Tag Archives: caregiving

Taking care of our ‘elder orphans’


Photo: Pixabay

Now solidly middle-age and reflecting more upon my own mortality after the deaths of my parents, aging well is a top concern of mine.

Aging well means something different to everyone, but living independently with as little assistance as possible is a priority for me.  I read an article about “elder orphans,” a term used to describe older people who live alone without a support network. As our society has moved away from the nuclear family model, and more people are deciding not to have children, the number of elder orphans will likely grow dramatically over the next several decades. The author of the article believes that baby boomers will also experience an uptick of elder orphans.

Not only are modern families smaller, but members are more likely to be spread out geographically, which can complicate caregiving situations. Women, traditionally the caregivers in the family unit, have demanding careers that limit their ability to be caregivers. (Though we know there are plenty of family caregivers who work full-time and care for a loved one, which can lead to burnout.)

Some people, like my mother, become an unwilling elder orphan after their spouse dies. My mother was able to take care of herself until the last few months of her life, but she did not enjoy living alone. She missed the daily companionship and experienced loneliness living in a rural community without friends or family nearby. Yet even when she was still in good health, I couldn’t convince her to visit the community senior center.

So how can we better take care of our elder orphans? I’ve written before about aging in place and how some communities are being proactive in addressing the needs of their aging population. Infrastructure needs like housing and transportation is integral, but so are communities with residents who have an awareness and dedication to helping their elders age safely. Programs like Meals on Wheels isn’t just about receiving food, but serves as the only regular safety check that many older people living alone receive. The frigid winter weather has encouraged people to check in on their elder neighbors, and that’s something we should be doing all year long.

While we can’t predict how our own health issues will impact our hopes of aging well, we can plant the seeds now to create a safe and welcoming environment for elder orphans.




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Seeing paradise in a different way

paradise fan

I just got back from a visit to what was my parents’ condo in New Mexico. It will be called that for the foreseeable future because calling it my “second home” or “mountain getaway” makes me sound wealthy and pretentious, which I’m definitely not.

I made some progress, finally donating my parents clothes and a good chunk of my father’s books. I finally cleaned out the pots and pans cupboard and brought a few more mementos home with me. The numerous repairs the unit needs will have to wait a little longer. There were plenty of deer around, and it snowed just a bit. All in all, it was a refreshing getaway.

I had just gotten out of the shower when I glanced over at the decorative fan that has been hanging above the towel rack since Mom placed it there 12-plus years ago. I was thinking about my mother’s final weeks of life, and how much time we spent in that tiny bathroom, where I helped her with toileting and sponge bathed her until she became bedridden. There was a delicate balance of trying to preserve her dignity and privacy but increasingly recognizing that my mother needed assistance. There was a lot of forced optimism on my part, trying to make the daily tasks as distress-free as possible.

How often I must have glanced at that fan during those difficult times, but never really seeing it. It was only this past week that I realized the fan is hanging upside down.

It’s so obviously upside down, I can’t believe I never noticed!

I couldn’t help but think wryly, “Leave it to Mom to turn paradise on its head.” But when I turned it around to depict the tropical scene as it was intended, it didn’t look right. What momentarily struck me as “paradise lost” was just paradise from a different perspective.

Lesson learned: Never question Mom!



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Touching wish from woman with Alzheimer’s

As National Caregiver Appreciation Month winds down, I came across this touching video from a women with Alzheimer’s. Pam Montana is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and knows what lies ahead. But she is not as concerned about herself as she is about her husband. Watch below as she explains her wish to family and friends.

Pam’s heartfelt message is a touching reminder for all of us to not forget about the caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As Pam says, Alzheimer’s caregivers often feel isolation and suffer from depression. Don’t abandon them. Offer a sympathetic ear, check in on them to see how they’re doing, or offer to stay with their loved one so they can escape the house for a bit.

As Pam poignantly states, there will come a time when she will likely forget who her husband is. She doesn’t want their family and friends to do the same.

How do you stay in touch with caregivers in your life?

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AlzAuthors ebook sale is now live

Caregiver App Month Canva 2017

In honor of National Caregiver Appreciation Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, the authors group that I belong to, AlzAuthors, is hosting an ebook sale.

From now through Nov. 21, you can choose from over a dozen books written by  AlzAuthors members. While the topics of these books focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia, there’s a wide range of genres, from nonfiction to fiction and self-help guides. Prices range from free to $2.99. The Reluctant Caregiver, my collection of nontraditional essays on caregiving, is part of this sale. I had already reduced the price in half for this special month, but for the next week, you can purchase my book for only 99 cents.

It’s a great time to stock up, just in time for those long winter months when there’s more time for reading.

You can find more information about the ebook sale on the AlzAuthors blog.

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Two isolated groups join forces via caregiving

young old wheelchair

Photo: svklimkin/Morguefile

Those of us who have cared for our elders know how advanced age and health issues can lead to social isolation. On the younger end of the spectrum, those with learning disabilities can feel ostracized from their peers. An innovative program in New York brings these two groups together and has created a beautiful sense of purpose for all involved.

Daniel Reingold, the CEO of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, founded HOPE in 1995, originally as a way to fill job vacancies at the nursing home by employing those born to drug-addicted mothers, The Associated Press reported. HOPE stands for “Health Care Offers Permanent Employment.” Over the years, the program has evolved to include those with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The thread that binds these two seemingly disparate groups is caregiving. The youths assist nursing home residents with daily tasks, and the nursing home residents help the young carers with academic tasks like reading, by giving them real-world history lessons by sharing their life stories, and by being patient as the youths learn to perform caregiving tasks.

It’s a win-win situation. The kids can graduate and work at the nursing home if they choose, or explore other job opportunities. Nursing home residents are energized by the presence of young people, who are eager to show them what they can do on their smartphones and other gadgets.

The kids also learn important lessons on life and death that their peers might miss. Favorite residents die, and the students have to learn how to cope with the loss.

I love to see innovative solutions to social issues that often get ignored, and hope such success stories will inspire others to implement similar programs.


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Dealing with a natural disaster as a caregiver

Embed from Getty Images

As a caregiver, every day may seem filled with disasters, both small and large. Caregivers constantly are dodging landmines, whether it’s working with a difficult patient, controlling pain, managing new symptoms or handling finances. That’s one reason why I referenced the metaphor in my new collection of caregiving essays, “The Reluctant Caregiver: Missives from the Caregiving Minefields.”

Back-to-back major hurricanes in the U.S. revealed another area where caregivers must be prepared: natural disasters. Most of you probably saw the heartbreaking photo of nursing home residents sitting in floodwaters in Texas during Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately, they were all saved, and staff risked their lives to stay with them all night long.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if any, were the evacuation plans for the nursing home? From what I read, it was located near a bayou, so the flood risk was real.

As people prepared for Hurricane Irma this weekend, I heard multiple reports about care facilities, including those for Alzheimer’s care, making the decision not to evacuate. It may seem like a no-brainer but there were complications. Gov. Scott of Florida implored for more nurses to step forward to volunteer in special needs shelters. At the time, they were understaffed, making some care facility managers leery of evacuating and not having a safe space for those with complex care needs.

Dementia caregivers know how any disruption to the normal routine, along with a chaotic atmosphere, can exacerbate symptoms. Can you imagine trying to deal with wandering patients in the chaos of a shelter? I’m not trying to judge those who made the decision to stay, but I do think it is a good reminder for anyone who is caring for a loved one right now to make an emergency plan.

If a natural disaster strikes your area, are you prepared to evacuate with your loved one? Do you know where you will go? How will your loved one’s medical needs be met? Do you have friends or other family members that would be willing to take you in temporarily? If you make the decision to stay behind, do you have a safe, accessible place in your home that will offer protection?

My parents never had to evacuate, but a wildfire did get pretty close to their neighborhood at one point, and I remember my parents being uneasy about the thought of evacuating. Fortunately, they were both in good health at the time and the fire was brought under control. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of my father at a shelter once he developed dementia, because he wandered. When my mother was recovering from colon cancer surgery, trying to change a colostomy bag in the very public realm of a busy shelter would have been a challenge.

While the images that have come out of Texas and Florida over the last couple of weeks have been heartbreaking, it is a good time for the rest of us to make sure we are prepared when Mother Nature’s fury comes our way.  Sometimes, the worst moments can bring out the best in us, as when this man at Lowe’s gave up his generator to a woman who needed it for her father who requires an oxygen tank.

Consider giving to a hurricane relief fund established by Caring Across Generations. All proceeds will go directly to local organizations in Texas and Florida who assist caregivers.

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Coping with the difficult emotions of caregiving


Photo by John Meyer/Freeimages

Caregiving is a tough task, both physically and emotionally. There are many emotions that can arise while one is a caregiver, and many are not pleasant. However, it is important to recognize, acknowledge and process these feelings. Caring.com offers an excellent article, The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving: How to Cope.

The 7 emotions the article focuses on includes:

  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Worry
  • Loneliness
  • Grief
  • Defensiveness

The article explains how these emotions arise while caregiving, the risks that come with these feelings and most importantly, what you can do about it. Many caregivers will find the above list familiar; some of us will experience one emotion more than another. For my mother, it was loneliness and worry; for me, it was worry, guilt and resentment.

I think it is important as caregivers to acknowledge what we feel, and equally as important to figure out how to best process these emotions so we don’t damage our own physical and mental well-being.

What caregiving emotions do you feel most consumed by, and how do you cope?


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