Archive for January, 2010

Learning to Live Together…Again: 5 Tips for Caregiving Family Style

In 2000, the Census said that 3.9 million Americans lived in a mult-gen household. New statistics now have that number in 2009 at 6 million–and the fastest growing trend is that adult children are moving back into their parent’s home fueled by the recent economic dip. Caregiving family style has seen a huge surge. Why? Because it makes sense. Most of us, (80% according to the National Family Caregiving Alliance) would like to stay in our own homes and age in place for as long as possible. When that’s no longer possible, many people would rather bring their elders into their homes, or move in with them as opposed to placing them in a care facility.

Learning to live together again comes with its own challenges:

I’m afraid my mom will try to take over.

My dad likes to order everyone around–that’s going to get on my nerves when it’s in my home.

Will my parent respect my privacy?

Will I be “on call” 24/7? When will I get a break?

Remember the old westerns when a bunch of runaway cows charge through town and are virtually unstoppable? That’s what it’ll be like if you don’t take the time now to put up some fences beforehand. Our fears can overwhelm us.

Ask yourself what are your biggest concerns? Plan now. Be open and honest and talk about t before you start packing boxes. Starting off with healthy boundaries is easier than trying to put them in place once there’s been a stampede.

5 Tips to Ease into Living Together…Again:

  • Hold back a little during the honeymoon phase. It’s easy to be all sentimental in the beginning and watch TV side-by-side every single night, and spend every waking minute together. The problem is, once your loved one gets used to the “gold star treatment,” they might expect you do it from now on. What happens when  you want to go out for dinner with a friend, or just feel like curling up in the bed with a new book? Yes, there will be times when they are bored and lonely, and you can’t always be their entertainment committee.
  • Continue to do things for yourself and with others. Sign up for a continuing ed class. Join the church or community choir. Go to the gym or take ballroom dance lessons. While you can, go out at least one week night. Why? Because there will come a day when you can’t. There are seasons of caregiving, and giving your elder a chance to be alone, and be okay with it, is important. You need to be something other than a caregiver–so stay as active as you can.
  • Every one needs to have “alone time.” Go to your room an hour before you go to sleep.  Read, watch tv, do some yoga, create a nightly health routine. In the morning–same thing. Don’t rush out to start your day. We teach people how to treat us, so teach everyone in your family to respect each other’s privacy. Declutter your bedroom, paint one wall a warm color and get a new bedspread. Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Do the same for your elder’s room. Show them by example how to be alone and be content.
  • Expect a few squabbles and hurt feelings. They come–they go, but know th families are resilient. Yes, at times you’re going to get on each other’s nerves. Say your peace, then kiss and make up. You need each other. Choose to focus on the good and let the bad slip away.
  • Get additional help: take advantage of your community’s resources–they’ re there–for you! Call your local adult day-care center and see if your elder would like to go and be with people their own age one day a week. They go shopping, to movies, get mani’s and pedi’s, and get to make new friends. Even if they’re shy or don’t think they’ll like it, urge them to try it a few weeks. While you’re there, ask about other services in the community such as van or shuttle services, senior trips, free or low-cost home sitters, and respite care. Remember: you’re the team captain, so gather your team so you can pace yourself.

By starting off on the right note, having things to do other than caregiving,, respecting each other’s privacy, creating a team of care, and learning to let go of life’s little hurts, it’s actually possible to live together…again..and even enjoy it!

January 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm Leave a comment

Before You Talk to Your Elder Parent About Driving

We’ve all heard the news stories–an elder man drives into a crowded restaurant, an elder woman hits a pedestrian. It’s scary to even think about. That’s why we caregivers and family members put it off. We know our elders will be defensive. We know they’ll say they’ve been driving for 50 years–that you’re just trying to shove them into an “old folk’s home.” So before you talk to your elder parent about driving, do your homework, and help to make this monumental life change as easy as possible.

3 Tips to Consider Before You Talk to Your Elder About Driving:

  • Check into your parent’s state driving laws. Check their license to see when it expires. Many elders forget or avoid renewing their license. et them drive while you’re visitng. Be aware of their vision, reflexes, and memory issues. Go with them to renew their license. Let “the state” be the bad guy. If their eyesight is failing, they won’t qualify. Many states have elders perform a driving test, so check to see what the requirements are in your area. If they fail the test, remind them they can get an ID. It makes them feel official and is issued there, at the driver’s bureau.
  • Talk with their doctors about your concerns. For example, my mother had Parkinson’s and I knew that she couldn’t turn the wheel quickly or slam on the brakes in the event of an emergency. I called and spoke to her neurologist before I took her to an appointment for her check-up. He broke the news to her–that based on his assessment, it was time to give up driving. He told her to blame it on the disease, get mad at the disease–not me, her daughter, and not herself for “failing,” or not him–for delivering the less than pleasant news. Because I was there, she couldn’t fib to me or forget to tell me. It opened the door for a heart to heart talk.
  • Research driving alternatives before you have “the talk.” Taxis, senior vans, neighbors, church members, and other family members can all pitch in–so have the “team” in place. Be prepared for the myriad of emotions you–and your elder will feel. It felt like I was taking my mother’s license from her. I didn’t need to feel that way, her condition was, but I did feel that it was my responsibility to explore her options and arrange for alternative transportation. I called her church and arranged drivers for the activities she wanted to attend. They were glad to help out. I took on the weekly errands and doctor visits. I asked her close friends to be sure to invite her to lunch and other fun events often–and to be willing to pick her up. I checked with local resources for van transportation, but my mother refused to “get on the bus.” I wish I had insisted. The freedom she had, the less she would resent her situation.

You might have to be the bad guy in all this. If your elder gets mad at you–sees you as the reason they can’t drive–let them. I used to tell my teens that it was okay to blame their mean/strict mom for their curfew, or to get them out of a bad situation.

If your parent is really stubborn and will drive without a license and you feel that they’re a danger to themselves and others, then take the car. I know that sounds strong, but I know elders who call mechanics, get keys made and stubbornly drive when they’re clearly unable to manage–and their lives and the lives are others are in peril.

The driving talk is the first of many elder transitions. it can be stressful on everyone. Prepare for this big talk. Stay calm. Stick to what you know is right–safety first. Know up front that you’ll have to step up, find solutions, and that they probably won’t like it. Just keep reminding yourself that you’re doing this because you love them–because you care.

January 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm Leave a comment

Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Act So Mean?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m lost, scared, and am in unfamiliar surroundings, I tend to get a little mean myself. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this state of fear and agitation never really stops. Even if they remember who you are, who they are, and where they are…five minutes from now they may lose it. One of the best things we can do as caregivers is to lovingly detach from their tangled emotions and not take what they say or do personal.

 Easier said than done. 

Alzheimer’s can cause the areas of the brain that house our emotions to go haywire–so those feelings of mania, anger, and anxiety are all lit up even where there hasn’t been a trigger such as an event to cause such feelings. Understanding why our spouses or parents are “acting mean” can help us  realize that they can’t remember what we said five minutes ago, they can’t necessarily control their unpredictable and unstable  emotions, and they can’t always feel love or connection with us.  Also know that drug interactions can aggravate behavior and increase feelings of paranoia–so mention any changes to your loved one’s doctor.

I grieved when I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s. I grieved when I finally hit that wall and knew she didn’t know me, didn’t feel anything for me. It felt so cold. So lonely. And yet I had to keep on keeping on, as the saying goes. I had to do intimate things for her–change her clothes, bathe her, brush her hair–and yet to her–I was a “nobody.”

 Finally, I turned the corner. I chose to remember for the two of us. Her “mean” behavior didn’t throw me near as much. I would be our anchor. I would love when she couldn’t. I would show kindness and patience when she couldn’t.

 Yes, there are neurological explanations for Alzheimer’s behavior, but the bottom line is that we, the daughters, sons, spouses, friends, and caregivers have to dig deep–and choose to go on, to love, to act with maturity and grace–regardless.

January 22, 2010 at 6:13 pm 6 comments

Long Distance Caregiving: Bridge the Gap with Technology

Staying in touch with Mom and Dad has never been easier. Long distance caregiving certainly has its worries and frustrations–but that gap can be bridged with technology. Cell phones, web cams, online searches for resources, home monitoring systems, online care management, and coordinating community resources can buy your parents years of aging in place and enjoying the comforts of their own home.

Five Technologies that Bridge the Long Distance Caregiving Gap:

  • Easy to use cell phones: Check out Jitterbug, Clarity Life…many cell phone companies offer less complicated phones with big buttons and easy-to-see screens. There are quite a few personal alert systems for seniors, but remember that many illnesses can impair a person’s ability to remember to press the call button–a spike in blood sugars, stroke, or dementia/Alzheimer’s can impede your loved one’s ability to reach out for help. Some services also call your family members once or twice a day to assess how they’re doing.
  • Web cams: There’s nothing like seeing that your parents are doing well. This may be more suited for seniors more than elders who are not computer proficient. You need a computer for this–and it may rely on your loved one’s ability to operate a computer, but you can set it up when you’re in town. Consider using Skype. It’s quite easy and it case save you a bundle on long-distance. Warning: the picture isn’t always clear and there’s some lag time, but it really does make you feel closer to see your loved one and talk to them at the same time.  There’s even a Center for Aging Service Technologies that keep abreast of how we can best care for our elders.
  • Monistor care online: Geriatric care management companies can actually save you money! I know of too many families hopping planes at the last-minute and getting to their parents to find that it’s not an emergency. A geriatric care manager does just that–manages the situation for you. They can coördinate care, monitor the situation, and give you peace of mind. And…what’s great is that there are now online versions such as where you and your siblings can log in and help manage your parent’s care with their team of professionals.  
  • Home upgrades for aging safety: It might not be technology per se, but making sure your parent’s home is easy and safe to live in.  It’ll give you the peace of mind that they’re not going to fall down the stairs, or slip in the tub.
  • Get yourself online caregiving education: This time the technology is for you! Caregiver resources, information, and support is as easy as a Google search. Visit Aging in Place for more ideas about how to help your parents continue to live at home, or go to the Alzheimer’s Association forum boards for emotional support and caregiver questions, or AARP’s extensive website for great aging info. The more you educate yourself, the easier caregiving gets.

One of the best things my mother ever did was to insist that I call her every day–and visit her once a week. The were “the rules.” Now, I look back and realize that they were good rules. They kept us close, they kept my mother’s care consistent–and in time–she needed much more than a phone call. Caregiving usually builds–but that time your parent gets to live at home for just a little bit longer, is worth the effort.

January 21, 2010 at 12:16 am Leave a comment

3 Tips To Get the Sibling Caregiving Help You Need

Do you wish your sibling would help out with caregiving your parents?

 Do you feel like you’re all alone–with way too much to do?

Do you wish you could share the ups and downs of caring for your parents? It’s frustrating–and disappointing when our siblings don’t pitch in, but sadly, most families have a “designated” caregiver who seems to take on the brunt of the caregiving workload.

Three Tips to Get the Sibling Caregiving Help You Need:

  1. Assign a caregiving chore. Be specific. Many sibs just don’t know where to start. They feel overwhelmed and maybe even a little intimated. Ask them to champion over one area–and something that’s repeated. Ask them to take your mom to get her hair done every other week, or ask them to pick up all the prescriptions once a month and bring them home and put them in daily containers, or ask them to dad-sit once a week and play Scrabble or rent videos so that they’re actually creating a relationship side as well as giving you a break.
  2.  Find something they’re good at–and capitalize on that. Is your sibling an accountant? A banker? Ask them to help you with the financial side of caregiving (including all the medical and insurance). Don’t just hand it over, but work together so that you know what’s going on–and so do they.  What if your sib is a great cook or does she know a good caterer? Ask if they’ll freeze you two meals a week. They can do that from home but it still helps you out. Everyone is good at something–and when you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work or an imposition. Be sure to thank them–even make a big deal. Nothing is better than positive reinforcement.
  3. Do things together. If your sibling is uncomfortable with caregiving, why not do things together? Ask them to come to a doctor’s appointment with you and your mom–and then go out to lunch together. Or ask them to come over and help you rearrange your parent’s room for better flow–and install a few handrails. Put on music the two of your enjoyed in your youth and bash out this rather big project in just a few hours. Let go of what you’re not getting, and begin to appreciate your family right where they are. Even one small change is significant.

Bonus Tip: Instead of focusing on caregiving chores, focus on building (or rebuilding) your relationship. As much as you think you need help, what you need more–is connection. Just having a sibling to call–someone to cry with, laugh with, work life out with–is infinitely more valuable and satisfying.

January 15, 2010 at 5:41 pm Leave a comment

Caregiver, Have You Got the Winter Blues? Five Tips to Beat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

It’s January and just about the entire country has experienced bitter temps. That means most caregivers and their loved ones tend to stay inside and hunker down. They’re trying to stay warm, avoid falls, and not kill each other. Let’s face it, that’s a whole lotta togetherness. On top of that, there’s SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It’s real, and if you’re dragging, can’t sleep, or sleeping too much, achy, weepy and apathetic, you may have what many people call “the winter blues.”

According to Mayo Clinic SAD is:

“A type of depression that occurs at the same time every year…your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.”

It a lot to do with the amount of light and Vitamin D you’re getting–which in the winter is a whole lot less.

Five Tips to Beat SAD and Jump-Start Your Brain and Body:

Move! I know you’re cold, but doing some gentle stretches, yoga (you can buy a DVD or even go online and find a video), walk vigorously around your house, get a start on your spring cleaning, or dance to music are easy ways to get those muscles warm right at home. The warmest I feel all day is after a 20 minute walk on my treadmill.

Get outside. Even if you have to hire respite care (many areas have volunteers so check with your elder resources and ask) it’s worth the effort to go to the library, have coffee with a friend, and do some light shopping. You need to get out. There’s no need to hide for 3 whole months a year.

Up your Vitamin D and C dosage and eat your fruits and veggies. It’s easy to carbo-load in the winter (pasta, potatoes, etc.) but that not only packs on pounds, it also makes you sleepy. Try to never have a carb without a protein–even a few nuts helps to create balance.

Consider light therapy. It mimics sunlight and can help set your circadian rhythms. Here’s some online light therapy options. They’re inexpensive and really do help. You and your care buddy can read the morning paper under the light (about 20 minutes) and get all you need for the day.

Laugh and Learn. Your brain needs to exercise as well as your body. Pick up an old hobby–quilting, crocheting, woodworking. Pick up a new hobby–Sudoku, computer game, or conversational spanish (for that spring cruise you’re planning!) Doing something new for 10 minutes a day fires those neurons and gets your brain lighting up prettier than a Christmas tree.

Winter Blues can turn serious, so if you’re “self-medicating” with too much alcohol or sleeping pills, or if you’re having suicidal thoughts, call someone–a hotline, a dear friend, a clergy or a therapist. Ask for help. People care. They’re not going to judge you. All of us have sad and scary times and reaching out is the very best way to get help and strengthen relationships. Caregiving takes a village. We all need each other.

January 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm Leave a comment

Caregiver, What Are You Doing For You? 3 Tips to Feed Your Brain and Heart

I know caregivers get tired of hearing “take care of you.” I always felt like slamming back, “And how do you suppose I do that?”

In little bitty ways, that’s how.

I know you can’t go to Disney, take a 10 day cruise, or even slip away for a half day at the spa for that matter. But you can incorporate new ideas and fun things to do into your caregiving day.

For me, I need color, new ideas, things to learn, and a stead dose of laughter. What do you need?

I was essentially homebound with my mom. Her Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s had gotten to the point to where I felt it was too much to ask my husband or children to watch her for too long, and although I occasionally found home health care who could pitch in, fit in, and not drive me crazy–it never seemed to last too long. So had to learn how to sneak a little zest into my life.

Three Tips to Feed Your Brain and Heart:

  • Buy magazines at the grocery store–books, DVD’s, whatever they’ve got. You don’ t have time to make a separate trip so pay the little extra and come home with some new material. You may only have the time and energy to look at the pretty pictures, but maybe during the course of a month you might actually finish an article–or two. Step out of the norm and buy a magazine on travel, knitting, photography, or gardening. Dream a little.
  • Expand your cable. It’s not like you’re spending boo-coo money on going out to dinner and movie, and I bet you no longer have symphony tickets for the season–so spend twenty extra dollars and get some channels you like. I’m not in love with the Smithsonian Channel, Travel HD (high def), and Style (‘m a girl, indulge me). I also love the food channel, TLC, and the Movie Channel. You can escape for a few minutes with Anthony Bourdain, sipping wine spritzers in Peru–right in your livingroom or watch Casablanca on A&E.
  • Search the ‘net for some new sites. My new favorites are that has lectures from prominent professors from Yale, Harvard and Berkley on everything from Brit Lit to philosophy to world religions and physics. Expand your brain. Get a cuppa joe and sit in on a class you would love to take but never did. I also love the You can tour the galaxy via the Hubble right from your laptop. I also like,a site that teaches you step by step how to make things. Or if you’ve had a bad day, hope on over to or YouTube’s top picks and just enjoy yourself.

I can’t make your caregiving challenges, frustrations, and heartaches go away, but I hope you’ll begin to surround yourself with great ideas, literature, movies, and interesting sites that expand your brain and your heart. There were so many days when I had a “woe is me” attitude about staying home with my mom, but when I turned it around and realized it wasn’t all bad, that I could incorporate some pretty cool things into my day…I found that caregiving had (much to my surprise) a few perks.

January 8, 2010 at 3:15 am Leave a 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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