Tag Archives: seniors

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.

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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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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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Tests and more tests

Dad refused to have most of the medical tests that were ordered for him before his dementia set in. I remember begging him to go have the prostate exam done, as he showed multiple symptoms and at the time I thought for sure he had prostate cancer.

I sent cards, I begged him on the phone, all to no avail.

Of course, my diagnosis turned out to be wrong. Cancer would not kill my dad, despite his almost lifelong smoking habit.

The last test I ever saw performed on him was the swallow test at the hospital in Albuquerque. It was about a month before his death. He failed the test miserably. Then came the dreaded feeding tube question. We declined. He was hand fed instead, but I don’t think he actually ate much that last month of his life.

Now Mom is the one that faces test after test after test, to keep track of her cancer. It is daunting, keeping all of the doctor’s appointments straight. There are people out there, too many poor souls no doubt, that have to manage all of this on their own. No one should have to do that, while trying to recover from surgery and get stronger.

The trepidation behind the tests are two-fold. Not only is there fear and anxiety of taking so many tests, but there is the fear of the results of the tests.

All a caregiver can do is to try to be a supportive secretary, by setting the appointments, helping to navigate the logistics and offering moral support.

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Losing confidence as you grow older

One of the earlier signs of dementia is when a person loses the ability to do tasks that were very simple for them before. For Dad, this included things like ordering at a fast food restaurant or making correct change at the grocery store. He would accuse the clerks of trying to rip him off, when handing them a $10 bill for something that cost $15.

Mom doesn’t have dementia (that we know of) but she has been through a major surgery and has had anesthesia for three different procedures. She’s also been away from the routine of her life for two months. Today she wanted to order Pizza Hut and have it delivered to the home, something she had done dozens of times over the last few years. Today she waffled, almost wanting to give up at the thought of the task. I gently pushed her and she ended up doing just fine placing her order, even remembering a tip. 🙂

She also was not happy with the cordless phone I bought. (Her old phone was dead.) I thought it would be safer for her, so she wouldn’t try to move too fast to answer the phone and fall. But instead she thought it was too high-tech. We compromised. I ordered her one of those old-fashioned desk phones for her bedroom and we will place the cordless phone in the kitchen, so if she’s in there and the phone rings, she can answer it easily without having to run through the house.

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be older to have these moments of uncertainty. I’ve also been away from the routine of my life for two months now, and have nightmares about forgetting the code to my home’s security system!

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