Is It Time To Simplify Your Elderly Parent’s Life? 5 Simple Ways To Do Just That!

Family caregivers spend a significant amount of time each week managing doctor appointments, finances, medicine and running basic errands. This is on top of the many hours a week spent assisting with bathing, dressing and answering the same question a million times over. Maybe you can identify!

Hamster in a wheel

If you’re struggling to manage your elderly parent’s life, here’s some ways you can simplify their life so you can have more time for your own…

5 Ways to Simplify Your Elderly Parent’s Life

1) Coordinate as much as possible online. 

Online banking, including direct deposits, and prescriptions can be managed online, which not only saves you from having to run around all over but it allows you to work and coordinate at a time of day that’s convenient for you. You can even purchase incontinence supplies online.

2) Hire someone to help with bookkeeping.

Let’s face it the Medicare paper work, insurance reimbursements, doctor’s bills, lab bills, radiology bills are endless and it takes time to coordinate and manage it all. You may be surprised at how low cost a bookkeeper can be and the pay off can be HUGE.

3) Discontinue unnecessary medications. 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the insane amount of medication that many older adults take.  Ask the physician if any can be safely discontinued. Along with this, ask if dosages can be lowered or given fewer times a day to alleviate multiple daily dosages.

A quick side note on this one. I recently asked one of my clients to call their dad’s doctor to ask if we could reduce the amount of times per day he was to receive his eye drops. We were able to reduce the amount of times per day the drops were given from 5 to 2! What a HUGE difference this made in simplifying his life and providing him the ability to mange life in his home.

4) Put an end to multiple physician visits.

Primary care physician, cardiologist, nephrologist, pulmonologist etc. Again, ask your primary care physician if there is a way to cut down on these visits. Is there really anything those specialists are doing that your primary care physician can’t do? These visits will wear you both out and you have to ask yourself if the cost outweighs the benefit.

5) Organize your elderly parents vital information

Organize their records so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need it. Powers of attorney, advance directives, Medicare and insurance cards, medication lists, pharmacy information,  family contact information should all be stored in an easy to reach location so you don’t have to search every time you need this information.

Unless you’ve done it day in and day out, it’s hard to understand just how complicated and busy the life of an elderly person can be. Simplifying their life is not only wise but essential if you’re going to have enough energy left in the day for yourself and for them.

Like anything, simplifying your elderly parent’s life will take some work and creativity but it’s well worth the effort to free yourself up. Free yourself up to do more of what you enjoy with them instead of running, running, running.

3. Set up automatic refills for important prescriptions. Pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart will allow patients to set up email alerts for prescription refills and even allow patients to order refills online. Using convenient tools like these will allow you to make sure important medications are always there for your parent. – See more at: http://newportnewshomecare.com/blog/2013/08/03/how-to-simplify-life-for-an-aging-parent/#sthash.m8Y3WN14.dpuf

 Question: What are the biggest obstacles you face in organizing your elderly parent’s life? Do you have any tips that can help others?

3. Set up automatic refills for important prescriptions. Pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart will allow patients to set up email alerts for prescription refills and even allow patients to order refills online. Using convenient tools like these will allow you to make sure important medications are always there for your parent. – See more at: http://newportnewshomecare.com/blog/2013/08/03/how-to-simplify-life-for-an-aging-parent/#sthash.m8Y3WN14.dpuf
3. Set up automatic refills for important prescriptions. Pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart will allow patients to set up email alerts for prescription refills and even allow patients to order refills online. Using convenient tools like these will allow you to make sure important medications are always there for your parent. – See more at: http://newportnewshomecare.com/blog/2013/08/03/how-to-simplify-life-for-an-aging-parent/#sthash.m8Y3WN14.dpuf

 

 

5 Ways to Make Caregiving Less Stressful

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It can be stressful and lonely caring for an aging parent. The endless appointments, piles of laundry, agitated behaviors, meals on the table, pills to dispense, answering the same questions over and over, siblings that don’t help or worse yet criticize your every move. If you haven’t already, you need to create some strategies that will help ease the stress of caring for your aging parent or loved one.

Consider building these strategies in to your every day routine and tap in to them before you reach your tipping point.

Build a Care Team

You cannot do this alone. I don’t care how skilled you are or how much you love your mom or dad you will need help to care for them. It can be informal or formal in the way of paid help but you need to create a routine that includes help. That can be friends that drive mom to her hair appointment or a paid housekeeper to clean the toilets. You may need the assistance of a paid caregiver to help with bathing or meal preparation. I’ve yet to meet anyone that can care for an aging parent 24 hours a day 365 days out of the year without the help of  care team.

Resource: Lots of Helping Hands is an online service that can help you build and organize a care team. At the very least set up an account and start exploring the possibilities.

Surround Yourself with Peers

Find a support group or reach out to people you know who are in the same boat as you. I know it’s hard to reach out when you aren’t feeling like your best self but I have news for you other people in your shoes don’t care nor are they feeling great either so you have nothing to lose by reaching out to others. A good laugh or a good cry with someone that’s been there can go a long way in easing the stress. Caring for an aging parent can be a lonely place and no one understands that quite like another caregiver.

Resource: My favorite online support forum is at agingcare.com. You can find peers there any time day or night. I find the folks there to be supportive, non-judgmental and full of information that can help. Click here…

Create Moments of Respite

Typically we think of respite as a lengthy break of 24 hours or more but think of the impact simple moments of respite throughout your day could make. An activity for you alone that can provide you with a break from caregiving. Walk around the block, read a book, coffee break, hair cut, retail therapy, exploring art… Whatever brings meaning to you and provides you with a break from your caregiving duties; do it!

Let Go of Perfection

If you’re a perfectionist, please learn to let it go. A perfect day does not exist in the world of caring for an aging parent. Without a doubt, you will have moments of joy and happiness but there will always be laundry to do, appointments to make, things to worry about so understand this. There is no perfectionism in caregiving and you are going to drive yourself nuts if you remain on the hamster wheel of perfection, so get off of it.

Stop Being a Martyr

Being a martyr is not a healthy way to get your needs met. Suffering and expecting others to read your mind will not only set you up for resentment and anger but it will push away the people you should be depending on the most. Consider setting boundaries and putting yourself in the position of being empowered versus being victimized.  Find ways to set healthy boundaries; learn when to say yes and when to say no. A caregiver stuck in the cycle of being a martyr is destined to become stressed out.

Moving forward…

Checking back over this list do you see any strategies that may work for you? Can you pick one that you can weave in to your daily or weekly routine?

If you can’t imagine practicing these strategies on a day-to-day basis, consider posting them on your refrigerator and use them to hit your reset button…

Do you have a secret for dealing with stress? Questions about the above suggestions? You could help other caregivers by sharing your thoughts in the comment section.

Aging Parents: Downsizing Tips!

My husband and I just completed our aging parent tour of the Midwest where we have been helping my 90 year old mother-in- law downsize: one tiny step at a time. As a professional, I know her sadness over sending her box of shoes to the thrift store wasn’t about the shoes it was about the memories. As a family member, I was struck hard at how giving that box of shoes away triggered so much sadness for her. A sadness over her losses both physical and emotional: time that she will never have again. As sad as it is, downsizing has to be done but I don’t think it has to be all bad and the process can even strengthen your family bond and provide a much needed emotional transition for your aging parent.

Here’s what I have found to be helpful in plowing through the downsizing process…

Listen: It’s important for your aging parent to be able to reminisce and share memories. No doubt this will slow down the process but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were your aging parent’s memories. Understand this and know that this is not going to be a quick easy process. Listen and you may discover a story about your aging parent that you’ve never heard before. A story that may put a smile on your face and leave you wanting to hear more.
Compassion: Put your own feelings aside and stand in the shoes of your aging parent {no pun intended}. Say things like “keep in mind your letting go of the shoes not the memories”. Ask: “what are you thinking of when you look at those dishes”. Maybe it would help to write down the memory and tuck it away. Put your arm around them and express your empathy. Whichever route you chose please be compassionate towards your aging parent and understand that they this can be a sad difficult process.

Find Purpose: There’s more to the process than just putting things in boxes or tossing them away. Maybe it’s writing down memories and keeping them for the entire family to enjoy. For my mother in law, I was able to get her to see how her beautiful clothes could be put to good use by giving them to an organization that provides professional clothing to low income women entering the work force. I said to her: “your clothes would mean a lot to these women”.  It made her feel like she had a purpose!

Gifting: Say these words: “the time to give away family heirlooms is now not after you’ve passed”. As you go through things ask your parent “would you like to give this to Lisa or Mary?”. Help facilitate by writing down what goes to which family member and ask your parent if they need help facilitating the gifting. Encourage them to write a note with a story about the treasure they are gifting and why they want this person to have it.

Provide Direction without Being Bossy: This is always a fine line but once again I ask you to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it feels like to be bossed around by your children and told what needs to go and what stays. You can even ask {as I do often} “am I being too bossy?”. My mother-in-law will often respond with “yes you are but it’s OK” and we laugh. Providing direction can be as simple as providing choices “do you want to clean out cabinet A or cabinet B”. Instead of saying “I think you should give this to Nicole” how about saying “Do you think Nicole would like to have this?”

One Step at a Time: Downsizing can be very overwhelming when you focus on the big picture. When you open that cabinet and your aging parent lets out a heavy sigh I want you to put your arm around them and ask them to pick five items to take to the thrift store or put in the garbage. Chances are once they get started the wont stop. Taking it in small pieces can help relieve anxiety and that overwhelmed feeling which can really derail the entire process.

To Sell or Not to Sell: If you feel your aging parent has some value in their items I recommend you call in an estate sales expert or antique appraiser to give you an evaluation. My mother-in-law has some beautiful pieces of art, jewelry and furniture that will be given to family members but some pieces need to be appraised and perhaps sold. I don’t recommend organizing a garage or yard sale on your own as it can be very stressful and requires a lot of hard work with not a lot of return on your investment. You could also sell items online with e-bay or craigslist. There’s a lot of different options when it comes to selling antiques and collectibles: call in the experts!

Hoarding: If you’re in a hoarding situation, you’re probably either laughing or crying when you read the above tips. Once we are in the realm of hoarding that puts your aging parent at risk and my best advice is for you to call in a professional. I would start by calling Adult Protective Services and getting them involved. They may have resources for organizers and psychologist that specialize in hoarding. Do not try to downsize a hoarding parent alone: call in the professionals!

At the end of the journey, we all want to know we did the best we could for our aging parents. I hope this advice, in some small way, helps you get there…

Nursing Homes: Volunteer and Make a Difference

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You can make a difference in your community by becoming a nursing home volunteer. You might think that nursing homes are all gloom and doom but there are plenty of smiles, laughter and hugs to be had. Nursing homes are full of individuals that have lead long and eventful lives and they could use your support. You might even learn a thing or two…

As a volunteer you could provide any number of activities to stimulate the residents minds and provide comfort: bingo, manicures, poem readings, one on one conversation, letter writing or computer support. This list goes on and on but my favorite volunteers are those who bring in their children and pets. You can’t imagine the joy that children and pets can spread in the nursing home: it’s a touching and powerful moment to witness!

Five Things I Want You to Know About Volunteering in a Nursing Home! 

Every nursing home has someone that is in charge of the volunteer coordinating. Your contact person will typically be the activities director. Some larger facilities may have a volunteer coordinator and some activity directors are referred to as the life enrichment coordinators. Either way all you have to do is call the facility and ask the receptionist who you would talk to about becoming a volunteer.

You can’t just walk in off the street and expect to get started. The nursing home will have an application and training process that you will have to complete. Don’t let this scare you off: anything worth doing is worth doing right and the nursing home is responsible for their residents. They want the right volunteers doing the right job for their residents and they have policies and procedures to follow…

When you say you are going to be there, be there. Don’t decide one day you’d rather have coffee with friends or hang out at the pool. The volunteer work you do in a nursing home is important to the residents and they depend on you to be there. Talk with the volunteer coordinator and understand the expectations. Before you decide to volunteer, consider the commitment it takes and act accordingly. Don’t be a flake…

Even though you won’t get paid you can use your volunteer experience on your resume and perhaps the activities director would even give you a reference. It’s also a great way to explore the possibility of working with older adults on a professional basis and may lead you to a career you never even thought of before.  My very first experience with working with older adults was as a volunteer in a nursing home…

You will receive far more in the way of gratification and wisdom than you could ever imagine. There are many wise old souls living in nursing homes that still have plenty to give. All it takes is for someone to make that connection and reach out to them. You’ll develop friendships and you’ll feel good about yourself. You’ll leave that building every time knowing that today you made a difference in the life of a frail older adult…

If you are considering volunteering in your local nursing home and have questions, please ask them by leaving a comment. I may not know the specifics of your local community but I can get you headed in the right direction…

 

 

 

 

Aging Parents: Crisis Mode

Emergency Room

Aging Parents: Crisis Mode

Chances are the first time you’re asked to step in and help your aging parents it will be during a time of crisis. You may be setting in a hospital intensive care unit as you read this or your head may be spinning with bad news from your mom or dad’s physician.  You may be making that frantic long distant trip by plane to be by their side; unsure of what you’ll find when you get there.  I’ve been there both professionally and personally and I want you to know you are not alone and things will get better.

Tips for Managing

Don’t Panic: If it takes a state of denial or a quick call to your therapist or minister, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, focus on what’s in front of you and don’t get overwhelmed by the “what ifs”.  You may be in a situation that is out of your control and it may take a few hours or days of simply putting one foot in front of the other before it all unfolds. Your mantra is “one step at a time”!

Manage What You Can: If you are just entering the world of elder care, you’re in for a big shock.  Navigating the health care system is frustrating and at times you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole.  Manage what you can: call friends and family, identify your resources and support systems, confirm that the hospital has accurate personal information, keep notes in a journal.  Manage what you can and know that it all unfolds in due time!

Educate Yourself: Don’t count on professionals to be transparent (more on this at another time). Whatever your situation, you want to make your decisions based in knowledge not fear. Ask questions, call local organizations (Area Agency on Aging or Alzheimer’s Association) and yes use the internet (with caution) to locate information. The information you discover now may come in handy down the road!

Be Aware of Emotions:  Stepping in to your aging parent’s life during a crisis may trigger some emotional baggage for you. I don’t care how far you’ve moved or how much psychotherapy you’ve endured, your buttons are going to be pushed. You may feel like an angry teenager or helpless child. Acknowledge it, identify what you feel and save it for another day. Now is not the time to dredge up past grievances or issues.  The next few days are going to be an emotional roller coaster; manage it!

Stay in the Moment: While it’s important to make decisions based on two steps down the road, it’s just as important to stay in the moment and not get  caught up in the “what ifs”.  This can create the type of anxiety that will paralyze you. Decisions are going to have to be made related to what’s happening now not two or three weeks from now.  Managing your elder care crisis is a process that will unfold and stressing out over what may or may not happen is not going to help you or your aging parent.  By staying in the moment, you focus on the important issues!

I hope these tips for managing your aging parent’s crisis have helped you in some way. I’ve been in your shoes and even with all of my experience and education it was still difficult. The fear, the anxiety and that overwhelming feeling of helplessness can really put you in a bad spot. Remember that everyone’s crisis is unique and unfolds differently; this too shall pass and you will survive.

If you have recommendations that could help others, please share them in a comment…

 

Aging Parents: Navigating Acute Care Hospitals!

For many, the first realization that mom or dad needs help is admission to the acute care hospital. It can be a stressful and disheartening experience for many aging families. Acute hospital settings are not designed to help you and your aging parent find long term solutions to life’s challenges. The role of the acute care setting or hospital is to stabilize your parent’s medical condition and discharge them.  It’s not uncommon for families to be ignored and left out of conversations.  Discharge happens with little or no notice and you have to make quick decisions about issues you know little or nothing about. It’s not that hospitals don’t care or do a good job but as you know there is more to your mom or dad’s life than what  the hospital staff sees in the hospital bed. There’s no way we are going to change the system today but there are some things you can do that will help you navigate the insanity of the hospital stay…

Connect: Refer to staff by their name, whether it’s the doctor or the nurse. Immediately connecting with staff by calling them by their name will go a long way in establishing an immediate relationship. Along with this, say please and thank you!

Take notes: Information is going to be coming at you really quick and there is no way on God’s green earth you will remember it all. Purchase a little note book  at the hospital gift shop so you can document who said what and when.  Write down questions as they pop in to your head.   When you see your physician (if you are lucky enough) his or her time will be limited so don’t waste it.

Lower your expectations: It pains me to say this but don’t expect too much in terms of hand holding or education. It’s probably not going to happen in the acute setting.  Look for support elsewhere!

Paperwork: If you have power of attorney for your mom or dad get copies in the chart immediately! Same with advance directives or living wills. Don’t assume that these documents will be read so be sure to advocate and assert yourself as the decision maker, if indeed, you have the legal authority to do so.

Long Distance: If you travel to care for your parents, chances are you’ll need to take time off from work. Keep in mind you may qualify for unpaid leave via the Federal Family Leave Act so check with your human resource director at work if you are worried about the time off.

If you’ve experienced the traumatic experience of helping your parents navigate the acute hospital setting, you may have some tips that can help others. If so, leave a comment with your tip!

Caregiving? Tips for Coping!

Feeling overwhelmed by caring for your aging parents? It all starts with you being realistic and keeping things in perspective.  Here are some tips that can help.

Tip #1 –  Choose to take charge of your life by not letting your loved one’s situation or illness always take center stage.

Tip #2 –  Understand that you will not be able to do everything but you will be able to do enough. You are sentencing yourself to unnecessary guilt and misery if you define success as “doing it all”.

Tip#3 –  When people offer to help, accept the help and suggest specific things they can do. If you have a personal conviction that keeps you from asking for help seriously consider giving yourself permission to change that rule!

Tip #4 –  Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make your decisions based in knowledge not fear. You will hear me preach this over and over. Start here…

Tip #5 –  You need to develop healthy boundaries with family members and set expectations that are realistic. You will not be able to satisfy everyone’s expectations but you will be able to satisfy crucial needs.

I know when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s hard to know where to start. So start today by taking 15 minutes and pin point which of these tips might work for you. Take 15 minutes tomorrow and the next day to create a strategy that will help you work on just one of these tips. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment…