State of Family Caregiving – Straining to Meet Needs While Demand Grows

Family caregivers feel the emotional, physical and financial strain of caregiving for those that they love — along with fulfillment from knowing they make a difference.

Many would like to know what can be done or what help they could get to ease the strain.

Most caregivers don’t feel caring for senior loved ones is a burden but see it as a way to repay love given them through the years.

They also feel a sense of obligation — duty when they’re spousal caregivers — and honored to be called upon to help someone we love.

Let’s face it, not every day Is joyous or easy.

A recent caregiving report, conducted by AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving, details a wide range of concerns faced by unpaid family caregivers.

Caregiving Report Highlights

We want to share some of what we learned in the report so the caregivers among our readership know they’re not alone — and other family members understand what the caregivers face on a daily basis.

The report, which was sponsored by several organizations and conducted in 2014, surveyed 1248 online participants, including all ages and ethnicities.

They remind us that caregivers are very different, come from differing backgrounds, and have individual needs, but all share similar feelings of positivity as well as struggle when caring for family members.

Caregivers:

  1. 43.5 million unpaid adult caregivers in the prior 12 months
  2. 34.2 million have provided unpaid care to someone over 50 years
  3. 60% of unpaid caregivers were female
  4. Eight out of ten (82%) were caring for only one person
  5. Average age 49
  6. One in ten providing care for spouse with an average age of 62.3 years and 49% caring for parent or parent-in-law
  7. One in ten are over 75 years themselves; these often have no other unpaid help
  8. Average providing unpaid care for 4 years, 24% providing for 5 years or more

Care Recipients:

  1. 65% of care recipients were female and 69.4 years on average
  2. 48% of care recipients lived at home, the more time needed for care correlated with the caregiver living with the care recipient
  3. Three in five had a long-term physical condition
  4. 26% had a memory impairment
  5. 53% were hospitalized in the prior 12 months

What Caregivers Say They Do

The tasks caregivers perform each day are very different. Depending on the functional level of your senior loved one, you may need to do more or less different jobs each day.

This report found that most caregivers need to do at least one activity of daily living for their loved ones each day. Most help their loved ones in and out of bed or a chair.

When a senior needs more hours of caregiving each day, the caregiver usually is performing all activities of daily living for their loved one – dressing, grooming, feeding, toileting, transferring, etc.

One in four participants of this study said that they have difficulty performing these tasks. Personal care duties like toileting, incontinent care, and bathing or showering are the most trying tasks.

There are seven instrumental activities of daily living such as housework, managing money, cooking, giving medications, transportation, and grocery shopping. Caregivers reported doing 4.2 out of 7 for their senior loved ones. Those who required the most hours of caregiving were completing all 7 functions.

Family caregivers not only provide hands on assistance but also are the ones responsible for communicating with healthcare providers, managing a medical condition in order to adjust treatments, and advocate for their loved ones.

Providing Increasing Skilled Care

Because doing so many different and often demanding tasks adds a burden to caregivers, the researchers asked participants to describe what they felt was their level of burden. They found that 40% felt they had a high burden, 18% reported a moderate burden and 41% reported a low burden.

Caregivers are being put in the position of providing more and more duties that require knowledge and skills most often provided in the past by a nurse.

These tasks are called medical/nursing tasks, including tube feedings, injections, catheter care, colostomy care and many other responsibilities.

6 in 10 caregivers reports assisting with medical/nursing tasks. Those caregivers who provide the most hours of care, report doing these medical tasks more often.

Is Anyone Else Helping Caregivers?

Caregivers who participated in the study reported the medical and nursing tasks were difficult for them. 42% report they had no preparation to perform these medical tasks. 14% report they had some training.

This report found that only about half of caregivers had help from another unpaid caregiver. 57% of those providing the most hours of care and 78% of those who are spouses have no additional unpaid help.

Only 32% of caregivers had paid helpers from people such as aides, housekeeper or others.

One in three have no help from others – paid or unpaid!

Strain of Caregiving

The strain or stress caregivers feel is a matter of perception. Unfortunately, since half of family caregivers report that they had no choice in whether they wanted to or had to care for their loved one, obligation may be driving them. They are likely the most in need of support.

48% of participants reported they felt their health was excellent or very good. However, 22% reported that their health had gotten worse since caregiving.

When we consider those caregivers especially older carers who themselves are in poor or diminished health, their physical burden is higher.

One in five report a high level of physical strain and 38% report it being emotionally stressful. Over half, 53% of those who stated they had no choice in caregiving said they felt high levels of emotional stress.

Caregiver Finances Strained

Financial strain is not uncommon for caregivers.

In this study, one in five caregivers said they felt financial strain. 21% said they had more worry about financial strain when they lived over one hour away. Most likely because 41% of long distance caregivers report paying for help.

The longer the duration of caregiving, the more financial pressure was experienced.

To add to the strain, six in ten caregivers report being employed during the past year. An added financial strain was felt for those caregivers who were older and on a fixed income trying to make ends meet.

Many caregivers who are employed report that their employers are aware of their situation, many offer flexible hours, paid sick days, employee assistance programs and telecommuting to help them be caregivers.

Most benefits cited by caregivers, however, are afforded to full-time employees only. That makes it hard on caregivers who need to devote more time to senior loved ones instead of work.

What Caregivers Need

Given the commitment and caring that drives family caregivers, it’s not surprising many state their needs are related to providing better care for senior loved ones rather than benefiting themselves.

Caregivers want more information about or services they would like:

  • How to keep loved ones safe at home
  • How to manage their personal stress
  • How to manage challenging behaviors
  • How to deal with incontinence
  • Few have asked for financial help
  • Few have used respite services (15%)
  • 4 in 10 want hospitals to demonstrate medical tasks and inform them about medical decisions
  • Get paid for caregiving
  • Get an income tax credit to offset cost of care
  • Help making end of life decisions
  • Finding education materials in their native language

We hope this report and the data behind it will help public policy makers understand the unique needs of family caregivers and encourage organizations to create programs that will support caregivers.

Aging in Place Options for America’s Seniors – Will Reality Match Dreams?

We all want to live out our lives in the home of our choice.

Maybe that’s the home in which we spent the majority of our lives, raised our children, and welcomed the grandchildren or the smaller place, closer to family.

For others it’s none of the above, but the retirement paradise of long time dreams.

Sometimes we can live out our lives in that home and sometimes we need to accept other options.

These options may be better than aging in place in the home of their choice because they may provide better physical care, social support and freedom from worry about how they will care for the home and themselves.

The options for care can include a wide range of different situations that could meet the needs of seniors considering every situation is as individual as the senior who will need help.

Gone (or going) are the stereotypical nursing homes where older adults sit in chairs in hallways and wait for the end to come.

Viable Options for Aging Care

Our senior loved ones have many choices for long term living as they age. These options should each be considered and plans made as our seniors age so they (and we) are not unprepared in case a crisis strikes.

Most seniors (and us too) want to live at home forever and that could be achievable with appropriate interventions in areas such as health, lifestyle, finances and technology. When independence wavers, it is time to move down the continuum of care selecting another option that will safely meet their needs.

Here is a quick review of the options for aging:

Traditional Homes

Remaining functionally independent at home with accommodations, including technology, can be a good option and often the first choice of most seniors.

  • There are connected homes with a variety of technological applications that will help our seniors stay at home longer and more safely.
  • There are many different kinds of technologies that can keep our seniors connected with their loved ones near and far to prevent isolation and depression.
  • There are monitors that can track their activity, trend it and alert family caregivers when there are irregularities which could signal trouble.
  • “Edge detection” technologies are helping seniors stay safe at home.
  • There are safety interventions such as fall mats, stove shutoffs, remote access, and programmable home features which can be connected directly to family caregivers.
  • And then there is medical monitoring! We can get real time updates on physical measurements such as blood pressure, blood sugar, weights, breathing status and whether they have taken medications correctly.

Naturally this technology can advance with our senior adults as their needs change. It is not simply adding grab bars in the bathroom anymore that can keep our seniors safe and living independently although home modifications are vital as well.

Renovations and technology can help our seniors stay at home (wherever it is they choose) longer and safer.

Granny Pods

Granny pods are a concept that is gaining some traction. It is the practice of adding a space, using new construction, separate from the family home for an aging parent (or two) on your property.

Also called a MEDCottage, it is designed to fit into a backyard and provides a personal and private space with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. You don’t exactly have to live in the same dwelling as your senior loved ones, but can be close enough to assist as needed while honoring their privacy and independence.

The beauty of this dwelling is that it is set up for aging, technology is wired in and safety modifications are installed from the beginning. Smart devices are included and you can even have a lift built into the ceiling to make it easy to get in and out of bed or the chair once mobility is a concern.

This arrangement gives the best of both worlds, keeping your senior independent but close by.

Cottages

Cottages are independent homes, nestled together with suitable amenities such as dining, fitness, and socialization opportunities. No maintenance is required by the resident, either in the home or outside area. Some find the cost of living in a cottage to be less than living in their home, due to energy efficiency and cost of upkeep.

Many offer opportunities to progress with services along the continuum of care such as congregate living, skilled nursing, memory care or rehab services without needing to relocate.

Assisted Living Facilities (ALF)

An assisted living facility is a senior living community where the seniors have their own apartments and where there is supervision around the clock, help with medication administration, congregate meals or served in their room, laundry and cleaning services, socialization, and personal care.

ALF’s can be important when living independently is no longer a viable option. Residents have to meet certain requirements and this can vary from facility to facility. It does not provide 24 hour nursing care.

Most seniors who live in an ALF pay privately but there are programs that can help financially.

Long Term Care Facilities (LTC)

Long term care facilities are today’s version of the nursing homes of the past — but with patient centered culture.

The stereotypical nursing home is evolving into a more patient centered place, where the dignity and self-choice of the resident is part of the plan. They receive 24 hour nursing care, have a team of health professionals to treat them holistically, attend activities of their choice, socialize, eat congregate meals, receive medications from a nurse as well as other services in a homelike setting.

Not all nursing homes are the same and you should pick your senior loved one’s long term care facility carefully and remain their advocate. You can use Nursing Home Compare to help guide your decisions.

Often a LTC facility is needed when your senior’s health and mobility has declined to the point that they need 24 hour care and supervision.

A stay in LTC is not paid by Medicare but can be paid by Medicaid if your senior is eligible. A short term stay in a LTC facility or rehab following surgery or hospitalization can be paid by Medicare in order to provide skilled nursing for recovery before your senior returns to their home setting.

Seniors Aging in Place Dreams

Many families are realizing their dream of assisting their senior loved ones to stay as independent as possible as long as possible in the home they love. This is going to be best accomplished with the support of new technology and new ways of living within the ever changing systems to help our senior loved ones age successfully in the manner of their choosing.

A major determinant of how well and where senior adults can age in place is finances. Have they budgeted enough money for in-home care if needed or for a facility of their choice?

Medical costs as well as costs of living can create obstacles as time goes on for many seniors to continue to enjoy the aging in place situation of their dreams.

Another factor in how and where your senior loved one will be aging in place is their medical condition. Are they staying healthy now and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as they age? Being mobile and able to care for themselves as much as possible will direct their ability to remain independent or dependent on nursing care. Staying active each day will help them achieve their goals.

Now is the time to be talking with senior loved ones about their dreams for aging and helping them take the actions needed to be in a position to realize those dreams.

Germs Infect Seniors’ Tech Devices – But Easy Prescription for the Cure

We love our technology gadgets, don’t we?

On a recent theater trip, I noticed everyone waiting had a smartphone in their hands, engaging with something on the screen to pass the time.

The overwhelming number of devices is just amazing. They have simply taken over our society.

Seniors are adopting their own devices, too, at rates that bring a song to our hearts. We are thrilled that they are using and enjoying technology.

They are starting to reap the benefits, with so much more to come.

But hold on…

We want them to use those smartphones and tablets, but safety is a priority. We shouldn’t just worry about security while using their devices, but also health.

Let’s talk about the infection of our devices by – – germs!

Dirtier Than the Toilet

A recent study of mobile phones found they held eighteen, yes 18, times more bacteria than the handle of the toilet in a men’s restroom.

Ugh!

Their analysis found that almost a quarter of the devices were so germy that they held ten times the acceptable level of bacteria. In fact, one phone tested had enough bacteria to cause stomach upset.

Researchers found staphylococcus aureus, enterobacteria, fecal coliforms and E. coli on the phones. These are not things we want anywhere near our senior loved ones, or us.

Obviously, bacteria from our hands is transferred to the phones and then back to us and could pose a health threat.

Another report found our computer keyboards held an unsafe amount of bacteria as well, so it’s not just the smartphone and tablet that should worry us.

Bacteria on Glass Screen

A Stanford University study found that pathogens on our glass surfaces, including glass on our computing devices, tablets and smartphones, can be readily transmitted to our skin.

They report that 30% of the viruses or germs on the glass will get on your fingertips when you touch or swipe the infected screen.

Germs live on surfaces and are spread in the air, especially when someone coughs or sneezes.

Germs can survive on glass for hours or even days.

Not only do we swipe the screen and touch to select apps or type on the qwerty keyboard, but we bring the phone directly to our mouth when we answer a call.

Sounds like something we should address, doesn’t it.

Disinfecting Our Gadgets To Prevent Autoinoculation

Since we realize that our smartphones, tablets and other computing devices can carry germs we would rather not spread to ourselves (this is called autoinoculation), we need to take some simple steps to keep our devices as germ free as possible.

  • Wash your hands! We hear it all the time but we need to constantly wash our hands before and after touching our faces, eating, using the bathroom, coughing and sneezing. If you touch many high traffic surfaces, such as stair rails, elevator buttons and escalator handrails, you probably need to wash when you go to and fro. Washing with soap and warm water using friction for about 10-15 seconds will help prevent the spread of germs. You can also use hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes when your hands are not visibly soiled.
  • Use a germicidal wipe — not just a damp cloth or tissue — to clean your computer, tablet or mobile phone screen regularly.
  • You can also buy an ultraviolet sanitizer that will kill pathogens. You dock the phone or other devices in it. They claim to kill 99% of bacteria.
  • Don’t forget the computer keyboard too! Apple recommends Lysol Disinfecting Wipes for its products. Use a soft cloth or compressed air to blow out any debris lodged between the keys before you wipe. You can also use an electronics vacuum to remove debris from between the keys.
  • You may want to unplug your devices before you clean them. If they are hot, let them cool down a bit before wiping.
  • Be sure your wipes or cleaning products are alcohol free as the alcohol or ammonia can damage the screen. Don’t use household cleaners, sprays or solvents on the screens.
  • You can use a soft cloth made from microfiber used to clean eyeglasses to remove dust from your devices but will need the germicidal wipes to decrease the bacterial count.
  • There are also clear protective covers that fit over the entire device and keep it clean. They are disposable too. You may have seen them used in healthcare settings.
  • Other areas to clean – computer mouse, mousepad, carrying bag, desk where you compute, palm rest pads, ear buds, headset, and smart watches/wearables. While you’re at it, you may want to clean the TV remote control while you are busy with the tech gadgets!

New Product We Love

While we were at the International CES this year, we were introduced to a product called Whoosh!

Whoosh! is a screen cleaner that will work on any of your tech devices. The solution is applied with a soft cloth. It is non-toxic, odorless and 100% natural. It is safe for the environment and was never tested on animals.

You can find Whoosh! in stores or on their website. They have a store locator at Whoosh.com to help you find it easily.

Your screens will be shiny and germ free when you are done!

One of the best features of this tech cleaning product is that is can help prevent future fingerprints on your devices with its special formula.

Benefits of Cleaning

Keeping technology devices and gadgets clean and germ free will not only help prevent spreading germs and getting sick, but will provide other benefits, too.

If senior loved ones let other people use their devices, including grandchildren, they will want to prevent spreading any germs to them and picking up the kids germs too. Let’s face it, we all have germs.

A little prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to keeping our tech devices germ free!

Stop Arthritis From Limiting Seniors’ Activities & Robbing Independence

Arthritis is a constant source of pain for millions of our senior loved ones, with impacts to their lives going beyond the pain.

Seniors’ arthritis can result in self-limiting actions, causing them to stop doing the things they love doing.

It can even interfere with or take away their independence.

Did you know that arthritis is the most common cause of disability? It can keep your senior from walking, climbing stairs, bending, lifting, carrying, reaching and even impair their ability to dress and care for themselves.

Symptoms include pain, stiffness and swelling in joints. Some forms of arthritis, such as lupus, can negatively affect the organs.

It has been reported that those people who suffer from arthritis have a significantly lower quality of life than those without arthritis. Many of those with arthritis (18%) have been reported to have major depression.

Joint replacements of all kinds – knees, hips, shoulder, and other joints were performed primarily to alleviate the pain of arthritis.

How Common Is Arthritis?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 52.5 million adults have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia.

Those CDC statistics for this painful diagnosis are disquieting. It seems that arthritis in one form or another affects many of our senior loved ones.

  • One in five adults has arthritis, with the most common form being osteoarthritis.
  • 5 million adults are estimated to have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • A higher percentage of women than men are diagnosed with arthritis (26% vs 19%).
  • 66% of adults diagnosed arthritis are overweight or obese.
  • Weight loss of as little as 11 pounds reduces the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis among women by 50%.
  • Among older adults with knee osteoarthritis, engaging in moderate physical activity at least 3 times a week can reduce the risk of arthritis-related disability by 47%.
  • Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the most common cause of disability among U.S. adults and have been for the past 15 years.
  • Adults with arthritis report two to four times as many unhealthy days in the past month than those without arthritis.

All of this probably makes you wish you could do something about it.

Arthritis Prevention & Control

There are some things that our senior loved ones can do in an effort to prevent developing arthritis and, if it is diagnosed, to manage it to remain healthy and independent as they age.

  1. To prevent developing arthritis seniors should maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts undue strain on joints which can lead to arthritis, pain, need for joint replacement and limited mobility.
  2. Avoid injuries including falls. Falls can be damaging to joints. Your senior can try to prevent falls with injuries by staying physically active, participating in strength exercises and improving their balance.
  3. Become and stay physically active. Moving your body can decrease the pain of arthritis, improve physical function and thereby quality of life. Staying flexible and strengthening muscles will help with arthritis and range of motion in the joints.
  4. Learn about your senior’s type of arthritis and ways to manage it. When it is kept in control and you both learn to control the pain and reduce the impact it has on mobility, you will be able to improve their well-being.
  5. Discuss an appropriate treatment plan with your senior’s doctor. Ask them for referrals to exercise programs to remain active, self-management programs to control the condition and anti-inflammatory strategies to reduce pain and improve functional status.
  6. Nutritional interventions may or may not help, as the jury is still out on much of the research to show cause and effect. Some tips are thought to provide some help and, since they are not dangerous, might be worth a try for your senior. Anti-inflammatory diet foods may help with symptoms (see diet information below.) Adequate amounts of Vitamin D in the diet can help, some people may need a supplement in order to achieve adequacy.
  7. Supplements are sold widely with claims to reduce arthritis pain although few results have been proven. Some people have found that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can decrease their pain especially of osteoarthritis of the knee and these have some evidence to support their use. Unfortunately, research into osteoarthritis of other joints has not shown an advantage to these supplements over a placebo. Be aware that use of chondroitin can interact with anticoagulant medications like Coumadin.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet Tips

Despite the claims, there is no one food that will stop arthritis pain and no diet that will cure this disease. There are, however, small changes that your senior can make in the foods they select that could have an anti-inflammatory benefit that reduces their pain.

Many adults who limit certain types of foods like those that are processed in favor of fresher foods report feeling better.

  • Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and prevent your immune system from fighting against this form of fat. Foods that are considered good sources of omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, nuts such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, and green leafy vegetables (benefits in that order).
  • Avoid foods that can contribute to inflammation such as sugar sweetened beverages like soda, Trans fat, unhealthy fats like lard, refined carbohydrates (white bread, baked goods) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage). Avoid processed foods.
  • Choose foods that might reduce inflammation, such as tomatoes, berries (such as blueberries and strawberries), cherries, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines). Antioxidants will support your senior’s immune system and help with inflammation.
  • Choose healthy foods such as found in the Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, beans, fish, and healthy oils). Eat 3-4 ounces of fish twice a week. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables everyday up to 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables. Choose 1.5 ounces of nuts a day (a handful).
  • Get enough fiber in their food to help their immune system prevent inflammation.
  • Eating a more healthy diet, with appropriate portion sizes, will help with weight loss that will be beneficial to the joints.
  • Don’t fall for food myths when it comes to arthritis, such as drinking cider vinegar, avoiding dairy or coffee. These have not been proven to be accurate, no matter how many times we hear them or how many people say to do it. Limiting dairy can cause deficiencies in key nutrients for bone health. Curcumin (turmeric) has been used by many to reduce inflammation but the jury is still out on this spice.
  • If a particular food seems to aggravate your senior’s arthritis symptoms, have them avoid it. Be careful that nutrients in that food are made up in other food choices.

Other Actions Against Arthritis

For many adults with arthritis, medications can be successful at treating their symptoms. If your senior has been prescribed medications, you can help them understand the importance of taking them properly.

As a family caregiver, you can encourage your senior to take the actions necessary to prevent worsening of their arthritis so they don’t allow it to limit their independence.

The Arthritis Foundation states that interventions for preventing the effects of arthritis actually only reach 1% of those who could benefit from them. Prevention is limited but arthritis symptoms can be managed with an effective treatment plan.

Don’t let your senior be one of the arthritis statistics when steps to improve their health are available!

Family Dynamics of Caregiving When a Spouse is Primary Caregiver

Family caregivers have much too do in a little time to accomplish what is needed.

They work hard to juggle all the balls involved when caregiving day in and day out.

There may be medications to administer, meals to prepare, clothes to wash, doctor’s appointments to keep, a senior loved one to entertain, and more – –  just in the morning!

The rest of the day holds many more tasks that can be simple, complex, enjoyable, frustrating, and require nursing skill you didn’t know you had!

Caregivers can use extra hands to get all these small and large jobs done each day. Don’t you wish you were an octopus sometimes so that you could do more than one thing at a time?

Some family caregivers are fortunate to have a wealth of nearby helpers, whether family members or paid, while others are alone to accomplish it all!

Spouses as Caregivers

Many family caregivers are spouses caring for their partners. They are both aging and doing their best to care for each other’s needs.

Neither one is enjoying their golden years, which may be getting tarnished. Gone is the dream that they will enjoy aging in health and happiness, walking hand in hand down the beach or on the front porch swing.

For many, they are stressed to care for the needs of their loved one and finding a diminished quality of life for themselves.

New research from the University of Arizona, by co-author Dr. David Sbarra with joint appointments in Family Studies and Human Development and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, has highlighted the fact that the quality of life of an older person is largely dependent on the health of their partner. The findings were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

It’s not too surprising to imagine a senior’s quality of life can be negatively impacted when caring for their spouse. Stress, fatigue, anger, disappointment, resentment and a wide range of emotions can lead to decreasing quality of life.

Traveling as a couple is limited if one person’s mobility is impaired. Certainly socializing with your peers becomes a struggle when dementia enters the picture and your spouse can’t keep up with the crowd.

It doesn’t matter how nice your friends are, they often won’t hang out when there is stress involved and will quietly fade from your circle. Losing friendships and one’s identity is not uncommon when caregiving takes over.

Dr. Sbarra feels that it will be vital to look at both partners who are aging when we develop programs to meet the needs of elders.

Older married couples are interdependent and need to be treated that way especially when attempting to aid cognition and physical health with interventions. They should be treated as a unit.

Effects of Caring for a Spouse

Despite that fact that at the current time more women are providing care for their spouses, that balance is anticipated to swing to a more even distribution in the near future.

When spouses provide care for those over 75, each typically provide equal amounts of care. The median age of spousal caregivers is 64.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association, over 56% of family caregivers are caring for spouses. In addition to caregiving, the typical caregiver is employed and works full time.

Role as Spouse Loses Out in Caregiving

Becoming the caregiver instead of the partner can put a strain on the relationship. Many spouses feel as though they have lost their best friend and face a stranger every day. Learning how to navigate a new role as a spouse can be difficult.

Not only does a spousal caregiver feel strain but also loneliness, even in the presence of their partner. It is not about being alone but losing the closeness that once was there when you were together.

Many caregivers report that their grief is like mourning for a lost way of life.

Spouses who honor the ‘in sickness and in health’ agreement they made find that they begin sacrificing their own identity when caregiving. Many spouses find they have to give up jobs, financial security and support from their personal network when they are caregivers.

Social isolation for both partners is common.

Many spousal caregivers feel a sense of responsibility for caring for their partner. They only want to do what is right and what their partner would do for them if the roles were reversed. There is a great deal of satisfaction knowing that you have done all that you can for your spouse.

Coping as a Caregiving Spouse

Even though you are a caregiver, you still need to care for yourself. Here are a few strategies that might help you cope if you are a spousal caregiver.

  1. Enlist the help of family and friends for tasks that need to be done and can be done by anyone, such as lawn cutting or grocery shopping. This will give you time to be a spouse instead of a caregiver, talk with your partner and spend quality time together.
  2. Keep a list of chores that need attention at the ready for anytime someone says ‘let me know what I can do to help’. No need to consider, just pull out the list and give them a job. Don’t be afraid to give your spouse tasks around the house for which they are capable of completing. It will give them a sense of purpose, keep them from boredom leading to poor behavior and allow you to attend to other things too.
  3. Hire someone to help do more personal chores, such as bathing, if possible so that you can remain in the role of spouse and friend and not care taker.
  4. Schedule time in your day for you. Get a medical checkup, get your hair done, have lunch with a friend or read a chapter of your favorite book. It doesn’t have to be more than an hour but everything else that is non-emergent will wait. You need to recharge your caregiving batteries.
  5. Seek respite time from organizations that provide this service. Perhaps you need a weekend to visit grandkids or friends once in a while. There are programs which can fill in for you so that you can take a quick break. You could also send your spouse to the senior center for a few hours can give you much needed time to take care of things including yourself.
  6. Connect with people in your situation. Join a local support group in person or try an online community. You will be able to vent your feelings, get advice and learn about the disease process so that you can better cope.

Asking for Help is Not Weakness!

One survey reported that, compared to family caregivers who were not spouses, more than half (58%) of spousal caregivers had no outside help from family, friends or paid caregivers.

Yikes!

Unfortunately, spousal caregivers seem to tell others that they are doing fine. It is their duty, after all.

Most find the tasks of caregiving slowly overwhelm them as they seem to add up over time, instead of starting out being too much. The tasks seem to pile up before most even realize that they are doing so much and become burned out.

It is important to your ability to continue providing care for your partner that you care for yourself. We hope that you will accept and even request help. Take time out for yourself. Join a support group or find some way to express your emotions.

You don’t have to be alone on this journey!

Solving the Puzzle That is Alzheimer’s – Finding Hope in Recent Research

Alzheimer’s continues to have no known treatment and certainly no cure despite that fact that it is the 6th leading cause of death in America and the 5th leading cause of death in those over 65.

Recently we heard said that if you have a brain you are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

If that doesn’t make us all want to find a cure, nothing will!

We are learning more and more about the disease, what could be contributing to its prevalence, how genetics can influence its development and how our neurons become damaged.

What We Don’t Know About Alzheimer’s

What we don’t know is what to do about it once we see its symptoms or how to prevent it.

Neither do we know what can be done to reverse it or even slow it down significantly.

Therefore, we are left with adults who have degenerative brain impairment and caregivers who live many years meeting the needs of their loved ones who have been diagnosed with dementia, forced to watch them slowly become someone they don’t know and who don’t know them.

There is some hope on the horizon in the field of research that we at Senior Care Corner® keep a close eye on so that we can all benefit.

Treatment Using Ultrasound

There is a new research effort from Australia using ultrasound technology to clear amyloid plaques in the brain that lead to memory loss in those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The buildup of amyloid plaques, a sticky protein that clumps together and neurofibrillary tangles cause neuron damage that impairs cognitive function over time. It results in the inability for neurons to receive nutrients through the tangles.

In an article published in Science Translational Medicine, the research team reviews their modality which uses focused therapeutic ultrasound to non-invasively send sound waves into the brain tissue affected. It stimulated microglial cells to begin removing the waste (plaques and tangles).

They tested this thus far on mice with a full restoration of the memory in 75% of the mice. Furthermore, they saw no damage to the surrounding brain tissue.

This is still in testing but the researchers feel that this information could fundamentally change the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. After testing in sheep, they plan to test humans in 2017.

Can Green Tea Defend Against Alzheimer’s?

Many foods, including so-called super foods, have been touted to prevent or protect against dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The latest food is green tea. Some are proposing that it has the capability to “prevent and possibly reverse” the effects of dementia. They report that green tea can prevent amyloid plaque from forming, break down current plaque and help to create new neurons in the brain tissue.

Scientists have been using neuroimaging scanning to show that green tea extract can boost activity in the area of the brain that controls memory.

How does green tea do this? Apparently there is a compound in the tea known as catechins that has a neuro-protective effect and reduces neurodegeneration. EGCG, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a polyphenol in green tea may promote neurogenesis or creation of neurons.

Promising Green Tea Study

One study administering various teas to people over 70 in Japan found that drinking 2 or more cups per day of green tea reduced the odds of cognitive impairment by 54%. This study was questioned due to the fact that the subjects were not monitored for adherence. Therefore further study to show the impact of green tea extract using neuroimaging was done.

Immediately following drinking a 500 ml green tree extract beverage, imaging was done to visualize the memory function of the brain in the prefrontal cortex.

The results are hopeful that increasing our intake of green tea may influence our brain function. What form of green tea is best, how much of the EGCG component is needed, and how many times per day over how long a period of time will we need to drink the tea in order to see results are questions that are yet unanswered.

Eyes a Window to the Brain?

Duke University researchers are testing the eyes of seniors to determine if a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s can be made using optical coherence tomography (OCT) to capture cross-section images of the layers in the retina. Seniors were first tested using a standard memory screen which measures thinking and memory.

Seniors may be exhibiting typical ‘senior moments’ or lapses in memory unrelated to cognitive impairment.

They hope this eye imaging can uncover cognitive impairment by examining plaque formation in the eyes or thinning of the layers of the eye, which could indicate dementia.

If this strategy works, it would be an inexpensive, non-invasive and readily available test to determine early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The study will continue and they hope to have an answer in two years.

Blood Test to Diagnose?

A blood test that will detect early Alzheimer’s disease is getting closer to reality. It can be used to screen older adults for particular biomarkers indicating the disease.

The specific systems and guidelines are being determined so that physicians and labs know how and when to perform the test for accuracy.

Clinical trials are forthcoming.

Drugs May Have Potential

With the push for more research into not only treatment but cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there has been a focus into medications that might be successful to treat the disease.

There are many drugs in development but several researchers feel that the answer will lie in the use of a drug cocktail similar to that which has been working in HIV/AIDS. This dementia cocktail will aim different drugs at different targets.

Many of these drugs are still in the testing phase of clinical trials, which means results and benefits for those with the disease may still be years away.

But there’s progress.

Reduce Your Risk

A recent study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that you can reduce the risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes.

  1. Get physically active.
  2. Learn something new.
  3. Stop smoking.
  4. Become heart healthy.
  5. Prevent head injury.
  6. Eat a healthy diet especially the Mediterranean diet or the Mediterranean-DASH diet.
  7. Get enough sleep.
  8. Be proactive treating depression or stress.
  9. Be social.
  10. Engage your brain.

Roadblocks on the Road to a Cure

Many experts in the field of dementia research point to two key areas that are creating roadblocks to breakthroughs in the treatment and cure of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The first roadblock is funding. While in the last few years funding has increased, it still remains well behind other diseases such as cancer.

The second roadblock is getting enough volunteers to participate in the clinical trials. Heather Snyder, PhD, director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association has stated that “volunteering to participate in a research study is one of the greatest ways someone can help move Alzheimer’s research forward.”

We at Senior Care Corner® also agree that clinical trials are an effective way to not only get new treatments and care for our senior loved ones with dementia, but also advance scientific knowledge in the field to help others with dementia.

Together we can — we will — find a way to solve the puzzle and end Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition is Important to Health – So What Keeps Our Seniors From Eating?

The importance of good nutrition for seniors cannot be understated as they age.

Getting the nutrients they need is just as vital now as when they were younger — for some even more important.

Seniors need nutrients to remain healthy and strong but often don’t need the same amount of calories as when they were younger.

Because their calorie intake declines, many seniors are not getting the nutrition they need to keep themselves healthy. When they reduce their overall intake, they also reduce the level of essential nutrients they get each day.

Reducing the amount and quality of the food they eat has many causes, including finances, accessibility, loss of hunger or appetite, difficulty preparing meals, trouble chewing/swallowing/self-feeding and loneliness. Alterations in taste and smell can also impair the quality of a senior’s diet.

Consequences of Poor Meal Intake

When seniors start to skimp on meals or skip meals altogether, their nutrition becomes compromised, which in turn damages their health. Seniors who live alone are especially vulnerable to poor eating habits.

It has been shown that two out of five seniors living alone show signs of poor nutrition.

The quality of their diets can affect their health and the diseases from which they suffer. Sometimes when seniors try hard to follow doctor prescribed diets, in their effort to follow the diet they can become over restrictive and miss out on key nutrients.

When seniors’ diets are out of balance their health can be affected.

  • Fat intake can be related to heart disease, cancer of the colon and prostate.
  • The lack of nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients, can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cancers have a strong dietary link as well.
  • As their bodies lose strength, seniors have more difficulty meeting their own needs and are at risk for skin breakdown, falls, confusion, weakness and potentially long term care facility placement.

What Caregivers Can Do To Improve Seniors’ Nutrition

Caregivers worry about the health of their senior loved ones and know the consequences of poor eating can mean a loss of independence. Doing whatever we can to improve the nutrient intake and therefore the health of our aging seniors is our goal.

Here are some suggestions for caregivers:

  • Observe your senior loved one to determine the root cause of their decreased intake. Are they having trouble with their teeth or dentures? Do they have difficulty swallowing or a dry mouth? Are they weak and unable to cook for themselves? Can they access food or are supermarket trips too demanding? When you determine some of the causes, you can work on solutions.
  • Get them a health checkup. Is your senior ill? Are they eating less because they have medications that are changing their taste buds or decreasing their appetite? Do they have an undiagnosed illness that makes them feel weak or ill? Perhaps a trip to the doctor for an evaluation would be helpful.
  • Check their refrigerator. Do they need to be cleared out of foods that are expired? Are the foods they have nutritious or primarily ‘junk’ containing few nutrients? Do they need help selecting more nutritious foods that they can prepare? Be sure there are sources of all types of foods including dairy, protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If not, you may need to intervene with shopping help or home delivery.
  • Would they benefit from home delivered meals, either from an agency for seniors like Meals on Wheels, an organization that prepares meals or even a restaurant nearby that delivers? Sometimes having a complete hot meal available helps with overall intake. 60% report that cooking for one is a challenge to getting healthy food.
  • Can you or other family members stop by at mealtimes so that seniors are not alone or lonely? When there is someone to talk with during a meal, seniors often eat more. It has been reported that 76% of seniors report eating alone. Companionship and socialization will help to improve eating habits.
  • Help with healthy snacks. Many seniors find it difficult to eat three balanced meals throughout the day due to feelings of fullness, lack of desire or energy to create the meals or being alone. You can help guide them to nutrient dense snacks that can supplement their smaller meals, such as Greek yogurt, peanut butter crackers or half sandwiches. Be sure they have healthy snacks on hand ready to eat when needed.
  • Offer financial assistance. Many seniors are spending less than $100 a month on food, others think they can’t afford nutritious foods and some need more support. Perhaps you can help them budget their income better or steer them to buying nutritious foods spending less (using coupons, buying with sales or in-season). If they aren’t receiving help from the government, you can go to benefitscheckup.org to see if they are eligible for assistance programs such as SNAP that can give them some money toward food. If you can, help buy some nutritious food for them to keep the pantry stocked.
  • Arrange senior center participation. Family caregivers can connect seniors with the nearest senior center where they can socialize, learn something new, participate in events and get a balanced meal. You may need to arrange transportation for them to attend.
  • Invite your senior to dinner. Make it a routine to include your senior in your family meal once or twice a week or take them out to a restaurant where they can pick their favorites and take home a doggy bag. When they eat at your house, send them home with another night’s meal to reheat. Involve other family members and hopefully the main part of their week’s meals will be planned not to mention the added socialization.

Other Actions to Consider

If another step is needed, you might consider nutritional supplements, such as shakes or power bars, that your senior can add to the mix. This will give them a little extra nutrition as insurance, as long as they don’t use it as a meal replacement.

A multivitamin might also help, if they are not taking one already.

Your senior’s doctor may suggest an appetite stimulant if things are reaching a crisis point but that should be a last resort.

Getting physically active will increase your senior’s appetite so keep them busy! Don’t forget keeping hydrated, so water should be kept in reach and sipped throughout the day!

Some of these solutions are not too hard to accomplish. They will be fun for you and them.

When given a preference, most seniors prefer to eat with others so giving them some company will help them improve their eating habits.

A little good nutrition will allow them to feel better, be healthier, and enjoy life!

Creating a Living Memory in Honor of a Loved One You’ll Never Forget

Flowers on a grave site for lost loved ones, war heroes and friends symbolize that you are thinking of them.

You show respect and honor them every time you visit the cemetery.

Many feel the presence of their loved one, if even in their own memories, when they sit in quiet contemplation nearby.

Most people go to the graveside to mourn someone or to remember them. Some have conversations with their loved ones. Some people make a day of it and take a lunch with them to enjoy with the family including those who have passed.

What if you can’t take a trip to the cemetery but want to show the same respect to lost loved ones?

You can facilitate the grieving process and build a living memorial to your loved one by creating a garden in their memory in your own backyard or home.

Getting Started

You have decided that you want to make your own special memorial garden so that you can visit it regularly and feel nearer to your loved one so now it’s time to get started.

  • Start by deciding where you are able to locate it.
    • Do you have a large backyard area that you can create a ‘living room’ or is your space limited? Some people may have only enough room to have a container garden on a patio or even a windowsill in the house.
    • You could use a side yard to create your oasis or a courtyard area. Perhaps one single flower bed in the yard can be dedicated to your memorial. Whatever space you have can become a beautiful area for reminiscing.
    • Do you have access to a small lake, creek or water feature?
  • Depending on the space that you have to use, you will then need to create your master plan. Draw on paper your ideas so that you can determine what materials you will need. Will you need pots or flower beds, dirt, mulch, stones, rocks or pavers?
  • Decide how many plants and hardscape objects you can incorporate into your design. Can you add a bench or seating area, a stone walkway or wall, a birdbath, statues or remembrance plaque?
  • Once you have an overall design idea it is time to think about which plants you want to incorporate.

Flowers and Plants to Build The Garden

The plants that you grow in your memorial garden can have a significant impact on the feeling it evokes. There are many, many different kinds of plants to choose from and each can have a memory attached that can bring back the spirit of your loved one.

Would they love to have roses or cabbages in the garden? Did they have a special relationship with a particular plant that you remember? For instance, did they always have a vase or mason jar of daisies on the table in the house or was a single yellow rose their favorite? Perhaps your fond memory is making pickles together so maybe you want to grow pickling cucumbers in the flower bed.

There is no right or wrong way to create your personal memorial garden.

Here are some considerations when choosing garden plants:

Color

When picking the bloom, think about what color has the most meaning to you and your loved one, there are different meanings or emotions associated with the color of the bloom.

This chart breaks down the colors and might help guide your selections.

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Attraction

Are there plants that attract things your loved one would enjoy if they were seated beside you on the bench or stone wall? Would they love to see butterflies in the garden, honey bees or hummingbirds?

There are specific plants that will attract each one of these creatures to your memorial garden so pick wisely!

Would they prefer an apple tree to make applesauce or a vegetable garden to feed the family or flowers to cut and put in containers throughout the house?

Fragrance

Sometimes a particular scent can be associated with a memory. Did your loved one use a jasmine perfume or eucalyptus shampoo that whenever you smell that fragrance you think of them? That would be the type of plant that would be wonderful in the garden.

Perhaps they loved cats and had several over their lifetime, maybe a catnip plant would be fun.

Fragrant flowers or plants can stimulate memories like nothing else. In fact, the olfactory sense in the limbic system is often called the emotional brain because it can bring strong memories back quickly!

Duration of bloom

When will particular plants bloom during the year? Will they bloom in spring, summer or fall and have some show in the winter?

Can you plant a flower that has brilliant blooms on your loved ones birthday or your anniversary? Can you fill the garden space with several different blooms that will keep the garden lush with flowers and color throughout the year?

Plan for your space restrictions and your preferences for the most advantageous blooms.

Ease of care

If you have limited time to spend tending the garden, you might want to factor in the amount of work it takes to nurture the plants.

  • Will they need constant pruning or weeding?
  • Will they need treatments for feeding or pest control to keep them free from harmful bugs?
  • Will they attract predators such as deer or rabbits which will make their dinner from your garden?
  • Do you have enough sunshine or too little shade to promote growth and health for particular plants?

Name of plant

You can choose plants based on their name to honor your loved one. Did you know that there are roses with people’s names such as Beverly, Betty Boop, Penelope or special names with meaning like Falling in Love, Paradise, Missing You, Remember Me or Heaven?

A name with a special meaning to you and your loved one can only increase the joy.

Birth month flower chart

Perhaps you would like to add in a plant that symbolizes the month that your loved one was born. Each month has a corresponding plant that you can learn about in this chart.

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Remembrances in the Hardscape

Once you have decided on a plan for the overall scheme and picked some plants that will adorn the space, it is time to consider what form of remembrance you will add into the space that can be everlasting.

Will you add a bench or some other feature that was once owned by your loved one or find something new that complements your area?

Would you like to add a statue that your loved one would have liked such as an angel, a bird, a religious symbol like St. Francis, cross, obelisk (often used in cemeteries to point toward heaven) or a bird bath? Perhaps a combination of these depending on the space.

Even if you have a small area or a container garden you can find small objects that signify something about your loved one. A special stone or figurine in the container will be beautiful!

Is a plaque that commemorates your loved one, including name and dates or something special about them such as ‘beloved mother’ or ‘treasured dad,’ something you would like to add? There are a variety of shapes, sizes and materials that could fit into your space. You could even paint a patio flagstone with this information.

It doesn’t have to be professional or formal. It should fit your loved one’s memory.

By creating a memorial garden that is tranquil and a place of peaceful reminiscence, you will keep your memories of your special loved one alive and be able to share it with other family members.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – Uniting to Stop Abuse of Seniors

Millions of older people are victims of abuse and we can help prevent it.

We MUST help prevent it!

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2015 (WEAAD), a day established to spread that message.

The theme is One Person, One Action, One Nation United Against Elder Abuse.

This theme is so important to consider because it only takes one person to report abuse, stop abuse, or change the life of a senior who is a victim for the better!

Elder Abuse is a Big Problem

It is estimated that 5 million older adults in America are victims of some form of elder abuse either neglect, exploitation or abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, self-neglect, abandonment and financial) committed by those who are responsible for their care and well-being.

Unfortunately, the statistics represent just the tip of the iceberg, as for every case reported it is estimated twenty times as many are never reported.

Elder abuse in its many forms affects seniors at every age, walk of life, living situation, culture, race and socio-economic level.

Financial abuse is the most often reported problem and women or those over 80 are the most vulnerable.

Elder abuse can happen wherever a senior lives — in a senior’s own home, in a facility or even in the hospital.

Maybe the worst part is that the abuse is often perpetrated by someone in the family — someone who is loved and trusted by the victim!

Elder Abuse Beyond the Numbers

Seniors who are victims of abuse are at higher risk of premature death than those that have not been mistreated. This is a startling fact that should get everyone’s attention.

Seniors can be at greater risk of becoming a target of abuse if they exhibit these risk factors:

  • Dementia
  • Social isolation
  • Mental health problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor health

There are more seniors affected by various forms of abuse than we realize because so often it is not reported to authorities. Why would seniors not tell people who can help?

  1. Many seniors fear telling someone about their abuse for fear it will continue or get worse.
  2. They are afraid the person who is abusing them will get into trouble if they talk about it, especially when it is someone in the family and/or the person who is their care provider.
  3. Many seniors are embarrassed that they allowed themselves to be victims and are ashamed.
  4. Some seniors may think that if they tell authorities about their abuse they will be forced to leave their home and be placed into a facility, especially if the abuser is their caregiver.
  5. Many seniors feel that they may be the cause of the abuse and feel guilty, so they will not tell anyone.
  6. Other seniors may not recognize that they were abused or be in denial.
  7. A large number of seniors are incapable of reporting their abuse due to dementia or other physical limitations.

Importance of Reporting Suspected Abuse

Because so many of our senior loved ones are unable or fearful of letting others know about their abuse so it can be stopped and the abuser punished, it is up to all of us to report any suspicions we have about seniors who may be in danger.

How do you spot abuse? There are some signs that could indicate there is a problem that you might observe. Sometimes signs will mirror those of dementia but should still be taken seriously and investigated.

  • Bruising that does not have a known cause such as fall, bump or medication.
  • Unexplained injuries, broken bones.
  • Poor physical care, unclean, not shaved or teeth not clean. This could be caused by a person or the senior themselves (self-neglect). Unsanitary living conditions, bugs, lack of heat or running water. A drastic change in behavior can also be a sign.
  • Weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration. Food and water not provided or used if available.
  • Improper medication dosage with either overdose or failure to receive dosages.
  • If your senior is withdrawn or pulls back from touch as if afraid of being struck.
  • Finances being mismanaged, money or possessions missing, identity theft, changes in will or power of attorney.
  • Broken glasses or dentures.
  • Appearance of marks on wrists or ankles that might indicate restraint use.
  • Caregiver won’t let you talk with the senior alone or visit alone or perhaps won’t let you visit at all. Caregiver substance abuse.
  • Observing caregiver yell or threaten senior.
  • Senior reverting to childlike behavior such as rocking, thumb sucking or mumbling.
  • Evidence of sexual abuse such as soiled underclothes, bleeding, genital infections or STD.
  • Leaving the senior alone at home or deserting them in public.
  • If in a facility, duplicate billing, untrained staff, insufficient staff, crowding.

If you feel that someone you know and love is being abused, report it to adult protective services or police as soon as possible. If you think their life may be in danger, call 9-1-1. Be ready to give specific details of suspected abuse. It is not necessary for you to have evidence but information about your concerns so that officials can follow-up.

Don’t forget that just because your senior is not wearing fresh clothes every day at home or they don’t participate in everything the facility offers or they didn’t get their pills today doesn’t mean that someone is abusing them. They do have the right to refuse care if they choose.

When personal choice becomes self-neglect and an unsafe situation occurs, it will be time to take action.

Scams Target Elders

Seniors are prime targets for criminals who want to take their money or other possessions. Scams can happen to your senior via telephone, email, social media sites, in person, mail, or in public.

It is important to remind your seniors to take precautions to protect themselves from professional liars who want to scam them. Tell them not to give out personal information to anyone, never sign anything they don’t understand or before you help them, don’t let a stranger in the house, get bills online to stop a paper trail, their grandchildren won’t call for money and they probably didn’t win the sweepstakes.

Remember, an abuser may be someone your senior loved one — and you — know, love and trust.

If they think they might be a victim or you might suspect it after reviewing their financial situation, contact the police to report it. Scams happen to many people and they shouldn’t be embarrassed that they fell for it. They can help prevent someone else from being a victim if they tell police.

There will be several events planned around the country to increase awareness of elder abuse that you and your senior can attend to learn more. Be an advocate for seniors!

Take Action today!