Caregivers often have no time to care for themselves – aerobic fitness, good nutrition and ways to de-stress take time – something caregivers just don’t have. Heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women and caregivers are more at risk for this deadly killer. Our articles all month focus on heart health tips, stories and more. We help those who give their heart to others, find ways to care for their own heart.
In November we want everyone to remember the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and the 15 million caring for them. Every 68 seconds, someone new is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One of every two Americans over age 85 will develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the #1 reason children under 18 become a caregiver for a grandparent or parent. Read our blog articles about Alzheimer’s disease here:
Caregiving’s Lost Generation: The Nation’s Children for the Huffington Post
Caregiving Conversation Between Your Heart and Your Head for the Huffington Post
Dementia Caregiver Stress and Long-Distance Caregiving for PBS Next Avenue
Watch here to view the celebrity interviews on the purple carpet from the “A Night at Sardi’s” Gala Events hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association Los Angeles Chapter:
October is National Mental Illness Awareness Week October 6-12 and October 10 is National Depression Screening Day. More than 61 million Americans — 1 in 4 — suffer from mental illness. And the CDC recently reported suicides among boomers has increased 47-59% over the last three years – one reason cited was caring for an older parent. Caregivers often suffer from depression and feel stigmatized when caring for a loved one with mental illness. Read the interviews and mental health stories all month long:
Interview with Glenn Close – caregiver to a sister with bi-polar disorder
Interview with Catherine Zeta Jones - living with bi-polar disorder
Read the article about caring for a veteran with invisible wounds of PTSD and TBI
Find more information on mental health from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)
In Sherri’s latest article for Huffington Post, she writes about the 1.4 million children under 18 providing care for a parent or grandparent. Read the article on Huffington Post Healthy Living here.
Caregiving Club CEO, Sherri Snelling, interviews celebrities from movies, TV, Broadway, sports, news, music and politics who are or have been a family caregiver.
In August we celebrate one of caregiving’s pioneers – former First Lady Rosalynn Carter who celebrates her birthday on August 18. Her Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving is helping caregivers at home and internationally find the balance to care for themselves as much as they care for everyone around them.
Read all the celebrity interviews by clicking here.
This month we focus on the caregivers of older Americans as we celebrate longevity, healthy aging and the pursuit of happiness.
When it comes to caregiving, celebrities from TV, films, sports, news and music are just like the rest of us. While some may have more financial resources available to them, they still face a fragmented health care system and experience the emotional roller coaster that is the caregiving journey. Our Caregiving Club CEO Sherri Snelling has been interviewing these celebrities for articles and her new book to be published in 2013. Read the latest Celebrity Caregiver Interviews below.
And the winner is . . . just in time for the Oscars, we announce our 1st Annual CARER Awards℠ honoring the movies and stars who represent caregiving in America. Check out the blog below.
In preparation for Halloween, I felt it was time to show that caregiving for an older loved one does not have to be something scary like Freddy or Zombies or Clowns (yes – like Carrie Bradshaw I’m one of those people who are really terrified of clowns).
In order to have some fun, I have taken the characters from the popular book and movie, The Wizard of Oz to help us face both the “tricks” and “treats” of caregiving.
With a little planning for your caregiving journey down this yellow brick road, you can avoid looking like the Wicked Witch of the West (green pallor, bad teeth, scraggly hair) and maybe more like Glenda, the Good Witch (radiantly glowing skin, happy, white smile in a sparkly dress and tiara!).
Like Dorothy – we fall into caregiving without any preparation or planning.
The first “trick” of caregiving is that we are sometimes suddenly thrust into this new world – there is no map, no guide, and you’re faced with endless decisions (Which path do you take when there is a fork in the road? How far is Emerald City? And, who are these flying monkeys and singing munchkins?)
Trick – caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop multiple chronic illnesses – such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s or asthma – earlier in life! Yikes! Here are what studies show happens to caregivers:
- 85% of caregivers who report their health is in decline because of caregiving are WOMEN.
- 91% of caregivers who say their health has suffered report DEPRESSION.
- 72% of caregivers ignore their own doctor appointments.
- 22% of women are missing their annual mammograms because they cannot find time in their caregiving schedule.
Treat – don’t neglect your own health & wellness needs. Keep your own doctor appointments, get your flu shot, ensure you have annual exams like mammograms. How? Well, get another family member or friend to relieve you in your caregiving duties so you don’t cancel. This will keep you healthy so you can continue caring for your loved one.
Like the Tin Man – we need a strong heart to keep up with caregiving responsibilities.
In talking with numerous caregivers through the years, they all say they are exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed – BUT – they do this willingly because caregiving is a “labor of love.” In order to avoid burn-out, caregivers have to open their hearts to receiving help.
Trick – Stress is the #1 issue for caregivers and we know stress can lead to higher blood pressure which can lead to a variety of increased health risks such as hypertension, stroke and heart disease. Are you stressed out? Take the American Medical Association’s Caregiver Stress Test and find out.
Treat – Keep your heart healthy by allowing others to help you. Have your list ready when friends or family ask how they can help. You can also start (or have someone start for you) an online community where friends and family can volunteer to help you out – check out one of my favorites – Lotsa Helping Hands.
Like the Scarecrow, we need brainpower to navigate the complex world of caregiving.
Caregiving can not only be a full-time job but you have to become an expert at elder care issues, navigating Medicare or Medicaid, transportation, housing, etc.
Trick – Caregiving can become a part or full-time job and can be a long journey. Consider that:
- 73% of caregivers spend up to 20 hours a week caregiving
- 12% of caregivers spend 40 hours a week caregiving
- The average caregiving duration is a little over 4 years (31% have been caregiving for 5 years or more)
Treat – If you have access to a professional care manager through your employer’s work life benefits, use this expert to help you navigate all your options. Just like you’d turn to an accountant to do your taxes or a lawyer to represent you in court, professional care managers are experts at elder care. If you don’t have this kind of support through your employer o you are unemployed, you can check the Professional Geriatric Care Manager site for an expert near you or your loved one.
Like the Cowardly Lion – we have to be brave and have courage.
Caregiving can sometimes be a journey of fear. Fear of what is around the corner or down that yellow brick road. Fear that you are going bankrupt caring for your loved one. Fear that your own health is suffering. Fear that your social life, your family life, your work life is in free-fall. Don’t surrender yet, Dorothy.
Trick - Consider the following pitfalls of caregiving:
- 47% of caregivers are using all or most of their savings to cover care-related costs
- 33% of caregivers are taking on longer work hours or a second job during this economic downturn to cover caregiving costs
- 48% of working caregivers feel less comfortable asking their employer for time-off for caregiving since the recession began
- 10% of caregivers misuse alcohol or prescription drugs to cope with their stress
Treat – There are ways to save on caregiving costs. Check out the Elder Care Locator for low or no-cost elder care services in your area. Some Medicaid plans cover transportation and respite care costs, you can find those at the “Ask Medicare” site. There are numerous volunteer transportation services for seniors, you can find these at the National Center for Senior Transportation. Finding ways to save on costs will help you save on some of the stress you’re feeling.
There’s No Place Like Home.
We know that before the economic downturn, 24 percent of caregivers lived with their loved one. Since this February, a National Alliance for Caregiving survey showed a 20 percent increase in co-residency. On the flip side, 15 percent of caregivers live long-distance – more than 1 hour away.
Whether you live near or far, understanding your loved one’s wishes for where and how they want to live out their “golden years’ is an essential part of caregiving.
We all know there really is no place like home. Make sure you have the conversation with your loved one so that you can plan ahead for what living accommodations will work for both of you. (check out my “C-A-R-E Conversation Tip” for help).
Hopefully, caregiving will seem a little less scary if you know what you are facing. By following these “treats” you’ll be singing “we’re out of the woods” soon. It may not be as easy as clicking your heels three times but remember – you just have to believe – in yourself.
For most of us, Labor Day signifies the official end of summer, the last day women should wear white (although this rule has been waning in recent years) and the beginning of football season. However, the first federal observance of Labor Day in 1894 established this holiday to “celebrate the economic and social contribution of workers.”
I can think of no better “labor force” than the 65 million Americans who are providing unpaid care to a loved one who is aging, has a chronic illness or disability. In fact, a 2011 AARP report showed that the economic value of those 44 million caring for someone over the age of 50 using 2009 data (so this does not include the additional 11 million caregivers for those under age 50) is $450 billion annually.
What does $450 billion in annual societal and economic value really mean? Consider this:
- That is $89 billion more than the total spent by the U.S government and state agencies for Medicaid in both health care and long term care services & support
- That is $42 billion more than the total sales of the country’s largest company – Wal-mart – and $11 billion more than the total sales of the three largest auto makers – Toyota, Ford, Daimler – combined
- It would be equal to these caregivers handing each and every American citizen $1,500
- It would represent 3.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)
In fact, if the family caregivers were to all just “walk off the job” today – we would have a health care crisis of unimaginable proportion. They provide 80 percent of the care needed to keep our rapidly growing aging society – 35 million over age 65 today growing to 70 million in 10 years – living at home as independently and as long as possible.
And yet, family caregivers are navigating a system that is fragmented, complicated and frustrating. The stress that many caregivers feel can become a chronic source of health issues that can escalate over time. In fact, a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that family caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop multiple chronic illnesses – asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. – earlier in life due to prolonged stress.
Solutions for Society’s Caregivers
We all play a role in supporting the labors of our family caregivers. Here are my recommendations and some solutions for each group’s role:
- Employers – if you look at your workforce as one of your greatest assets then you must acknowledge that supporting working caregivers will enhance your bottom line. Seventy-three percent of caregivers work full or part-time but only 11 percent of all U.S. employers offer some sort of caregiver support service through a work-life program or employee assistance program (EAP). It is time to close that gap and acknowledge caregiving as a life event that will impact many of your employees over the years to come.
- Government – Some government agencies are acknowledging the value of caregivers by providing more information to help them navigate the system. Medicare offers a Web site with information on how to understand your loved one’s Medicare needs and benefits and the National Area Agencies on Aging (N4As) offers both an online and toll-free telephonic resource to connect you with the services in your county and state.
- Medical and Other Professionals – Family physicians should recognize a change in caregiver’s behavior or health by asking questions about whether they have recently taken on the role of caregiver. A Caregiver Stress Test developed by the American Medical Association – available in both English and Spanish – is available on their Web site and should either be given by the family physician or if the caregiver feels their health is suffering under the strains of caregiving – take the test and provide the results to your doctor.
In addition, there are professionals in elder care called professional geriatric care managers who can help caregivers find transportation, meal delivery services, in-home health aides, etc. You can find one online at the NAPGCM Web site.
- Social Networks (Family, Friends) – there are online communities where caregivers can either sign up themselves or have a family or friend create a way for others to help support them through a caregiving situation. This is essential to helping caregivers avoid the traditional “burn-out” and stress that can be associated with caring for a loved one. My favorite of these sites is Lotsa Helping Hands – a free online community with resources, calendars and other great tools to help caregivers.
- Caregivers – individual responsibility in a caregiving situation requires balancing self-care while caring for your loved one. Sometimes this is easier said than done but if you do not maintain your own health and wellness and you do become too fatigued or ill to care for them – who will?
One way to always ensure the balance is there is to adopt healthy habits and check in with yourself on your progress. One of my favorite ways to do this is a campaign called Caregivers’ Monday – developed by the non-profit Monday Campaigns which shows that based on research by Johns Hopkins and other universities, adopting healthy habits on a Monday and using that day to chart your progress shows longer-lasting and more successful results. Check out their caregiver tips on their Web site and watch the Caregiving Club’s Me Time Monday video tips that support the Caregiver’s Monday Campaign.
In today’s fast-paced, stress-filled, slow economic growth, multi-tasking world – the art of relaxation is like speaking Latin – an almost forgotten, dead concept. But, if you are one of the 65 million Americans caring for a loved one who is ill, has disabilities or is just getting older and needs more help – finding a little “R&R” time for yourself is essential.
If you are like me – it is always hard to kick-start something out of the blue – most of the time I need a cattle prod to go to the gym, eat right or get enough sleep. So I am using today – which happens to be National Relaxation Day – to take a little time for myself and I encourage all caregivers to do the same.
Here’s how to get started – and the best part is – these tips are free and don’t take very much time but the reward is worth it!
Relaxation Tips from the Experts – Body, Mind, Soul
For the Body:
- America’s favorite MD – Dr. Oz – says relaxation can be as simple as breathing and only takes five minutes a day! Here is how: lie on your back, put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. As you inhale, push your stomach way out to the count of “5.” After five seconds, a comfortable breath should be held and then exhale slowly – letting your stomach come down and really pushing that stomach down until your belly hits your spine. Repeat this 10 times in the morning and 10 times at night. You will feel amazingly relaxed and it helps with drainage of your lymphatic system which removes the toxins from your body.
- If you cannot get to a professional masseuse (I get my Groupon coupon for Massage Envy – well worth the $40-$50!) – you can do a little self-massage for free at home. Darrin Zeer, author of Lover’s Massage and Office Yoga advices placing both hands on your shoulders and neck. Squeeze with your fingers and palms. Rub vigorously, try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Next, wrap one hand around the other forearm, squeeze the muscles with thumb and fingers moving up and down from the elbow to the fingertips and back again. Repeat with the other arm. Aaahhhh!
For the Mind:
- The art of visualization is something that fascinates me and professionals say can really work. When you were a kid did you ever lie on your back and just stare at the clouds imaging their shape as animals or other objects? That state of Zen is what you are going for here. If you are in the office, take a little walk; if you are at home – take a 5 to 10-minute car ride to a spot where you can sit and escape for a few minutes. Maybe do some window shopping – imagine yourself in that adorable dress or shoes, or look into a bakery window and imagine the warm, hot chocolate being baked into the soft croissant, or just sit on a bench and people-watch and make up your own “movie” about the strangers walking-by (she’s a French spy being followed by the men in suits who are arms dealers in disguise – will she lose them in the crowd?). Or, you can just sit and close your eyes and imagine a place you would like to be – a hammock in the Bahamas, a gondola in Venice, a mountain top in the Himalayas. My favorite? I’m in a red convertible cruising down Pacific Coast Highway along the beach in California between Santa Barbara and Carmel with Mark Harmon (believe me – it works!
- Focus on just one thing. We are all juggling multiple activities – you have to pick the kids up from school, need to return that call at work, have to schedule the carpet cleaners, send that birthday card to your sister, and get to the cleaners before they close and on and on. Take five minutes all to yourself and just zone out. Read a magazine, go for a walk and listen to the rustle of the tree leaves or the tweeting of the birds, put on a favorite CD or radio station and sit or drive and really think about the song lyrics and how they move you, eat a pear and feel the soft prickly taste of fruit’s skin. By focusing on one sensory activity – seeing, hearing, tasting, touching — your brain relaxes and sends impulses to your other muscles to relax as well.
For the Soul:
- Give me some lovin’ – we all need a hug sometimes. But instead of waiting for the hug to come to you – be the hugger instead of the huggee. Scientific studies have shown that babies in neonatal units who were held and cradled for a few minutes a day thrived and survived versus babies who did not feel human touch. It is more than physical – it is soulful to get and give hugs. So, hug your dog or cat, give your husband or wife a squeeze at the end of a long, stressful day, hug your kids as they jump out of the car to get to school (of course if they are teens – forget it – they will not let you near enough to acknowledge they have a parent), or hug a friend over coffee or at the gym or office – just thank her for being there for you.
- Stay connected. When we are stressed or depressed, we have a tendency to become isolated – we tell ourselves “I’m just not in the right mood to be around people.” This can snowball on you and the effect can be serious implications to your health and wellness. Psychologist Deborah Rozman, PhD, co-author of Transforming Stress says that social interaction reduces your stress levels, helps your brain function more clearly and encourages you to see new solutions to current problems. So, take that walk with a friend, meet for coffee, talk to your brother who lives across the country – connect and it can help you relax (pick contacts that you know are supportive – it will not do you any good to connect with someone who adds stress to your life!).
I know it is hard to find even a few minutes a day to relax but it is critical to take as good care of yourself as you take of everyone around you. So get your R&R today – after all it is National Relaxation Day – so go on and celebrate you and the gift you give to those you care for!
If there is one thing that is distinctly American – it is our pioneering spirit. Whether it was Lewis & Clark first exploring the country all the way to the Pacific Ocean (with more than a little help from Sacagawea), Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon and Sally Ride exploring space, Martin Luther King, Jr. marching towards true civil rights, Jackie Robinson breaking sports taboos with his bat and glove or Albert Einstein theorizing on science – Americans have always been “O Pioneers!” (as Willa Cather would say).
On August 18 – we honor the birthday of another pioneer – former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. It was Mrs. Carter who became the first public figure to truly champion the cause of those 65 million Americans today caring for loved ones who are older, chronically ill, disabled or challenged by mental illness. In fact, it was Mrs. Carter who coined the oft repeated description of family caregivers:
You have either been a caregiver,
You are a caregiver,
You will be a caregiver,
Or someone will care for you.
In her book, Helping Yourself Help Others – A Book for Caregivers, Mrs. Carter writes, “We can learn to approach caregiving as a blessing as well as a challenging task.”
She knows of what she speaks firsthand: Rosalynn was only 12 years old when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. As the eldest daughter, she helped care for her ailing father and supported her mother by also caring for her younger siblings. She took up caregiving again for several relatives with cancer after she left the White House and was caregiver for her mother who died in 2000 at age 94.
Mrs. Carter’s gift to caregivers comes from a lifetime of understanding the challenges – emotional, physical and financial – that accompany caring for a loved one. A long-time devoted and determined advocate for those Americans with mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter is also behind the founding of the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia in 1987.
The mission of the RCI is to establish local, state and national partnerships with organizations focused on quality, long-term home and community based services to help caregivers. The RCI activities include a variety of advocacy, academic, and awards and scholarship programs. While many of the caregiver programs are Georgia-based, these programs are examples that help lead the way for nationwide caregiver support, education and training.
Proving that the pioneer in us never diminishes, Mrs. Carter is still active today in caregiving issues recently testifying before Congress on May 26 for reauthorization of the Older Americans Act which includes a National Family Caregiver Program. She also continues to be a strong advocate for the caregivers of those with mental illness. Her most recent book, published last year, is Within our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis (with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade). And, for anyone who thinks that being an octogenarian means you do not understand or embrace new technology – check out the PSA video that Mrs. Carter filmed with actress Patricia Bethune – on YouTube.
As Mrs. Carter blows out the candles on her cake for her 84th birthday, let us wish that the spotlight she has shined on caregivers never dims. Happy Birthday Mrs. Carter!