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Caregiving

How to Love Your Loved One When They Have a Life Limiting Illness

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By: Peg Carmany

When someone you love is diagnosed with a life limiting illness, it may be a time when the kaleidoscope of your life suddenly snaps into focus. Or it may be a time when the laser focus of your life becomes scattered. And very likely, there will be some of both. Of the research I have done, and the practical tips I can share from my own experience, these are my favorite pieces of advice:

1. Remember there is no right answer on how you’re supposed to act, and you should not assume that you are supposed to know exactly what to do and exactly how to act. It’s OK to fall apart, but one word of caution about that: try not to let the person who is ill be your primary source of comfort when you do hit a wall.
2. When trying to follow Tip 1, remember that your established role with this loved one doesn’t necessarily switch at the moment of diagnosis. Perhaps only one of you has ever been good under stress? It’s okay to keep it that way. Both of you may take great comfort in continuing on with familiar patterns.
3. Make it a priority to show your love as your loved one is facing what may be overwhelming and scary. It’s not all roses and chocolates – be authentic, be honest, and be yourself. Express gratitude to them for how they have positively impacted your life – and share happy memories – and don’t be afraid to say goodbye, tenderly.
4. Respect their authority to make their own decisions, whether you like it or not. These are their choices, not yours.
5. Keep things as normal as possible. Continue watching your favorite tv shows together or listening to their favorite music, it can be a very meaningful thing.
6. Laugh when you can, and don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at the whole situation. A sense of humor will lighten any mood!
7. And perhaps most importantly: listen, and give advice only when asked. This one can be the most challenging. Often, we are great talkers, but not the best listeners.

Remember, your loved one needs your emotional support. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often family and friends who live near by are more than willing to help with errands. And, if you need further support, Wesley Hospice can visit your home, the community you live in, and even hospitals.

We send our deepest condolences to the families who are faced with a loved one being diagnosed with a life limiting illness. And, we hope that with these tips you’ll be able to better love your loved one during this time.

From Chronic to Deadly: Prescription Pain Meds

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A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary produced by the FBI about the heroin epidemic in this country, in our city, entitled “Chasing the Dragon.”   It is an epidemic, and it is heightened by the ongoing use of prescription opiates. Many of the prescriptions were prescribed by doctors for pain management following an accident or surgery or diagnosis of chronic pain.

According to AARP, some seventeen percent of adults age 60 and older struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. In reports following the death of music icon Prince, prescription opiates were identified as the alleged cause. My sister, who is in her early 50’s, was prescribed Vicodin and Oxycodone for what was described as chronic pain. She now cannot live without these drugs. Until I watched the above documentary I was not educated about the growing problem.  I wonder what situations other individuals may be experiencing, for example, surgeries and old sports injuries, and what has been prescribed by their doctors.  What should we be looking for in their behaviors?

If you suspect someone you love is overusing medications, you will want to take some action. First and foremost, be on the alert. What health conditions are they being treated for? Are they still taking heavy meds months after a surgery? Look at the labels on the prescription bottles. Who is prescribing them? What is the dosage, refill amount, etc?

Behavior. Is your loved one’s behavior erratic? Are they more depressed, anxious, angry, secretive or just want to be left alone? Do they fall asleep during a visit or conversation? Do they take more than the prescribed amount? Watch them and write down any odd or out of sync moments.

For older adults, especially if they live alone, it is important to monitor intake of prescription meds. When my mother went from one prescription to seven following her heart attack, we purchased a seven-day pillbox and broke out the distribution per day to help her keep track of what meds she was taking and what day. We made sure we were comfortable with her taking the meds, and also accompanied her to several doctors’ visits to discuss her meds and long-term plans for taking.

Of course, I could not talk about monitoring without addressing some form of recordkeeping. I have kept a record of all medications prescribed to me over the years for various ailments, from dental procedures to back pain caused by a car accident. List all of your medications, dosages, and why they were prescribed for you. Also include any over-the-counter medications you take. Be sure to share with your doctor.

Prescription opioids are powerful, and can be harmful with long-term use. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor and ask about alternative ways to address chronic pain and/or new methods for pain management. Be most aware of the synthetic opioids that are coming into the market. If it involves someone close to you, look for warning signs. Either way, it is important to find or get help.

To watch “Chasing the Dragon” go to www.fbi.gov/chasingthedragon

Show You Care

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Whether you call it a random act of kindness or paying it forward, doing something unexpected for someone else feels good. If you know someone who gives their time taking care of a loved one or friend, you have an opportunity to give back to him or her. November is officially National Family Caregivers month and the perfect time to make a difference in the life of a caregiver.

Being a caregiver can start out as small as just raking leaves for an elderly neighbor or balancing your mother’s checkbook. But most times, and especially for those of us with aging parents or relatives, it comes at you unexpected, like an out of control train. Such was the case of my 75-year-old mother who never expected to be a caregiver for her two siblings, still living in the family home. My uncle was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My aunt was healthy but always taken care of, and she was unable to deal with household chores, much less taking my uncle to chemo treatments. So my mother stepped in. As a former nurse, it was natural to her, but over time it took a toll on her physical, mental and emotional health.

Because we lived several hours away, my sisters and I looked for things we could do to alleviate anything extra our mother needed to do around her own house and ways to help her relax. As expected, the last person a caregiver takes care of is often himself or herself.

So what can you do? It’s the little things. Here are some ideas:

  • Rake their yard or shovel snow from driveways and sidewalks
  • Bake some cookies or a pie
  • Buy her a certificate for a massage or day at a spa
  • Cook a meal or stock up on groceries
  • Be the driver for the caregiver to help run errands or take her client to doctor’s appointments
  • Not using your sports tickets? Extend them to your friend for a night out
  • Drop off a nice bottle of wine
  • Send them a card just letting them know you are thinking of them
  • Take their car to get an oil change or tires checked
  • Fix things around their house: a leaky faucet, clogged drain or clean the carpets
  • Buy him/her a Kindle and download the latest books or just buy several new paperbacks
  • Put a care package in the mail

Pay attention to things that are unique and personal to the caregiver and extend those random acts of kindness to them. I guarantee that any gesture, no matter how small, will go a long way. Caregivers are extra-special people who may be doing something that takes the burden off of you and your family. Let’s show them we care.

When Mom or Dad Move In

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At some point in time adult children may be faced with the thought of who will take care of mom or dad and should your aging parents move in with you. Does it make financial sense? Will everyone be able to get along? How do you set boundaries for personal space between your spouse and children who may be living in your home?

These are ALL legitimate questions, but where do you begin? Sometimes the decision follows a crisis when you may not have the time to consider the impact on your family. Caring.com estimates that one in every four caregivers lives with an elderly or disabled relative. One of the first discussions should be with your spouse and children to see how they feel about this arrangement; however, there are many other topics to evaluate:

  • Does your current home offer a safe living space or will you need some modifications in the bedroom or bathroom?
  • Finances: Will your mom or dad contribute financially, or will you be paying for additional expenses for their personal and health care?
  • Will supervision or other health care options need to be considered?
  • Are there other family members or siblings who will be willing to help should you take on this change?
  • Does your mom or dad have a social network available?
  • What are the rules of the house? How can everyone still maintain personal space?

There are many topics to evaluate as you consider the options, and communication will be key with both your parents and your family before making such an important decision. Here are two websites with articles and resources to help guide you on caregivers and the benefits and drawbacks of moving someone in with you.

www.caring.com, www.aarp.com

Does Gender Matter In Senior Care?

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When an older person is beginning to struggle to live independently, families have to work on getting their loved one to agree it’s time to have the “tough conversation,” whether it is about moving to assisted living or having in-home health care provided. According to the Assisted Living Federation of America, men have traditionally been an afterthought in the world of senior living.

With the aging of the boomer generation, men now make up 26% of those residing in retirement communities. When the time came for a friend of mine to have the “talk” with her dad, she said the hardest part was assuring him that he wouldn’t be the only male resident. Another concern was whether or not there would be activities for men that might interest him. Last, but not least, a primary concern was how much independence he would have in assistant living. It is a fact that men tend to value freedom more than women, making these choices such a difficult one for males.

The aging process is difficult for both men and women, but research has shown that men have a harder time adjusting to life changes that accompany the aging process. Throughout their lives, men are conditioned to be strong, controlling and independent. Men can be devastated by the losses associated with aging, and may feel they now have nothing to offer to society and may find it very difficult to depend on others.

When the time comes to have the “talk,” be prepared for the tough questions, such as, “What will I do all day?” and “Are there guys my age living there?” Be sure to include your loved one when visiting senior communities, and allow them to ask questions and help make choices when choosing where they will live out the rest of their lives. Retirement communities are aware of the influx of men needing services and are adding more and more activities geared toward men.

Schedule an appointment today at one of The Wesley Communities retirement communities by calling 614-396-4990 or visit www.methodisteldercare.org. Our communities offer amenities for all of your needs.

How to Safely Dispose of Unused Prescription Medication

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What do you do with unused medication at your house? If you’re throwing it out with your garbage, you might want to safely dispose of these unused and expired prescriptions.   I always thought throwing them in the trash, flushing them down the toilet, or dumping them in the garbage disposal was perfectly fine. However, after years of doing that I found out that disposing of them in the garbage could result in the medications ending up in the wrong hands, making someone ill or even worse causing life-threating complications. Disposing of medications in the garbage or flushing them down the toilet could cause environmental concerns, such as trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, like rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies.

Medicine take-back programs are an excellent way to properly and safely dispose of most types of unneeded medicines. Consumers and caregivers should remove expired, unwanted or unused medications from their home as quickly as possible to help reduce the chance that others may accidentally take or intentionally misuse the unneeded medications. Though medications can play an important role in our day-to-day life, it’s very important to safely dispose of them when they’re no longer needed or have expired. Check your labels or patient information that accompanies the medications for specific disposal instructions. Do not flush medications down the sink or toilet unless the disposal instructions specifically instruct you to do so.

If at any point you have questions regarding proper disposal of unused, expired or medications that are no longer needed, check the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website at www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov for your copy of a printable fact sheet, or call 1-800-882-9539. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also offers a list of medications recommended for disposal by flushing on their website at www.fda/gov. Both also provide information on DEA-authorized collectors who safely and securely collect and dispose of pharmaceutical-controlled substances and other medications. In your community, authorized collection sites may be retail pharmacies, hospital or clinic pharmacies and local law enforcement agencies. In closing, before you dispose of medications you no longer need, take the time to find the proper way to do so.

Learning Your Family History

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I am sure you’ve heard the saying “it’s a small world” at some point in your life. About 3 years ago, I learned just how small the world really was and how important it is to know your family history.  My best friend’s mom passed away, and I attended the memorial service and met one of her co-workers, Mary. We had an instant connection and became fast friends. So, 3 months ago I received a text message from my Mary asking if my grandfather had a sister named Viola who had lived in Mississippi.  To my surprise, she was correct!

Mary and I had been friends and had no idea we were related. When I joined Facebook, I used my married name and recently decided to add my maiden name to my Facebook profile. After a short conversation, I learned that Mary was in fact the granddaughter of my paternal grandfather’s oldest sister. This year instead of one family reunion, I will be attending two, with plans to share all I know about my family’s history.  The friendship between Mary and I encouraged me to learn more about my father’s side of the family and my family tree.  Learning your family history can be a wonderful journey into history. There are many research websites to locate public records, like www.usa.gov and membership-based websites such as www.ancestry.com. These websites can help you build family trees and upload photos so that this information can be passed on to generation after generation for years to come.

I hope my story encourages you to share at family gatherings this summer all the knowledge you have about your family’s history.  Even if you feel the information you have to share could be redundant, share it anyway. Someone may learn something about you or members of your family that they never knew.  For more ideas to make learning and sharing family history fun, visit sites like www.Pinterest.com, or www.Ask.com.   Both sites offer a wide variety of ways to learn and share your memories.

Moving Out of the Family Home

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Recently, my 96-year-old uncle and his wife decided it was time to downsize after going up and down the steps in their two-story home for many years. Day after day, it became a task they could no longer conquer. As you can imagine, making the choice was very difficult for my uncle since he and his first wife had raised 5 children in that home, and had also welcomed 3 of their grandchildren. Moving out of a house regardless of where you are moving can be an incredibly emotional journey. Many see it as the end instead of a new beginning, and emotions can run high.   Knowing what to expect can be a challenge for you and your loved ones. And although it was my uncle who was moving, I had several fond memories from visiting their home, and I was overwhelmed with emotions when I heard the news that they were moving from the house I went to every day after vacation bible school each summer. At that same time, I knew it was a move that had to happen for my uncle’s well-being.

During the flurry of activity leading up to the move, you will see your whole life packed into boxes — some items will go with you, other items to your children and some will be donated. You realize quickly that your new home cannot accommodate all that you had in your previous home before downsizing.

Moving out of the family home is a big change on many levels. First, it is a huge disruption to daily routines and a major transition into new surroundings. And for an older adult, these disruptions and transitions take much longer to adapt to than for someone younger. Secondly, a move at this stage of life may trigger concerns about loss of independence and what lies ahead. Losing any kind of independence is difficult for those who have lived an independent life. When the time comes for your loved ones to downsize and move to a new residence, remember to be sensitive to these moments. Take time to listen, be empathetic and help assure them that the move is a very smart thing to do.

To help my uncle, all of his children came home to help pack. They threw a “parting party” at the old house, and two days later they hosted a housewarming party at the new residence. My uncle and his wife have been at their new home for almost 2 years now. My uncle still volunteers every Saturday at our church, and is very active with his veterans group, where he has been a member for 50+ years. My uncle and his wife are extremely pleased with the choice they made and no longer miss the old house at all. My cousins feel comfortable knowing that their father is safe, and is being looked after by his wife and the staff at their independent living residence.

For information on independent living options at any of the The Wesley Communities locations, call today to schedule an appointment to help determine which living option is best for you and your family.

Adults and Iron Deficiency

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Iron is an important dietary mineral that is involved in various bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood. This is essential in providing energy for daily life and iron deficiency results in depleting the iron stored within your body. This can lead to fatigue, tiredness and decreased immunity. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, healthy adult men and women 51 years old or older should consume approximately 8 milligrams of iron each day. Most elderly people easily fulfill this requirement by regularly eating iron-rich foods like beef, chicken, seafood, legumes and iron fortified cereals.

Unless you are diagnosed with an iron deficiency, adding an iron supplement is not a good idea. Non-prescription iron supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are not checked for safety and purity. Taking iron supplements when you have not been diagnosed with low iron can interfere with the proper function of several medications. These include cholesterol-lowering drugs, antacids, and antibiotics like ciprofloxacin and anti-inflammatory drugs. If needed, your physician can best advise what’s required to help with any iron deficiency you may have.

I personally suffer from severe anemia, and as a result, I have very low iron. I have found that when my iron is low, I become very tired, and symptoms include headache and weakness. While on vacation in the Bahamas a few years ago, doing nothing more than laying on the beach, I became unusually weak and unable to really move. One of the ladies I was traveling with immediately gave me an ice water, and although it did help a bit, I was still very weak. After drinking another water, I finally felt like I could get up and move around some. I found shade and a spinach salad at the beach café, and finally felt like myself again.

Once back at home I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. After having blood work done, I was told I needed a blood transfusion, my iron levels were dangerously low, and I could possibly need an iron fusion as well. After two pints of blood I was able to skip the iron fusion, but learned I would need to be on a prescription iron tablet for 6 months. From that point, I knew that it was vital that I also increase my intake of iron-enriched foods in my daily diet. After a year, I was able to discontinue the iron supplements and manage my iron by including lots of iron rich foods daily in my diet.

When iron deficiency is present in older adults, it is likely due to some underlying condition that requires further testing to find out the exact reason for the deficiency. If you begin to notice yourself being tired, weak or that your cognitive ability has decreased, it wouldn’t hurt to make an appointment to have a check-up to rule out any conditions that could affect your ability to shine daily.

Caregiver Guilt

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Accepting that your loved one’s life is limited is something that is very difficult to do. Calling hospice is even harder, but as your loved one begins to lose their quality of life, it becomes necessary to make the call. The feelings of guilt or feelings of being an inadequate caregiver often make the call to Hospice delayed longer than it should.

Caregiving is difficult. It is difficult for family and friends, and even more difficult for the person who is receiving care. Once independent, your loved one is now faced with the humiliating position of having others assist with the most intimate tasks. Along with the humiliation comes anger, and tempers sometimes flare, causing everyone involved to say things they really don’t mean.

Guilt has a purpose in life, but guilt is a complicated emotion. We take on the expectations of others, society, friends and family, and of course, on ourselves. Making the decision to call hospice can cause us to “beat ourselves up” even though we can no longer properly care for a loved one.

Once acceptance is reached and the call is made to hospice, you will find that they are willing to offer you their expertise and compassion at a very difficult time for you and your family. The compassionate staff at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare will be available to help you and your family at a difficult time for all involved.

Give one of our hospice professionals a call today to assist with making the proper plans for your loved one as they enter their final days. Call 614-451-6700 or go to www.hospicemec.com for more information.