Parts A and B cover a broad range of services. People often have trouble distinguishing the benefits of one part of the program from another, especially these two. An easy way to keep them straight is to think of A as hospital/inpatient insurance and B as medical insurance.

Part A of the Medicare benefit covers:

  • Part or all of a hospital stay (fewer deductibles and co-pays)
  • Short-term rehabilitation in a skilled nursing center
  • Home health care services
  • End-of-life hospice care

By contrast, Medicare Part B helps pay for physician office visits and other types of preventative care and screenings. For example, most people qualify for a diagnostic colonoscopy every ten years, along with annual prostate screenings, mammograms, and flu shots. It also might pay for durable medical equipment and other outpatient services.

Costs Associated with Medicare Parts A and B

While Medicare Part A is free for most people who worked at least ten years or had a spouse who did, there are other costs Medicare recipients incur. The first is a $1,600 annual deductible.

The following costs apply to hospital and mental health facility stays:

  • There is no coinsurance for the first 60 days (once the deductible for the year is met).
  • From day 61 through 90, a coinsurance rate of $400 per day will apply.
  • After day 90, a Medicare recipient will incur an $800 per day coinsurance for a total of 60 “lifetime reserve” days. Once the 60 lifetime reserve days are exhausted, the patient is then responsible for all costs.

For a stay at a skilled nursing facility, the first 20 days do not require a Medicare co-pay. From day 21 to day 100, a coinsurance of $200 is required for each day. Beyond 100 days, the patient is then responsible for all costs.

Unlike Medicare Part A, Part B has a premium. In 2023, the monthly premium for Part B is $164.90. Most seniors pay this amount, but those with incomes of $97,000 or higher might pay more.

Medicare Part D Benefit

One last thing to be aware of is the Medicare Part D benefit. Older adults who don’t take any prescription medications often ask if and why they need to enroll in Medicare Part D. This part of the benefit covers prescriptions. While most beneficiaries aren’t required to sign up, you will have to pay a monthly penalty if you do enroll after the Initial Enrollment Period ends.

The penalty is currently 1% of the monthly premium ($32.74 in 2023) multiplied by the number of months you didn’t have creditable prescription coverage. This penalty is why financial planners often suggest people sign up for a Part D plan when they first enroll for Medicare.

Learn about Medicare Open Enrollment

Fall is the one time of year when Medicare recipients can make changes to their existing coverage. Open enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th every year. If this is the first time you or a senior loved one is navigating this period, you might find this article to be of interest.