I had the recent pleasure of receiving a review copy of Conversations Across America by Kari Loya. It’s an insightful look not only at a father-son relationship dynamic after the father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but also a visual and cultural snapshot of America.
There is much to find inspiring about the book. How many of us would be in good enough physical shape to bike across America? I know I wouldn’t and the fact that his father is able to do so while in the early stage of Alzheimer’s is admirable. The obstacles that the father and son duo face on their long journey mirrors the challenges one faces on the dementia caregiving journey. The open road facilitates difficult but necessary conversations between father and son.
The other component of the book offers photos and quotes from people Loya and his father meet along their journey. There is a diverse mix of voices and you likely will not agree with all of them, but it does offer some insight into how we ended up where we find ourselves now. Out on the road, random acts of kindness are not only welcome but necessary. Time and time again, strangers rise to the occasion.
Ultimately, Conversations Across Americais a love letter to his father, the natural beauty of the country and the helpfulness and resilience of those living in small towns. It’s a coffee table book with a conscience.
I’m excited to announce that I have written a children’s book, Slow Dog. I never expected to write a book for kids, but my rescue dog Murphy inspired me to take the leap.
Sometimes it’s rewarding to step outside of our comfort zone and look at life from a different perspective. When I adopted my senior mixed breed dog Murphy, I knew one of the challenges for me would be to adjust my fast-paced life to his decidedly slow-paced one. It was a deliberate choice as I knew it would benefit my overall well-being.
While Slow Dog doesn’t have any specific ties to dementia, it does celebrate moving at one’s own pace. That’s a helpful lesson for all caregivers.
While younger generations seem to be more open about discussing mental health issues and suicide, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of openness among older generations. According to the CDC, people aged 85 years and older have the highest rates of suicide. Middle-aged and older white men also are at increased risk of suicide.
For caregivers, suicide risk awareness not only applies to those one cares for but for the caregiver themselves. Older adults and their caregivers may be dealing with debilitating physical and mental health issues, which may cause them to also be socially isolated and lonely. As this report from Next Avenue points out, depression is not a normal part of aging. But older adults may be experiencing grief over the loss of loved ones, or worrying about financial issues or their own health problems. Loss of independence and cognitive decline can also factor into an increased risk for suicide among older adults.
Caregivers may suffer burnout while trying to care for older loved ones and raising their own families. Recent studies suggest that burnout can cause changes in the brain. Stress is linked to an increased risk of a variety of health issues. The report from Next Avenue includes a list of common depression symptoms.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Below are some resources that you can use if you are in need of help or are trying to help someone else who is experiencing a crisis. I took some suicide prevention courses earlier this year and one of the main takeaways I learned was how important it was to be direct if you feel a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts. One should ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” or a similar direct phrase. Being this direct can be challenging in certain cultures but with someone’s life potentially on the line, one needs to push through any social awkwardness.
The new national suicide prevention hotline number is 988.
Caregivers know that one of the more challenging daily tasks can be helping loved ones get dressed. Not only can it be a physical challenge for all involved, there is also the important elements of independence and dignity. For people with continence issues and those with dementia, it is essential that they have clothing that is easy to manage.
My mother struggled trying to aid my father in getting dressed and going to the bathroom in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. He was often stubborn and didn’t want to accept help, which led to accidents and the dreaded clean-up. The only time my father was physically abusive was during one such moment, when she was trying to help him into his pajamas. He got frustrated and struck her in the jaw. I often think about others facing a similar situation each night, feeling alone and in need of help.
This is why I’m pleased to learn of the launch of CareZips Classic by Joe & Bella. This adaptive clothing line offers innovative zippers from the waist to the knees that easily open the entire pant up to make dressing, using the bathroom and cleaning up accidents easier on both the wearer and their caregiver. Its design means one does not have to fully undress to perform routine tasks.
Enter code Gift10 to receive a $10 Joe & Bella gift certificate for each pair you purchase. For every purchase you make at www.JoeAndBella.com, a portion of the proceeds is donated to frontline caregivers. Joe & Bella has already supported more than 100 care communities through their “give-back” program.
I’ve seen many articles this week about preparing pets for the often loud Fourth of July celebrations. It is true that some animals have a severe reaction to the booming blasts of fireworks, so it’s best to keep them indoors and monitor for signs of stress. I feel fortunate that my current crew (one dog, two cats) don’t seem to be bothered much by fireworks.
But the advice made me consider another group who many be overwhelmed by this weekend’s festivities: people with dementia. The noise, the lights, extra people in the house … it can be challenging for someone with dementia.
Here are some dementia caregiving tips on how to navigate the holiday:
Remain flexible: If you are taking your loved one to a public fireworks display or parade, be aware of how your loved one is faring and if you see signs of discomfort or stress, be prepared to leave early.
Keep celebrations small and low-key: An intimate dinner or small barbecue with a select group of people can help keep your loved one with dementia from feeling overwhelmed. Hosting at your home means that if your loved one wishes to retire early, they can do so with ease.
Find fun ways to celebrate: Just because you are stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Indulge in a favorite meal, play festive music, dance, or watch a favorite movie. Take time to connect in simple ways.
Don’t feel guilty if things don’t go as planned: Those with dementia can have good and bad days, and it can be hard to predict what mood they will be in at any given moment. If an event or gathering proves too much for them, don’t be too hard on yourself. Once your loved one is comfortable again in a safe environment, take a moment for yourself. Learning from our mistakes is key in being a successful caregiver.
Here in Atlanta we are looking at a brutal heat wave, with temperatures expected to be in the mid-90s for the next couple of weeks. Summer begins officially on June 21, but in some parts of the country it has arrived early.
It’s important this time of year to check in on elder loved ones and neighbors. No one should be dying of heat exposure in their homes in our modern times, yet each year, heat-attributed deaths occur. Those at greater risk include elders, those with pre-existing health conditions and those in public or institutional housing which may not have adequate air conditioning.
I would note another factor, which may be the most tragic of all. Some elders may have air conditioning, but are afraid to turn it on because of the cost. That’s why it’s important to check in and make sure your elder loved one’s homes are adequately cooled. Fans may not be enough in areas experiencing a prolonged spell of extreme heat. Check with local officials to see if public cooling stations are available.
This is a very good message to pass along to the dementia caregiving community. While I tend to focus on the struggles of being a reluctant caregiver, it’s important to note that some caregivers do find a way to maintain a decent quality of life. As Elaine points out in her blog post, having sufficient funds to cover care costs is part of it, but attitude is also a factor.
Click through the link below to read the thoughtful post from When Dementia Knocks:
I write a lot about the challenges of dementia caregivers…their high rates of clinical depression and anxiety…their loneliness…their daily stressors. This post doesn’t change anything I’ve written in the past, but I do want to acknowledge something. Some caregivers are doing okay. Some caregivers are happy. Some caregivers are enjoying life and thriving. That doesn’t […]
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to check in on the caregivers in your life, and if you are a caregiver, take what time you can for self-care.
According to Mental Health America, this month’s campaign is focused on “Back to Basics.” As we emerge from the pandemic, some people are realizing that while they physically survived the pandemic, their mental well-being may need tending. Caregivers who are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious are encouraged to seek help. Not all areas of the U.S. have adequate mental health resources, so online resources may help fill some gaps.
While professional help is the best, don’t hesitate to reach out to family, friends and community resources. As difficult as it can be to talk about such subjects, it is imperative for one’s well-being to open up to a trusted person. Caregiving can leave one feeling very isolated, with few such resources. That’s where online communities can come in handy.
In addition to professional services, what caregivers need most to support their mental health is a break. Respite care is essential, but remains limited in availability and under-utilized. On my website, Respite Care Share, I have a list of respite care resources. Reach out to the public health agencies in your state to see what programs are available.
In order to honor our elder’s wishes to age in place, it’s important to make sure they have the proper support. That may include hiring in-home care aides to perform housekeeping and some basic medical tasks. This is especially true for those of us who are long-distance caregivers.
Finding a good fit can be a challenge. Some elders may resent the idea that they need help and sabotage any hopes of securing care services. Those with dementia may become more confused or combative with a stranger in the house. Even those who are willing to accept a care aide in the home may find their routines are disrupted, which may cause short-term distress.
I was fortunate that my mother’s aide, hired through a local home health care agency, was a wonderful woman who clicked with my mother. Not only did she offer my mother a helping hand, she offered her companionship. My mother had a very set way of doing things so I know she probably was a challenge for the aide at times, but I so appreciated the aide’s services. I knew I could trust her and that my mother was receiving the support she needed to stay in her home.
MarketWatch published an article that has helpful tips on what you should look for when choosing an in-home care aide. Beyond the basics like a background check, it’s important to know the aide’s skill set, availability, and career aspirations. Going through a home health agency can offer some peace of mind, but can be more expensive. Word of mouth can be a good way to find a caregiver in your community. When it comes to hiring a care aide, hands-on experience may be more key than formal education.
There are websites and apps that allow one to hire a caregiver remotely, which can be useful for long-distance caregivers but can be a bit more of a gamble without that in-person assessment. Long-distance caregivers should consider a video call before making any hiring decisions. Don’t overlook your gut instinct; if you feel an aide is not the right fit, don’t hesitate to take action. It’s not unusual to cycle through a few care aides before finding a good fit.
This is such an important topic and I’m grateful for Kay Bransford’s excellent blog post. As my father’s dementia progressed, simple tasks like paying for groceries or a fast food meal became a challenge that caused my father to become angry and accuse others of trying to rip him off. My mother eventually had to take over those tasks. After my father’s death, my mother’s loneliness made her susceptible to the barrage of telemarketers who would call on a daily basis. As a long-distance caregiver, it was difficult and frustrating for me to try and manage from afar.
Click on the link below to read the helpful post on Dealing with Dementia:
There were a few odd conversations with my Mom when things didn’t make sense. But the most alarming thing was when I realized my parents had changed their decades-long habit of giving every January. I started to notice that my mother was writing checks to charities that they had never previously supported. I would read…