How to Create Fun for Frail Seniors

How to Create Fun for Frail Seniors

As a caregiver, you are focused on your loved one’s safety, finances, medical treatment, nutrition and therapy. You busy yourself with doing everything in your power to keep them comfortable. You worry about their reduced energy level, increasing fatigue, physical weakness and variable mental status. But do you know how important it is for them to just have fun? To laugh deeply, live in the moment, to briefly not be defined by age and frailty and to forget pain?

Below are some ideas on how to add fun and stimulation to their lives:

Mini-Field Trips
Seniors look forward to having a day out, but as they age, they don’t have the stamina or mobility for trips to fascinating museums, monster malls, wooded parks, loud modern restaurants, etc. But they may be able to go out for an hour or two. My mom adored a simple trip to the supermarket—colorful flowers, fanciful balloons, acres of fresh, bright produce, bakery smells, energetic families with huge carts. It was an hour that she talked about for days. Another day we drove one short mile to a local antique shop. “I had those gold Fostoria glasses,” she pointed out. “Your dad and I would stop at the Fostoria factory store on trips to see my brother in Washington, DC.”. Talk about the glassware led to reminiscing about her deceased brother, until she interrupted herself; “Look at the quilts—just like my Grandmother’s.”. And so on, pushing her walker forward toward the next memory. The first trip to a small local department store just before Christmas involved a little arm-twisting. But once there, lights, perfume, soft velvety fashions and just ahead a decorated Christmas tree, worked their magic. She relived it all week. Recently she had favorite rings that needed resizing, I invited her to come to the jewelry store with me. She appreciated being the “customer,” the center of attention. Other ideas might be a quilt shop for a former quilter, a hardware store for the ardent handyman, the library, bakery, family style restaurant, plant store or flower shop.

Fun at home
You don’t have to go out to have fun of course. Opportunities are right there in their home to have fun and fight boredom:
• Stage a sing-along to their favorite music. Play the music loud and clear. Get all dressed up and take some photo portraits—use them for family gifts.
• Rent/borrow movies—old ones, funny ones, scary ones.
• Have a deck of cards on hand and play the old familiar games—gin rummy, hearts, war.
• Scrabble is great fun with grandkids, and good for the brain too.
• Keep a puzzle going if you have a spare tabletop—people coming in always get engaged and stay to talk.
• Pull out a family album—get them to identify the older ones you may have forgotten and take notes or audiotape the stories you hear. Family photos trigger floods of memories.
• Rearrange furniture and pictures—just for stimulation.
• Order in or cook some favorite foods that aren’t usually indulged in as a treat.
• Manicures and pedicures are a special treat too.
• Have candy for drop-in guests and gifts for visitors—think about birthday and holiday gifts and “shop” online.
• Make up a holiday or birthday wish list from the web—send it to family members.

Think about what your loved one has always enjoyed, listen to what they talk about, look around your neighborhood and give it a try!

Tips for Organizing Health Information

Tips for Organizing Health Information

A trip to the emergency room made me realize why caregivers are advised to organize heath information. When Mom broke her hip, I called an ambulance. When it arrived, I confidently recited Mom’s Medicare number. When asked what medications she took, I pulled out our basket of pill bottles. At the hospital, the questions got more complicated. Still, I knew enough to fill out the forms.
However, while I did not know it then, I would be joining Mom in the hospital the next day with an emergency of my own that kept me in the hospital for six weeks. As we both recovered, I looked for the best way to store her health information. I especially wanted an easy way to share it with others in case I am not around.

I now have a folder for paperwork that is portable and easy to maintain. It isn’t just for emergencies. We take it to every doctor visit. Now anyone who has the folder can see when Mom had her last flu shot, what medications she takes and that she had a malignant mole removed in 1981. We can all see when all medical appointments are scheduled. Even my brother, who lives at a distance, could answer medical questions if he had to take Mom to the doctor while visiting.

Information to collect

You probably have most of this information readily available. If not, begin with what you have and add information as you can. Useful information to collect includes: A medical history; health insurance and Medicare cards; a list of medications including dosages, frequency, date started and reason; a list of emergency contacts, relationship, addresses and all phone numbers; any special logs such as blood pressure readings, blood sugar levels or symptoms; a copy of a health care proxy, advanced directives or living will; and a power-of-attorney, if one is used.

What should you keep in a medical history?

Names of all physicians; known allergies or reactions to medications; all medications, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbs; health conditions and date of diagnosis; dates of most recent exams, tests and immunizations; dates and reasons for hospitalizations; dates and details of surgeries; dates and length of major illnesses; history of smoking and use of alcohol; location of living will or medical directives; history of exposure to dangerous conditions or hazards; family history including illnesses or conditions of parents and siblings; cause of death of parents and siblings and their age at death.

Recording and storing the information

While the primary copy of the health information is more practical to keep in physical form due to various cards, forms and original documents that are part of the medical record, it is highly recommended that at least the medical history also be recorded digitally so that a “backup” copy is available in case of emergencies, disasters, or as the need arises to provide other family members or doctors with the information if needed remotely.

  • For the primary copy, use a pocket folder or small three-ring binder that will hold several pages. We purchased a multi-page presentation folder with clear pockets from an office supply store.
  • Use a bold color for the cover, such as red or yellow, so that it is easy to distinguish from other papers. Label the front clearly: EMERGENCY MEDICAL INFORMATION.
  • Keep the folder in a handy location, such as a desk drawer near the entry. Make sure every potential caregiver knows where it is kept.
  • Use top loading, clear sheet protectors to hold papers. These make it easy to remove papers for photocopying or for handing to a healthcare worker.
  • Pick up a business card from each healthcare provider you see. Cards usually contain the name, specialty, address, phone and fax number. There are vinyl business card holders available at office supply stores that are the most practical way to store business cards.
  • Each time you have an appointment, take the reminder card or jot the appointment details on a 3X5 card. Slip these cards into a page protector just as you did the business cards to keep a record of the visit.
  • When you add any information to a document, put the date at the top of the page to show how current the data is.

With a Medical History in hand,  I will never again have to phone a doctor’s office to relay information I didn’t have with me at the appointment, and I’m confident that if I’m not around, someone else can tell the emergency room doctors what they need to know about my loved one.

Siblings & Caregiving

Siblings & Caregiving

The doctor has informed you that your mother can no longer live independently. You feel that assisted living would be the best solution, but your sister strongly disagrees. It seemed that at one time you were able to communicate with her, but not any longer.

Ideally, providing care for an elderly parent would be a time of family unity and mutual support among siblings. Although this might be the case for some adult siblings, for many others, eldercare brings about painful conflict. Although each family is unique, there are common underlying causes that can lead to friction between adult children.

Old wounds and past rivalries will undoubtedly come into play during this time, making compromise about care decisions especially challenging. It is not uncommon for adult children to regress to childhood roles, where suddenly siblings are competing for mom’s affection or tallying up how many chores each has completed.

Elderly parents can unintentionally contribute to this regression by favoring one sibling over the other; many times focusing their attention on the child who is actually the least involved in their care. Often, the anger and frustration that they are feeling towards their own dependency will cause them to lash out at the child who is providing the day-to-day care and representative of their lost independence.

Most often, the spark that will trigger sibling feuding is the unequal distribution of responsibility. Even in large families with multiple siblings, there is almost always one adult child who will take on the majority of the care-giving duties. Whether this role is taken on because of geographic proximity, age, or emotional ties, it is certain that the primary caregiver will feel some resentment for doing so much and other siblings will feel shut out.

Many adult children will unknowingly place themselves in the role of primary caregiver by slowly taking on more and more tasks for an elderly parent. Soon, a pattern is set in which the primary caregiver is responsible for all aspects of a parent’s care. Changing this pattern can be difficult and it is best to get siblings involved early on. A primary caregiver who is trying to encourage sibling participation should remember these tips:

  • Keep siblings informed about an elderly parent’s condition and care plan.
  • Listen to siblings’ opinions concerning care decisions and be willing to compromise.
  • Let siblings know that their help really is wanted and needed.
  • Ask siblings to take care of specific tasks. Even siblings that live across the country can help by making check-in phone calls or locating services.

Family meetings are an effective way for siblings to work out conflict and set up a care plan. It is best to involve a facilitator such as a social worker, counselor, or trusted outside party who will ensure that all participants have a chance to be heard. Although emotions may run high, it is possible to conduct a productive meeting by following a few guidelines:

  • Set an agenda for the meeting and keep to it.
  • Focus on the “here and now.” Try not to bring up past or unrelated issues.
  • Share your feelings with siblings instead of making accusations.
  • Listen and respect the opinions of all participants.

Case management may also be a viable resource for siblings who are unable to agree on care decisions. Leslie Camozzi, M.S.W., a case manager with the ElderPlan Program, part of the Institute on Aging, says, “It is useful for siblings to have an objective third party’s observations and opinions. A case manager can set up a tangible, working care plan. Dividing and compartmentalizing care tasks can help reduce sibling conflict.”

Relief for Caregivers Through Respite Care

Relief for Caregivers Through Respite Care

What Is Respite Care?

Respite care for the elderly is any service that supports and maintains the primary caregiving relationship by providing temporary care to an aging parent or loved one.

If you’re the primary caregiver for an aging loved one, you may be experiencing some form of stress or burnout. It’s natural for caregivers to become so involved in taking care of someone else that they tend to allow their own needs to get put aside.

This is why respite care is so important for caregivers. As the number of caregivers increases— and there are already an estimated 50 million caregivers in the country today—the number of people suffering from exhaustion, stress, isolation, depression and physical ailments is also on the rise. This is no coincidence. Caregivers need to recognize that they deserve a break from their responsibilities to take care of themselves, too. And taking some time away from caregiving duties will make the person a better caregiver in the long run.

Many caregivers feel guilty at the thought of seeking respite services for their loved ones. A recent survey of caregivers by the National Family Caregivers Association showed that it’s especially difficult for spouse caregivers to acknowledge that their role of caregiver is different and separate from their role as spouse. Caregivers need to acknowledge that caregiving plays a totally separate part in their lives, and that the job of long-term caregiving can be too big for just one person to handle.

Finding Relief in Respite Care

The benefits of respite care are numerous for caregivers. Taking time away from caregiving demands will leave a caregiver refreshed and renewed, allowing them the opportunity to re-energize to be a more effective caregiver. Caregivers deserve time for activities they enjoy, whether it be reading, gardening, taking a walk, taking in a movie or museum, or whatever relaxes and eases the caregiver’s spirit. It’s also important for caregivers to maintain social relationships with friends and other family members to avoid isolation and depression. And caregivers may just need time to take care of personal errands such as seeing their own doctor, or possibly attending a support group with other caregivers.

Ideally caregivers will have regularly scheduled breaks that can be provided by help from friends or family members. However, if that support is not available to the caregiver, there are a variety of respite care options available. Respite care services are offered through community agencies, homecare care companies, direct-hire options like Hallmark Homecare, and residential care facilities. A good place to start in the U.S. is the Eldercare Locator, a free nationwide toll-free service designed to assist older adults and their caregivers to find services in their community. Additional resources are local senior centers, Area Agencies on Aging, and the Family Caregiver Alliance.

It is also ideal for caregivers to create space in their home that is solely for the caregiver, whether that be a reading nook or an extra bedroom. Caregivers are advised to designate time every day, such as while the care receiver is taking a nap or when they first go to bed, that is just for the caregiver.

Before planning respite care, caregivers should talk with their loved one about it, so that he or she understands the benefit to both.

Remember that respite care should not be considered a luxury, but a necessity for the well-being of both the caregivers and their aging loved ones.

Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the US. Millions of adults and half of all people age 65 and older are troubled by this disease.

Arthritis is best known as a condition of painful, stiff joints. In fact, there are a variety of symptoms. Most arthritis is chronic, with symptoms lasting years. Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. The primary forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel such as pain, swelling, warmth and redness in your joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in older people. OA starts when cartilage, the tissue that pads bones in the joint, begins to wear away. You are most likely to have OA in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips. OA symptoms can range from stiffness and mild intermittent pain with activities like walking, bending, or stooping to severe joint pain that persists even when you are at rest. In time OA can cause disability if your back, knees, or hips are affected. OA is primarily an age-related condition and may be hereditary. OA in the knees may be aggravated by weight. Injuries or overuse may cause OA in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. In RA, your body attacks the lining of a joint just as it would if it were trying to protect you from injury or disease. For example, if you had a splinter in your finger, the finger would become inflamed-painful, red, and swollen. RA leads to inflammation in your joints and can attack almost any joint in the body. This inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness that lasts for hours. This can happen in many different joints at the same time. People of any age can develop RA, and it is more common in women.

Arthritis Treatment

Each kind of arthritis is handled a little differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis. The right shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking.

There are medications that can help with pain and swelling. Acetaminophen can safely ease arthritis pain. Some NSAIDs (nonsteroidalanti-inflammatorydrugs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, are effective for inflammation paid, however there are side effects to be aware of, such as stomach bleeding and they may raise blood pressure. You should read the warnings on the package that comes with the drug. Talk to your doctor about if and how you should use acetaminophen or NSAIDs for your arthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis

Medicines can help you control OA pain. Rest and exercise will make it easier for you to move your joints. Keeping your weight down is a good idea. If pain from OA is very bad, your doctor may provide a corticosteroids shot in the joint. When effective, relief can last for up to a month, but there are long-term health concerns with continued use of steroids. Some people have surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

With treatment, the pain and swelling from RA will get better, and joint damage might slow down or stop. In addition to pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, your doctor might suggest anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs (disease-modifyingantirheumatic drugs). These can slow damage from the disease. Another type of drug, biologic response modifiers, blocks the damage done by the immune system. They sometimes help people with mild-to-moderate RA when other treatments have not worked.

Exercise Can Help

Along with taking the right medications and properly resting your joints, exercise is a good way to stay fit, keep muscles strong, and control arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, decreases pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.

Range-of-motion Exercises: Dancing and yoga both relieve stiffness, keep you flexible, and help you keep moving your joints.

Strengthening Exercises: Weight training will keep or build muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect your joints.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises: Bicycle riding and running or brisk walking make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and improve the overall working of your body. Aerobic exercise also may decrease swelling in some joints.

Alternative Treatments

A helpful short-term treatment is the application of heat, such as applying a heated compress, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool. Massage devices in conjunction with heat have been reported to provide temporary relief for OA pain.

Recent studies suggest that Chinese acupuncture may ease OA pain for some people. Research now shows that the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may help lessen your OA pain. These are both considered “alternative” therapies.

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Enjoying the warm summer temperatures doesn’t have to be a distant memory for elders and caregivers. Finding an interesting activity that is suitable for a senior’s abilities may take some creativity and planning, but it is well worth switching up the routine and getting out of the house.

The Benefits of Getting Outside

A main advantage of heading outdoors, even for a short period of time, is being able to soak up some sunlight. Sun exposure generates vitamin D, which is necessary for a healthy brain, bones and muscles. Getting out also enables elders to socialize with new people and be stimulated by new experiences and environments.

Ideas for Outdoor Activities

When selecting activities to do with your loved one, focus on hobbies and interests that they used to enjoy. What is something they always wanted to try? Don’t be afraid to ask what they miss doing or what they’d like to revisit. Have a couple of suggestions prepared to choose from and head outside to enjoy the day together.

Catch a sporting event. Attending a grandchild’s soccer game or a professional baseball game can be an action-packed way for your loved one to reconnect with a favorite pastime.

Fish for fun. You can cast a rod from a dock, pier, or other location, even if someone has mobility problems or uses a wheelchair. Check your state’s or province’s tourism websites to see if they provide listings of accessible fishing locations.

Be a tourist. If you live in a city, take an open-air bus or trolley tour to see the local sights. Another option could be a boat tour, depending on what type of equipment an elder needs to take with them. A Sunday drive around town can also allow a senior to check out happenings in the community that interest them. This could be a neighborhood rummage sale, farmers market, community event or even just blooming flowers and trees.

Take a dip. If a senior is willing and able, spending some time in a pool is an excellent way for them to incorporate some physical activity into their routine that seems more like relaxing than a workout.

Stroll around. If a walk is possible, start slow and work up to longer outings. Either keep the first few walks short or bring along a walker or wheelchair in case your loved one gets tired and needs to rest along the way or requires help getting back.

Be an animal lover. This could be as simple as encouraging a loved one to sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds or could mean an outing to the zoo or local dog park. There are plenty of options for seniors who enjoy animals to get outside and either interact with or observe nature.

Picnic outdoors. Picnics are another flexible activity that you can plan at a park, in your own backyard, or on the surrounding grounds of a long-term care facility. At the park, seniors can watch children run around and enjoy the buzz of outdoor activity. Make sure to locate an area with comfortable seating and plenty of shade in advance or remember to bring your own.

Go out for a treat. Most seniors have a favorite place to eat that picks their spirits right up. Instead of limiting this indulgence to special occasions or the post-doctor’s appointment routine, make an outing out of it “just because.” This could consist of a coffee and pastry from a favorite breakfast spot, or a lunch special from the diner around the corner. If the weather is nice, enjoy your goodies at a patio table.

Older bodies don’t adjust to temperature changes or perceive thirst as well as younger ones. With each of these activities, be sure to watch your loved one for signs of fatigue, thirst, sunburn, and overheating that could signal it’s time to leave, perhaps with a promise to return at another time.