A simple act of kindness is often greatly appreciated

Recently, I visited my mom. It was the first time I would be meeting her personal caregiver. I’ll call her Debbie (not her real name.) Mom had raved about how wonderful Debbie was and how much she liked her.


We’ve all heard horror stories about the other kind of caregivers, those who steal from clients or abuse them. I was relieved that Mom was happy with her caregiver. I think the service has lifted her spirits and helped take the burden off of her when it comes to housekeeping and grocery shopping. In short, personal attendants can help my mom live independently longer.

Debbie made me comfortable immediately. She is warm and kind and doesn’t let Mom get down on herself. But she also isn’t fake in her positive thinking, instead she is encouraging. She is an ideal match with my mom, who is set in her ways and finds changes in routine stressful. Debbie knows how to keep my mom on the right track.

I thought the least I could do was get Debbie a thank you card, to let her know I appreciated her taking good care of my mom. Apparently it’s a struggle to keep gas in the car on her wages, and she doesn’t get reimbursed for mileage. She was one of the few people who was almost looking forward to jury duty, because it would pay the same/better than what she earns normally!

So I gave Debbie the card and she told my mom later that she was so touched that she cried after reading it.

Caregiving is a job where you may not receive much thanks or positive feedback. Showing a bit of appreciation can go a long way.

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Caregiving tip: Change isn’t easy for seniors

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the saying, “She is set in her ways.” This tends to become more true as one ages. Our elderly loved ones have a certain schedule, or a certain way of doing things, and a disruption of that schedule can cause them great stress.

I’m a little like this already and I’m only 40!

But what made this clear to me was spending time with Mom this past week. We still have not figured out what is wrong with her, but we finally were able to see the specialist. He wants to rule out the return of cancer, so he has ordered a colonoscopy (ugh) and an EGD. Mom wasn’t thrilled with the idea of more testing and the preparation involved for it but knows it is necessary.

question mark box

If there is no cancer, her abdomen muscles can be surgically repaired so her stomach doesn’t protrude, which seems to cause her constant discomfort. But first, we have to increase Mom’s weight and strength. She is down to 100 pounds (has lost a shocking 30 pounds in 8 months.)

The specialist is a young guy that is into natural supplements in addition to medicine. While I truly embrace this approach, when he recommend my 77-year-old Mom start juicing, I had to force myself not to laugh. While I don’t doubt the benefits of fresh juice (though I do think the benefits are overstated and the high sugar and low fiber in juice is a concern), the doctor clearly needs to consider a patient’s age and situation when making care recommendations.

He knows Mom lives alone, and to ask a frail old lady to go buy a bunch of produce, wash it and process it through a juicer, and then go through the tedious clean up progress is totally overwhelming. I purchased her some pricey but convenient organic juice mixes instead.

The doctor also recommended spirulina supplements. After researching I’m on the fence about the benefits, but at least this is an easy step for Mom to take (comes in capsule form.)

He also recommended upping her daily Ensure drinks. I found a Boost very high calorie variety that has 530 calories. Also I got her a flavorlees calorie supplement that you mix into food. These are small steps that Mom can handle on her own.

Still, when I called her after returning home, she was overwhelmed by the new medications ordered by the doctor and the supplements I had sent. She said she knows everyone is trying to help her, but it is a lot to process.

And so it is. Just something to keep in mind when we introduce change to our loved one’s routine. Try to make it as simple and smooth as possible, and take time to explain why the change has to occur. Change can be hard for anyone, but as caregivers we can try to soften the blow.


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Stopped by a St. Patrick’s Day parade

This past weekend, I set out to walk to the grocery store, a normal weekend routine. As I got closer to my destination, I saw roads were blocked off, and then heard the distinct sound of a parade.

Of course, it was a St. Patrick’s Day parade! I had even rearranged an appointment to avoid running into the parade. And here I was, stopped dead in my tracks, having completely forgotten what time the parade started.

At first, I was a bit annoyed, because I had to be at work in a few hours. But then I couldn’t help but think of Dad, and how much he would have enjoyed the parade, even though he didn’t like the commercialization of the holiday. He would have loved seeing the police and firemen and the traditional Irish dancing groups.

And of course, the music.

So I allowed myself to just take in the scene, all of the sights and sounds.

As I’ve written before, Dad helped with the 1959 St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Orleans. I still need to do some digging research-wise to find photos from that year’s parade, but here is the scene from the 2008 affair in the Big Easy.

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Determination in the face of disease

This week, Richard Glatzer, the co-director of “Still Alice,” died. He was only 63 years old. He had been courageously battling ALS since 2011, another debilitating disease that like Alzheimer’s, takes so much from a person and is devastating to watch as a family.

Glatzer saw the connection too, telling NPR that he almost didn’t want to adapt Lisa Genova’s book for the big screen, because it cut too close to the bone.

But it was Glatzer’s personal connection to independence-robbing illness that gave “Still Alice” a greater authenticity. The movie focused just as much or more on what the main character, dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s, was feeling about her condition as it did about her family’s reaction to her declining mental state. This is the book’s running theme, and preserving that in the film offers a much more impactful experience than making it just another family illness drama.

But what impressed me most about Glatzer’s direction was his determination. Glatzer used a text-to-speech app on his iPad with one finger to communicate during the film’s shooting.

The next time I make excuses about not focusing upon my personal writing, I’m going to think of the fearless determination that those with devastating illnesses demonstrate, as they strive to leave their mark on the world or accomplish a personal goal before they depart.




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The constipation chronicles

All of those health experts weren’t kidding when they kept saying, “Eat your fiber.”

If you are caring for a senior now, carefully monitor their fiber intake. The typical American diet is woefully deficient in fiber.

My mom actually eats healthier than most people her age. Lots of vegetables, oatmeal, nuts, etc.

Slice of brown bread

But [and pardon if it is TMI] constipation has been the bane of her existence this past year.

And the bane of mine.

Last week was a very busy week, as I’m training someone new at work. I’m working late night weekend shifts at the moment, and of course, there was the time change. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep Sunday. I finished work after midnight (which I was already computing in my mind as 1am.) It was after 2am when I went to bed.

Then my phone started buzzing at 5:50am. Mom.

Of course, my heart started pounding as I rushed to answer the phone from a dead sleep.

Mom said her stomach hurt and was bloated. She couldn’t sleep. Yes, she may have skipped her tea (a fiber/stool softener liquid that was prescribed for her) one day.

I told her to take some Milk of Magnesia and tried to go back to sleep.

I’m still convinced there is something else besides old age causing Mom’s irregularity, but it has become a chronic health issue that must be managed aggressively.

Many medications and common health issues can cause constipation, and it can cause a great deal of suffering.

There are many ways to add fiber to the diet, from supplements to naturally high in fiber foods. The key is finding sources of fiber your loved one enjoys (or at least tolerates) on a consistent basis.

How have you dealt with this problem as a caregiver?


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Guest article: Dealing with geriatric depression

By Jesse Waugh

It is normal to experience grief when facing major life changes.

However, for older adults, drastic events can lead to extreme sadness and, ultimately, clinical depression.

Approximately 15% of the elderly suffer from this condition.

If left untreated, depression can last for months and take a toll on the immune system, making the afflicted person mentally and physically weaker.

A geriatric psychiatrist can tell if a person is depressed or experiencing bouts of loneliness and helplessness.

sad senior man

What are the warning signs of clinical depression?

If you think an elderly friend or relative suffers from depression, look for warning signs. There are several health indicators that suggest persistent feelings of sadness.

Withdrawal from society – It is common for elders who experience depression to avoid social situations, even with close friends and relatives.

Loss of self-regard – Putting off personal grooming and proper hygiene may suggest a feeling of detachment and could be a sign of the early stages of depression.

Increased irritability – Sudden drastic changes in an older adult’s mood may suggest the outset of depression.

Amplified physical pain – Contrary to popular belief, depression affects both the mind and the body. Since it weakens the immune system, it can increase physical pain.

Older adults who have suffered from a serious disease or are recovering from a surgery may also be susceptible to depression.

Studies show that around 15% of older patients experience episodes of sadness after they are discharged from the hospital.

What can you do to help?

Keep in mind that depression is an illness. It is much more serious and damaging than grief or sadness. If you suspect that someone suffers from it, keep an eye out for the symptoms or warning signs mentioned above.

Do not attempt to control their lives. If you do things for them that they can do by themselves, you might strengthen their perception that they are helpless or incapable. In fact, many aged care homes do their best to make their guests feel at home and in control of every important aspect of their lives.

Talk to them. This is a good way to alleviate depressive episodes. Just be indirect when you open up the topic of depression. Instead of saying it outright, ask them how they feel. Even if they tell you that they’re fine, they may unknowingly drop hints about how they truly feel.

Basically, you must understand the situation they’re in, and do your best to help them cope with the bouts of extreme sadness. Perhaps one of the most helpful things you can do is keep them company. Loneliness may also be connected to Alzheimer’s, so be there for them when they need you.

Many older adults have successfully recovered from depression without intervention. However, it is best for friends and family of the afflicted person to look into professional help and build a support network. Compassion, empathy and sensitivity can go a long way in the treatment of elderly depression.

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Walking as an intervention for Wandering!

Joy Johnston:

Wandering is one of the more terrifying aspects of dementia. This is a simple method that could be used to reduce wandering episodes at home and in facility settings. My dad was a walker for sure!

Originally posted on Creating life with words: Inspiration, love and truth:

walking groupThe following is part of an assignment I completed for the University of Wollongong Masters of Science in Dementia Care degree I graduated in last year, and highlights how allowing residents in aged care to walk regularly, can positively impact their life, as well as reduce what others see as ‘challenging behaviours’!

Specifically, we were asked to use the BEET tool workbook (this tool allows clarification of the question behind the issue, idea or problem, including behaviours of concern, by ascertaining the reasons for seeking engagement and change, evaluating the evidence, identifying who else we need to engage with and describes a process by which everyone concerned can meaningfully engage in partnership. In this way, it strives to be person centred, as it is inclusive of the client or resident.

The structure of the BEET tool is designed to allow clarity around the issue, to involve all stakeholders, to be…

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