Dating and relationships is not a topic you see me write about much here at TakingCareofGrandma.com.[Read more…]
Or, the #1 question I get asked as my grandma’s caregiver[Read more…]
It’s the holiday season! Time for presents and big meals and delicious sweets and good cheer…. right?
Not for everyone. If you’re feeling like, “whoop-de-do,” don’t worry. It’s natural sometimes.
For some of us, especially after or amidst a caregiving experience, we’re at a point in our adult lives where the magic and whimsy of the holiday season literally has no effect. We are awakened to that which is truly valuable in life, and we can’t latch on to the commercialism and consumerism of the season.
The holidays are all about spending time with loved ones. For some of us, the thought of getting together with our families has us reaching for the Pepto Bismol or a wine glass, because we don’t have the same warm, loving relationships like the ones that are shown in the mass media.
Some of us have lost a close person in our lives and are having a time dealing with the empty space next to them at the typical traditions. If looking at Facebook Memories this month has made you cry, you are not alone.
If you’ve experienced a loss, don’t have the best family relationships, or maybe you just had a rough year, it’s normal to feel like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
No matter what your reason, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty (including yourself) for not catching the holiday spirit.
It’s hard not to get down on ourselves, but we have enough to deal with without making ourselves feel like we aren’t human or have some kind of disease when we find ourselves switching the station when the Christmas tunes come on or passing on invites from friends and family to holiday parties.
Try to find one small thing that YOU enjoy about the holidays you can do to spark the whimsy and warmth of the season. Take some time to show yourself some love.. and then, just maybe, like Charlie Brown’s tree, you’ll start to perk up a little.
Help. We all need it to get through our day-to-day routines.
Someone turning 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long term care services and supports in their remaining years (LongTermCare.gov). Those are some pretty good odds.
What kind of support a person needs and receives has a major impact on their quality of life. It can determine where they live, affect their health, and more.
It is important to think about what that support might look like so that you can have everything lined up when your LO needs it. [Read more…]
A good first step in being prepared to care is taking a look in the mirror. [Read more…]
This past week, I had the honor of presenting a webinar on Caregiving.com.
In September, I began the Certified Caregiving Consultant training offered by Caregiving.com. We had a check list of activities to complete before we could become officially certified. My final task to become certified was to host a webinar (or twitter chat or chat on Caregiving.com), so I decided to stick to my day job (haha!) and present a webinar.
I wanted to make my webinar count for something, so I focused on the Integrated Supports Star. Integrated Supports is a principle of Charting the LifeCourse, a framework we have been building at UMKC through collaboration with individuals with developmental disabilities, family members, professionals, and systems change agents across the country over the past 6 years. [Read more…]
Over the past few years with my grandma, a few things have become essential to my survival as her primary caregiver. In my last post, I listed the tangible items, things that I can physically hold or access through technology that have made my life easier.
In this post, I will focus on the intangible items that you can’t just go out and buy at the store. These include good relationships and knowledge to make good decisions, which are things you have to invest time in searching for and building.
10) Safe person
A safe person is a person that will listen to your rants and problems non-judgmentally. You won’t have to worry about this person hotlining you did or making you feel bad for something you said. You never have to apologize or make excuses for something you did when you talk to this person. Your safe person validates your experience and feelings and never offers unsolicited personal experiences or advice.
9) Love substitute
A love substitute is a way of giving the affection and care that your caree needs when you have run out of love to give. As a general rule, I am not a super touchy feely person, so my love substitute comes in the form of Karen, Grandma’s daytime helper. She is always sweet and kind to Grandma. I know when my grandma is with her, that she is getting all the feels she needs. [The idea of a Love Substitute comes from The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey – caregiving.com]
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re a younger caregiver like me is get you a Leo. Leo is one of my grandma’s closest friends and he is far closer to her in age than I am. Sometimes when I tell my grandma something (like we need to switch to online bill pay or to tear up mail from the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare because they’re lobbyist groups only reaching in her pockets), she doesn’t believe me because I’m so young. So she consults with Leo to get the facts. And, since Leo has been around the block enough with us many times, he always calls me first before he touches base with Grandma to see what the appropriate response should be ????
I don’t take offense to this, I just accept the fact that my grandma trusts Leo because he’s been there for her many times when she needed help, he is a man, and he is older. I just appreciate having him in our lives to advise us and back me up on important issues.
In order to help your caree have a good life, you have to have a vision of what that good life is. You also have to map out what that person doesn’t want in life so that you can be sure and take steps to avoid it. If you have just been thrust into a caregiving situation or it’s been a while since you spent time with your family member (both scenarios applied to me), you might need to both get on the same page about what that person’s good life looks like to them. When I became responsible for my grandma, I used the Charting the LifeCourse Life Trajectory Worksheet to help me list her vision for a good life and what she didn’t want.
You also have to have your own vision of your own good life, so that you can keep moving in that direction, even when it seems impossible under the everyday activities of caregiving and for when caregiving ends.
A good caregiver always has a plan. Not just a “Plan B” or an escape route (seriously though, always map out the quickest way out of the building in case of a colostomy nightmare or meltdown), although these are very important. I’m talking about a plan on how you are going to get to you and your caree’s good life.
I used the Charting the LifeCourse Life Trajectory Worksheet to help me plot the steps I needed to take to help my grandma get to the good life. I also created a trajectory for myself to remind me of the things I can be working on when I get free time to help me advance to my own good life.
5) Support System
Everyone needs a lineup of all stars and pitch-hitters. When you are a family caregiver, it is even more important for you to map out your supports, not only for your caree, but for yourself as well. To help me think through all of the resources and supports at my disposal, I used the Charting the LifeCourse Integrated Supports Star. I completed one for my grandma, and then I created a star for myself. By completing a star for my grandma, I was able to see who else there was to help me with her. By completing a star for myself, I have a list of help that I can reference any time I have a problem that I can’t manage on my own. Anytime we have a problem, we use the star to map out what supports we can access to help us solve it.
4) Knowledge of laws, rules, and policies related to health care, families and caregiving
At your job: Some employers offer caregiver support programs through employer sponsored insurance and have specific regulations around taking time off for caring for a family member. Get familiar with your employers general policies for taking time off as well.
In your state: Some (but not all) states have formal respite and family caregiver support programs. Do your research to find out what your family might be eligible for if and when you need help. All states have Area Agencies on Aging that are mandate to help older adults and their caregivers access the information and learn about local resources that can help them.
At the federal level: Educate yourself on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). Learn about Medicare and/or Medicaid and what rights you have when they are your primary health coverage or funding any long term care. Medicare and Medicaid providers are required to follow certain rules. Learn about these rules so you can know when they’re not being followed and hold providers accountable. If you care for an older adult, make sure you’re aware of any policies that focus on aging Americans. If you care for a person with a disability, make sure you’re familiar with the Americans with Disabilities and Olmstead Act. Also learn about tax credits you or your caree may be eligible for to recoup costs of caregiving and long term care.
A few years ago, I used to take everything so seriously. I would bottle things up until I was literally sick or explode when something upset me to the point people were afraid of me.
My mom taught me about mindfulness, which is all about living in the moment. When you live in the moment, you are not stressing out the past (what you didn’t do, or what you did that wasn’t good enough) or freaking out about the future. I used to find myself so frozen with worry and guilt and grief that I couldn’t function. Now, I meet with my emotions face to face, accept them, learn from them, and move on.
Time is too precious to get angry, feel guilty, or stress out. Find the best strategies you can use when you feel like the world is turning upside down, whether it be meditation, naming things you are grateful for, playing your favorite song, or just pausing to look out your window for a while.
2) Routine (and flexibility for when you can’t follow your routine)
Having a routine will benefit both you and your caree. For a caregiver, it makes redundant, everyday activities much simpler and allows you to block your time so that you can get more done for you in your own life, and for your caree. For the caree, it provides comfort and stability when they can know what to expect. To learn more about our journey with establishing a routine, visit http://rachelh15.sg-host.com/manic-monday-building-a-routine-for-your-sanity/
1) ME Time
Your routine should include time for yourself, which is why ME Time is its own line item in the list of intangibles in the survival kit.
The best way to figure out how to take a break is to see where other people or scheduled activities can take the place of the time you are spending providing care. For me, one of my regularly scheduled Me Time appointments takes place on Friday nights, when my grandma is at her Life Group. Fortunately for us, her Life Group leader comes to pick her up and drops her off each Friday night. When I get off work on Fridays, I can just go home. I don’t have to rush home so I can get out to her house. This weekly break has been a life saver for the past year and a half.
Another opportunity I get to take a break is on the third Thursday of the month, when she goes to Keenagers, a dinner for older folks, at her church. As long as I find someone to take her, I can relax for an evening. It is a beautiful thing.
What relationships and skills are in your survival kit? Who makes your life easier as a caregiver? I’d love to hear how you’re getting by.
Over the past two years, I have been learning to balance the role of a family caregiver. As the sole living relative to my grandmother, who was an only child (like myself), the responsibility of her care falls completely on me.While it is true that there are many demands and stresses caused by caregiving, I find that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Most of these are from my own personal experience, but there is research that shows that being a family caregiver, especially a grandchild who is providing care, can be beneficial.
Top 10 Reasons Caregiving is Good for You
1. Caregiving helps you save money.
I realize that this is not the case for everyone, but as a single young adult, becoming responsible for my aging loved one has helped me straighten out my finances big time. Here’s why:
- I’ve been too busy providing care to go out and throw away money or sit around worrying about the things I don’t have.
- Taking care of someone who needs care shows you the true value of things.
- When you spend time hanging out with the older generation, you will find that you start adopting their thrifty habits. My grandma was born immediately after the Great Depression. Her parents grew their own food. Hell, my grandma even made her own clothes up until the 1990s. You really learn what you can live without, the difference between what you need and what you want.
2. Caregiving keeps you out of trouble.
I’m not gonna lie, before my grandma had a major health event that resulted in her needing extra help at home, I was pretty wild. Taking care of my grandma has helped me calm down a lot.
There is nothing for your sobriety like knowing Medical Alert might call you at 11:30 at night or 3:30 in the morning.
I don’t have time for dating so all that drama got cut from my life QUICK.
I’m even going to church on Sundays (granted, I’m taking her…. But you get the picture)!
3. Caregiving teaches you new skills.
Since I’ve been helping my grandma, I have learned more about time management, care coordination, navigating health care, ostomy care, cooking and meal planning, nutrition, advocacy, and the list goes on and on. The things I have learned while caring for my grandma will help me in my own life, and I can use my experiences to help others.
4. Caregiving improves cognitive and physical abilities.
New York Times Article outlining the hidden benefits of caregiving, a study of 900 female caregivers showed that, “caregivers did significantly better on memory tests than did non-caregivers followed over two years” (Span 2011).
When you are providing care for an aging loved one, you have to keep on top of medications, appointments, nutrition needs, medical supplies, home maintenance, finances, care schedules, and social activities. After caring for someone for a while, you will find yourself recalling information more easily.
In that same article, a study reported that caregivers “maintained stronger physical performance than non-caregivers. On tests like walking pace, grip strength and the speed with which they could rise from a chair, the high-intensity group declined less than lower-intensity caregivers or non-caregivers over two years” (Span 2011).
There is nothing like providing support to a person who is a fall risk for strengthening your reflexes. When you are constantly thinking about preventing falls, your mind operates on a new plane where any wrong move could result in a broken hip or a back injury, which causes you to develop lightning fast reflexes, a Strong Man grip, and superhuman speed.
5. Caregiving is a symbiotic relationship.
Caregiving is not a one-way street. The person who is in need of care is not the one who always is the beneficiary of caregiving. People who require care also have a lot to give. In a study of 17 grandchildren who were family caregivers, the people surveyed reported “a sense of self, spending time together, learning about life, and emotional and financial compensation” as the benefits they enjoyed through their caregiving role (Fruhauf 902).
We all spend a lot of time with our grandparents and come to appreciate them for all they do for us as we are growing up. But spending time with my grandma as an adult has been a completely different experience. It is like getting to know each other all over again. There is a lot that you don’t see or can’t understand as a child.
While I have always known that my grandma loves and cares for me, since our roles have reversed my grandma is appreciative and thankful for my help, which brings a new element to our relationship and makes me feel good. So there is an emotional gain for me in caregiving that I would not otherwise be experiencing.
6. Caregiving teaches you patience.
When you are taking care of someone who is older than you and moves slower than you, both mentally and physically, you quickly learn how to adjust your pace. If you are responsible for someone who has memory problems, you get used to repeating things often and not getting frustrated when they don’t remember.
7. Caregiving enhances your relationships with people.
Seeing how valuable spending time with one another can be will make you want to spend more time with and do things for other people you love and care about. Since I have been taking care of my grandma, I have been calling and checking on my family members more often and stopping and taking a few minutes to send them a handwritten note.
8. Caregiving teaches you compassion.
When you assume a caregiving role, you will find yourself interacting differently with people. You will be less irritated by that lady taking forever in the drive-up banking or the couple walking slow out of the grocery store. You might start smiling more and making small talk with people in the checkout line. You might even finding yourself wanting to give more of your time and wanting to help more people.
9. Caregiving forces you to focus on what’s most important.
Before I began taking care of my grandma, my priorities were way out of whack. My spending was out of control, my personal choices weren’t necessarily positive, and I had a lot of free time on my hands that ultimately ended up getting me in trouble. Now, I have to make sure I handle my business so I can fulfill my caregiving responsibilities. It really has eliminated a lot of the extra drama and stress out of my life and help me appreciate the people around me and the experiences we sometimes take for granted.
10. Caregiving can make you feel good knowing you’re doing the right thing.
There is a moral imperative to caregiving. Who would I be put my life before someone who has sacrificed her needs, health, and heart to make sure that I was healthy and loved and had everything I needed? Even if all your grandparents did was make your own human life possible, that should be enough!
Besides the fact that you wouldn’t exist without your grandparents, there is the basic human right of living in their own homes and communities. Even the federal government acknowledges that helping older Americans age in place and stay at home is best practice and the best long-term care solution for our country. But people out there will try and tell you that your loved one would be better off somewhere “where they can be taken care of.”
Don’t ever let anyone tell you your loved one can be cared for better anywhere other than their home. There are always ways of keeping them safe at home, no matter your budget or whatever level of support they have currently.
Putting your loved one in a home won’t keep them safe. It won’t keep them from falling. People fall in nursing homes all the time. Nursing homes don’t provide the nurturing, caring environments they show in senior living magazines. Would you rather have a bracelet on your body at home where you are comfortable, or pray you’re close enough to the call light when you’re cooped up in your little room, where you spend 75% of your day?
If I had dumped my grandma in a nursing home when the going got tough like the people at her church were telling me I should, my grandma could be gone by now. However, I can lay my head on my pillow and sleep at night knowing that I am doing the right thing, which has to be a better feeling than anything I would be doing right now if I had washed my hands clean of the responsibility of providing her care.
- Fruhauf, Christine A. and Jarrott, Shannon E., Allen, Katherine R. (2006). Grandchildren’s Perceptions of Caring for Grandparents. Journal of Family Issues, 27(7), 887-911.
- Span, Paula. (2011). Caregiving’s Hidden Benefits. New York Times. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/caregivings-hidden-benefits/?_r=1
Your experiences as a caregiver can help someone going through a similar situation. Caregiving can be tough, and there are times where you feel all alone, but if you look around, there are many people going through what you are going through. Whether you are in a waiting room at the hospital, walking by them as they visit their loved one in a skilled nursing facility, or posting on a message board, you can help others through your experiences. If you find yourself wanting to share the things you’ve learned with others, I encourage you to seek out your local Area Agency on Aging or senior center to connect with a caregiver support group or peer mentoring program.