Practicing Self-Care as a Caregiver

Practicing Self-Care as a Caregiver

Dear Donna:

My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. She was able to remain in her own home for a while, but she moved in with my husband and I almost two years ago. We are her only remaining family members and are happy to take care of her.

Shortly after my aunt came to live with us, I left my job. We felt like it wasn’t safe for her to stay alone, and it was the best decision at the time. It’s gotten tougher to keep up with her recently as she’s started to wander from home. My husband and I are both sleep deprived and tired. We need to figure out a better way to do this so we don’t put our own health at risk.

Do you have any suggestions for us that don’t involve moving my aunt somewhere else? We aren’t ready for that.

Gratefully,

Melissa in Grand Haven, MI

Care for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Dear Melissa:

We hear this question so often from family members who are caring for a loved one. It’s especially difficult when the senior has Alzheimer’s disease. The challenges of caregiving for someone with a memory impairment are unique and oftentimes demanding. For many caregivers, the role feels overwhelming when their family member begins wandering.

Because an estimated six in ten adults with Alzheimer’s will wander, it’s a situation many families find themselves in. Caregivers often say it feels like their loved one can go days without sleeping. Since it sounds like you might feel this way, I do have some advice on decreasing the risk for wandering. If you can first manage that difficult behavior, it might be easier to practice healthy self-care.

  • Structured days: People with memory loss often respond better to structured days. Experts recommend rising at the same time each morning, serving meals on a schedule, and having a consistent bedtime.
  • Meaningful activity: Boredom is believed to be a potential risk for wandering. If you plan productive, engaging activities for your aunt, she might feel more satisfied and be less likely to wander. Arts and craft projects, housework help, or moderate fitness activities are other good options.
  • Less evening stimulus: Try clustering your aunt’s outings and physical fitness to the early part of the day and wind down in the afternoon and evening. That may help promote sleep.
  • Helpful technology: If you don’t already have one, it might give you peace of mind to install a home security system with door sensors. You might sleep easier knowing an alarm will sound if your aunt tries to leave. Also consider providing her with a GPS tracking pendant or watch. In the event she does wander, you’ll be able to locate her quickly and easily.

It’s also important to take care of yourself while you are caring for your aunt. Family members often think self-care is a luxury they don’t have time for. Remind yourself that your aunt likely needs your help for a long time to come and protecting your own health is vital.

  • Connect with a support group: Whether it’s in person or online, support groups are a great outlet. Talking through your situation with peers who can relate will help. Other members might even recommend local caregiver resources you weren’t even aware of.
  • Eat healthy: Nutrition is a non-negotiable for your aunt, as well as for you and your husband. Fortunately, meal delivery services make that a little easier. Consider trying one for several meals a week and supplement with your own cooking in between. Cooking meals in batches and freezing them also makes mealtime easier.
  • Explore respite care options: Another recommendation is to explore local assisted living and memory care communities to see which ones offer respite. These short-term stays are designed to give caregivers a break. You could take advantage of this program once or twice a month to give you and your husband a break. Your aunt would receive the same care and support as a long-term resident of the community.

I hope these suggestions help make this time easier and healthier for your entire family!

Kind regards,

Donna

Respite Care at Heritage

With communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage is a leading provider of care for adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. That includes respite services. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more today!

Gift Ideas for a Senior Dad on Father’s Day

Gift Ideas for a Senior Dad on Father’s Day

Dear Donna:

With Father’s Day getting closer, I’ve been searching for a unique gift for my dad. He’s a senior who’s been living on his own since my mom passed three years ago.

In the past, several generations of our family have planned an outing for dad. We’ve done everything from attending a Detroit Tigers game to chartering a fishing boat on Lake Michigan. With the lingering concerns about the coronavirus, we’ve decided against an excursion. Even though he’s fully vaccinated, my dad is still nervous about potentially being exposed to the virus.

Unlike me, my dad has always liked tinkering around with tech gadgets. So, I’m thinking of something along those lines. What tech products do seniors you work with seem to enjoy? Any suggestions are appreciated!

Sincerely,

Wendy in Saline, MI

Tech Gifts for a Senior Dad or Grandfather

Dear Wendy:

Senior dads can be tough to buy for under the best of circumstances! And I think your question could apply to any holiday we celebrate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to do a lot of adapting in the past year.

Since you mentioned your father likes gadgets and tech products, I do have some suggestions I’ve noticed are popular around our communities. Hopefully one of the following might give you an idea for your dad this year:

  • A drone of his own

This may be the ultimate Father’s Day gift for a dad of any age! Drone prices have decreased so they might make an affordable present for your father. The two of you could take it to a local park or lake to view wildlife. One caveat is to make sure you read about local laws and restrictions. While some drones are exempt from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, you’ll want to review the FAA’s Getting Started page before making a purchase.

  • Sanitizer for a smartphone

Since you mentioned your dad is understandably anxious about being exposed to COVID-19, another gift idea is a smartphone sanitizer. Cell phones can harbor viruses and bacteria of all kinds if they aren’t cleaned often. These small sanitizing units utilize UV-C bulbs to kill up to 99.9% of all germs. Some even have a built-in universal charger to make it easier to use.

  • Home weather station

While many believe it to be a cliché, it’s actually true that older adults tend to consume more weather-related media. In fact, seniors make up half the viewers of The Weather Channel. If your father falls into this category, he might like to receive his own home weather station. They are available with a range of features and at a variety of price points. Some even have large-print displays to make it easier on older eyes. This Popular Mechanics review of the top selling weather stations may help you find a quality product at an affordable price.

  • LED showerhead

Many people experience vision changes as they age. Some can contribute to falls, especially in the bathroom. As most adult children know, falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors. That’s why an LED showerhead attachment might make a useful gift. These gadgets provide enhanced lighting while a senior is showering or getting in and out of the tub. They are inexpensive and easy to install.

I hope these suggestions help, and that you and your dad have a safe, enjoyable Father’s Day!

Kind regards,

Donna

Heritage Senior Communities Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Heritage communities are making every effort to protect residents, staff, and visitors from the coronavirus. Our policies are based on a combination of CDC guidelines and information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services MI Safe Start Map. You can read more about it here!

How to Find a Virtual Volunteer Project

How to Find a Virtual Volunteer Project

Dear Donna:

My mom has always been very social. After my father passed away three years ago, she struggled without him. Just when she was getting back on her feet, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. Since then, she has been forced to remain mostly isolated.

While she recently received her first COVID-19 vaccine, we know it will take a few months until she can be out and about again. Our family members routinely check in with her using Zoom and Skype, but it’s just not enough. I’m trying to find something she can do from home that will help her feel connected and purposeful.

Do you have any suggestions? I’m sure you’ve probably heard this question before and have some ideas.

Kind regards,

Krista in Saginaw, MI

Encouraging Virtual Volunteerism during National Volunteer Week

Dear Krista:

Your question is a timely one! National Volunteer Week begins on April 18. Research shows seniors who lend their time and talent to a cause close to their heart reap a variety of mental and physical health benefits. From fewer incidences of depression to less risk of heart disease, volunteering might be the perfect solution for your mother.

There are plenty of organizations looking for virtual volunteers. Since your mother seems comfortable using technology, there will be even more opportunities open to her. Here are a few suggestions for connecting.

First, contact the United Way agency nearest to your mother’s home. They might know of local nonprofits looking for remote volunteers. When the coronavirus is behind us, she might be able to lend her time to the organization in person.

If you don’t have any luck with that option, there are a variety of national organizations you can explore. Two with easy-to-navigate volunteer websites are:

  • VolunteerMatch: This nonprofit organization has been matching volunteers with agencies in need since 1998. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their number of virtual volunteer opportunities increased to over 600,000 nationwide! Your mom could choose to be an eBook Buddy to a child who needs help reading. She might also be interested in writing social media posts for a nonprofit animal rescue or anti-bullying organization. There are volunteer projects for every interest imaginable.
  • Points of Light Foundation: A global leader in nonprofit development, Points of Light Foundation also works to inspire and expand volunteer communities. They, too, have expanded the number of virtual projects volunteers can connect with. You can search their database for both short-term and long-term tasks your mother might be interested in.

I hope this gives you and your mother some useful ideas, Krista!

Sincerely,

Donna

Heritage Senior Communities in Michigan and Indiana

A family-owned senior living provider for four generations, Heritage Senior Communities has locations throughout Michigan and one in Indiana. If you have questions about independent living, assisted living, or memory care, call the Heritage community nearest you to talk with one of our team members. We are always happy to help!

Does My Dad Need a New Doctor?

Does My Dad Need a New Doctor?

Dear Donna:

My 84-year-old father is starting to develop a few health issues. Nothing serious, but concerning enough that we’ve been spending more time at the doctor. While his physician is cordial, he always seems hurried. My dad doesn’t talk about his medical problems very easily, so it sometimes takes a few minutes for him to open up.

I suspect my dad’s physician is a better fit for younger adults than for seniors. How can I tell if it’s time to make a change? If it is, what steps can I take to find a physician who is comfortable working with seniors?

Any suggestions are appreciated!

Sincerely,

Lisa

Is It Time for a New Physician for a Senior Loved One?

Dear Lisa:

What a great observation! It’s one we often hear from adult children. Not every primary care physician is comfortable caring for older patients, just as some aren’t at ease with younger children. Here’s some insight you might find helpful in making this decision.

First, mutual respect is essential in your father’s relationship with his primary care physician. While they are busy professionals, your father needs to feel like his doctor is listening to him. On the other hand, it sounds like your dad has been this doctor’s patient for a while. There is value in working with someone who knows his medical history.

Is there anything you can do to help your dad better communicate with his doctor? Do you make a list of concerns and review them ahead of time? Before you give up and find a new doctor, it’s worth trying to prepare more before appointments.

There are other issues to consider, too. Can you get an appointment easily? Is his doctor able to quickly make a diagnosis? Is the location of the office convenient? Is the physician part of a reputable provider network?

If you take an objective look at the situation and decide it is in your dad’s best interest to find a new physician, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Tips for Finding a New Physician

  1. Insurance: Research which physicians accept your father’s health insurance. While you might think all physicians accept Medicare, a growing number of doctors are declining to work with Medicare and Medicaid due to perceived low reimbursement rates.
  2. Referrals: Ask friends, family, and colleagues you trust for referrals. It’s a good way to gain insight on what it’s like to be a patient of any physician you are considering.
  3. Location: While a good doctor is worth driving farther for, a great distance can be tough if your dad needs to visit often.
  4. Reviews: While reviews for physicians are tough to come by, a few sites are worth investigating. Healthgrades and Vitals are two. Medicare’s Physician Compare tool is another.
  5. Appointment: Finally, schedule a new patient appointment with the doctor. These appointments are usually longer and will give you a good idea whether the doctor will be a good fit for your father.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and your father, Lisa! I’m sure this won’t be an easy decision to make.

Kind regards,

Donna

Heritage Senior Communities

A fourth generation, family-owned company, Heritage Senior Communities has locations throughout Michigan and one in Indiana. With options for care that include independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite, you’ll likely find a good solution for a senior loved one.

How Do I Keep My Dad Safe When Driving?

How Do I Keep My Dad Safe When Driving?

Dear Donna:

My 85-year-old dad is very independent. While I understand his age shouldn’t be the sole criteria in determining his health and well-being, one area I am concerned about is driving.

How can I tell if my dad is a safe driver? Are there steps I can take to make him less likely to experience an accident? I want to support his desire for independence as long as possible, but I also want to keep him safe.

Do you have any advice?

Thank you in advance,

Vickie

Tips to Evaluate Older Driver Safety

Hi, Vickie:

You are correct in not relying on your father’s age to determine whether or not he is a safe driver. While age can play a role, it’s not the only factor to consider. Other signals can indicate it’s time for your dad to stop driving, and adaptive aids address some common senior issues.

  1. Be the passenger.

An easy and non-confrontational way to evaluate your father’s driving is to ride along as the passenger. Look for warning signs that can indicate a problem, including:

  • Bumping into curbs while parking or turning
  • Pausing too long at stop signs and red lights
  • Inability to maintain their lane
  • Repeated and unnecessary braking
  • Tailgating cars in front of them
  • Driving too fast or too slowly
  1. Evaluate the driver’s comfort level.

When an older driver thinks they have no other option than to keep driving, they might become afraid behind the wheel. Skittishness can affect their driving. A few things to look for are:

  • Anger: Road rage can happen to older drivers too. It might be their way of coping with their anxiety and stress about driving.
  • Anxiety: Does your dad seems nervous when he’s driving? Nerves can impact safety.
  • Confusion: Adult children may panic and assume a parent is developing dementia if they seem confused while driving. While it may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, it could also be fear.

If your father exhibits any of these signs, it’s probably time to sit down and talk with him to determine how he feels about driving.

  1. Consider medical conditions.

Some medical conditions and medications can impact a senior’s ability to drive safely. If your dad takes any prescription or over-the-counter medicine, check the labels to see if there are any cautions about driving. If he takes more than a few types of medicine, call the pharmacist to see if there may be any potential interactions or adverse reactions.

Health issues most closely linked to driving safety among seniors include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, the senior’s physician might say they are still safe to drive. As the disease advances, however, it’s common for adults with Alzheimer’s to get lost traveling to and from once-familiar places. Judgment may also be impaired, putting good driving decision-making abilities at risk.
  • Decreased flexibility: One common age-related change is a loss of flexibility. People with arthritis are at especially high risk. This makes it more difficult to turn your head to look over your shoulder or slide in and out of the car.
  • Slower reflexes: This also occurs with aging. For drivers, being slow to react can be especially problematic. It can result in the senior taking too long to respond to road hazards and having an accident.
  • Vision loss: While some vision changes can be treated or corrected with glasses, others can’t. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration make it difficult to spot road signs, traffic signals, and pedestrians.

Fortunately, there are a few tools that can make driving a little easier for seniors. Here are some driving aids you might consider for your father:

  1. Swivel seat: These devices make it easier to slide behind the wheel of a car. They usually cost less than $30 and can be purchased at auto parts stores and online retailers.
  2. Seat belt pull: The process of dragging the seat belt across the body and locking it is easier with a seat belt pull. This handle-like device gives an older driver up to 6 more inches of reach.
  3. Mirror adapters: A mirror adapter allows senior drivers to better view their surroundings. They are available for both the rearview and side mirrors.
  4. Pedal extender: While it’s an issue seniors joke about, research shows older adults often lose several inches in height as they age. A pedal extender is inexpensive and might help. They allow seniors to reach the car pedals without sitting too close to the steering wheel.

I hope this information is helpful, Vickie! Good luck talking with your father about driving.

Kind regards,

Donna

Is Social Media Bad for My Health?

Is Social Media Bad for My Health?

Dear Donna:

I am a retiree living alone since my husband passed two years ago. Because I don’t drive much in the winter, I’m sticking close to home. The coronavirus is another reason.

My grandson helped me sign up for Facebook last spring and I’ve been using it a lot every day. I’ve noticed my anxiety has increased over the last eight or nine months. I’m sure the COVID-19 pandemic is a big reason for it, but my daughter also wants me to spend less time online. She thinks it is bad for my health.

While I probably could use it less, I am wondering if social media is good for me. For seniors like me, there are a lot of positives.

Fondly,

Renee

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Dear Renee:

That’s an interesting question! I would say you and your daughter are both right. Social media can be an easy way for isolated older adults to feel connected to friends and family while waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside.

First, the benefits of being active on Facebook and other social channels often include:

  • Engaging with loved ones near and far
  • Exploring virtual events like watercolor painting workshops and knitting classes
  • Reconnecting with friends you’ve lost touch with over the years

While social media has many advantages, there are definitely downsides. In recent years, the dark side of social media has become more obvious and may include:

  • Spreading misinformation on essential topics, such as coronavirus prevention and vaccine safety
  • Instigating family feuds about politics
  • Contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, which researchers say can be as dangerous as smoking

Social Media-Related Stress

If you are struggling to decide which category your social media habits fall into—healthy or stressful—ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time are you spending on Facebook each day?

Are you taking breaks to get up and move? Sitting too much can result in high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, diabetes, and more.

  • Are you fighting with loved ones you would never disagree with in person?

Have any of your important relationships been damaged by issues that started on social media? People often feel freer to express their opinions on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you’ve seen your relationships suffer, you might need to cut back on your social media engagement.

  • How do you feel after you log off for the day?

Social media can be a source of anxiety and stress. Facebook is often considered one of the worst platforms for both. Pay attention to how you feel before you log in to your account and again when you log off. Is there a positive or negative change? Use that as your guide in deciding if you need to cut back or even give up social media altogether.

I hope these suggestions help you make an informed choice, Renee!

Kind regards,

Donna

Get to Know Heritage Senior Communities

A leading provider of senior living, Heritage Senior Communities is a fourth-generation family-owned company. With locations throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, older adults will likely find a community that meets their needs and interests. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more today!