Amazon Alexa now has Care Hub

I’m always interested in new technologies that can help elders and their caregivers. So when I received an email about Amazon Alexa’s new Care Hub, I took some time to look at its features.

Smart home devices such as virtual assistants have become popular over the last several years, and their ease of use means a wide range of people, from children to older people, can adopt them without much of a learning curve. The privacy concerns are real and should not be ignored, however many find that these devices are helpful in their daily lives. I have one of the older Amazon Echo devices and I use it to automate the house lights and to use as a timer when I’m cooking.

The new Care Hub requires the elder user to have an Amazon Echo device in their home and for the caregiver to at least have the Amazon Alexa app on their phone. Echo devices start around $50, though you can get older generations at a discounted rate, especially during Black Friday or other deal days. For example, a deal right now offers an Echo Dot for $29.99.

A customized activity feed is linked with alerts so that you can monitor when your loved one first interacts with the device each day. If activity is delayed, then you can check up on them, either through the Care Hub or by phone. Alexa will also notify caregivers if their loved one asks for help, allowing the caregiver to check on the person and call emergency services if necessary.

There are a lot of things that Alexa can do to help elders, from offering pill reminders to adding items to the shopping list and making hands-free calls without having to remember numbers.

I haven’t had the chance to use Amazon’s Care Hub because I’m not currently caregiving for anyone, but would love to hear feedback from anyone who has had the chance to try it.

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Dementia: a new beginning —

I admire Kate Swaffer for sharing her experience with early-onset dementia with the world. If you haven’t been following her, I highly recommend doing so. She offers great insight and tips for how those with dementia can be better accommodated so they can continue living their lives to their fullest potential.

via Kate’s blog:

Thanks to SBS for posting my article, written specifically for their website recently. Read: ‘I was diagnosed with dementia at 49. It turned out to be a new beginning

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National Family Caregivers Month: Honor, take action

November is National Family Caregivers Month. This year’s theme announced by the Caregiver Action Network is “Caregiving in Crisis.” It’s an appropriate theme as the coronavirus pandemic has propelled family caregiving into the national spotlight. In 2020, many Americans found themselves as caregivers for the very first time.

This year’s election was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. The new administration will have its hands full in trying to bring the pandemic under control, while initiating economic reforms to stabilize the economy. Once again, caregivers play a critical role in both areas.

Here are a few high priorities on my caregiver wish list:

  • Increased financial support for family caregivers: With unemployment rates still high due to the pandemic, it is critical that we offer ample funds and other benefits to those family caregivers who are at financial risk. You cannot care for others if you can’t care for yourself first.
  • More affordable health care options: The ACA was a start, but has significant gaps. The haphazard federal response so far to the pandemic has left some people with pricey medical bills. Hospitals are closing in rural areas when medical care is needed the most. If we’ve learned nothing else from 2020, it is that affordable and accessible health care is a critical need.
  • Increased pay, benefits for professional caregivers: Family members cannot do it all on their own. But the caregiver workforce in America is woefully underpaid. We must improve the pay, benefits and educational opportunities for caregivers so we can attract the best people to these jobs which the pandemic has illustrated are of immense importance.
  • Build a modern eldercare infrastructure: Our population will continue to grow older, live longer and the majority of people want to age in their own homes. We’ll need to develop accessible housing, strengthen our home care network and improve elder resources, especially in rural areas, so that people can grow old where they want, but safely and with ample support.

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Happy Halloween: May there be more treats than tricks

Many may have mixed feelings about celebrating Halloween in such a difficult year that has been filled with so much real-life horror and death. For those who have lost a loved one, the sight of neighbors decorating their lawns with grave and skeleton decorations may seem insensitive. For those who have children or others in their lives who love celebrating the holiday, it may be important to maintain some semblance of normality.

I definitely feel both of these perspectives when I take the dog on neighborhood walks. Some decorations are quite elaborate and creative, and make me smile. Then I feel an inward cringe when I see the grave markers with RIP stamped on them. I can’t help but think of all of the lives lost this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Personally, I love Halloween and enjoy the spooky decorations more than Christmas ones. But I remember feeling a similar ambivalence about Halloween the year my mother died, though she died months before the holiday. I instead focused on the happy Halloween memories we had as a family.

I also had a critical reaction to seeing Christmas decorations being put up at the hospital where my dad lay dying in the ICU. When you are in a family health crisis mode, your perspective narrows. How dare all of these strangers celebrate the holiday when my dad is dying? Realizing the world doesn’t stop for you is a tough, but necessary lesson to learn.

Happy Halloween to those who do celebrate, and hope you receive all treats and no tricks. And if you are grieving and struggling with seeing Halloween decorations, I understand. I hope you can have a quiet night honoring your loved one’s memory.

A free treat for all: You can get both of my books, The Reluctant Caregiver and CBD for Caregivers, for free through this Halloween giveaway.

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Make a plan to vote now

This is not going to be a partisan political post. I truly believe senior care and caregiving is a bipartisan issue and will take the cooperation of members of all parties in order to pass much-needed legislation.

But the pandemic that has changed so much in 2020 is also changing the way we vote. How you vote and where you vote depends upon your local jurisdiction and personal preference; my only advice is to plan now if you haven’t voted already.

There are arguments to be made for and against the various forms of voting available this year. Here in Georgia, I took advantage of absentee voting and have already mailed in my completed ballot. Thanks to technology, I was able to monitor its progress and received electronic notification when it had been received and approved for processing.

For those who prefer to vote in person, check out your options for early voting. Many states are offering expanded voting locations and it may be a good way to avoid potentially long lines on election day. If you decide to go the traditional route and vote on Nov. 3, be prepared to wait in long lines. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as recent elections, due to the massive amount of people who are voting early this year.

And caregivers should keep COVID-19 in mind when making a voting plan, for yourself and your loved ones. Weigh the risks and comfort level when making your voting plan. Check with assisted living centers to see if they have a plan to help residents vote. For those needing a ride to vote, check out promotions from Uber and Lyft. Make sure to mask up if voting in person, and use hand sanitizer after touching the machine. The one caveat I would point out about waiting until election day to vote is with coronavirus cases on the rise in many areas of the U.S., do you want to run the risk of being sick and missing out on the chance to vote? Just something to consider.

After the election, the real work begins on working with those elected to create sensible, practical caregiving policies that offer families the support they deserve.

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Dementia Caregiving and COVID — When Dementia Knocks

 

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As we face another potential wave of coronavirus cases this fall and winter, this post by Elaine M. Eshbaugh, PhD, on When Dementia Knocks addresses the challenges of caregiving during this unprecedented time with compassion and humility. None of us have all of the answers and we cannot beat ourselves up for making mistakes.  

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I haven’t given COVID as much attention in my blog as it deserves. I’ve started many posts and abandoned them because they felt inadequate. To be fair, I have gotten a bit of hate the few times I’ve written posts about COVID. Examples: I thought you were smarter than this. COVID isn’t any worse than […]

Dementia Caregiving and COVID — When Dementia Knocks

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Teens develop, win prize for dementia app

There has been so much bad news lately that I wanted to spotlight a story about what the younger generation is doing to support dementia research. A group of teen girls in Ireland used the pandemic lockdown for a worthwhile cause.

The mentor’s mother had dementia, which helped inspire the team to create the Memory Haven app. Designed for use by both people with dementia and their caregivers, it has features designed to address three main issues: memory loss, difficulty with recognition and speech impairment. I loved how thoughtful the app is, using tools like facial recognition and music to help lift the moods of those who are feeling down.

While the teens are a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) success story, they unfortunately faced sexism and racism along the way. I hope their inspirational story will encourage youth around the world to support dementia research.

You can learn more about the app and see it in action in this BBC report.

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Fall feelings

As world events send shockwaves on a daily basis, it becomes imperative that we find some respite in our daily lives. This is especially true for caregivers, who face both external and internal challenges and may not have an adequate support system.

I turn to nature when feeling overwhelmed. It’s free, it’s right outside my door and it’s a simple way to try to center myself in the moment when my brain reels, feeling like a runaway train of thoughts.

Whether you live in the city or country, there are natural wonders to be discovered and appreciated. For example, when I travel to New Mexico, in a region that has both mountain and desert elements, I love the unique flowering plants I see there along with the bluest skies, free of the pollution that mars the city skies I’m more used to seeing. In Atlanta, I live in a city known for its canopy of trees. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood with many gardeners who offer beautiful displays of blooms almost all year long.

During a typical work day, a 5 to 10 minute dog walk may be my only respite from all of the craziness. I make a point to seek the vibrant blooms, to watch the squirrels scamper up the trees, a butterfly flutter by my hand. Now that the weather has cooled off and the mosquitoes are leaving, I sit in a cozy nook I made for myself in the yard, where I can look upon the memorial area I’ve created for loved ones and watch the activity at the busy bird feeder. I find these moments grounding and rewarding.

It is my hope that no matter your circumstance, you are able to carve out these moments of respite. They are even more valuable in these times of turmoil.

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Setting personal boundaries in caregiving

Good tips! Establishing boundaries as a family caregiver is so important. The initial resistance you may face can help you avoid caregiver burnout down the road.

Read the entire post on What to Do about Mama?

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Pandemic isolation taking deadly toll on those with dementia

Research has shown that social isolation can have a negative impact on anyone’s health, but seniors and particularly those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are more vulnerable to its devastating effects. The pandemic has further tested this theory, with tragic results.

As a former dementia family caregiver, my heart broke for Dan Goerke and his wife Denise, profiled in The Washington Post this week. The images that accompany the story illustrate quite viscerally just how quickly a person with dementia can decline, physically and cognitively, when socially isolated. Weight loss and depression are common, among a more rapid decline in memory and speech skills.

According to The Washington Post analysis of federal data, there have been 13,200 excess deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia since March in the U.S. That number is compared to the number of such deaths in previous years. While we may never know how much social isolation factored into this spike, the mandate that many nursing homes have implemented, effectively banning family members from visiting their loved ones in person, has taken a significant toll.

It’s not prudent to say that nursing home visitation should be reinstated without restrictions during a pandemic until a vaccine and more effective treatments are widely available. We’ve seen how COVID-19 has ravaged nursing homes and how superspreader events can lead to the deaths of our most vulnerable populations.

However, there could be a more sensible middle ground reached in some cases. Outdoor visits when possible, everyone taking safety precautions seriously, quick testing, limited visitation hours, etc. There are many stories about people visiting through windows, etc. and while this can be helpful, those with Alzheimer’s and dementia often benefit from touch. The image of the Goerkes, separated by a door threshold, with hands outstretched is so poignant.

The damage being done is not just to those with dementia, but to their caregivers. The emotional pain and stress family members are going through right now is unfathomable. As with most things and especially with this pandemic, there are no easy solutions, no one-size-fits all answers. But we must do better, and advocate for better outcomes. A visit to a nursing home during a pandemic does not have to lead to a death sentence, but banning visits can have a detrimental effect on those with dementia and their families.

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