Friday, December 15, 2017

Caregiver Strategies for Special Holidays

Caregivers, please at least glance at the holiday strategy list in this article by David Lowell, M.D.: Strategies for Special Holidays. Especially if you are a new caregiver this Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, but even if you’ve already devised some great holiday shortcuts in previous years, you might find some great new ideas or tweaks to old tips.

I’ve been through nearly 20 holiday seasons with aging parents, and my family continues to adjust our strategies to new developments. For instance, I used to love inviting the whole family, 15 people, to my house for Christmas dinner and gift exchange. Then one year, it pained me to announce I simply could no longer handle this. (As our parents' bodies tire more easily, so do ours!) I had hoped perhaps someone would volunteer to help me keep this tradition I cherished, but no one did. Instead, something even better for our parents’ situation developed—an out-of-state brother and his wife arranged to come into town, completely decorate our mother’s house and coordinate a yummy potluck there. Then Mom didn’t have to go anyplace, which is increasingly difficult for her. This year, Mom didn’t think she could have the whole family, now 18 people, in her house, so my same out-of-state sib and his wife rented a party room a few blocks from Mom’s and once again, have pulled all the rest of us into a team to host a Christmas feast. Now Mom gets the freedom to leave the party and go home when she gets tired. It will feel odd for us when she leaves, but we know this is best for her.

A friend of mine has made tough choices with family traditions this year, too. Just as her mom and dad drove the family up to their Michigan cottage each summer, for the last few years, the kids have been driving their aging parents up to the family cottage. But this year their father’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to the stage in which disorientation produces agitation and anxiety. This autumn siblings disagreed about whether their father would enjoy going to the cottage or be worse for the trip. Then came Thanksgiving, then his grandson’s wedding, now Christmas … Mom can join the family for all these events, but Dad is really better off staying in the nursing home. This is heart-rending for everyone, except possibly Dad, whose emotional equilibrium is protected with this strategy. Meanwhile, individual family members can go to him to express their love for him and celebrate holidays in quiet ways in familiar surroundings. Our family made this adjustment as well when our dad was in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Lowell suggests adopting a “Life is change” philosophy. I agree. And I would add that learning how to grieve in healthy ways is a good thing to begin practicing now. Grief is not only a post-death issue; we grieve the loss of our and our parents’ abilities and holiday traditions as well. Consult your pastor or librarian or Google to find effective books on the subject of grief and/or local support groups. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Living with Your Home Health Care Aide

Your home is your castle. You're used to storing your eggs on the left-hand middle shelf of your fridge and your coffee beans in the cupboard right above the coffee maker. You keep your checkbook handy on top of your desk.

Now you need in-home help. In addition to anxiety over compatibility with a stranger in your home, you wonder if you need to take security measures, or if you'll be able to find your things in their customary places.

Kim Champion's article in Today's Caregiver might put your mind at ease about some of these issues. Just click on Living with Your Home Health Care Aide to read her great advice.

Friday, June 2, 2017

"Pascal, Passports, and Past Regrets" in Today's Caregiver magazine.

Today's Caregiver magazine printed my article, "Pascal, Passports, and Past Regrets" in its May-June issue. I describe a caregiving day when my mom inspired me by not regretting and my dad encouraged me to let go of one of my regrets. My mother is truly Queen of Graceful Transitions, even in the face of loss. The article includes examples of conversation tips when speaking with a person in mid-stage Alzheimer's. You can read it here.

The whole issue of Today's Caregiver is worth a look, and you can access it by clicking this link. Some topics include
How to Cook for a Loved One with Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
The Marilu Henner Interview
Listen to Your Symptoms: When to Seek Emergency Care
Personality Change: A Family Member's Perspective
After 20 Years of Caregiving: Some Realizations

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Let's talk toilets!

Personal hygiene becomes more difficult with range of motion limitations. With personal hygiene difficulties come more urinary tract infections (UTIs). With more UTIs come possible UTI-related dementia and/or avoidable pain. Even when a UTI is asymptomatic pain-wise, it can trigger forgetfulness and confusion.

Please forgive this indelicacy, but a woman’s ability to wipe her derrière clean without pushing any stool particles near her urinary opening is critical to prevent UTIs. Some older women simply cannot physically do this. Asking her caregiver to wipe her is likely embarrassing.

So I was wondering how to make this easier, and my one experience with a bidet toilet came to mind. A gentle spray of water washes your behind, and a gentle poof of air dries it. Voilà. No need to twist or reach to wipe with toilet paper. The water duct would have to be aimed properly, of course, or the spray could push stool particles toward the urinary opening.

When I Googled the use of bidet toilets (not freestanding bidets) to prevent UTIs, this New York Times article by Paula Span, “Begin the Bidet,” appeared. Link to it here. This article from 2012 concluded that it’s an interesting idea with possibilities. Tests would need to be conducted. Here’s hoping …

Looking for practical ways to keep your loved one independent longer? Another helpful toilet apparatus is described by Valeri Thelen in “Give Me a Lift,” an article she wrote for’s newsletter. Read it here. Thelen discusses common causes for difficulties getting up from typical toilets and two types of power-lift toilet seats on the market. The article also suggests adding padding or height to the toilet seat.

Toilet seat risers, with and without arms, have been around for a long time and are relatively inexpensive. Commode chairs typically have arms and the ability to adjust seat height. You might also check your local nurses’ lending closet to see if their inventory and lending policies might allow you to borrow these items for the length of time you might need them.