Reaching out to family caregivers to help them provide the best care possible for senior loved ones is our passion and the mission of Senior Care Corner®, but you know that.
When Kathy was approached by Prime for an interview, she saw it as a wonderful opportunity to reach even more caregivers.
This interview was originally published on the Prime Blog.
You’re a Registered Dietitian—no small undertaking. What inspired you to commit to this path?
As a young girl I would go to the nursing home with my grandmother who volunteered there from time to time. It inspired me to help people and my love of science drew me to nutrition. Being a registered dietitian is a mix of science, education, and helping other people be healthy at any stage of life.
Wow, that’s a longstanding appreciation. You’ve also worked with caregivers directly for over 25 years. Was it a conscious decision then to work with caregivers as a dietitian or did it just happen naturally?
As a registered dietitian, I gravitated toward long term care facilities while I lived in South Florida. I have worked with geriatrics for more than half of my career and found that helping seniors have an improved quality of life became a passion. There are so many things a dietitian can do to help people age well!
In addition to my work in the field of geriatrics, I became a family caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s at the same time I was working full-time and raising two children. Seeing what was happening to our loved one with dementia, how it affected others in the family who were caring and how little practical information there was at that time inspired my husband and I to create Senior Care Corner.
I felt I had walked in those shoes, had expertise in the field and was a strong advocate for caregivers which all propelled me to share the lessons I learned. Not knowing where to turn for credible, useful information was frustrating.
You started Senior Care Corner in 2006. That’s a year before the iPhone came out! How did Senior Care Corner get started?
My husband and I began Senior Care Corner to help others who were caring for aging adults. I had experience in the field, knew tricks of the trade for caregivers and he has extensive knowledge with technology. By starting our website, we thought it would give us a great platform to share information that could be helpful to other people caring for family members.
Do you think there are specific, unique caregiving problems dietitians face or notice that others don’t?
I think that as a dietitian, especially working with seniors, I see how vital it is to stay healthy throughout your lifetime. While you can make small changes in the face of chronic disease to manage it and improve your health, it is best to avoid disease by staying healthy. Eating well and being physically active starting as a child is so important.
In the face of so much data of what a healthy lifestyle entails, we don’t seem to always adopt the healthiest lifestyle and that will make a difference as we age as I have witnessed in older adults. One example is caring for your teeth. Losing your teeth has a strong impact on health and nutrition as you age! Eating fresh healthy foods, keeping your bones strong plus caring for your teeth will help you as you age but we don’t always consider this until it is too late.
You’ve worked with seniors in their homes, nursing homes, assisted living, rehab, and hospital settings. Are any better or worse?
I think each facility has strengths and weaknesses depending on the needs of the senior.
I have seen a great improvement in the stereotypical nursing home since the late 1980s when I began working in them in South Florida. Nursing homes are by and large places that are striving to be person centered and home like and many succeed at that goal.
When seniors need a short stay to recover from surgery or illness, rehab facilities provide a great service getting seniors back home.
Hospitals are essential for acute illnesses and treating seniors and sending them onto the next phase of recovery. Most people don’t linger in hospitals as they once did.
I think assisted living facilities for those that can afford them fill a great need for seniors who are no longer able to live independently. They provide wonderful socialization opportunities for seniors too.
Home care is also a great option for seniors who need more help to stay at home.
How seniors plan to live out their golden years will take careful financial planning in order to choose from available options. Unfortunately, many seniors have limited choices due to affordability since Medicare does not cover most of these options. Family caregivers are encouraged to thoroughly check out every facility to be sure it is the best fit for their senior.
Another option that is too often overlooked is palliative care and hospice which helps families and older adults find peace and comfort at the end of life. I strongly support this choice.
Do you think there’s a perfect caregiving environment?
I do think there is a perfect caregiving environment for each senior. It will be different for each person and no one facility pleases everyone even home. It won’t be easy to find and definitely takes work to make it perfect.
A perfect environment needs to be safe, nurturing and one that fits the needs of the senior not just the family. Our seniors should have a voice in where that environment is and how they will live in their golden years.
This is why end of life directives are so important so that everyone knows exactly how the senior wants to live in the final years or days.
By CFAH’s last estimate, there are 60+ million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. You’ve helped many of them. What is the biggest similarity you see in caregivers across their age, location, gender, etc. groups? Biggest difference?
I believe family caregivers all have a common goal — the health and well-being of their loved one. They are advocating for them, providing personal care and improving their quality of life every day. They show deep love and respect for their loved ones.
The difference in family caregivers can sometimes be seen in cultural norms, how and where they want to provide care, or how they handle everyday challenges of caregiving. It is interesting to see the family dynamics in caregiving situations. Some families pull together and others pull apart. For many it has to do with lifelong habits, disagreements, or perceived hurts.
Communication is key for family caregivers and open dialogue for the best interest of senior adults.
How do you find caregiving for seniors changes as they get older?
For many caregivers, especially those who are caring for someone with dementia, the time involved can be great, greater than imagined. As the senior gets older and the disease progresses, the demands of caregiving increase. For many caregivers who are themselves aged, this can be a burden leading to facility placement.
As seniors get older and their functional status continues to decline, caregiving needs increase greatly. It becomes harder to care for someone as they get older in every respect.
Do you provide care for any seniors currently?
I continue to be a family caregiver and see my involvement increasing in the next five years as my family ages.
I am also active in Alzheimer’s support in my community and as a fundraiser in my state. I am currently involved in creating a “day out” program for caregivers of people with dementia which is a new, innovative program not currently available in the county or region where I live. It will provide weekly planned respite for caregivers.
A “day out” is a wonderful idea! Speaking of helping other groups, how would you educate young people on caring for family members?
I think that younger people are excellent caregivers especially for grandparents and I know many now care for parents. Young caregivers learn a great deal about themselves and build strong relationships with those for whom they care during caregiving.
My concern is that younger people don’t forego education or their own socialization while they are caregiving. Many lose their peer group support and own identity while they spend so much time caregiving. Hopefully an adult closeby will prevent this on their behalf.
What about your own younger self? What’s the biggest thing you know about caregiving now you would share with yourself 20 years ago?
As I always say, I would remind myself ‘you are where you are supposed to be doing what you are supposed to do!”.
Helping others is part of my DNA. I would tell myself to trust my instincts and know I am doing the right thing. I would also say enjoy the moments of happiness for they are fleeting, be present in the moment instead of thinking three steps ahead (one of my challenges!).
Current Caregiving Strategy:
Staying connected with carees and family members.
Letting everyone know what is happening is key and not everyone is capable of using tech to stay connected.
Best Caregiving Tip:
Care for yourself, if you are not healthy you can’t help anyone else.
Worst Caregiving Move Ever:
I don’t think in terms of worst ever. If something didn’t go as anticipated, I believe it is an opportunity to learn and change the approach. I research, investigate, and learn about things to a great degree before I act so my choices are usually made from an informed viewpoint.
Caregiving-wise, I need help with:
Health insurance and healthcare professionals who aren’t all on the same page. We are wasting time and money without cause because someone is not doing something correctly and won’t take ownership of an error.
Do you think our own habits affect our caregiving?
Definitely. Many habits can make caregiving more difficult. Habits are hard to overcome.
Some people don’t want to give up control or aren’t satisfied with the way others do some task and that will put caregivers in a situation of refusing help leading to burnout.
If you like order this could be a problem when the house is turned upside down with caregiving chaos. If you aren’t organized, this could be problematic too.
What care coordination tools do you currently use?
- I like Evernote for storing documents since it crosses all devices.
- I use Informant for calendar and alert options. I put everything in there to remind me such as time to change a/c filters, time to pay taxes, mail documents, get oil changed, and anything else that has a time frame not just appointments. You can set forever so I will never miss a birthday, I enter 2 weeks ahead to buy card/gift, 1 week ahead to mail in time, etc.
- I have tested several caregiving apps but give up using them since it takes so long to get each one full of info to be useful. Data entry is cumbersome and time consuming when benefits are minimal.
What are the problems in your care coordination tools?
Would love one place for everything instead of many apps.
How would your ideal care coordination tool work?
It would be portable so I had it where and when I needed it, cross all platforms and devices, easy to use!! even for fingers that don’t move well, interoperable (talk and work together), easy to access info I need quickly, connect with healthcare providers, connect with wearables, connect with EHR, not cost me a fortune to obtain or use each month, etc..
Is that too much to ask for?
What more do you want to know about the health of your careees?
If they are staying active when I am not with them.
If they are having trouble with prescriptions, insurance, healthcare providers.
What help do they need that I can provide?
How often do you want to know about the health of your careees?
How do you prioritize your own health — physical, mental, emotional — when caring for someone else?
It is very important to care for yourself first. You need all your strength – physical, mental and emotional to care for others for the long term.
I eat right (naturally as a dietitian) enjoying fresh foods and cooking from scratch and I stay physically active every day doing something.
I also try to stay engaged with my friends, stay up to date on new information in my field and the field of aging to stimulate my brain, and spend time with family who bring me unending joy!