10 New Year’s Resolutions to Keep for Family Caregivers of Seniors

The lives of those who are family caregivers of seniors can be difficult, with many demands on their time from their senior loved ones, spouses, children and their jobs.

It is often even more difficult when you add into the mix the additional stress of wanting to do the very best for family — and often having your efforts taken for granted.

Your senior loved one demands your attention and time, often times with little or no spoken thanks in return from them or other family members.

Challenges face you every day, every minute some days.

Sometimes those challenges are repetitive but too often you are hit with something out of the blue.

As the calendar turns and family caregivers of seniors contemplate resolutions for beginning the year with a bang, we offer a few tips that can help you stay strong and energized in the New Year!

If you are one who doesn’t believe in resolutions (“I never keep them”), you might call these promises you are making to your loved one and yourself. After all, by following through, you not only make their life better but yours too!

Resolutions (Promises) for Caregivers

  1. Thank yourself in case no one else does. Even if they don’t say it out loud, they are thinking it and know how fortunate they are to have you caring for them.
  2. Ask for help! There are people who can help you, give your respite and ease your daily caregiving responsibilities. It is not a sign of failure to accept help!
  3. Take time out of every day to care yourself so you can go on caring for your senior.
  4. Get your flu shot! You can’t afford to be sick! Be sure you take care of yourself, including all preventive health care to keep you well.
  5. Read a book of inspiration or new ideas; learn more about how to cope with your senior’s specific disease such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc.
  6. Join a support group! Learn from others who walk in your shoes and then help someone else cope!
  7. Maintain balance between your family, work and caregiving lives.
  8. Deal with your emotions of anger, confusion, frustration and talk with others who can help you. Keep a journal to help release your emotions in private.
  9. Check your senior loved one’s finances to ensure they can cover their needs, seek advice from experts on how to make the money last.
  10. Stay positive you are making a difference in the life of someone you love!

We wish happiness and health to you and your senior loved one in the upcoming year!

Oh, and let us say it — Thank you!

Aging Independently, Healthy & Safely With an Assist from Technology

Aging seniors have more to which they can look forward as they age than ever before.

They are healthier and want to enjoy their time pursuing different types of activities.

Technology has been trying to catch up and keep pace with them, helping them continue to pursue their dreams, making it even easier to live in the home of their choice.

One area where things have begun to improve for aging in place seniors is home monitoring.

The use of wireless technology, sensors and connectivity to family members has improved our seniors’ ability to remain independent longer.

There are many different ways caregivers can stay connected to their seniors, seniors can stay connected to healthcare professionals, and seniors who need more help to age in place can connect to the support they need.

Home Monitoring Systems

Home monitoring allows seniors and healthcare providers to better manage their health and prevent complications or hospitalizations by working together.

The doctor is a button push away. The healthcare team can connect on a routine basis to monitor vital signs, symptoms, medication management and other health parameters to treat in a timely way and avoid preventable health issues.

Seniors are becoming more confident about their tech savviness and feel more comfortable using these devices to connect with family and health professionals.

One study found that, by using home monitoring devices for their health, seniors were able to reduce their emergency room visits by 38% for every 1000 participants. They spent 14 days less in facilities too.

Best of all, they saved $700 a month on healthcare.

How did this occur? Early and routine interventions to manage chronic disease and provide quick adjustments to treatment to prevent health crises keeps seniors healthier.

Determine What is Needed

Being able to age in place successfully will require seniors and family caregivers to really examine what they need to be successful.

  • Is it available to them in the current situation?
  • Is the home able to be modified for someone with mobility issues or to prevent wandering?
  • Are community support and services within reach for your senior?
  • Will there be transportation available to get them safely to and from when they can’t drive?
  • Are supportive family members nearby?
  • Is there a safety net of healthcare options including doctors, hospitals, outpatient facilities and pharmacies available that meet their needs?
  • Can their home access broadband connections to allow for use of the latest technology?
  • Are there healthcare providers who will connect using the latest technology?

Once you determine where aging in place gaps might be, can you fill them before it is too late?

Rural Seniors at Increased Risk

What will be needed by seniors who currently live in rural areas and don’t always have all the services to support them as they age in place the way that urban seniors do?

These rural seniors will be at increased health risk due to poor access to healthcare.

One study found that rural seniors took more medications and had a greater number of adverse drug events, had more chronic diseases, and had a shorter life expectancy.

It is interesting to discover that rural seniors were less likely to treat bone loss but took more pain killers. This could set them up for falls with injuries.

They often have fewer doctors and specialists, doctors have less staff to support them in their outreach efforts, and usually had a higher caseload per doctor. Rural seniors had to wait much longer to get an appointment.

Rural seniors were more likely to have a lower level of education and be poorer. They had much less access to public transportation to get them to a healthcare provider or anywhere else.

There is usually less access to walkable spaces and a means to remain physically active for seniors who are rural. Their urban counterparts were more likely to have a larger support network and socialization opportunities to help protect them against chronic disease.

Connected Healthcare for Rural Seniors

Will technology be able to connect healthcare providers to rural seniors so that they can get benefits from routine medical monitoring to age in place?

Of course, that requires the seniors have internet access, technology devices and the necessary training and support to help them use the devices intended to benefit them.

Rural community dwelling seniors are less likely to have broadband internet available than those in urban and suburban areas, which presents another challenge.

Rural seniors will need more help from family caregivers and responsive community providers to get them ready to adopt technology for improvements such as home monitoring to give them a safe aging in place experience.

What About Seniors Who Are Frail?

Will seniors who are considered frail be able to live at home, alone? What supports do they need?

Let’s determine what exactly is a frail senior. The dictionary defines a frail senior as someone over 65 who has functional impairments or anyone over 75 years.

“Frail” often connotes someone who has medical, nutritional, cognitive or activity impairments that limit their ability to be independent.

One new program whose results are being watched closely is called the Support and Services at Home (SASH) program in Vermont. It will provide aging in place seniors’ care coordination and basic services. It also provides primary care. The fees are covered by Medicare who pay the providers of this program a per month, per member fee for its operation.

The initial results show some promise but also some mixed results. The cost of Medicare spending was reduced for the participants but they accessed hospital services more than similar seniors not in the program.

Service Coordination Needed

All players, including providers of medical care and social services, government, and advocates for seniors, agree that improved coordination for all the services and supports seniors need, especially those who are already considered frail was necessary for their independence.

We continue to learn what works and what doesn’t as well as the barriers or financial disincentives in place that will prevent frail seniors from achieving aging in place success.

Hopefully we will find solutions to overcome these barriers sooner rather than later.

Music & Memory: Access & Connect Despite Cognitive Impairment

We worry our memories may be failing, especially when we misplace the keys or forget someone’s name.

Our memories are not kept in a box for easy retrieval but are, as we learn more about the brain every day, stored in many parts of our brains and work together when needed.

The brain actually breaks down our request for memory and processes it on demand.

Driving a car takes more memory processing than you might think. Some of the steps to process include:

  • Finding the key
  • Turning on the key
  • Operating the vehicle
  • Obeying traffic laws and signals
  • Watching for others on the road
  • Knowing where you are heading/directions

…and other thoughts to get us from point A to point B.

Even when one part of the brain may be damaged, such as in cognitive loss, other parts may still be functioning well.

What can we do as family caregivers with our senior loved ones to help improve their memory skills?

Music has been shown to find stored memories more easily and help seniors with dementia reconnect with the world around them.

Long Term Memories

As opposed to your senior’s short term memories, such where they put the house key or a phone number of a neighbor, long term memory is more permanent, with a place in the brain devoted to storing it.

Long term memories are those we have decided, whether or not we realize it, have importance and need to be stored (at a time when we are capable of storing them) or have been repeated over time and thus are stored.

Recollections our senior loved ones have of parts of their lives, special events, and life experiences that hold emotion for them – something that made them feel and think are long term memories that get stored.

Memories Rewritten

Long term memory improves and deepens with age and can influence seniors today. They believe that these long term memories are great things. These memories are often embellished. More importantly, they can affect behavior and choice.

Some long term memories actually are ‘rewritten’ by our seniors. The events become more fulfilling, more special and changed by the act of remembering.

Our seniors are shining a positive light on the memories which can affect their opinion of their current situation in a positive way too.

Becoming nostalgic and reminiscing about positive events can impact our seniors’ emotions today. They may not be able to change the fact that they are experiencing functional decline with aging but they were something special in their prime – witty, energetic and fun to be around.

Singing and the Aging Brain

A new report finds that, for people with early stage dementia, singing (not just listening to music) can improve brain function and mood.

For participants who sang, thinking skills, memory and their ability to find their way around improved compared to those who either listened to the music or had no music intervention.

The improvement from signing was found in people younger than 80 with mild dementia, while those with advanced dementia were the only group that showed an improvement when listening to music.

An interesting byproduct was a decline in symptoms of depression for participants who both sang and listened to music.

Prior musical training, such as playing an instrument when they were younger, had no impact on the outcomes observed.

Researchers respond that finding musical activities should be applied and used widely in dementia care, not only in a facility setting but with family caregivers as a means to stimulate cognition and maintain emotional well-being in those with dementia.

Singing seems to be more effective because of the level of engagement required compared to passive listening.

Brain Connection – Music to Memory

Not only for our senior loved ones but us as well, music is linked with special memories. We hear a song or even a melody and a memory comes rushing back into our consciousness.

The reason is that our brains are wired to connect music via our long term memory.

Regardless of our seniors’ cognitive function, even those with severe dementia, music evokes memory.

In fact, people with dementia can access well-preserved memories through music.

Music can act as a calming agent for brain activity which in turn can help a person with dementia focus on the music and lyrics of a song in the present tense thereby connecting with those around them.

That connection can come as a surprise to family caregivers who are used to their senior loved one being unconnected, uncommunicative and seemingly lost in their own world.

In dementia, making new memories or finding words/language is difficult due to damage to specific parts of the brain. When a person listens to music, the brain processes both the music and the feelings.

Words and lyrics involve a different area of the brain. Foot tapping involves a different part of the brain influencing motor control.

Listening to music awakens parts of the brain where music memory is stored that still function but are being untapped.

Music Tips for Family Caregivers

Experts in the field of brain health, dementia and aging agree that using music can help soothe a person with cognitive impairment, evoke a deep seated memory, remind a person of a life experience (good and bad), or encourage motor movements.

Here are some tips about music that family caregivers can use in their daily routines to stimulate their senior loved one’s cognition.

  1. Use unfamiliar music to develop a new response, such as sleep or relaxation.
  2. Find songs that are familiar to your senior from childhood and sing along. Encourage them to sing the words, not just listen. Sing holiday carols to bring in the season.
  3. Play rhythmic music to get their toes tapping to increase movement.
  4. Select some music to play during activities of daily living, such as eating or bathing, to help keep them focused on the task.
  5. Find soothing melodies that will help them relax for a nap or bedtime.
  6. If your senior loved one becomes agitated or frustrated, use calming or meditative music to reduce their behaviors and refocus their attention. Use music in the background to affect their mood.
  7. Create playlists ahead of time with titles for specific purposes such as “calming”, “sleeping”, “bathing”, “singing” or “dancing” so that you are always ready when the need arises. These songs should be based on your senior’s favorite tunes.
  8. If your senior can tolerate it, go out to music venues and listen to music such as concerts, symphony, bands, or other forms of music entertainment events.
  9. Did your senior play an instrument? Get them connected with that instrument again so that they can play. If not, try cymbals, small drum, maracas, kazoo, bells or other noisemakers and start your own band!
  10. Play music for physical activity and make it a routine, even if from a seated position. Try musical chairs, dancing, hopscotch, or other movements set to music.

Music is easy to access every day.

When we realize the effect it can have on our senior loved ones’ mood and quality of life, we will seek it out to the benefit of both caregiver and senior.

 

When words leave off, music begins. — Heinrich Heine

Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory — Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music is what feelings sound like. ~Author Unknown

Pain & Injuries Can Result From Dry Skin – Nourishing Fragile Senior Skin

Warm, even balmy, weather with a few days of chill thrown in reminds us winter weather will soon be on its way.

The calendar is telling us winter is here, too.

Many people are hoping it arrives soon so they can enjoy the snow, ice skating, sledding and other winter sports and events that mark the changing of the seasons.

Or maybe they’re looking forward to a roaring fire. After all, sitting by the fire warming our toes is a truly relaxing time for many people!

Unfortunately, dry air also comes with the winter weather and warming ourselves up, air that can dry out our skin.

Seniors can be especially vulnerable to dry skin, which can be painful at times. Our lips, mouths, and eyes can dry out too.

For seniors who already find it difficult to drink enough fluid to replace what they are losing each day, the dry air in their homes will only make skin care more problematic unless we find a solution.

Drying Skin As We Age

As we age our skin goes through natural changes, as well as changes affected by our lifestyle and environment. These are called intrinsic (inside) and extrinsic (outside) factors that affect our seniors’ skin health.

Factors such as sun exposure, smoking, diet, and even our heredity cause progressive changes and even damage to our skin. Drug induced disorders, chronic diseases, ultraviolet light and pollutants also contribute to skin health concerns.

If circulatory or vascular conditions are present in our seniors, their bodies could have more difficulty healing their skin when problems do occur.

We lose fatty tissue between our skin and our muscles as we age, as well as see a decrease in the sebaceous and sweat gland activity that naturally lubricates the skin, making our skin thinner and more fragile.

Drying skin naturally becomes more susceptible to further external damage.

Our senior’s skin will become dry, rough, transparent or thinned and will bruise easily as the elasticity fades. We will see more wrinkles, sagging skin, age spots and flaky dry skin in our seniors.

Dry air in the car, home and other places our seniors spend time will further cause their skin to dry.

Dry Skin Consequences

When their skin gets too dry it can become cracked, bleed and even get infected. Xerosis is the name of the condition where skin becomes dry, cracked and it looks like cracked porcelain. It often is a result of water loss in the epidermis.

Bleeding occurs often as a result of scratching.

Dry skin can feel itchy to our seniors and may cause them to suffer from broken and bleeding skin when they attempt to relieve their itchy feeling.

It takes as much as four times longer for their skin to heal after an injury including deep scratches they may inflict when itchy skin strikes.

Another consequence of changing skin for seniors is an increased risk of injury as sensations decrease.

The sense of touch for heat diminishes making it more likely that cozying up to the fire or space heater can lead to dangerous injuries! Seniors skin won’t feel the heat or cold the way they used to so need to be more careful around a heat source including bath water or foot spas!

Care and Treatment of Dry Senior Skin

The best treatment for skin that is dry is to lubricate it – from inside and outside. Family caregivers can help senior loved ones do these things for better skin health.

  1. Drink – drinking water helps keep senior’s cells moisturized from the inside.
  2. Humidify the air, either with a portable unit to go with your senior or just use a dish of water near air source
  3. Moisturize skin to trap the moisture, especially applying when skin is wet for best absorption; a good lubricating cream should be used daily
  4. Avoid frequent bathing, which will aggravate already dry skin; use lukewarm not hot water
  5. Avoid using cleansers on the skin every day; use nonirritant soap
  6. Reduce skin friction from washcloths or rough clothing; blot skin with towel, don’t rub
  7. Eat a healthy diet that includes adequate amounts of zinc and essential fatty acids as well as fluids; avoid caffeine; add a source of vitamin C
  8. Talk to your senior’s doctor about their medications and review if there are any that could be contributing to xerosis
  9. Use a lip balm to protect lips from cracking
  10. Apply nourishing cream to hands after each hand washing
  11. See a dermatologist if skin the condition becomes worse, doesn’t heal or to rule out a relationship to other health problems

New Nourishing Skin Product

There are many new and some old products that you can use on your senior’s dry skin to provide moisture and help keep them lubricated.

It is important to pick wisely when looking for the best moisturizing treatment for your senior’s dry skin.

Don’t buy a lotion but instead look for a nourishing cream, preferably containing oils such as olive, jojba and even shea butter.

Recently we learned about a product from Medline called Phytoplex Nourishing Skin Cream.  We were provided with a sample to try for ourselves (we were not compensated in any way and the opinions here are our own).

We used the nourishing skin cream over the course of a few weeks on dry skin related to a dry environment. We were well hydrated during the trial period but subject to dry heated air without added humidity in both the home and car.

Naturally we, like many of our seniors, have used a wide variety of dry skin products over the years, including some very well known names. All will work for the time they are applied as they all add moisture to the skin. We liked the Phytoplex product because its affects really did last all day.

We used it once in the morning after a shower while our skin was still damp. It absorbed very quickly but provided a protective feeling all day. Our driest spots like elbows and heels felt renewed. They were smooth and more flexible instead of stiff and dry.

The cream contains nourishing elements including safflower seed oil, botanicals and fatty acids. It contains a combination of components known as phytoplex, which describes it in this way.

  • Phytoplex is a combination of all-natural, plant-based ingredients, including soy, algae extracts, green tea, and cloves.
  • It’s free of ingredients that might cause an allergic reaction, such as aloe, sulfates, parabens, petroleum derivatives, and phthalates.

It has a pleasing scent that is not overpowering and doesn’t linger all day.

They also have Nourishing Skin Protectant wipes that you might like for senior loved ones that work as well as the cream.

About More Than Wrinkles

It is really important for family caregivers to help seniors stay well-nourished inside and out in order to keep their skin looking and feeling healthy.

It isn’t just about the number or deepness of wrinkles in our aging skin, but of its overall health.

Having trouble with their skin can go deeper for many seniors.

Dry skin can lead to discomfort and even illness when not properly treated. Healthy skin is one part of good quality of life as we age.

The Snarf Scarf: Neat Eating for Style & Dignity

Enabling senior loved ones to enjoy lives that are healthy, safe and comfortable is the mission of their family caregivers.

Important to that is helping them live with self respect and dignity.

Working with older adults for most of my career as a dietitian, I have worked closely with seniors who are recovering from strokes, dealing with Parkinson’s disease, fighting end stage Alzheimer’s and many other conditions that made eating more difficult.

Helping them maintain their independence while preserving their dignity is a goal that is not always realized, unfortunately.

[powerpress]

The Snarf Scarf

Spillage is a part of life for many senior adults. Eating in a congregate dining program with other higher functioning seniors while losing half of your meal into your lap is not a dignified way to enjoy a meal.

snarf scarves‘Bibs’ may not sound very age appropriate but can be useful for many older adults, enabling them to continue feeding themselves without worrying about messing up their clothes.

That is where The Snarf Scarf fills the gap for many seniors and caregivers.

Recently we learned about this great product and took the opportunity to share it with you on the latest episode of the Senior Care Corner Podcast.

Tami Shadduck of Darwin Designs LLC tells us all about this helpful clothing – and dignity – protector that is so stylish that your senior will be proud to wear it!

News Items

  • Failing Sense of Smell Might Be Alzheimer’s Warning
  • New VA Program Seeks Medical Foster Homes for Aging, Ailing Veterans
  • Parkinson’s Drug Shows Promise Against Macular Degeneration

Quick Tip

  • Food Safety for the Holidays and Everyday

Links Mentioned in this Episode

 

We hope you enjoyed this edition of the Senior Care Corner Podcast!

 

 




In Case of Emergency – Helping Our Senior Loved Ones Prepare

Emergency preparedness is something family caregivers consider throughout the year.

How well our senior loved ones recover from an emergency reflects their preparation.

We think about getting emergency supplies in the house during storm season, as well as equipping the house with warning systems such as carbon monoxide and fire detectors.

Preparedness also includes knowing the location of the nearest emergency shelters – – just in case.

We have batteries, flashlights and non-perishable food stored in case the power goes out and we need to be safe several days while we wait it out. We also have made plans for emergency care of our senior’s medical devices, ability to manage their prescription drugs, and having supplies they require ready when needed.

However, there are several other things that caregivers should consider to fully prepare our senior loved ones (and ourselves) to face an emergency.

As winter approaches and the risk of emergencies increases, we have put together a few ideas family caregivers might want to consider in order to get their seniors prepared.

Emergency Facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 21.3% of people 65 and older visited the emergency room and 15.3% were hospitalized.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners report that almost half of the nation is not prepared to deal with potential losses. 48% did not have an inventory of their possessions and 28% did not know what type of insurance coverage protected them as a result of disasters. 65% don’t have flood insurance.

Catastrophic losses are the result of:

  • hurricanes – 40%
  • tornado – 36%
  • winter storms – 7%
  • wind/hail/flood – 3.8%
  • fire – 1.7%

Flooding is the most common natural disaster. Hailstorms, wildfires, and earthquakes affect us regionally.

Approximately 1,200 tornadoes strike the US annually. A typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes.

Safety Network

To protect our seniors during any emergency, whether natural disaster or medical, preparing a network of people who can reach out to help them is vital. Not only will it give us and them peace of mind, but this network is poised to help during a crisis.

Creating a network for your seniors, with their help, should happen now and be updated regularly. This network will benefit you as a caregiver, not just during an emergency but throughout the year, especially if you become ill and need a backup plan.

Caregivers can begin by bringing together people in the community who can lend support, such as family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, church friends, and even paid caregivers/companions, to join their network and upon whom they can call when needed.

Can helpers look in on your senior, drive them somewhere, transport them to a shelter, or care for the pet in case of emergency?

Could you use them to be in charge if you are a long distance caregiver?

Preparedness Planning

After careful discussion with members of the network, a plan should be in place and an agreement achieved before an emergency strikes so everyone knows their role.

Will they check in immediately after a natural disaster or drop in once a week?

Everyone in the senior’s network should have access to the senior and be able to contact the primary caregiver directly.

Do they need a house key, do they know where the emergency supplies and documents are kept, do they have access to insurance cards or medication list, and are they aware of our senior’s advance directive?

What is the communication plan if the telephone or power is not operational?

Can caregivers connect to a community or paid service that will link your senior to first responders, if needed, such as a Lifeline plan, PERS or local emergency providers before a disaster strikes?

Homeland Security has a form that you can use, called a Family Communications Plan, that you can download and complete including wallet cards for contact information and key points, such as a meeting place in case of emergency.

In Case of Emergency (ICE)

Recently we learned about strategies to help our seniors (and us) in case of an emergency so treatment will not be delayed as first responders search for an adult to get directions for care.

We can add ICE information to both our and our senior’s smartphones. Actually, everyone is advised to add an ICE contact in their smartphone for first responders and healthcare professionals to have access to the information that they will need to help in an emergency.

There are instructions we can access depending on the brand or operating system of the cellular device we and our seniors are using to help guide in setting up an ICE contact in our smartphones.

It is basically setting a new contact in the device and identifying it as ICE + their name. Add their relationship to the senior and all their methods of contact, such as cell number, home number, email address, twitter name, Facebook contact or any other means to access that person.

It is also helpful to include a few notes about our loved one’s medical history, such as a link to their medication list, allergy list, key points of medical history and any advance directives.

If a smartphone is password protected, it can be set up so an alert will appear on the lock screen and thus be accessible to emergency providers. It will only prompt them with the ICE contact information and does not give full access to the smartphone.

Backup Emergency Contact

Experts recommend you add two ICE contacts in case one is not available. Be sure to designate who should be contacted first with the ICE1 + name or ICE2 + name for the second point of contact.

Ideally the contact is someone nearby who is aware of the needs and history of the senior, such as spouse, child, etc.

We recommend you check out this reference guide for setting up ICE contacts: The Backup Plan ICE – My Phone Kit by Laura Greenwald and Janet Greenwald.

You can download a recognized icon to add to their contact information and wallet cards with information to keep handy ICE through this book and website.

Benefits of Preparedness

Family caregivers and seniors who are prepared will be able to deal with a disaster with a reduced amount of fear and anxiety.

You will have a plan established, know on whom you can count to help your senior through a disaster or emergency, and even have prepared the home to reduce any damage that might occur.

Having a plan, getting prepared and creating a network will help your seniors feel as confident as possible during an emergency, which will help prevent detrimental lasting effects.

Disasters have long term effects for seniors and the communities in which they live, so having a plan can help improve the outcomes our seniors experience.

Family Caregivers – Advocates and Worriers for Seniors’ Well-Being

Most family caregivers have taken their senior loved ones to the emergency room, hospital or routine preventive procedures.

We wait at the bedside when they are hospitalized for one reason or another.

We also know the names of the staff at the doctor’s office and in the ER due to the frequency of our visits.

Even when they undergo a routine test, family caregivers are sitting on the edge of their seats for a number of reasons. We worry about how they will handle it, if they are scared or uncomfortable, how long it will take, and what the outcome might be.

It usually isn’t a pleasant experience for either person. At some point we will need to care for them but also need care for ourselves.

What if we are the ones who need medical attention?

Family Caregivers Worry

Family caregivers might worry more about the status of their senior loved ones when they are sick, hospitalized or even just spending the day at the medical facility for a routine screening procedure than they do when they need care themselves.

Our time spent getting our own healthcare in the system is time away from the one who needs our help the most. At least that’s the way we see it.

While we are being treated, we think about what might happen if…

…we need medical care immediately without prior warning

…we will be off our feet for a prolonged time and can’t care for our loved ones

…we can’t work due to illness

…there is no one who can fill in for us if we are sick or hospitalized

…a situation arises that could change the way our life goes day in and day out

Family Caregiver as Patient

What if you become the patient, if you need the doctor or hospital, have an injury requiring immediate treatment or have an adverse medication effect?

Have you made a plan for what will happen if you aren’t available for a period of time? Is there a ‘Plan B’ for who can complete daily tasks for your senior loved one?

Is there someone who can be with you if you are the one seeking treatment and need support?

It is important to build a strong network of people who can not only help your senior loved one but you, too, if you need someone to lean on. You need to be able to have the opportunity to recover quickly so that you can provide care to your senior.

If you aren’t strong enough, who will care for those for whom you care?

Caregiver as Patient Advocate

When your senior is undergoing medical care, many emotions can surface for family caregivers.

It becomes your job to be the advocate for your senior loved ones.

Family caregivers easily become mother hens, feeling as though we need to not only support but protect our loved ones. You want them to get well and be well cared for by the medical professionals in whom you have entrusted your beloved family member.

Sometimes, when we are in that position, it isn’t easy to trust others. We look around and wonder why things take so long or staff is too busy to help us in what we believe is a timely manner.

We want things to go well but we also want to be informed, dealt with professionally and treated with dignity in the same way we want our senior loved ones to be.

Family caregivers want to be team members – not antagonists – to those in healthcare.

However, that can be hard to achieve when we are the ones sitting at the bedside.

We can see how overworked the staff appear, which makes us wonder if mistakes can be made when there is an overwhelming amount of work for them to do and many players in a complex puzzle that must communicate well with each other before our seniors (and ourselves) get optimal treatment. One department needs to know what the other is doing and when a problem exists that could delay treatment. This information then should be passed along to the patient and caregiver so that our expectations can match our treatment.

Communication is Important

If we are scheduled for a procedure at one time and things are delayed two hours, don’t make us wait in the dark for someone to come on time — we will definitely be disappointed and frustrated.

Communicate with us so that our expectations meet our care delivery. We can handle a delay when we are informed. It is when we are not kept abreast of changes that our frustration and disappointment builds.

Sitting at the bedside gives a caregiver time to think about what they expect, what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to the care their seniors and all their family members receive when they require medical care.

Our expectations aren’t just about the hospital but also from the doctor and her office team, ancillary staff including lab and radiology staff, outpatient surgery staff, housekeeping staff, food service staff, and other support staff our seniors may encounter during care.

Thoughts as We Wait

We wonder as we wait and wait for something to happen in the healthcare system.

  • What do we expect from the healthcare system and medical team?
  • How do we want our loved one to be treated?
  • Can there be too much communication or clearly explained information?
  • What name should they call your senior – Mrs., Mr., dear, honey?
  • What is timely treatment?
  • How long should we have to wait when we have an appointment time?
  • Will the healthcare team understand when our senior loved one has a cognitive impairment that might require special skills and consideration?
  • Why is it our responsibility, not theirs, to track down medical codes billed erroneously to our insurance to avoid paying for what was preventive care covered under our medical insurance but billed as something else?
  • Why do we have to fill out medical histories in different parts of the same system when all the questions have been answered more than once and should be in the electronic medical record they share?
  • Do they ever clean the handrails of the beds because you watch them changing the sheet between outpatient procedures but no one ever cleans the rest of the bed?
  • How do they protect your privacy when you can hear every word between doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, patients and family members throughout the outpatient and emergency room units?
  • How do we know if we got the right strength of prescription medications from the pharmacy – we can’t read the handwriting on the prescriptions?
  • Are they all washing their hands before they give care?
  • What does my senior do to get help when the nurse call light is hanging on the wall behind the bed instead of within their reach?
  • What can we do to help our loved ones, we don’t want to be helpless?

Ensuring Our Loved Ones are Treated Right

Is it an unachievable dream to be treated right, fairly, promptly, professionally or age appropriately?

Do we have to appear to be angry or unreasonable because we have to bother the staff for things that should happen without us asking?

We know the staff is working hard but our senior loved ones are vulnerable. They may not be able to ask for help themselves, may not be able to hear the instructions given, or may be scared.

Understanding and patience are hard to come by when everyone is calling for help.

Caregivers can appreciate this but just want to feel that their needs are being met so they can ensure their senior loved ones recover quickly and get back home.

Remembering how it feels to be on both sides of the bed – giving and receiving care – will help us all feel better about being treated by the healthcare team.

We don’t seem to be able to avoid needing help all the time, but could try to empathize with each of our unique perspectives.

Latest in Caregiving Robotics – Responding to Emotions and Needs

Robots are coming to family caregiving!

We believe that there will be a future in which robots will actually perform some tasks that family caregivers currently perform.

No one anticipates – or wants to see – robots making personal caregiving obsolete; instead they will enhance the role of caregivers by allowing them to better prioritize their time.

Using a robot to perform tasks such as supervising a senior loved one as they sleep at night to ensure they stay safe or help to transfer a senior from bed to chair without endangering the senior or caregivers will hopefully improve the life of family caregivers and make their daily tasks a little easier to handle.

Recent Innovations in Robotics

A team of researchers at the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute is working to build a better caregiving robot.

They are developing a robot that can listen, speak and even react to the needs of their human owners. They will try to improve aging in place for the nation’s seniors.

The field of robotics is expanding and we will see its effects in a variety of applications, such as driverless cars.

As the nuts and bolts of robotics are improved, the advancement continues in functionality and capabilities.

The UC San Diego researchers have collaborated with a variety of experts, not just in engineering but also social science and computing, to create robots that recognize their environments and situation. Once they process the surrounding input, they are able to configure the data for a more human-like response.

Drones for Caregiving

Another pioneering application for the use of robotics in caregiving is the use of drones.

Researchers at the University of Illinois received a grant from the National Science Foundation to design small autonomous drones to be used in homes for household chores such as getting medication from another room, dusting chandeliers and even weeding. They envision a time when drones will become today’s cellphones, in other words, everyday items.

Healthcare is also using more and more robotics for diagnostics and we will see even more Internet-based solutions to provide care to homebound seniors.

According to a recent article in Science, “examples of robotic and artificial-intelligence-derived technologies that will be commercially available in the next decade include intelligent walkers, smart pendants that track falls and “wandering,” room and home sensors that monitor health status, balancing aids, virtual and robotic electronic companions, and even drones.”

Robots in Use Today

Robotics in caregiving is not something new.

We are using a growing variety of robots to perform tasks for our aging population.

Here are some ways they are currently being used:

  1. Hospitals – robots travel to patient rooms in the hospital and perform stroke diagnostics. They can talk to the patient, review the medical record and interact with a physician who is in another location.
  2. Rehabilitation therapy – robotic exoskeletons are helping people stand on their own and walk. There are also robotic prosthetics that can help people with disabilities grasp and maneuver objects in their environment.
  3. Companions and socialization – robots are used to keep seniors company. They can converse with seniors, give them medication reminders and help them maintain an improved quality of life assisting with their needs. Socialization with a robotic animal can help seniors and caregivers.
  4. Home monitoring – computer devices that monitor patterns of activity, including eating and physical activity as well as safety with that data sent to caregivers remotely.
  5. Cleaning – vacuum cleaners that clean while we do other things, window cleaners that wash the windows, robots that mop the floor, robotic lawn mowers that keep the yard trimmed, and even pool cleaning robots.
  6. Home security – while this is in its infant stage, home security especially with the use of drones can help keep the property secured.
  7. In home visits – there is a telepresence robot that can do home visits with patients who are homebound when the caregiver is in another remote location. The robot can move throughout the senior’s home and get a bird’s eye view of the environment and the patient. It can also give them medication reminders and other prompts.
  8. Mobile service robotCareBot telepresence has been tested in an actual home environment assisting older adults. It interacts with the older adults, answers questions, assists with daily tasks and operates remotely to give the caregiver both audio and video feed. It can deliver emergency notifications to remote caregivers such as a fall or fire calling 911 for you.

Life Changing Robots For Home Use

Why is it so important to find solutions that allow our senior loved ones to remain home safely and securely as long as possible while giving our family caregivers much needed help?

The facts are pretty astounding!

Family caregivers are responsible for more and more tasks, including caring for their immediate families and keeping a job. They also need to care for themselves, which often is more things than they can juggle and still maintain a healthy balance.

Aging in place seniors can benefit from the use of robots to do some of these important tasks in the home while their family caregivers do other things.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) believes robots can solve caregiving issues in the future. They have recently funded through the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) research a robot that will improve health and quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

The NIH states that “robots have a tremendous potential to contribute to the health and well-being of our society, whether they are helping an elderly person engage in physical activity or promoting the curiosity of a child.” Their robot is a robotic walker that could help the elderly move more easily and retain independence — a four-legged robot that enhances mobility.

Number of Seniors Needing Assistance Growing with Population

The numbers of seniors needing more assistance to stay in the home of their dreams is growing. Many of these seniors are trying very hard to remain independent but a large number of them need an ever increasing amount of assistance to remain independent and more importantly safe at home.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that one in 20 people over the age of 65 is homebound in the U.S., meaning they can’t travel out of the home without help and are dependent on others to help them with daily tasks.

Homebound seniors rarely or never leave the house. In 2011 there was an estimated 5.6% (about 2 million) seniors on Medicare who were completely or mostly homebound.

Helping family caregivers help these seniors is a role we believe robotic caregivers will fill nicely, especially as improvements are developed. Affordability for caregivers will, of course, be a key to adoption, as will seeing the practical applications that can benefit both seniors and family caregivers in the near future.

We will continue to keep our eye on the future of robotics and how they might play a part in enhancing the role of family caregivers especially for seniors who are aging in place and we will bring you the latest innovations!

Costs of Growing Old – Will Seniors’ Financial Planning Cover Them All?

Now is the time to review your senior’s financial plan for what is yet to come in terms of health and aging needs.

With increasing longevity, their financial plan may need adjustment to meet future needs.

Seniors, no matter their ability or wellness, are likely to need some form of care as they age, which will cost them money.

Most seniors don’t sufficiently plan for the costs of care as they age and will need some support financially to get what they need.

Currently, about 13 million American seniors need long term care services and supports.

Most Seniors will Need Long Term Care Services

Statistically, 70% of seniors 65 and older will need some form of long term care services and supports during their lifetime.

Women will need care longer than men, 3.7 years versus 2.2 years.

The average senior will need some type of care for 3 years.

80% of long term care services and supports will be provided in the home rather than in institutions.

“Not my senior, he isn’t going to a nursing home if I can help it!” you may be saying. But long term care for aging is not just about placement in a facility.

Needing help from paid and unpaid sources for a multitude of reasons comprises long term care options for services and support as we age.

What Is Included in Long Term Care Services and Support?

When we think about long term care services and support, our minds often jump directly to nursing home care.

The truth is that long term care services and supports includes a little bit of everything. Most seniors will need something, even if it is unpaid care from family members like you.

Long term care services and supports can include:

  • Unpaid care
  • Paid care
  • Home care
  • Nursing facility
  • Assisted living facility
  • Adult or senior day care facility/program

These services might include support seniors receive to complete tasks of daily living (often referred to as ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, eating, transferring from one place to another, incontinence care and ambulation.

Other services that support a senior especially when living at home are called instrumental activities of daily living or IADLs, and are everyday tasks that need to be completed.

These jobs include even more tasks: housework, laundry, shopping for groceries, caring for pets, managing money and paying bills, making/serving/cleaning meals, using telephone, and taking medications properly.

When we stop to think of some of these items, it becomes clearer that our senior loved one will need long term care services as they age and family caregivers will be major players in getting these tasks accomplished for our seniors.

Naturally, we need to encourage and facilitate them doing as many of these things for themselves as long as possible to maintain their independence and mobility, but eventually they are likely to need assistance.

Paying for Help

Seniors usually pay for almost half of their care out of pocket, since many don’t have long term health insurance due to the high cost of premiums.

What will happen if you can’t provide all the long term care they require and they haven’t saved enough money?

Perhaps you won’t have time or personal finances to support them while meeting all their needs. Maybe you have illnesses or mobility impairments that will prevent you from assisting. Maybe it is your spouse and you are also aging and unable to complete all the IADLs for yourself.

What if you require help too? Will they go without care?

Has your senior planned financially to pay for the things they will need to age in place successfully?

A recent report has spelled out what we should all be thinking about to plan for our financial aging future. Seniors should be planning for paid care, since the number of family caregivers is expected to decline by one third by 2050.

SCAN Foundation Report

Recently, the SCAN Foundation released a report on the cost of long term care services and supports entitled Financing Options for Long-Term Care: Who Benefits and at What Cost? This report was completed in collaboration with LeadingAge and AARP and completed by both the Urban Institute and Milliman, Inc.

“This Long-Term Care Financing Initiative provides updated information to help policymakers and stakeholders create a viable set of policy solutions that will meet the needs of individuals, families, state and federal governments, and society at large.”

They found:

  • 52% of seniors over 65 will need a high level of help with everyday activities
  • Typical costs for care average $91,000 for men and $182,000 for women; this cost will increase with additional time or level of care needed

Consequences of Financial Insufficiency

Our older adults who do not plan accordingly for their future needs will face a financial burden. Family caregivers may be asked to help out with the cost of aging so their loved ones will get the care they need.

Many seniors will not be able to afford care, which will result in inadequate care and potential facility placement.

Many families will go bankrupt trying to meet the costs of healthcare and long term care services.

Family caregivers who try to fill the gaps in their senior’s financial plan will often face paying themselves for their senior’s long term care needs, which could impact their own retirement plan.

Caregivers who can’t afford to pay for care for their family members find themselves in the precarious position of providing that care themselves. Family caregiving can take a toll on their employment and many face leaving careers to become caregivers. This impacts their own financial well-being, both now and in the future.

Much Long Term Care Cost Paid by Families

It has been estimated families pay as much as 50% of the out-of-pocket expenses for long term care services for their seniors. Many seniors do not have long term care insurance, which could help with these costs of care.

Genworth Financial Cost of Care survey estimates that the cost of a year of paid long term care services and support will conservatively be between $17,000 and $87,000. One year in a nursing home will cost 2-3 times the annual household income of those over 65.

Government healthcare and insurance will be unable to provide necessary resources for many of our aging Americans who haven’t set aside enough money to fully meet their needs.

We can begin to open the dialogue about finances with our senior loved ones and discuss the plan for the future so that strategies can be put into place to meet the coming need.

They will need it so now is a good time to decide what can be done to make paying for the care they will need a reality.