Archive for September, 2009

Plan Short, Interactive Activities For You and Your Alzheimer’s Loved One

Hanging out with someone who has Alzheimer’s is a lot like enjoying the company of a 2-year-old. Don’t get upset with them just because they have a 2 minute attention span–work with it. I used to plan 2-3 things for my mom and I to do together, but I had to stay on my toes. Caregiving requires creativity and ingenuity.

What You Can Do With Your Caregiving Buddy:

  • People watch–this is fun at the doctor’s office, on a park bench, and especially at the airport. I used to make up stories about what they were doing, who they were, and where they were going. I’d comment on their red handbag, their dog sticking out of their purse, or imagine they were flying to Paris to meet the President and his model-wife.
  • Enjoy a magazine together. Just look at the pictures, point out a few words, say what you’d buy and what you wouldn’t.
  • Pick up an old movie star book from a used bookstore. My mom really enjoyed photographs of movie starts from her era–Mary Pickford, Clark Gable, and Shirley Temple. We’d look at the pictures and make little comments about their hair–it was fun just to see her face light up in recognition.
  • Does your loved one like gardens, birds, vintage cars, or stamps? If they liked something before getting Alzheimer’s, chances are they still like it. Go to a home and garden show, sit outside with a pair of binoculars, or go to a Vintage car show. Even if you’re there ten minutes, isn’t ten minutes of making someone you love happy worth it.
  • Shell peas together, decorate cookies, paint your mom’s toenails, or clean out the junk draw together–small motor skills are important.

Doing things together is comforting and it’s great for your brain and relationship. Don’t get hung up on the fact that you’re lucky to get five minutes before their mind (or body) starts to wander. Ironically, Alzheimer’s holds some unexpected insights. It teaches us to live one moment at a time.

September 29, 2009 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

Five Signs of Caregiver Stress: Are You in Danger?

Caregiver stress is very real problem. When we ask our bodies and our emotions to carry the weight (sometimes physically as well as metaphorically) of caring for another person, we literally tax all of our systems. If you’ve been caregiving for several years, you are wearing down your immune system, and unless you find ways to refuel, you’ll run out of gas.

It’s amazing how good we are to our cars–and not ourselves. We may run our car down to the “E” for empty, but we know that if we run out of gas on the side of the road, there are consequences, so we avoid them and put gas int he car. How can we not think that same principle applies to us? How can we go without sleep, stuff our faces with low-nutrient food, take no time to walk or meet friends or plan financially for our own futures–and somehow we expect to live like this? Without consequences?

Five Signs of Caregiver Stress:

  • Sleep issues–insomnia, falling asleep within minutes of sitting down, sleeping as a form of escape
  • Inability to think straight–forgetting things in mid-sentence, can’t follow a conversation, difficulty comprehending what you could before. This is your brain throwing out warning signs–listen to them.
  • Little accidents–giving the wrong dose of medication, forgetting where you’re driving, zoning out, fender benders
  • Inability to control your emotions–tears, outbursts, uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate moments–or an inability to feel anything at all, no matter how serious. Don’t rule out depression–when we feel we have no choice, we implode.
  • Starting to show physical signs–high blood pressure, a new diagnosis–an ulcer, a respiratory problem (asthma, bronchitis), arthritis and other inflammatory based illnesses. Your body is trying to tell you something

These warning signs are the equivalent of your car knocking, sputtering, and breaking down on the side of the road. You can ignore a few signs for a period of time, but after while, the car simply won’t run.

Why not take care of yourself better than you take care of your car? Cars are replaceable.

 Your health (and your life) isn’t.

September 25, 2009 at 4:12 pm 2 comments

Are You Uncomfortable Around Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s? 3 Tips to Help

Most of us hear the word, “Alzheimer’s” and cringe. We don’t know what to say or do or how to act around someone who has “memory slippage.” My mom had Alzheimer’s and I would watch people’s hesitate when speaking to her. They would try not to talk about current events or try to be “overly nice,” when the best thing to do was for them to just act natural. All the games and activities in the world isn’t as meaningful or does as much for the brain than a simple conversation.

At first, i was a little afraid of Alzheimer’s myself. Was my mom going to say something off the wall? Would she get angry in an instant? Lash out? Become confused? Maybe, but even if she did, I learned that it was okay.

Like most stereotypes, we assume things about Alzheimer’s that may or may not be true, and then we take them to the worst-case scenario. We let our fears and assumptions run wild, and then it paralyzes us–or we avoid the very people we love–and who need us.

It may sound crazy, but two things I’m not afraid of getting is Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Why? Because I’ve seen both diseases up close and personal. I can “do” these diseases. I know that it’s not all bad. I know that with a good attitude, lots of help, the right meds, it’s manageable for the most part. That’s not me being Pollyanna either–I’ve seen the dark side, trust me. But at least I know something about Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and that makes it less scary.

3 Tips to Help Reach Out to Someone with Alzheimer’s:

  • Do take a little thought as to how to approach someone with Alzheimer’s. They can get startled easily. Avoid approaching them from behind or to the side since many elders have vision issues. Realize that some people don’t like to be touched, so take it easy if you don’t know them well. If they like it, then be sure to include a hug or pat on the arm or hand, but get to know them first.
  • Ask questions that give a choice. Do you like cake or pie? Even if they don’t answer, it leads into a conversion. “I prefer pie. I really like Pecan Pie–my mother used to make the best.” This gives them a chance to respond. Be sure to compliment them, ask their opinion about something. Most us like to people watch–so if you’re out shopping or to dinner, use the time to talk about what’s going on around you.
  • Be willing to listen to them for a while. Elders are like young children–you really can’t rush them. This is a good thing! Just forget about what all you have to do and simply relax. It’s nice to spend a half hour just sitting beside someone and enjoying the afternoon. Don’t feel the need to fill up every minute with talk.

Most of what scares us is the unknown. You may have to talk yourself into spending time with someone who has Alzheimer’s, and at first, you may be a bit uncomfortable–but over time, you’ll realize that spending time with someone who needs your company can be a pleasure and a priviledge.

September 22, 2009 at 8:28 pm Leave a comment

How to Deal with a Grumpy Parent or Spouse

Does aging make a person fussy and negative? Or does having a chronic disease turn a person into sour grapes? One of the biggest headaches is caregiving someone who’s in a bad mood–almost all the time. As a caregiver, how do you keep things positive so that you don’t fall down in the dumps with the one you’re caring for?

Those were some of the questions I asked when I was caring for my mom. She had Parkinson’s, heart disease, and then developed Alzheimer’s and there were days where I dreaded saying “Good Morning,” because to my mom, nothing was good about it.

What I do know is that being grumpy doesn’t naturally come with old(er) age. There are some really up-beat life is sunny-side-up personalities out there celebrating their 90’s and beyond. It’s not that life hasn’t handed them their fair share of difficulties, it has, but they just seem to keep on smiling and look for something to be cheerful about.

But it is true, that if you don’t start working on having a good attitude now, it probably isn’t going to come easy later in life. Happiness is in part, habit.

Ways to Cope with “Grumpy” (and I’m not talking about an adorable dwarf who helped Snow White find her Prince!)

  • Separate your emotions from theirs. It’s healthier to decide that you’re going to have a good day no matter what life throws at you–and to love your care buddy but not fall down the dark hole of gloom after them.
  • Really listen. Sometimes it just takes five minutes to sit down and look them in the eye so they feel heard. Tell them you’re sorry they’re in pain and you’re doing all you can to eleviate that pain. Hug them, pat their hand, really listen–but then know that you have to chart the course for the day.
  • Consider that some medications make it harder to handle your emotions, and it really is difficult to be in a good mood if you’re in constant pain. Do all you can to make sure their physical condition is properly diagnosed. Something as simple as a low-grade UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) can greatly alter a person’s mood–and it’s a simple to fix as a round of antibiotics.
  • Decide that you’re in charge. You have to be. It’s best that you are. You don’t have to act like “Miss Bossy,” but that quiet air of confidence and firm structure you give their day actually settles their anxiety.
  • Use humor everywhere you can. Life can really throw us some miserable curve balls and the only defense we have is to laugh. Make a joke about the difficult nurse who wouldn’t hear you out. Figure out a great come-back line for the insurance agent who tried to get snippy with you. Being snarky is a form is self-defense and it helps to get a big miffed and make a sarcastic joke–it’s better than crying or giving up–so learn to laugh at the absurdities that come with caregiving.
  • Ignore the grumpiness but not the person. Sometimes you have to let your loved one know that you can’t reward their fussiness. After a while, they just may give up this attention seeking behavior.
  • Maybe you’re the fussy one. Take a hard look at your own thoughts and words. Have you fallen into some bad habits as well?
  • Realize that some of it is just being said for drama’s sake. My mom used to tell everyone “Look at what all I gave up to move in with my daughter.” Now if that isn’t drama, I don’t know what is! I just smiled and let her have her drama moment.
  • If things get ugly, walk out of the room. They may wonder what you’re doing, but tell them you’ll come back in when you can be spoken to in a decent and pleasant manner. Do this a few times and they’ll get your point. But do realize that if they have some form of dementia, nothing’s going to stick.
  • Take a break. Take a ten minute walk a day, maybe a couple of times a day. If you can run errands alone, don’t rush back–stop by the library and pick up some books of DVD. Go by a fast food place and grab lunch–and then take it to the park. Little breaks can relieve big stress. It’s tough being with someone, anyone 24/7. You’re bound to get on each other’s nerves. Let them miss you a bit. Be sure to find a neighbor or sitter if your elder really shouldn’t be left alone. Budget in a few extra dollars a week and get out a bit.
  • Decide how your day’s going to go before you open your bedroom door. Give yourself a few extra minutes alone in the morning. I actually bought a small coffee pot I kept in my master bath and I’d make myself a cup of coffee before I left the sanctuary of my room. I’d spend the first half hour of my day with my journal, my coffee, and a few stretches. My mom didn’t miss me or demand me (yet) and that private time gave me a chance to give the first part of the day to myself–and to formulate a game-plan for dealing with anything I’d have to face.
  • While I’m not a big proponent of mood altering medications, never say never. If you–or your loved one–is suffering from depression, a hole they can’t get out of without help, then investigate your options. There are supplements, prescription meds, therapists, and other ways to deal with depression and anxiety. Caregiving is tough, and so is dealing with the fact that your body is failing you and life isn’t going the way  you planned. If you need help, ask for it and get help.

You might not be able to turn Mr. Grumpy into Mr. Happy, but you can set the mood and decide to do all you can to care for yourself. After all, the only person you can really help, is you.

September 19, 2009 at 9:59 pm 5 comments

Let’s Keep Our Elders Brain Sharp: Enter a Contest for Caregivers

I’ve met some sharp elders these past few years–and what always grabs me is how engaged they are. Some are up on their politics, some are really into bird-watching, and others have the most amazing sense of humor and quippy come-backs. What keeps them so active? These elders and their caregivers are a team. They enjoy each other’s company, and their care partner finds ways to help their elders lives vibrant and diverse.

How can you help keep your elder sharp and active?

Why not share your story? 

Dakim Inc. and  AlzheimersWeekly.com are celebrating Thanksgiving and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month by giving five individuals 65 or older an opportunity receive a $2,500 Dakim BrainFitness System free of charge, and that includes a year’s worth of activity updates.

What do you have to do? It’s simple. Write an essay–just one or two pages long. Start by sharing what you’re thankful for and why your care buddy deserves a helping hand when it comes to staying brain sharp and brain smart

Dakim’s even made it easy for you. Just type your entry online or download an entry form which you can print and mail in.

The good news is that there will be five winners! Click here for guidelines. Entry deadline is November 5, 2009.

Got questions?:

What is Dakim BrainFitness and how will it help your parent or loved one?

Dakim BrainFitness is the first product designed specifically to help seniors preserve their brain health. It’s based on 20 years of research and is the most widely adopted product of its kind and is used in senior living communities across the country. 

What’s a Dakim Brainfitness unit look like? A lot like a computer, but it’s a lot easier to operate. 

Each laptop-sized Dakim unit comes pre-loaded with entertaining multimedia brain games with the look and feel of a TV game show. My dad loved game shows (I can remember him yelling out the prices during the Price is Right). Answers are given simply by touching the screen, with no keyboard or mouse required. It’s easy to use and isn’t intimidating if you’re not computer savvy.

The system offers different activities  and it’s designed for to help users at the level they’re at–whether you or your care buddy has normal brain function or is already experiencing moderate dementia. It even self-adjusts based on the user’s performance.  You’ll be able to enjoy 20-minute activity sessions and will automatically update online every few days–so you won’t even repeat the same exercise over and over. 

As a caregiver, you’ll be able to enjoy these activities as well. Goodness knows, caregivers can use a little brain exercise–and the interaction and skill levels will encourage you to improve at your own pace. 

So get busy writing that essay–your brain will appreciate the challenge, and who doesn’t like winning something?

Be sure to tell your caregiving friends about this exciting contest. For more information visit: Alzheimer’s Weekly.

September 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

Stuck Between Caregiver Regret and Worry?

Caregivers are particularly vulnerable to regret and worry.

I wasn’t exempt. My mom wanted me to fuss over her–and worry that I didn’t do it right. She was an “old school” mom who thought that the only way to get anybody to do what you wanted them to do was to make them feel bad about it. I fell into regret and worry and found myself stewing my days (and nights) away and not really being present.

My list of regrets:

  • I wasn’t kind enough
  • I didn’t do enough to meet her needs
  • I lost my temper

My list of worries:

  • How long could I care for my mom–and what would happen to her then?
  • What if she falls and I’m not there?
  • Will I be there when she dies? Do I want to be?

The lists are much, much longer, but you get my drift.

What’s got you in a tizzy? What plays over and over in your head late in the night?

One thing I know is that living in worry or regret isn’t fully living in the now–and life is a series of  nows–and it’s all we’ve got.

The truth about regret and worry is that it doesn’t make you better caregiver. It eats away at your brain and your heart and leaves you immobilized. It can even effect your health and is a major component to caregiver stress overload.

But I couldn’t just stop worrying. It wasn’t easy to just turn off all those thoughts–and insomnia was starting to enter the picture. I was missing a lot of sleep because of these two culprits! 

So I began to look at what regret really is. Regret is based in the past. It’s the I “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”  that swarm around your head like angry bees. The fact is, I can’t change the past. I can only learn from it.

Worry is future-based. I found that I was taking what happened in the past and projecting it into the future. If mom fell yesterday, it was likely she’d fall tomorrow–maybe even break a hip. Then what would I do? I played out the whole scenario–from calling 9-11 to the ER to hip replacement and months of rehab. Isn’t that ridiculous? My mom never broke her hip–so all that worry was in vain.

As hard as it is, begin to notice when you’re in regret or worry mode. Notice what’s got you so upset. Is there anything can you do about it? One small change? One phone call or Internet search that will at least llead you closer to your solution? 

I actually did the old rubber band trick–if I caught myself fretting, I’d give myself a good whap.

Nothing like a stinging reminder to break a bad habit, but the real reward was feeling lighter and free-er by getting off the guilt train.

September 13, 2009 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

Caregiving at Home? Seven Tips to Beat Loneliness and Monotony

I spent close to three years caring for my mom–at home–alone. 

Most days, it was just her and I. I’d sip on my coffee and watch my daughters head off to school and after-school jobs, and I’d watch my husband dress for work. He’d kiss me goodbye and I wanted to cry–or scream, “Take me with you!” Caregiving can be lonely.

I’d look over at my mom sitting beside me at the kitchen table, both of us still in our house robes, and at times, I wished I could be a thousand other places. It’s a quiet, necessary job. It’s not even fair to call it a job when you’re caring for a dear loved one, but aspects of it are job-like.  Day-after=day, I’d count pills, wash sheets, answer the same questions (my mom had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), and it felt as if we were getting nowhere fast.

How do you handle the isolation and monotony?

By first remember why you’re caregiving. You’re caregiving someone you love. Your’e caregiving because they need you–you’re their advocate. The why of caregiving is important. It’s your anchor, and no matter how crazy-stormy-angry-lost you may feel at times, remembering the why will guide you.

Seven Tips to Avoid Caregiver Isolation and Monotony:

  • Find or start a caregiving co-op. Trust me, you’re not the only at-home caregiver in your area. I bet there are a handful within a ten-mile radius of your home. Go to a caregiver meeting (check your senior community center, or your local elder-care association or Meet-Ups.com to find other caregiving families in your area. Why not have a one-day a week care-share day? Invite another care family over for lunch. The two of you can chat while the two care-buddies hang out. Depending on how things go, you may find that the two of your could swap and give each other a few hours off here and there. 
  • Take an online class. Do you know there’s everything from cooking lessons to guitar or foreign language lessons online? Even YouTube.com offers mini-lessons for free. You can learn how to knit, how to write a memoir, how to draw, how to change the oil in your car–all online. Learning keeps your brain active and gives you something to look forward to. Those neurons will be popping like popcorn with the joy of learning.
  •  Join an online forum. It could be one on AARP (their forums are great), or on Alz.org (Alzheimer’s Association), but don’t limit it to caregiving. You’re so much more–join a group on Gather.com. Even an online game can be a fun break from caregiving chores. You don’t have to leave home to make a friend.
  • Don’t do the same things the same way. Take a different route home from the grocery store of the doctor’s office. Take an extra ten minutes for a nice drive. Turn down a road you’ ve never been on. Get lost. Your brain loves the stimulation and likes to problem solve. Don’t worry–you’ll find your way back, and who knows what you might discover just a few streets over. Do one thing different a day–brush your teeth with your less dominant hand, color your head red instead of its usual brown. Try cooking couscous instead of rice with dinner. Your brain will thank you, and you might even find something new that you really like.
  • Exploring doesn’t have to involve a passport. Explore your own home and yard. Most of us have at least a dozen unfinished projects. Now’s the time, so finish that baby scrapbook of your granddaughter’s, or refinish that old desk of your mom’s. Sure, it may take six months because you can only spare a few minutes a day, but it’s a pleasant diversion and you may find out that you like it.
  • Consider starting a home-based business. Start a website or join one that’s already active. Etsy.com is a place you can all kinds of art–from knitted hats to pottery to paintings to jewelry. Many caregivers have found that their caregiving years allowed them to discover new interests and new business opportunities. Even ten minutes a day adds up.

Yes, it takes effort, and you feel like a zombie most days. I hope you’ll push yourself a bit because the pay-off is tremendous. Just because you’re home–a lot–doesn’t mean that there are amazing opportunities and friendships to be found. Get out of your old habits, peek your head out of your rabbit hole and see what interests you.

September 9, 2009 at 6:31 pm 2 comments

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Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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