Take a Time-Out: Effective Coping Strategies to Combat Stress In-the-Moment as a Family Caregiver

Guest Post Author: Angela Stringfellow | Caregiver Homes

There’s tons of advice offering relaxation strategies to help caregivers cope with stress, but what about those moments when you feel like everything is going to fall apart — the moments when you feel like screaming? No one needs to tell you that self-care is important, but finding the time to focus on your own needs seems an impossible feat, let alone finding the money to pay for luxuries like a day at the spa or a massage.

As a caregiver, you need stress-beating self-care strategies that you can use, in the moment, without taking valuable time out of your caregiving duties or money that you simply don’t have to spare. Here are a few such coping strategies that are both cost-effective and easy to use – strategies that you can implement in minutes, with immediate results.

Visualization and Guided Imagery

This stress-busting tactic is free to use, and for some, it’s an effective coping technique when you desperately need an escape. MentalHelp.net describes the technique as a “systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image of an attractive and peaceful setting or environment.” It’s really as simple as that:

  • Find a calm, quiet space.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and body.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Devote all your attention to imagining your ideal escape – a beach, the woods, a boat on the middle of a glistening lake, or whatever setting makes you feel calm and relaxed.
  • Spend time focusing on your senses and imagining the sensations you’d experience in your visual escape. For instance, you might imagine the feeling of warmth on your skin from the sun or the smell of the ocean.
  • Imagine yourself feeling calm and relaxed, happy and smiling.
  • Once you feel relaxed, you can end the visualization, open your eyes, and rejoin the real world.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique often used in conjunction with guided imagery, but it works as a stand-alone stress-busting tactic as well. This stress-busting strategy is also sometimes called “tense and release,” as it involves systematically tensing up muscle groups, from your head to your toes, and then relaxing while focusing on the way your muscles relax as the tension flows from your body.

Because it requires your full attention, progressive muscle relaxation can take your mind off of those in-the-moment stressors for a few quick minutes, and once you’ve worked through each muscle group, you might just be surprised by how much calmer and more relaxed you feel.

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Aromatherapy

Essential oils can be useful for a variety of circumstances, but there are several essential oils that are particularly beneficial for stress relief, such as lavender, bergamot, chamomile, fennel, and Ylang Ylang, among others.

There are a few ways you can use aromatherapy to combat stress. The simplest way is to open a bottle of stress-relieving oil and gently breathe in the aroma. If you have the time for a quick shower, you can drop a few drops of essential oil into the shower for a whole-body aromatherapy experience, complete with the relaxing sensation of hot water and steam.

5-Minute Cardio Break

Exercise releases endorphins – those feel-good chemicals in the brain that make us feel happy and content. That’s why a quick, 5-minute cardio break can be such an effective stress-beating strategy for caregivers. Put some basic exercise equipment to use if you have it available, or you can do something as simple as a set of jumping jacks to reap the benefits of physical activity for combating stress. According to Harvard Medical School professor John Ratey, MD, just two minutes of exercise is enough to boost your mood – as long as the activity increases your heart rate.

10-Minute Yoga/Stretching Break

While it won’t raise your heart rate like cardiovascular activity, taking a 10-minute stretching or yoga break can also do wonders for beating acute stress and anxiety. Whether you simply take a few minutes to yourself to stretch your aching shoulders, arms, and legs or want to follow a formal, instructor-led yoga series, this is an activity you can do for free in just a few minutes for some immediate relief.

There are many yoga tutorials and guided stretching videos available online, free of charge. You can even choose videos that demonstrate the best stretches to target certain muscle groups, such as your upper body, or those that can help to alleviate a stiff neck or lower back pain.

Taking time out for self-care as a caregiver may seem like a mountain you just can’t climb. Thanks to these creative, cost-effective, stress-beating tactics, you can finally combat stress and find a welcoming escape to get through those moments when you feel like you’ve met your breaking point – all without breaking the budget or spending hours of time away from your loved one.

About author:

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Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer based in central PA. She writes about aging, senior living, and issues facing older adults and senior caregivers for Caregiver Homes and a variety of caregiver-focused publications.

 

 

What to Do When an Aging Parent Forgets Who You Are

A well-known and yet hurtful reality of dementia or Alzheimer’s is the forgetfulness and memory loss that can occur.  Memory loss is particularly difficult for family members to cope with when their parent or loved one forgets who they are.

Forgetting the names of their children, forgetting that they have children, or mistaking their child for another person or family member is not uncommon for individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  And while this new reality may be shocking, to remind them that they’ve forgotten such an intimate detail about their life can be quite upsetting to them.

When I worked in the nursing home, my training prepared for these types of interactions.  I would say hi to some residents who I’d been working with for years and knew that while I may look familiar to them, they sometimes had no idea who I was. Although not being recognized did have an emotional impact on me this is nothing when compared to caregivers who are also daughters, sons, husbands, and wives. This is sometimes the most difficult for family members, and I want to offer tips on how to work through and cope with this specific aspect of dementia care.

Let them be who they are, no questions asked.

Correcting and quizzing are two common responses to loss of recognition that I’ve witnessed both professional and family caregivers use over the years. At times these types of approaches do work, however, in my experience the intent of asking the question is to offer the caregiver reassurance or validation rather than the person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The most common orientation questions are, “Mom, who am I?”, “Who is this?”, “Do you know where you are?”, “Do you know where you live?”.  The directness of the question can be confusing for someone living with dementia. Their memory recall is not as fast as ours, so undoubtedly when faced with these types of questions the easiest answer is a sheepish laugh followed by an “I don’t know.”

These types of questions also force the person to suddenly take back control of their situation and surroundings, which can be quite alarming. They’ve had to entrust that the caregiver will provide for them and it’s our job to maintain that sense of safety at all times.

Watch the video below from the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland as they work through questioning and frustrations that can occur for someone living with Alzheimer’s.

Staying in the moment  

Our relationships are built on years of memories, and when someone forgets who you are to them, it can be hurtful and confusing. Spending quality time together will help them feel more secure. Try holding their hand and listening to their favorite song.  Spending time on things they enjoy doing or that you shared together in the past is a beautiful experience for both of you.  Not only do you get a piece of your relationship back you also provide them with a sense of self.

Unsure of where to start?  Check out 4 meaningful ways to spend time with a loved one living with dementia.

Reminisce

Reminiscing is a good tool for stirring up memories for your loved one. Asking broader questions can be a great way to start the reminiscing process. Through conversation and dialog, you may find that your loved one begins to remember so much more.

Many people living with dementia-related to Alzheimer’s remember their childhood through their young adult lives quite vividly. Looking at old photos or discussing old family recipes or family vacations will prompt and orient their memory.

We Remember Their Love When They Can No Longer Remember

Comprehending a life without memories is difficult. Memories mean so much to us. They provide us with a sense of self and stand as a reminder of the journey we have taken in this life. And the memories we share with the people closest to us become an intricate piece of our identity. Alzheimer’s may take these memories away from us, but the inability to remember does not mean that it has to redefine who we are nor does it diminish the importance of the many moments that we have collected over the years.

 

A New Generation: Is ‘Family Caregiver’ a New Life Milestone for Millenials?​

The Millenial Caregiver

I am a Millenial. Born in 1987, I am right on the cusp of the generation shift, and over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct change in the types of conversations I have with others in my cohort.  While we discuss near future decisions like careers, homes, and starting a family the question of how close to home we should stay becomes a critical factor in the decision-making process. Why wouldn’t it?  The comforts of home are attractive to many of us especially as we get a bit older and feel somewhat inclined to carry on family traditions. Being closer to home also helps if and when close family members start to need additional care or support.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute report on the Millenial Caregivers cites that the average age of this cohorts caregiver is 27 years old. They are working full-time, half of these caregivers live with a spouse or partner, and on average they have graduated high school and have taken some college courses.  All live with or live close to the care recipient.

For those who aren’t yet a caregiver, the chances of becoming one are extremely high due to the projection of older adults in need of care over the next twenty years. An increased generational focus on higher education and career means that many in the millennial cohort will start a family and buy a home much later than their parents did. A later start also means they will be in full-blown parenting and career mode when their parents begin to need additional care. Many of them are already privy to the realities of the family caregiver role. Their parents are baby boomers who have had the wild experience of raising a new generation while caring for the one that came before them and now is left with the question, who’s going to take care of me?

A Generational Shift

And who will? A shift in preferences has led many older adults to want to age in their own homes and communities, but planning beyond this choice is rare and is not often discussed with, family. No one ever really wants to talk about a loss of independence especially when it is with someone they love. Even though it is a hard conversation to have it is still a conversation that needs to be had. Without a plan in place, many adult children will make healthcare and caregiving decisions based on what they think their parents would want rather than their actual wishes.

In the article, Do Parents Really Want to Live with Their Adult Children? Author Carol Bradley Bursack suggests that there is an increase in interest in parents wanting to live with their adult children.  Citing this option as an economically savvy way to live out our retirement years.  She cautions parents, however, to be thoughtful of the decision.  Making a decision based off of economics may not always mean that there will be harmony in the household and it may be difficult to get out of the arrangement once they’ve already moved in.

So how can families start these types of planning conversations?  The best thing to do is to start early and talk about it often.  Start with the big picture, if you begin the planning process early enough there is plenty of time to sort out all of the details. Have a general conversation about the definite no’s to care options, is a continuing care retirement home out of the question? Or would they rather live in their own house and receive care?  Plans will change, but conversations about preferences and financial ability will help paint a better picture of what options there are and will make everyone in the conversation feel more comfortable broaching the subject.

In need of some ideas to get you started, check out my Sixty and Me article on 5 Senior Living Alternatives: Finding a Home that Fits Your Lifestyle.

 

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Having these types of conversations is understandably hard, and it may not always go as smoothly as planned.  However, to start a discussion about how your family member wants to spend their later years is the best way to ensure they continue to have control in the decision even if they are no longer able to make one at the time. Talking about big picture scenarios is an easy way to start the conversations and gives everyone a better sense of what to expect or plan for in the future.  Not all plans are set in stone, but checking back in often with one another on the topic will ensure everyone remains up-to-date on preferences. Plus the more you talk about aging, the easier it gets to discuss!

Further reading: Do you Have a Plan for Your Future Health Care Needs?

Tis the Season: Manage the Holidays To Dos While Caring for Your Loved One with Dementia Like a Pro!

The holiday season is upon us!  How did November get here so quickly? I wanted to write a short piece so to not to add to your already mad rush of preparations.  This time of year, while fun, can be incredibly frantic.  There is so much to do in a seemingly short period of time, and this is all while you are trying to still juggle every day to do lists.

The hustle and bustle of the season are also stressful for our loved ones with dementia.  They quickly pick up on our emotions and the decorations can stir up a lot of childhood memories, which is fun to reminisce but can also be a bit disorienting to them.

 

Stay in the Moment

 

Staying Routine

Time management is probably the best thing you can do this Holiday season for your loved one living with dementia.  This means maintaining a regular schedule and adding additional time to get ready.  There may feel like there is no time to do much of anything and here I am telling you to add more time, I know, however, when we plan in advanced there is less disruption once you finally get to sit down and enjoy the festivities.  Your loved one will feel more relaxed and in the moment when you feel this way, and they too will be able to enjoy the festivities just like everyone else.

Include them in Activites

It is faster to decorate and bake cookies or meal prep when you do it by yourself. However, what is your loved one doing while your busy preparing?  Probably feeling a bit left out and alone.  Include them in the hubbub of the season and let them help where they can even if that means they become a taste tester. Not only is it fun but it helps build self-esteem and makes them feel more in control at the moment.  In my experience, many individuals living with dementia-like having tasks it is familiar to them and offers them a sense of self.

Reminisce

The holidays are always a bit nostalgic.  This doesn’t go away with dementia, and in fact, it can increase the memories of the past.  Listening to their stories and engaging them in conversations is a beautiful way to celebrate and engage with your loved one. Too much, however, can become disorienting so if you feel your loved one is becoming anxious or starts looking for their parents who they think are missing out on all the fun change up the conversation to something a bit more current like what yummy food is on the dinner menu.

Happy Holidays!

Above all have fun!  As adults, it is so easy to become caught up in the frenzy that by the New Year we can’t believe its all over.  The best advice I can give is to enjoy the time you have with each other and stay in the moment the best you can.  You deserve to spend as much time as you can with your parent and loved one even if that means not everything on your To Do lists gets checked off.

Staying Active: Why Helping the Older Adults in your Life Exercise is the Best Care you Can Provide

Guest Post Author: Kelli Huggins | Grace Ridge Retirement Community

Exercise in Older Adults

Exercise plays an important role in overall wellness and provides the strength to participate in the activities we love. As a Well4Life Wellness Coordinator and Licensed Recreational Therapy Assistant, I’ve dedicated the past 10 years to developing tactics and discovering programs to engage seniors in fitness.

Fitness can be as simple as adding small changes to your daily routine to build strength and balance or adopting more formal training, such as the Ageless Grace program or Tai Chi.

Below are a series of suggestions for caregivers and seniors to encourage movement and maximize health benefits with and without a certification.

Movement with Music

For seniors new to a fitness routine, music can encourage participation and keep them on track to achieve their fitness goals.

For the best results, tailor music based on resident experiences and personal preferences. If it is near a holiday, incorporate seasonal music. If there is no specific preference, soft music, classical and easy listening are great for any group.

Continue to modify the music by adjusting the volume, providing headphones if needed and incorporating song requests. 

Building Strength

As a caregiver or as you age, you understand how important it is to continue to participate in the activities you love. Doing so not only maintains a routine but can also provide a certain level of independence.

Strength exercises allow your body to move more easily, making everyday activities like climbing the stairs, picking up groceries, standing up from a seated position and opening jars much easier.

Adding strength training to your routine doesn’t need to be complicated. Household items and your own body weight are the perfect tools. Try using soup cans as hand weights or adding leg raises and overhead arm raises to your routine to help build muscle.

 

Group Of Seniors Using Resistance Bands In Fitness Class

Staying Balanced

Strength, in combination with balance, is incredibly beneficial to seniors. Adding short balance exercises to your daily routine can make a huge difference. Try standing on one foot while doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Incorporate balance into your routine by holding both hands out and straight while walking or walk heal-to-toe as if you were on a balance beam.

Practicing balance exercises will help you navigate uneven sidewalks or foundation, reach items on high shelves, bend over to reach low items, turn around quickly and avoid falls.

Tai Chi

Balance can also be improved through the practice of Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese art form and one of the most effective exercises for health, mind, and body. Dr. Paul Lam’s principles include mind integrated with the body, incorporating the fluidity of movements, controlled breathing, and mental concentration.

After your body is fully warm, starting with the top of the body and going down to the feet, you can move into the basic tai chi movement with a focus on improving range of motion.

For those suffering from arthritis, Tai Chi improves muscle strength, flexibility and overall fitness. The benefits of Tai Chi also extend to fall prevention as the movements focus on weight transference to improve overall balance.

Try to maintain healthy fitness habits, no matter your ageAgeless Grace

To further improve cognitive performance, the Ageless Grace program, created by Denise Medved, incorporates 21 simple tools for lifelong comfort and ease. The program helps develop and strengthen new neural pathways to support a long and healthy life.

The 21 tools are based on everyday natural movements and are focused on the ability to respond, react and recover. The tools are easy to follow at home and are designed to be performed seated in a chair, down on the floor, or standing.

The tools are uniquely named to make them easy to remember. Some of my favorites include:

  • Exercise Tool #1 Juicy Joints – joint mobility, flexibility and circulation
  • Exercise Tool #6 Try Chi – joint stability, eye-hand coordination and breathing
  • Exercise Tool #10 Rockin’ Rockettes – lower body strength, hip mobility, ankle and foot flexibility and arch support.

The Ageless Grace program helps improve joint mobility, spinal flexibility, right-left brain coordination, bone density, balance, fall prevention, self-esteem and confidence.

About the Author

Kelli Huggins_headshotKelli Huggins, Well4Life Wellness Coordinator and Licensed Recreational Therapy Assistant at Grace Ridge Retirement Community in Morganton, NC, has developed senior wellness techniques and educated professionals across the state for the past decade. Kelli recently presented at the North Carolina Recreational Therapy Association on exercise in older adults. Follow Grace Ridge Retirement Community on Facebook or YouTube.

Dementia Care: Identifying Triggers

Increased anger and aggression can be all too common side effects of dementia or Alzheimers.   Bad moods happen to us all, and sometimes we just can’t put our finger on why we feel so down on ourselves.  I imagine something similar occurs when our loved ones with Dementia or Alzheimer’s gets into a bad mood.  The difference is I’m able to vocalize (more like warn!) those around me that I’m just not feeling 100%.  Or if someone did something to upset me, I’m usually able to appropriately direct my feelings towards that person rather than anyone that crosses my path.

So why can’t your loved one sometimes control their emotions?  And what makes them get so riled up that they feel they need to take a swing at you? In my experience, anger is usually a prolonged side effect of frustration.  Resulting from an individuals inability to efficiently get their feelings across and the disappointment that the caregiver is unable to understand or help them accurately.

While working in the nursing home, it was essential to know and understand each resident’s triggers.  Triggers can be anything from a particular sound to a specific person and although you may not always know why this particular item can cause an adverse reaction you will quickly learn to avoid these things at all cost.

A helpful way to learn and remember triggers is to write them down while also noting the time of day they occur and the details of the scenario. For example, Mom may start yelling at breakfast – This only happens on Monday and Wednesdays which just so happens to be the same days she has a shower right before breakfast.  The negative feelings she has towards her shower are carrying over into the rest of the day.  In this case, there are a couple of things we can try: 1. Offer a bit more time in between shower and breakfast, so that she can calm down. Maybe even play a bit of her favorite music in her room to relax too.  2. Change the time of her shower to after breakfast. 3. Assess whether a shower is still an appropriate method of care.

It is important to note that even though someone has dementia, it does not mean that their feelings are unjustified.  More often than not there is a rational explanation for the behavior.  It is your job as caregivers to be their detective.  Figure out what is bothering them and then doing what is in your power to remove these stressors from their environment.  Or add in additional supports to help them manage and calm them after a trigger occurs.

Caregiver Response

caregiver-stress

And let’s be honest, its never always so easy.  The times they are angry, sad, or accusing you of something horrible are probably the lowest points in dementia care.  It is normal to feel frustration or even anger towards them.  Keeping a notebook helps for this as well, recording your responses allows you to better understand your breaking points and offers more insight while providing care.

While you may feel overwhelmed and flustered at the moment, it is so important that your loved one is able to calm down.  Prolonged anxiety or anger creates a higher risk that they hurt themselves or even you.  It is important to first rule out that your loved one is in any pain.  If they aren’t able to directly tell you then assess their body language; are they holding a particular part of their body?  Are they wincing or is there a look of discomfort on their face?  If pain can be ruled out identify the trigger as soon as possible.  The Alzheimer’s Association offers a list of potential factors here.

Resources

Anger and aggression are common behaviors, and there is a ton of helpful information out there for you to learn different ways to both help your loved one feel more safe and secure and for you to feel more confident and in-control in these moments.  Below is a list of helpful sites and feel free to check out our Dementia Care and Caregiver Support Tags for more resources from the Upside!

New Approaches for Dealing with Difficult Dementia Behaviors

How can we control my dad’s violent behavior and find a care facility that will accept him?

Why does dementia cause suspicions, delusions and paranoia? 

Dementia Care: The Benefits of Staying in Their Reality 

Handling Dementia-Related Agitation and Paranoia

Hallucinations, Delusions, and Paranoia Related to Dementia

Dementia Care Dos & DOnt’s: Dealing with Dementia Behavior Problems

Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope

Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Stress

You Aren’t Alone

You may be the only one providing care for your loved one, but that does not mean you are alone in your experience.  The growing number of family caregivers is astounding, and the need for understanding and tools with Dementia Care is essential to your ability to sustain your role as a caregiver.  Although difficult, when your loved one begins to show signs of anger or aggressive behavior rule out pain and start investigating potential triggers within their environment.

For future reference, be sure to document the behavior, the time it occurred, and possible triggers.  This way you’ll better be able to identify trends in behaviors.  There are a number of ways we can help our loved one in these moments, reading others experiences and their tips and tricks may be a fast way to pick up your own tools for managing these behaviors that will allow a better quality of life for both you and them!

 

 

 

Do you Have a Plan for Your Future Health Care Needs?

First published on Sixty and Me.

Knowing how to recognize a good opportunity to start looking for long-term care options can be difficult. Whether we are looking for ourselves, a family member or a loved one, considering senior care can often signal an unwanted decline in our or their health.

In many cases, admitting that it is time to look for additional support is the hardest step. Ultimately, however, this is the best decision people can make for themselves and their family.

There are a few ways we can make this process a bit easier for ourselves and our loved ones. All it takes is a bit of research and planning to understand the senior care options in the area, even if we don’t plan on using these services for a couple of years.

Having a plan and a basic understanding of your options will make for easier decision making if our loved ones – or we – need senior care services sooner than expected.

Also, understanding our choices before we need them is the best way to ensure all parties involved feel at peace with the decision. The number of senior care options is growing, so no matter what our ideal age in place model is, there is certainly an option.

Below are three tips on how to get started!

Research Care Options in your Community

In-Home Care

In recent years, the demand to age in place has created a booming market for in-home care services. There are a variety of care services available to consumers ranging from need base to hospice care.

As we decide to age in place, it is feasible that we may require some, if not all, of these services over time. There is a difference between a Home Care Agency and a Home Care Individual business. Check out caring.com for a full overview of each.

Nursing Home Care

Nursing homes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you know you would like to remain in the area of your current home, you can start by reaching out to local assisted living facilities or continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).

Although the thought of moving to a nursing home is not always pleasant, there are several reasons why this could be the right option for you. Nursing homes will provide around the clock skilled care and assistance whenever you need it, which takes the responsibility of care off of family caregivers.

Area on Aging

If you are living in the States, a great place to start your research is with your local Area on Aging. They will have an abundance of resources and knowledge of your surrounding area and point you in the right direction.

You can easily google search your county name area on aging or use the Paying for Senior Care tool.

Have Conversations with Close Friends and Family

A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that only 40 percent of Americans aged 40 to 65 think it’s likely that they will need long-term health care services.

When asked who would provide their care if they needed it, many people based their answer on current living arrangements, which did not account for changes in family dynamics or children moving away.

Taking such a critical need for granted can do a disservice to you and your family members. Making assumptions about your future needs, without discussing with those involved, could result in an unwanted change to your plan.

To start, have a conversation with friends and family to see if they have considered their future health care needs. Most of us don’t, so “no, I haven’t” is a reasonable response.

This makes sense – it is hard to think that there will come a time when we would actually need help doing our everyday tasks. But, asking this question can help all parties narrow down options and create a feasible plan that you all could agree upon.

Write Down Your Plan and Tell It to Whoever Will Listen

Once you have identified the right plan for you, write it down. Having your wishes written down on paper is just an added security that your future health care choices are honored.

This process doesn’t even have to be formal, so don’t worry about calling a lawyer (unless you want to). If you would like to have some formality, you can sign your letter in front of a witness (who can be a close friend or family member).

Communicating our plan with our loved ones is an excellent way of ensuring that they will know what to do if ever in a situation where they must make decisions for you.

These types of conversations are also beneficial because they normalize the process. Too often we are afraid to broach the conversation about senior care. However, it is a highly important conversation to have if we would like to have a say in the way we age.

Preparing for A Piece of Mind

Aging is a natural part of life, and if we are lucky enough to experience it, there are still many things to learn and be involved with even in our later years.

There may come a time, however, that we will be unable to make decisions for ourselves. This might sound scary, but if we prepare for this ahead of time, there is no reason why we can’t age in a place we feel comfortable and at home.