Archive for September, 2009

Stressed Out Caregiver? Laugh, Cry and Scream Your Way to Wellness

As a caregiver, there’s so much you can’t control–and so much you can’t make better. People often ask me what was the most difficult part of caring for my mom (my mother had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) It wasn’t the long hours, the interrupted sleep, the physical strains of lifting and moving her…it was that I couldn’t make it better.

I was powerless to stop the corrosion of Alzheimer’s.

That’s what I realized was the seed of my frustration, but layered on top of that was the daily frustrations and aggravations that ranged from feeling like a mosquito driving you crazy in the middle of the night to having your eyes pecked out by vultures!

My mother may have had lost her cognitive abilities to Alzheimer’s and her agility and walking to Parkinson’s, but she didn’t lose her uncanny skill to aggravate the plum fool out of me! She could still come back with a put-down with laser accuracy–and to this day, I believe that some of her antics were on purpose and meant to get my goat.

On top of all this, add the frustrations of dealing with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, home health services, the check-out girl at the grocery store, your brother who won’t lift a finger to help…and yeah…your eye’s probably twitching by now.

What’s a caregiver to do?

Let it out! Stress is dangerous when it’s held inside. You have to get over your be a “nice girl/good boy” upbringing and start telling it like it is!

Five Ways to De-Stress Fast:

  • Ask yourself: Do you feel like laughing (insanely) Crying (okay, sobbing), or screaming (like a banchee, maybe in the privacy of your car). Do whichever feels best–for you–right now.
  • Tell someone the truth. Caregiving freed me to confront someone who was not treating me or my mother properly. I was too tired and too impatient to put up with being disrespected. You don’t have to curse at them, or yell, but sometimes people need to know how they’re treating others. It’s so freeing to finally say what’s on your mind!
  • Break something, slam a door, hit a pillow with a baseball bat. Life is unfair, it’s hard, and we offer ourselves no physical relief. No wonder we turn to prescription drugs and alcohol just to allow ourselves to unwind. Slamming a door is much healthier than swallowing a pill.
  • Make sure you aim your emotions at the disease and not at the person you love. Yes, they can really get on your last nerve, but you two are a team–so don’t fire those flaming arrows at each other.
  • Encourage your care buddy to get mad, too! Have a “We hate Alzheimer’s day!” Make a list of all the sucky things you don’t like about the disease and your life right now. Throw some old cups against an outside wall of your house. Take turns blasting your car horn. After a while, anger offers release and laughter follows.

Don’t be afraid of your emotinos. You’re doing a lot right now–caring for others is a big deal–on your heart and your head. Laughing, crying, and screaming is emotionally cleansing. Remember what it feels like after a good cry? Or a good scream? It feels like you’re 20 pounds lighter and you’re breathing pure mint. Go ahead, give yourself permission.

September 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm 2 comments

My Mom Gets Confused, How Do I Help Her?

One of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s often goes undetected, denied, and ignored. It’s confusion. We make excuses for why Mom fed the cat Cheerios. We make excuses why Dad bought three gallons of milk and then put all three in three in the laundry cabinet and not the frig. We tell ourselves that our husband just got distracted and that’s why he drove to the old house where we lived 15 years ago.

Confusion starts out as a tap on our shoulder. “Pay attention,” it whispers. Then, if we don’t pay attention, confusion gets louder.

We forget things as we age, right? Everyone gets confused at times.

I tried to “cut my mom some slack”  as I called it. She so wanted to live in her own home and I had tried so hard to arrange everything from her food to her transportation needs…but I worried. A lot.

Confusion can be due to medication side effects, and confusion can simply be mild dementia, or it can be a sign of stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, or other issues.

You might not be able to cure your loved one’s confusion, but if you see it as a clue to help lead you to diagnosis, then confusion can be a good thing.

I finally caught on and shared with my mother’s neurologist about her growing confusion. She had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but her doctor took her new symptom quite serious and did further testing and readjusted her medication.

Practical Ways to Help Your Loved One with Confusion:

  • Try not to confront them. It’s scary to be confused. Your mom or dad (or spouse) may be afraid to share what’s really going on because you have the “power” to take away their independence. So coming at them head on will only cause them to cover up what’s going on.
  • Don’t argue the point. If they believe that they fed the cat, but you don’t think they did, then quietly feed the cat a “snack.”
  • Keep their safety in the forefront of your mind–and decisions. Ask yourself: is my mom safe to drive? Safe to live alone? Safe to shower or bathe when I’m not here? Safe to manage his/her medications? Safe to feed themselves reguarlfy? If you’re not sure about any of these questions, then start paying close attention.
  • Drop in at odd times, or even follow them in your car. If your loved one is still living alone, do a little spying and follow them to the grocery store and see how they park, whether they pay attention to the cars as they cross the street, or if they leave their purse unguarded in the cart for minutes at a time.
  • Make decisions about change (driving, living arrangements) after much thought. It’s so easy to panic and rip the car keys out of their hands or start calling assisted living homes. Do some research and think it through. Where should your mom/dad live? With you? Near you? What’s best for them–and for you? Take a bit of time to prepare and then prepare them with kindness and patience.
  • Be patient. Confusion doesn’t always go away. If you let it get to you, you’re in for a long road. You don’t have to be right, and they don’t have to be wrong.
  • Grieve what’s gone. It’s quite an adjustment to realize that your loved one has  lost some of their cognitive abilities. It effects your life and at first, you’re reeling with questions, concerns, and trying to figure out how to manage not only your chaotic life, but now your parents/loved one’s issues as well. It’s okay to be sad and scared. Consider calling a dear friend and pouring your heart out–or joining a caregiving support group. There’s something comforting in knowing youre not alone.

After time, you’ll see that initial stage of confusion as a blessing. It will lead you to ways to help your loved one get better care. Sometimes (oftentimes) their confusions are fodder for great stories and laughs. You’ll have a few tiffs and few tears, and hopefully some hugs and smiles all along the way.

September 2, 2009 at 11:25 pm 1 comment

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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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