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We enjoy having the opportunity to learn more about the wonderful seniors who attend the Center each week. This month we are excited to spotlight Carol who was born and raised in our community!

Carol was born in Payson, Utah and grew up in Nephi, Utah. She was the oldest of four children and had a good relationship with her siblings, two brothers, and a sister. Carol enjoyed teasing back and forth with her brothers. Because they were all afraid of snakes, they would often try to scare one another by pointing and yelling, “snake!” Carol was thirteen years old when her sister was born and she was beyond thrilled! One day she decided to dress her sister up and take her to the local photographer where she had her picture taken. Carol still isn’t sure how she paid for the photograph, but she is so happy to have that priceless picture of her baby sister.

Carol with her siblings growing up.

While attending business college Carol worked as a secretary for Brigham Young University. It was there that she met her husband, Alvin, through a mutual friend. They were married on June 24, 1955, and together they had 5 children. Their family grew to include 21 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

Together Carol and her husband owned and operated Price’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich shop in Provo, Utah. If an employee ever made a mistake on an ice cream order, the mistakes also known as “the goofs,” were put in the freezer. Carol would take “the goofs” home for her children and their friends to enjoy.

Carol and Alvin were married in the Salt Lake City Temple in 1955.

Carol always enjoyed finding the fun in whatever she was doing and making others smile. Once, as the young women’s leader for her church, Carol went the extra mile when the young women wanted to do an ice cream activity. Dressed as a carhop, Carol took orders and delivered ice cream to the girls while they remained in their cars. The girls loved it!

After the ice cream parlor closed, Carol returned to working as a secretary before moving on to work as a customer service representative with Nature’s Sunshine. One of Carol’s favorite memories is showing up for work one morning and being told she had to go home and pack her bags — she was going to Hawaii for a company cruise! A photo of Carol also was featured on the front of one of Nature’s Sunshine magazines. Carol retired from Nature’s Sunshine and says it was the best job ever!

“My mom was always looking for ways to do service,” says Carol’s daughter, Alyson. “She was always taking meals to families, visiting family, friends and neighbors, and making sure everyone was included. Every time I talk to anyone about my mom they always bring up the things she did for their family. When mom found out that my cousin’s son had some medical problems, she showed up with her suitcase and stayed with the other kids so the parents could spend time at the hospital.”

 Carol’s mother Della, Carol, Alyson, Camille and Mckenna.

Carol and Alvin had an extensive green house and garden.  “There was always a surplus of vegetables and mom could not let all that good food go to waste,” says Alyson. “She would pack her trunk up with a cooler and boxes of garden surplus and drive from neighbor to neighbor, family, and friends to drop off all these good vegetables.  This turned into almost a full time job for her in the summer and fall.”

When her grandchildren were growing up, Carol would go from house to house to visit her loved ones.  She often would bring little gifts and needed household items in the trunk of her car to hand out. The kids soon discovered she had pretty much everything they could ever need in her trunk at all times. It was considered the magic trunk — it truly had everything you could ever need.

Carol and Alvin.

Alyson also says that Memorial Day is a special day for Carol. “For years mom would load up the car with flowers and go from Nephi to Provo and leave flowers for every relative who had passed. Although there are many, she still does that to this day. Even when it is difficult to find the graves, she does not give up.”

Carol loves attending the Center and says, “They have the nicest people here. Everyone is so friendly and everything is so well organized and carried out. I enjoy participating in all the activities, especially music. The Center keeps me energized and I have so many friendships that I truly value.” Her daughter says that she is so grateful for the Center and the safe environment that it provides for her mother. “I don’t have to worry about her and I know she is in a safe place while I work.”

Carol enjoys all of the art activities she does daily at Aspen Senior Day Center.

Carol is always happy to join in activities and makes others feel welcome and included. We appreciate Carol and the loving, happy spirit she adds to our group here at Aspen Senior Day Center.

Aspen Senior Day Center helps seniors needing memory care fully enjoy each and every day and also provides respite to family caregivers who may need the additional support and break.

Call us today at 801-607-2300 to learn more and to schedule a free tour.

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Aging in place is often an important step for seniors who want to maintain their independence. It means they don’t have to worry about a nursing home or assisted living stay and can enjoy retirement in the comfort of their own house. But with that can come a host of safety issues that include falls, accidents in the kitchen, and an inability to get up and down stairs to a bedroom or bathroom. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to make your home as safe as possible from room to room. This is especially true if you have existing health issues or are anticipating mobility problems.

Fortunately, there are several simple changes you can make to your home in a DIY capacity. Even the bigger jobs can be tackled with ease if you know where to look for grants and the right contractor. Think about what your current needs are and what they might be in the near future. Will they change? If so, you may need to consider large-scale changes, such as installing ramps or chair lifts or widening doorways to accommodate mobility equipment.

Here are a few things you might want to think about when you’re ready to age in place and make safety modifications to your home.

Declutter

One of the easiest–and most cost-effective–ways to prevent falls and injuries is to declutter your home. Having lots of items sitting around your house can be detrimental not only to your physical health but also to your mental health, causing anxiety and stress. Go through each room with a friend or family member to help, and start decluttering. Get organized and pack up items you no longer need or want to be placed into storage. An inexpensive 5×5 unit will likely be the best value in Salt Lake City, Utah, costing an average of $33.50 at Safe Harbor Storage.

Update the bathroom

Many seniors find that they need a little extra help in the bathroom in order to stay safe. There are several inexpensive ways you can update this space in order to prevent any issues. Installing a grab bar beside the toilet or in the shower, adding a non-slip rubber mat to the floor and to the bottom of the tub, and adding lighting solutions are all great starts that won’t break the bank. If you want to go bigger, think about taking out your current tub and adding a step-in shower. This removes the “curb” of the tub, and allows you to get in and out with ease. You can expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,300 for a step-in shower.

Wear the right shoes

Many seniors don’t realize the importance of wearing the right shoes around the house; not only do they help with comfort, but they also assist in preventing falls by adding a sturdy cushion on the foot. Go to your local shoe store to have your foot measured. Then, look for the right pair for your needs. If you are living with diabetes and have nerve damage, your shoes will also protect your feet from unseen dangers.

Use paint and lighting to your advantage

The right lighting can help you stay safe at home. It improves your ability to see furniture and other trip hazards clearly. Think about adding illumination to stairs, dark hallways, closets, and the bathroom. You can also paint certain walls a contrasting color to help objects like the sink and toilet stand out. This will make things much easier for you if you have a vision impairment.

Larry and Stephen enjoy spending the day at Aspen Senior Day Center

Additional Resources

A personal care agency or an adult day care center may help your loved with the additional support they need to stay safe and comfortable in their own home. In-home care providers offer one-on-one non-medical support in a person’s home which allows them to stay safely at home while under the care of a professional caregiver. Professional caregivers provide assistance 24/7 with activities of daily living, personal care, companionship, night care, and respite care for family caregivers.

Adult day care centers provide comprehensive activities specifically focused on all stages of memory loss in a safe, nurturing environment. Seniors can enjoy games, nutritious food, fun activities, and socialization with their peers while family caregivers get the break they need.

Aging in place can be an ongoing process rather than one project. It’s important to start with a good plan and work out a budget from the start. Think about the most crucial changes for your needs. Then, ask friends and family members for help to turn them into a reality.

Contributed by Lydia Chan. Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.

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We love learning more about our clients and the wonderful lives that have led them to us!  This month we are excited to learn more about our Aspen Senior Day Center spotlight, Grant L.

Grant was born in Fountain Green, Utah. He grew up in Murray where he graduated from high school. In addition to being farmers, both of Grant’s parents worked outside of the home. His father was a plumber for Kennecott, and his mother was an elementary school cook. Grant says that his father taught him to think and his mother taught him to love.

After moving for good job opportunities, Grant and his wife, Marcia, raised their seven children in Missouri. Together they taught their children to work hard and overcome adversity. Now Grant and his wife greatly enjoy being grandparents to 14 grandchildren!

Grant spent his first 20 years in Utah before moving on to new adventures and experiences. He served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the West Central State Mission, which was located primarily in Montana. After serving his mission, he enlisted in the army for a short time where he was taught photography skills as a photo lab technician.

Although he enjoys taking photographs, Grant’s greatest passion lies in art. After receiving his education through BYU and Penn State, he spent his career teaching art to others. One year he enjoyed the opportunity to teach kindergarten through 12th grade. Although he enjoyed that experience, Grant felt that he most enjoyed teaching college level art. He spent the majority of his career teaching at a college in Cape Dorado, Missouri.

Grant says he enjoys helping others and doing good things for them. “When others try to put you down, do not retaliate. Do something good for them. That is something that has always helped me.”

He says one of his biggest teaching moments came from the trials he experienced while working as an art teacher. Because of his religion and lifestyle, many of his fellow staff members did not treat him well and he did not receive as many opportunities for advancement. Instead of letting this get him down, Grant decided to focus his time and attention towards being a good teacher. He made sure to be attentive and to give each student one-on-one time. He wanted to ensure that his students thrived under his tutelage. It definitely worked! Because of the way Grant put his heart into teaching, he has boxes and boxes full of thank you notes from his students.

Grant says that what he loves most about Aspen Senior Day Center is that whatever trouble, disability, or problem someone is going through, they are cared for in the right way. Their differences are not emphasized but encouraged with kindness and love.

We are so happy to have Grant be a part of our wonderful group here at the Center. His happy, smiling face and loving attitude always makes those around him feel welcome and included.

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Aspen Senior Day Center is filled with a variety of clients with diverse backgrounds, talents and personalities. This month we’d like to introduce you to one of our newest clients, Lucy Gonzalez. Lucy has been coming to the Center for a few months now after moving from Arizona to live with her daughter (who is also named Lucy)!

Lucy was born in Puerto Rico where she lived until her family migrated to New York when she was 12-years-old. She says one of her most vivid memories from moving is riding the NY subway at midnight in the freezing cold! Lucy said that she used to listen to the radio when she was in Puerto Rico and thought she knew English very well. She quickly realized when she got to New York that she actually didn’t know it as well as she thought!

Lucy met her husband, Tony, after being introduced through her brother and his wife, who was her husband’s niece. She said many times people tried to introduce him to other ladies, but he liked her the best and chose her! She admitted that she was a bit disappointed that he happened to have the same last name. “I went from having the last name Gonzalez, to having the last name Gonzalez!”

Together Lucy and Tony had seven children, two girls, and five boys. Her youngest was born 10 years after the others when Lucy was 45-years-old. Now her children are grown and have their own families. In fact, Lucy is expecting her first great-great-grandchild soon!

She worked as a teachers aide for almost 20 years at Mesa Public Schools in Arizona. She received her GED in her 50’s. When her job requirements changed unexpectedly, she received the equivalent to an Associates degree while in her 70’s!

Lucy is a woman of many talents and loves to stitch, knit, and crochet. A few of her favorite hobbies are staying active by dancing and jumping rope. Her daughter Lucy says that her mother likes to tease her about her lack of dancing skills. Lucy says, “She can’t find her rhythm and she dances like a gringa!”

One of Lucy’s favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” She says that it is an idea she has lived by. It has been a great motivator for when life gets difficult.

Lucy says “My favorite part of the Center is taking part in all of the activities and staying busy each day! I have always liked the saying, ‘Use it or lose it’. At the Center I get to enjoy music, art, and games in a relaxing environment that keeps me active and busy all day.”

Aspen Senior Day Center is delighted to have Lucy attending. She is kind,energetic, and helpful everyday.

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Medicare usually only covers medical services for the person enrolled in Medicare. However, Medicare does offer a benefit to the beneficiary’s caregiver (if they have one). Respite care is a way for caregivers to take a break from caring for their loved one. It’s basically their work vacation.

When it comes to Medicare covering respite care, there are a few requirements that must be met. This is because Original Medicare doesn’t cover respite care in all cases.

First, we will discuss what it takes for Original Medicare to cover respite care an how it’s covered. Then, we will discuss other ways you can obtain coverage for respite care.

Original Medicare Respite Care Qualifications

Original Medicare will cover respite care for your caregiver under the hospice benefit within Medicare Part A. In order for your hospice care to be covered you must be terminally ill, you must accept palliative care (care for comfort), and you must sign a document stating you are electing for hospice care rather than treatment for your illness. Note, to be terminally ill means you have less than six months to live.

Every beneficiary’s hospice care plan is different depending on the type of illness. Your hospice care team will put together a plan of care that usually includes respite care for your caregiver.

The respite care covered under the hospice benefit is short-term respite care. Respite care can be used more than once, but not regularly. It is intended to provide the occasional break for a caregiver. Each time respite care is needed, it can only be for up to five days. While the caregiver is on leave, the patient will stay in a Medicare-approved facility such as a nursing home.

There is a possibility that you will have to pay a small copay or coinsurance for the stay for respite care. However, the actual hospice care is completely covered by Part A. Part A won’t cover hospice care in a nursing home or in your home unless respite care is needed.

Other Ways Respite Care Can Be Covered

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C, are plans sold by private insurance carriers. This type of plan takes over your Part A and Part B coverage and becomes your primary insurance. The main rule about these plans is that they must offer equal to or better coverage the Original Medicare (Part A and Part B).

However, Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to include some benefits that Original Medicare and Medigap plans do not offer. As of 2019, Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to offer caregiver support such as respite care. According to AARP, 13% of Medicare Advantage plans offer this benefit in this year.

Because Medicare Advantage plans are created and sold by private insurers, they are able to create their own pricing such as premiums, deductibles, and copay’s. This means that your copay or coinsurance for respite care under you plan will be set by the carrier. If you have a caregiver, be sure to look through the explanation of benefits for each for the Medicare Advantage plan before you enroll.

A great thing about Medicare Advantage plans is that there is an our-of-pocket maximum on every plan. That means that you have a limit to how much the plan will let you spend out-of-pocket for in-network services. Currently, the out-of-pocket highest allowed maximum for Medicare Advantage plans is $6,700.

If you just had Original Medicare, there would be no out-of-pocket spending cap. You’d pay you copay’s and coinsurance all year long no matter how high your costs got. That’s why, even if you don’t have a huge budget to spend on a Medicare plan, you can try to find a low-cost Medicare Advantage plan so you can be protected by this out-of-pocket maximum.

Alternative Options

So, what if you aren’t terminally ill and you don’t have a Medicare Advantage plan, how to you receive respite care?

Check with you Area Agency on Aging to see if they can find an adult day care or respite care facility for you. Places like these may be a good, low-cost alternative for those of you who don’t have access to respite care through Medicare.

Contributed by:

Danielle Kunkle is a partner of Boomer Benefits for just over 10 years now. She is based in Texas and loves to spend time outdoors hiking and trekking. Much of her time these days is spent writing articles and running webinars to teach people about Medicare.

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We all know how deeply valuable our memories are—both of the past and the ones we intend on making in the future. Our memories make us who we are, they’re a living collection of all the experiences we’ll ever have, and the prospect of losing them is frightening. It’s fortunate then that there are completely natural ways of maintaining brain health at any age, and here is how.

Be Happy

There is endless breadth to the volume of studies telling us how depression impairs memory function. In contrast, being happy improves memory function, immune system health, and overall quality of life. We’re never far from something that makes us smile, so smile hard and smile often and you may just start to notice that you wake up each morning happier than the last.

Keep Thinking

The famous 2003 nun study has shown how even people with clinically significant Alzheimer’s can maintain healthy brain function through consistent socialization, reading, and thinking. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ is certainly most applicable as we age and using your brain every day can ward off most normal symptoms of aging. Chatting with friends, playing a game of cards, reading a good book, and solving crossword puzzles are all fantastic ways to meet this criterion.

Keep Moving

Regular exercise, such as walking or swimming, when done consistently, increases a growth factor in the brain called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This growth factor is partially responsible for our ability to form new memories and is absolutely vital for brain function. Be certain you continue moving every day for at least an hour if you want these wonderful effects.

Eat Well

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (marijana1)

We’ve all heard how important diet is to our overall health and wellness, and this is all the truer as we age. Important then is which foods are the most beneficial for brain health and what volume of those foods we should eat. Since the brain is part of the body, we need both to be in great shape to increase our healthspan and memory. One study suggests that a calorie restrictive diet may lower bad cholesterol, reduce our risk of age-related diseases, and improve vitality. Besides cutting back on food, here are the top foods for brain health:

  • Fatty fish: packed with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, oily fish supports brain function, including memory, mood, and age-related cognitive change.
  • Nuts: vitamin E, niacin, and DHA are all prevalent in nuts—and a cup a day of nuts may yield a 20% lower death rate.
  • Berries: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries benefit the brain in two ways—by providing healthy antioxidants and reducing inflammation in the brain.
  • Dark chocolate: Just a small bar a day can improve memory and sensory processing. Eating healthy has never been tastier—so, eat a couple squares of chocolate per day.

Take Supplements

It’s not reasonable to try and cram everything we need into our diet day after day. Hence, it’s always a good idea to supplement some of the scarcer nutrients. It’s important to note some supplements can be overconsumed—especially when they’re fat soluble, like most metals. Never take a daily multivitamin and auxiliary supplements at the same time; pick one and stick with it. Speak with your doctor about whether these supplements are right for you:

  • Calcium: playing an enormous role in memory and overall brain function, calcium is more than just for your bones. Taking calcium every day would be a smart thing to do—and you’d be wise to remember that!
  • Zinc: the highest concentrations of zinc are found in the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for storing and consolidating memory. There is a limit to how much zinc we can have though—and taking no more than 10-15mg a day should be strongly considered.
  • CBD: cannabinoids have neuroprotective qualities and reduce inflammation in the brain, as well as joints. There are currently no serious side effects of CBD, so it’s minimal risk to try.
  • B12: a safe vitamin with no known risk for overconsumption, vitamin B12 protects against depression, anxiety, anemia, and cognitive decline. When taken at night it can also be a powerful sleep aid.

Guest Contributor: Victoria Ward has always been very passionate about psychology and health. She is a recent graduate with a major in psychology and a minor in neurobiology, focusing on Alzheimer’s, learning, and memory.

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One of the most common fears of people aged 65 and over is that of suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is caused by a gradual deterioration of brain health, which leads to forgetfulness, confusion, and difficulty with basic problem-solving. However, a new body of research indicates that this deterioration can be staved off. By actively practicing brain exercises like puzzles, memory tests, and other similar games, seniors can improve their brain health and improve their memories. Here are some of the ways different games can help you stay in mental shape, as well as a few of the best types of games for seniors.

The Effects of Brain Games 

A recent study on the effects of brain games on people in their 70s found that a daily set of hour-long exercises boosted the memory, reasoning ability, and mental processing speed of its subjects for a full 10 years after the study was completed. If just two weeks of regular brain exercises can keep your mind healthy for the next decade, imagine the positive effects if you were to incorporate brain games into your daily routine. While the effects of active brain training differ according to each individual, research supports the conclusion that even a little mental exercise a day increases the quality of life of seniors and eases the workload of their caregivers.

How Brain Games Work

Brain games work by activating parts of your brain you may not have to use on a daily basis, like short-term memory and analysis. Just like a muscle, the more you exercise the different parts of your brain, the healthier each part will become. This is why logic puzzles are good for your critical thinking, memory matching games support your short-term memory, and crossword puzzles link together your ability to recall words with your critical thinking. Technologically savvy seniors may enjoy the extra convenience of online brain games. One of the most scientifically acclaimed sources of online exercises is BrainHQ, which focuses on auditory and visual processing to boost and improve cognitive function.

Turn Your Hobbies into Cognitive Exercise

Keep in mind that not every form of mental exercise has to be in the form of an online game. Depending on your interests, you may be able to reap significant rewards from your hobbies. If you enjoy knitting, take the time to teach yourself a set of new knitting patterns, then see if you can replicate the patterns by memory. You can go one step further and pick out the new patterns you have learned from blankets at the store. The specific activity you take does not matter — what is important is that you push yourself to learn something new as often as you can.

Vary Your Routine

You can also develop your mind by presenting it with new experiences and settings. Instead of limiting your brain exercises to a daily crossword, try to mix it up. Do a crossword on one day, a Sudoku puzzle on another, and an online memory matching game on the next day. The key thing is to avoid repetitiveness. While it is perfectly fine to have a routine, try to vary up the steps along that routine to keep your mind engaged. This also applies to your daily schedule — even getting dressed for the day in a different order can have positive effects on your brain.

The best thing about our minds is that they possess the ability to improve themselves. By combining memory exercises, puzzles, logic games, and your own favorite hobbies, you can improve your memory, processing power, and analytical skills, regardless of your age.

Contributed by Lydia Chan. Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.

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Research shows that maintaining a positive attitude can boost immunity, lengthen one’s lifespan, and increase the overall quality of life. Of course, staying positive is often easier said than done, especially in a world where aging is often viewed in a negative light.

Seniors, in particular, often struggle to maintain a positive attitude as they age. Unfortunately, this can often lead to negative health effects. To help the senior in your life experience the benefits of a positive mindset, keep these four tips in mind.

1. Encourage Independence

In one study, psychologists separated nursing home residents into two groups. The first group was able to choose houseplants to keep care for, was allowed to arrange the furniture in the room as they wished, and got to decide which nights they wanted to attend a movie. The second group had their furniture arranged for them, were told when to attend a movie, and had their plants chosen and cared for by a nurse.

Both the immediate and long-term results of the study showed that the group with more independence experienced significantly better physical and mental well-being, while those in the second group stayed the same or experienced a significant decrease in health.

As you can see, it’s essential for you to give the senior in your life opportunities to safely establish their independence. Invest in tools like shower chairs that allow them to safely perform daily tasks, and allow them to make choices for themselves as much as possible.

Additionally, encourage community involvement or service opportunities. This a good way to increase your loved one’s sense of purpose and give them a way to invest their time and attention in those around them.  

2. Provide Transportation Solutions

Many seniors face a decline in their driving abilities as they age. When they’re no longer able to come and go as they please, it’s easy for seniors to start to feel isolated and depressed.

To mitigate these feelings and encourage a positive outlook, it’s important to arrange alternative transportation for seniors so that they’re still able to get out and do the things they enjoy.

Some local senior centers offer shuttle services to help seniors get around and run errands or attend social events independently. Many states also give seniors a discount on public transportation passes. In addition to safe transportation options, make sure your loved one is using assistive devices such as walkers, wheelchairs, or canes as needed.

3. Create Opportunities for Connection

If your local senior center or religious community hosts regular social activities for seniors, encourage your parent or loved one to attend.

Arrange for those who live close to drop by once or twice a week to check in and visit. For those who live far away, plan reunions or events so everyone can get together. It’s much easier for seniors to stay positive when they’re surrounded by those they love.

In addition to in-person connection, social media and live video chat services like Skype can also be beneficial for seniors who want to stay in touch with friends and family.

4. Make Sure You Stay Positive, Too

Finally, if you want your parent or loved one to stay positive, it’s important for you to stay positive, too.

It’s hard for seniors to maintain a positive attitude if they feel like they’re a burden on their loved ones. Take time to enjoy the things you love and utilize others’ help to schedule in some ‘you time’. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or isolated yourself, try attending a caregiver support group. It may be just what you need to lift yourself back up and restore your sense of connection. Remember to make sure you let your loved one know you’re happy to be of service, and that you just need some time to take care of yourself as well.

These small changes can make a big difference seniors’ attitudes and will make it easier for them to be more positive themselves.

Contributed by Vive Health

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Long-term caregiver, Betty De Filippis, gives her tips regarding her experiences with her mother-in-law, Joan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013.

As the disease progressed through four years of caregiving, Betty learned many different techniques that aided — or hindered — Joan’s care. She learned how to help Joan more fully enjoy the holiday season with loving advice from friends, neighbors, and her family physician, 

Keep it Simple

While traditions are wonderful and create happy memories, sometimes the better option — and the most calming for your loved one — is to keep it simple. At times your loved one may have difficulty keeping up with fast-paced or over-stimulating events. “Try to keep visitors to a minimum, or at least spread them out as much as possible,” says Betty. “This could help prevent your loved one from becoming overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. Music is also a great help, as it can lift their spirits as well as help them remember what holiday is coming up.”

Betty also says that offering simple choices is important. “Always ask them if they want to do something, rather than telling them what you want them to do. One time they may want to do it, another time they might not. For instance, if you’re making a craft, ask questions like, ‘Would you like to use orange?’ or  ‘Do you want to cut that, or would you like me to help you?’ Although they may behave differently, they are still a person whose feelings need to be respected.”

Help with gift giving and receiving 

Joan and Betty 2017

Betty says that the way your loved one handles how they once gave and received gifts may differ from what you or others are used to.  “To help them carry on as they once did, ask them questions like, ‘Would you like to give a gift to (name)?’ If they don’t have any ideas of what to give, offer suggestions and then help them shop for a gift or perhaps do it for them. They will know, as far as they are capable, that they are giving gifts, and that usually makes them happy.”

She also says, “With gifts from others, again, keep it simple. A few of their favorite things is a great idea. Too much can be overwhelming. If there are a lot of presents, spread them out over time. Maybe even over a couple of days if there are a lot of them. If they appear to be losing interest, stop and do more later. Shoving too much at them can cause anxiety.”

Request help when you need it

It may be necessary to ask your family members to step in when you need a break. It may even require assigning tasks that alleviate your workload so that all of the pressure isn’t on you. “Sometimes I would just ask someone to sit with Joan so I could do the things I needed to do,” says Betty.

Remember to take care of yourself

Of the many challenges that family caregivers must face on a daily basis, perhaps the greatest—and least addressed—is the mental and emotional health of the caregivers themselves. Self-care is often the last thing that caregivers address, especially through the busy holiday season. If you are the primary caregiver, it’s important to recognize any feelings of being burned out or being worn down and overworked as this is a good indication you may need more help as well. Remember to ask for help when you need it and utilize respite care options.

Holidays are meant to be a time to cherish with loved ones. Although your loved one may be “different” than you’re used to, they are still the person they used to be — they are just dealing with a difficult disease. They are doing the best they can in a situation that may be too overwhelming for them to handle. In some cases, they may not even understand what it is you’re gathered to celebrate or why there are so many people there. Check in with them often, read their body language, and respond accordingly. Most importantly, remember to be patient, be kind, and enjoy your time together.

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If you’ve recently taken on the role of caregiver, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what the future holds. Despite your new responsibility, it’s crucial that you don’t stop caring for yourself as well.

Early Planning Is Essential

One way to address that uncertainty is by learning as much about your loved one’s health issues as possible. Doing so will help you address treatable conditions early and plan for the future. This planning process should also include any close friends or family members who will be involved. These initial meetings should lay the groundwork for how each person plans to contribute to your loved one’s care since, even if there is a primary caregiver, one person probably can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do it all.

You should also take the time to get your loved one’s healthcare plan in place so they’ll have the coverage they need when they need it. A Medicare resource guide can walk you through the enrollment process, as well as help you find supplemental plans that will cover prescription drugs, as well as dental and vision care. Knowing these issues are covered, both for preventive care and in the event of an emergency will reduce stress for you and your loved one.

Along those same lines, don’t wait to explore community resources designed to make life easier for caregivers. Organizations like Meals on Wheels or adult daycare centers not only provide a respite for caregivers but offer a valuable community connection to the person being cared for. So, rather than feeling a sense of guilt when you take advantage of these services, view the time they create as an opportunity to address your own needs.

Prioritize Self-Care

Although it may seem impractical — or virtually impossible — to take time for self-care, it’s integral to being an effective caregiver, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. After all, how can you care for someone else to the best of your ability if your own physical, mental, and emotional needs are neglected?

Taking self-care steps early on helps you make good choices, minimizes the stress associated with your new role, and prevents you from coping with the pressure by turning to substances like drugs and alcohol or relying on food for comfort. And, before you dismiss these possible problems, it’s worth noting that research shows caregivers are indeed more susceptible to unhealthy habits than those who don’t devote time to caring for a family member or friend with an illness or long-term disability.

For instance, one study of California caregivers found them more likely to smoke and be obese than their non-caregiving counterparts, regardless of age group. And the stress of caregiving seemed to weigh even more heavily on middle-aged caregivers who might be juggling job and childcare duties, with more than a quarter of caregivers between the ages of 45 and 62 reporting binge-drinking behavior.

One way to address the emotions that come with caregiving in a positive, proactive way is by joining a support group of people in similar situations. Other caregivers can provide an empathetic ear and may also be able to suggest solutions to everyday obstacles that come with caregiving thanks to their own experiences. And many groups often communicate online, making it easier to fit interaction into your schedule.

At the same time, it’s important to with old friends. So don’t hesitate to find the right respite care for your loved one so you can take time off. Not only will finding backup care early on help in emergency situations, but it will also ensure both you and your loved one are comfortable with the care setting. If that’s the case, you can look forward to a leisurely lunch with close confidants while your loved one experiences a pleasant break from their day-to-day routine.

Everyday Self-Care Strategies

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay (besnopile)

With a little creativity, you may also be able to incorporate self-care into your caregiving routine. For instance, why not research healthy recipes that fits both your dietary needs? Or, if possible, suggest a walk outdoors or create crafts that stretch both you and your loved one’s mental muscles. During downtime, such as waits at the doctor’s office, individual hobbies like journaling or adult coloring can also offer you an emotional outlet or simply provide an opportunity to temporarily take your mind off your worries.

So, although caregiving can be an immense responsibility, you shouldn’t sacrifice self-care. In fact, prioritizing it on your to-do list will make you happier, healthier, and more effective at providing care for the one you love.

Contributed by Lydia Chan. Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.

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