USA Today articles

How to Avoid the Caregiving Cost Drain

7 Tips to Beat Caregiver Burn-out

Silver Surfers – Aging and Technology

Paying it Forward – Volunteerism Among Caregivers

How to Have the CARE Conversation

On Demand Caregiver Help

Caregivers of the East Wing – Celebrating First Ladies

On President’s Day, we honor two great men who have led this country through its creation and one of its most trying times – namely George Washington and Abraham Lincoln respectively.  And while feature films and mini-series have celebrated our former presidents, it is the First Ladies who have served as caregivers that I honor today.

Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan, Barbara and Laura Bush and the caregiving pioneer, Rosalynn Carter, are passionate advocates for our nation’s 65 million caregivers because they have taken the caregiving journey themselves. And, Michelle Obama showed the nation how to manage a multi-generational household when her mother moved into the White House to help the former First Lady with rearing daughters, Malia and Sasha.

When current First Lady Melania Trump takes up residence in the White House next month, she may not be caring for her older parents or other relatives but she has pledged to support women’s issues and there is no bigger issue for women today than the juggling act of caring for an older parent. And, First Daughter, Ivanka Trump Kushner, has been instrumental in pushing her father, President Donald Trump, into adopting an expanded family leave act for working caregivers of children and older parents.

Rosalynn Carter – The First Caregiver Pioneer

 

Long recognized as one of the pioneers of the caregiving movement, Rosalynn Carter is known for her famous description of the life event of caregiving in America:

 

 

You have been a caregiver

You are a caregiver

You will be a caregiver

Or someone will be caring for you

In her book, Helping Yourself Help Others – A Book for Caregivers, former First Lady Rosalynn 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 most recently was caregiver for her mother who died in 2000 at age 94.

Rosalynn’s gift to caregivers comes from a lifetime of understanding the challenges – emotional, physical and financial – that accompany caring for a loved one.  She was the first to hold a caregiver conference that identified “burn-out” that is so often a side effect of caregiving. She is also a long-time devoted and determined advocate for those Americans with mental health issues. It was the recognition of a national center to focus on the future caregiving issues facing America that led Rosalynn Carter to create the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia.

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 serve as models for nationwide caregiver support, education and training.

Nancy Reagan – The Legacy of Alzheimer’s and the Long Good-bye

When Nancy Reagan passed away last year, she left a legacy of advocacy for the disease that took her beloved “Ronnie”: Alzheimer’s. Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s touching affection for each other was evident in the letter former President Reagan wrote to tell the world he was suffering from this neurodegenerative disease that afflicts 5 million Americans today.  In the letter, President Reagan not only helped shine his celebrity spotlight on a disease many Americans did not understand, but he also highlighted the concern he had for Nancy who would be caring for him.  He understood the difficult emotional toll it would take on his wife and as the disease progressed, and the last 10 years of his life he did not even recognize her.

Today more than 15 million Americans are doing what Nancy did – caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s – and suffering the emotional toll of caregiving for a loved one with dementia known as the long good-bye. While Nancy had the resources to care for her husband in ways most Americans do not, the emotional toll it took on her cannot be ignored.

What was perhaps most heartwarming was that the strained relationship Nancy had with her stepchildren and with her own son and daughter, actually improved over the course of President Reagan’s disease diagnosis and decline.  Family dynamics are sometimes difficult to navigate during caregiving and can lead to added stress and strife.  But, in this instance, it brought a family closer together which is one of the gifts that can come from caregiving.

After President Reagan’s passing in 2004, Nancy became one of the most passionate advocates for Alzheimer’s disease awareness and education and especially lending her voice and support for the research around embryonic stem cells that can hopefully lead to a cure.

Barbara Bush – Caregiver for a Chronically Ill Child and an Aging Husband

At this year’s Super Bowl, one of the most poignant images was Barbara Bush pushing her husband, wheelchair-bound President George Herbert Walker Bush (known as “41”) onto the field for the coin toss.

At age 91 for Barbara and 92 for George (who is the oldest living former President), it was only days earlier that both had been hospitalized (he with pneumonia and she with bronchitis). But football in Texas is serious business and it would take more than illness and age to keep the Bushes from participating in an American tradition. And, while both have had illnesses over the years, it is Barbara who has stepped up to care for her husband over the last several years even though he was determined to be a vital senior, skydiving on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.

However, in 2012, Barbara Bush was called into service as caregiver George when he was hospitalized with bronchitis and his fever had spiked. As a spousal caregiver, Barbara joins more than 3 million other spouses who are caring for their husband or wife, and the one in three caregivers who are over age 65 when the become a caregiver. And the stress of having a spouse in declining health can accelerate the stress caregivers feel.

We often witness the stress of the presidency – look at all presidents during the campaign and then after they leave office where their white or gray hair betrays the emotional burdens they have lived through. It is fact that the stress of being president prematurely age the men who have held office. But it was Barbara who suffered incredible stress and depression and subsequent “white” hair after caring for her ill child and then experiencing the premature death of her four-year-old daughter Robin to leukemia in 1953 when Barbara was only 28 years old.

Hillary Clinton – Caregiving Daughter and Champion

In 2011, Hillary Clinton lost her 92-year-old mother, Dorothy Rodham.  While the details of her mother’s passing and possible illness were kept private from the invasive world of 24/7 news media, Clinton has been a long-time advocate of the nation’s caregivers when she was a senator from New York.  She supported several pieces of proposed legislation that offered more services to support those family mebers who are providing 80 percent of the long-term care to keep a loved one living at home as long as possible.

In an interview from Clinton’s campaign days for the Democratic presidential nomination, she credited her mother with giving her the tools — and toughness — to enter politics.  In the end, her mother had also given her daughter the tools to be a compassionate caregiver.

Laura Bush – Sandwich Generation Caregiver

Laura Bush, an only child who grew up in the oil town of Midland, Texas, played caregiver to both her mother and her father.  While campaigning with her husband George “W” Bush who was running for governor of Texas, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  While Laura, who was raising twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, played back-up to her mother who was primary caregiver, she poignantly wrote in The Shriver Report:  A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s about the impact to families when Alzheimer’s disease happens.

“What my mother noticed first was that my father could no longer fill out bank deposit slips. He would stare at the lines on the forms, a look of confusion washing over his face. So Mother began to make the deposits for him. We never got a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or a specific form of cognitive failing. But we saw his mind erode. Once, he asked our daughter Barbara to get him some ‘B & Bs.’ He meant M&Ms, but he kept saying ‘B & Bs.’ In her 10-year-old way, she understood him and came out of the grocery store with the brown bag of the bright candy just the same.”

Laura stepped in again to care for her mother, Jenna Welch, who was diagnosed with and survived breast cancer when she was 78.  Laura’s support of Susan G. Komen for the Cause and her activism on behalf of women’s risk of heart disease has led her to play a leading role in women’s and caregiver health issues. She was an ambassador for The Heart Truth campaign created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and dedicated the inaugural display of the First Ladies Red Dress Collection at the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts in 2005.

First Lady, First Daughter – Sandwich Generation Champion and Made the White House a Multigenerational Household

Former First Lady Michelle Obama joined the ranks of caregiver growing up as the daughter of a father with multiple sclerosis.  Her experience in helping to care for a father with an autoimmune disease currently affecting more than 400,000 people in the U.S. – with 200 more people diagnosed every week – gave her early insights to the impact of caregiving on families.  Michelle has been a true champion of the Sandwich Generation – those caregivers squeezed between caring for two generations – children and older parents.

Michelle also turned the White House into a multigenerational household when her husband held office. She invited her mother, Marian Shields Robinson, to come live in the White House to help care for her daughters, Malia and Sasha, who were only 10 and seven respectively. Dubbed the “First Granny,” Robinson was the first live-in grandmother in the White House since Elivera M. Doud, the mother of Mamie Eisenhower, during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. Recently, Pew Research reported that one in five Americans – approximately 60 million – live in multigenerational households.

While women may be seen as “the power behind the throne,” these First Ladies are proof that women also put the heart into caregiving.

This is adapted from Sherri Snelling’s upcoming book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care.

 

©2017 Sherri Snelling

Finding Caregiver Stress Relief

stress imageStress is the No. 1 complaint when it comes to a caregiver’s own health and wellness, finding stress relief is just one more thing caregivers have to do.  However, if you do not develop ways to become stress-free, it can seriously impact your ability to continue caring for your loved one.

Numerous studies point to the direct correlation between prolonged stress and health risks.  Chronic stress can lead to higher blood pressure which can lead to hypertension which can ultimately lead to stroke or heart attack.  In fact, a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop chronic illness such as heart disease or cancer due to prolonged stress. In addition, the American Psychological Association in its annual Stress In America™ survey showed the negative health impacts from stress are more pronounced for those over age 50 who are also a family caregiver.

In addition, studies have found caregivers who experience stress turn to bad habits to cope.  One study from the National Alliance for Caregiving found 10 percent of caregivers use alcohol or medications to cope with stress.  Another survey, Stressed and Strapped: Caregivers in California conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, found among the state’s six million caregivers, more than 16 percent were smoking and 27.5 percent are obese – at least four percentage points higher in each case than non-caregivers.   For caregivers with serious emotional distress, the survey found the likelihood of smoking goes up by about 208 percent.

How Can Caregivers Find “Stress Relief?”

Start by taking a Caregiver Stress Test developed by the American Medical Association or the Alzheimer’s Association.  Just by taking this test you may start to realize you are nearer to the breaking point than you thought.  You can and should use this stress test to share with your doctor.

If you score off the charts, it is time to decompress before your engine blows.  Here are five tips to help find stress relief:

  1. Find your “vault” – Vault dreamstime_m_8453967 (2)

    we all have a spouse, an adult child, a sibling, a best friend or spiritual advisor who can give you a shoulder to cry on or help get your mind off things for even a few minutes.  I call these friends your “vault” because you know whatever you tell them will go in the vault and stay there.  They will not judge you or share your feelings with others – it is a sacred conversation that truly remains confidential.   Having a “vault” is a precious gift in our reality-TV obsessed world of “airing one’s dirty little secrets.”

 

  1. Join a support group of other caregivers

    two hands pulling each other or holding on.

    two hands pulling each other or holding on.

    – if you are frustrated, angry or depressed, it helps to let off steam or find comfort by talking to other caregivers who understand exactly what you are going through. Often, caregivers find talking to other caregivers who are going through similar challenges and anxieties can be empowering and nurturing.  Sometimes other family members and friends can be sympathetic but not empathetic.  It is important to find a support group specific to your situation – whether you are caring for someone with cancer, Alzheimer’s or in the case of our veterans, you may be a caregiver of someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or a physical disability – find the group where others in the circle or online truly understand.  One thing I have heard over and over again from caregivers is they feel they are all alone.  The reality is you are not alone.  By reaching out and voicing your fears, frustrations and anger in a safe environment with other caregivers – you will be amazed at how just talking can start to lift that weight off your shoulders.

 

  1. Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation

    Yoga at Sunset dreamstime_m_17221336 (2)these relaxation activities are not just for the “new age” lovers – there are real health benefits to performing at least one of these activities just a few minutes a day. Yoga and tai chi can lower your blood pressure, improve your posture and circulation, relax your muscles, provide headache relief and boost your immune system.  Even if you do not have time for yoga, just try calmly breathing for a few minutes.  Everyone’s favorite physician, Dr. Oz advises lying on your back and taking 10 deep, long breaths a day – it will help take your mind on a journey to a happy place and helps removes toxins from your body.   Learning how to relax is a true skill – one you have to practice every day.

 

  1. Do something to soothe you physicallyRubber Ducky dreamstime_m_19349163 (2)

    – you will be amazed at how it calms your mind. A bath is great or if you do not have the time, just running your hands under warm water for a few minutes can truly relax you.  You can also try giving yourself a massage – wrap your fingers around your upper arm and knead your fingers all around the arm working your way down to the forearm and wrist.  Repeat on the other arm.

 

 

  1. Get enough sleepEyelid dreamstime_m_2327813 (2)

    – Seven to eight hours is recommended. Create a sleep-inducing environment:  dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.  Do not use your bedroom for anything other than sleep (sex is also OK according to the experts!).  No watching TV, using your laptop or iPad or even reading in bed (this is my downfall).  Make sure you do not eat at least two to three hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime.  Smoking can also cause you to have trouble sleeping.  If you find you are tossing and turning at night and you cannot get those eyes closed, try drinking green or chamomile tea 1-2 hours before bed or put a lavender pillow near your head which aids relaxation.  Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends.

Stress can be a caregiver’s biggest enemy.  When you become a “stress-buster,” you will be on your way to finding balance that will bring you better health and wellness and you will find more energy and emotional stamina to continue to care for your loved one.

 

©2016 Sherri Snelling

Caregiving Is A Small World

Global heartCaregiving is a global phenomenon – affecting every culture, every society, every community worldwide.

Click here to read our CEO Sherri’s Snelling’s Huffington Post article on how customs in other countries may help American caregivers on their journey.

Caregiving Tipping Points

We are a nation of caregivers – according to the National Alliance for Caregiving one in every three households includes a family member who is caring for a loved one who physically or mentally requires help with some or many of life’s activities. It may start by taking mom or dad to the doctor’s office or physical therapy or helping them pay bills or mow the lawn, but often escalates into more intense caregiving such as feeding, bathing and dressing a parent or loved one who has physical limitations.

Often when caregiving is at its most physically and emotionally intense levels, there comes a time in every caregiver’s journey when the ability to “keep calm and carry on” becomes an insurmountable challenge.

Following are the most common caregiver tipping points – they typically fall into three areas: physical challenges, safety challenges and behavioral challenges which all affect the caregiver’s own health and wellness.

Physical Challenges

1. Help walking and lifting

MS

When a parent, spouse or other loved one becomes physically unable to walk without help of a cane, walker and especially if they are in a wheelchair, lifting and transferring becomes a physical challenge for the caregiver. For instance, a wife weighing 120 pounds trying to lift the dead weight of a husband who weighs 200 pounds into and out of bed, wheelchair or a car can result in shoulder, neck or back injury for the caregiver and a possible harmful fall for the spouse.

AgingCare reports 52 percent of musculoskeletal caregiver injuries occur when lifting or transferring. Being trained on a proper lifting technique and avoiding twisting, stooping and bending positions are critical for the caregiver.  Think like a weightlifter – always bend the knees, keep the back straight, ensure you have a firm grip on your loved one and let the leg muscles do most of the work. Alternatively, engaging the help of a stronger family member, friend or home health aide often becomes essential for the health of both the care recipient and caregiver.

2. Incontinence

One of the toughest tasks for caregivers is cleaning and changing the diaper of a loved one who has the inability to control bladder and bowel movements. Often an overactive bladder creates a frequency to urinate and accidents happen because the person is not mobile due to hip or knee surgery or is physically unable to get quickly to the bathroom. It can also be tied to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or dementia or other health issues such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or prostate cancer.  Alzheimer’s patients sometimes forget to follow regular toileting schedules or don’t remember where the bathroom is located resulting in spontaneous accidents.  People who suffer from incontinence are often humiliated by the accidents and embarrassed by the adult diapers required to help with the problem.

“We know 23 million men and one out of every two women over the age of 50 suffer from some type of bladder leakage to more intense incontinence issues,” says Liz Metz, brand director for Depend North America, one of the leading makers of adult diapers. “The social stigma associated with incontinence is one of the issues our latest brand campaign is trying to overcome – this is just another area of our lives where we have to adapt to aging.”

The Depend advertising campaign features celebrities such as actors Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna on a red carpet, Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer on “Dancing with the Stars,” and NFL football players Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers and Demarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys trying on briefs which are stylish and comfortable yet control small bladder leakage to larger incontinence problems.

A resource for caregivers facing this challenge is The CareGiver Partnership, an online shopping and information site featuring an extensive offering of more than 400 products and discounts where caregivers can also request samples to test before they buy product in bulk.  The site also includes comprehensive information for caregivers about incontinence issues and free telephonic customer service support from actual family caregivers who understand the issue.

Safety Challenges

1. Falls

Senior on Stairs dreamstime_m_18442871 (2)

According to the CDC, every 28 minutes a senior dies from injuries from falling and 2 million older Americans are treated in ERs every year from falling at home. Preventing fall risk is crucial for both caregivers and their loved ones.

In your loved one’s home or living environment, clear pathways for easy access and mobility, remove rugs and other obstacles that may trip a loved one who cannot lift feet or is using a cane or walker, install sturdy horizontal and vertical grab bars in showers and baths. Consider moving a master bedroom from upper floors to the ground floor to avoid stairs. Also, have a loved one’s eyes checked on a regular basis, often vision problems can result in falls and understand certain medications may make a loved one dizzy or disoriented – always ask the doctor of the side effects of new medications.

Caregivers who do not live with their loved one or cannot be vigilant 24/7 should consider some of the latest technology to help prevent falls or alert caregivers in case of a fall.  Products such as 5Star Urgent Response device or smartphone service from Great Call which provides GPS-enabled direct 9-1-1 help, CareLine Home Safety Telephone System from VTech or Philips Lifeline products allow caregivers to have peace of mind their loved one will receive fast response in case of a fall or other safety problem.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Wandering

Walking in Snow dreamstime_m_15100146 (2)

Most typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a loved one who has a tendency to wander is a serious safety issue. Six out of 10 of those with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to wander which can become a risk for death when a loved one wanders in inclement weather and is not quickly found.

Dr. Sally Brooks, vice president of physician and medical development for Kindred Healthcare, who cares for elderly parents, had a scare with her father who suffers with dementia. After her father wandered from the family home a few times and was found by local police, it became essential to find a facility that could accommodate her mother’s chronic depression and limited mobility and help keep her father safe from wandering.  However, the assisted living facility Dr. Brooks found for her parents had a hiccup in safety when it comes to her father’s wandering tendency.

“One day my dad left the facility unsupervised,” remembers Dr. Brooks. “He had his hat and coat on and started a conversation with a doctor in the hallway who thought he was a visitor.  The doctor allowed my dad on the elevator as they chatted and my dad walked right out the front door of the facility.”

Fortunately, her dad was found but the potential for harm still existed.  “I realized that even though I had difficulty managing dad’s wandering issue on my own, I had to remain vigilant with the assisted living staff to ensure they monitored him properly to avoid any future incidents,” says Dr. Brooks. “Even in a secure setting like the assisted living facility, my role as caregiver remains being the person who ensures my parent’s safety through good communication and frequent check-ins with my parents and staff.”

Caregivers of loved ones who wander but want to keep them home and safe can also find help through technology. The Alzheimer’s Associations offers both Medic+Alert Safe Return and Comfort Zone GPS tracking for those with early on-set or advanced dementia.

 

 

Behavioral Challenges

1. Aggressive behavior

Wicked Witch Hand dreamstime_m_20831851 (2)

Whether it is the paranoia and outbursts associated with sundowning of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a spouse or parent who has been hurtful or emotionally controlling in the past, managing the emotional strain of caregiving is hard but emotional or physical abuse can become a tipping point for most caregivers.

Many caregivers feel obligated to care for an abusive spouse or parent because they have spent a lifetime coping with the situation.  They feel guilt over their loved one now needing their help because of an illness or other health issue but this is an environment where a caregiver’s own health and wellness is at risk.  Often seen with those with certain mental health issues or with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), several studies show 50 percent of PTSD veterans commit spousal or family abuse.

Finding support groups where caregivers can share openly with others who many experience similar issues is one of the best avenues for caregivers getting the help they need to make decisions about their loved one’s care.

“Caregivers have to get over the guilt of not wanting to care for someone who is hurting them emotionally or physically,” says Dr. Diane Denholm, author of The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook. “An abusive relationship will only get worse when caregiving is needed. Caregivers have to remember – safety is paramount – both the safety of their loved one and their own safety.”

2. Failure to communicate

It might be a stroke or Alzheimer’s or result of surgery from throat, lip or other cancer which makes communication difficult and becomes a possible tipping point for caregivers to continue to provide adequate care.

“For the 15 million Americans who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, we have to become detectives in looking for clues in behavioral changes and adapting our communication style,” says Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Drew explains those with Alzheimer’s often feel fearful which can lead to agitation, frustration, confusion and depression. If a loved one becomes combative or physically distressed, caregivers should check to see if there is a bed sore, wound or other health issue causing the problem.  Also, understanding distractions such as the new face of an in-home care worker or younger boisterous children can cause agitation.  She recommends caregivers seek expert advice, such as the support programs found through the Alzheimer’s Association which provide online and telephonic lifelines to caregivers who are struggling.

“If we could see the world through their eyes we would recognize there is a reason to their distress, but all caregivers can do is try to read the cues and go with the flow,” says Drew. “Caregivers also have to realize they cannot do this alone.  Everyone has a different threshold for what they can and cannot do so don’t judge yourself by others or have guilt over why you’re struggling more than someone else did.”

 

©2015 Sherri Snelling

Caregiver Stress is No Joke

stress imageWhile some people will start the month by playing a funny joke on a friend or co-worker, the beginning of April, which marks National Stress Awareness Month, makes me think about the stress that plagues those who are caring for an older loved one.  And, believe me, caregiver stress is no joking matter.

While stress is the No. 1 complaint when it comes to a caregiver’s own health and wellness, finding stress relief is just one more thing caregivers have to do.  However, if you do not develop ways to become stress-free, it can seriously impact your ability to continue caring for your loved one.

Numerous studies point to the direct correlation between prolonged stress and health risks.  Chronic stress can lead to higher blood pressure which can lead to hypertension which can ultimately lead to stroke or heart attack.  In fact, a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop chronic illness such as heart disease or cancer due to prolonged stress. In addition, the American Psychological Association in its annual Stress In America™ survey showed the negative health impacts from stress are more pronounced for those over age 50 who are also a family caregiver.

In addition, studies have found caregivers who experience stress turn to bad habits to cope.  One study from the National Alliance for Caregiving found 10 percent of caregivers use alcohol or medications to cope with stress.  Another survey, Stressed and Strapped: Caregivers in California conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, found among the state’s six million caregivers, more than 16 percent were smoking and 27.5 percent are obese – at least four percentage points higher in each case than non-caregivers.   For caregivers with serious emotional distress, the survey found the likelihood of smoking goes up by about 208 percent.

How Can Caregivers Find “Stress Relief?”

Stress Ball dreamstime_m_8343500 (2)

Start by taking a Caregiver Stress Test developed by the American Medical Association or the Alzheimer’s Association.  Just by taking this test you may start to realize you are nearer to the breaking point than you thought.  You can and should use this stress test to share with your doctor.

If you score off the charts, it is time to decompress before your engine blows.  Here are five tips to help find stress relief:

 

 

 

 

Vault dreamstime_m_8453967 (2)1. Find your “vault” – we all have a spouse, an adult child, a sibling, a best friend or spiritual advisor who can give you a shoulder to cry on or help get your mind off things for even a few minutes.  I call these friends your “vault” because you know whatever you tell them will go in the vault and stay there.  They will not judge you or share your feelings with others – it is a sacred conversation that truly remains confidential.   Having a “vault” is a precious gift in our reality-TV obsessed world of “airing one’s dirty little secrets.”

 

 

 

 

two hands pulling each other or holding on.2. Join a support group of other caregivers – if you are frustrated, angry or depressed, it helps to let off steam or find comfort by talking to other caregivers who understand exactly what you are going through.  Often, caregivers find talking to other caregivers who are going through similar challenges and anxieties can be empowering and nurturing.  Sometimes other family members and friends can be sympathetic but not empathetic.  It is important to find a support group specific to your situation – whether you are caring for someone with cancer, Alzheimer’s or in the case of our veterans, you may be a caregiver of someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or a physical disability – find the group where others in the circle or online truly understand.

One thing I have heard over and over again from caregivers is they feel they are all alone.  The reality is you are not alone.  By reaching out and voicing your fears, frustrations and anger in a safe environment with other caregivers – you will be amazed at how just talking can start to lift that weight off your shoulders.

 

Yoga at Sunset dreamstime_m_17221336 (2) 3. Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation – these relaxation activities are not just for the “new age” lovers – there are real health benefits to performing at least one of these activities just a few minutes a day.  Yoga and tai chi can lower your blood pressure, improve your posture and circulation, relax your muscles, provide headache relief and boost your immune system.  Even if you do not have time for yoga, just try calmly breathing for a few minutes.  Everyone’s favorite physician, Dr. Oz advises lying on your back and taking 10 deep, long breaths a day – it will help take your mind on a journey to a happy place and helps removes toxins from your body.   Learning how to relax is a true skill – one you have to practice every day.

 

 

 

Washing Soapy Hands dreamstime_m_16837149 (2)4. Do something to soothe you physically – you will be amazed at how it calms your mind.  A bath is great or if you do not have the time, just running your hands under warm water for a few minutes can truly relax you.  You can also try giving yourself a massage – wrap your fingers around your upper arm and knead your fingers all around the arm working your way down to the forearm and wrist.  Repeat on the other arm.  AAAHHHH.

 

 

 

Eyelid dreamstime_m_2327813 (2)5. Get enough sleep – Seven to eight hours is recommended.  Create a sleep-inducing environment:  dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.  Do not use your bedroom for anything other than sleep (sex is also OK according to the experts!).  No watching TV, using your laptop or iPad or even reading in bed (this is my downfall).  Make sure you do not eat at least two to three hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime.  Smoking can also cause you to have trouble sleeping.  If you find you are tossing and turning at night and you cannot get those eyes closed, try drinking green or chamomile tea 1-2 hours before bed or put a lavender pillow near your head which aids relaxation.  Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends.

 

 

 

 

Stress can be a caregiver’s biggest enemy.  When you become a “stress-buster,” you will be on your way to finding balance that will bring you better health and wellness and you will find more energy and emotional stamina to continue to care for your loved one.

Read more about health and wellness for caregivers as well as how celebrities who have been caregivers find their “Me Time” in Sherri Snelling’s book,  A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care

Copyright 2015 Sherri Snelling

CastofCaregivers Cover FINAL

Can Caregiver Weight Contribute to Breast Cancer?

Feet on Scale dreamstime_792851 (2)It has long been suspected weight gain is a slippery slope to breast cancer risk.  Now recent studies are not only supporting this claim but also showing weight loss – even just 10 percent of total body weight – may also help prevent breast cancer.  If you are one of the 65 million Americans caring for a loved one, studies also show weight management becomes a big challenge which can put caregivers at even greater risk for developing breast cancer.

 Most Americans gain only 1-2 pounds a year since college age, which doesn’t seem like anything to get too upset about until you do the math.  After 30 years, when you’re in your 50s and at menopausal age and possibly caregiving for an older parent or ill spouse, this accumulated weight gain can be 30-60 pounds.  Not only will this increase your Body Mass Index (BMI) but it also puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease as well as breast cancer.  Researchers have long believed weight gain – accumulation of excess body fat – can fuel estrogen levels which have been linked to breast cancer tumors in postmenopausal women.

A National Cancer Institute (NCI) study of 72,000 women found a steady weight gain over years can double the risk of breast cancer versus those women who maintained a steady weight all those years.  In fact, women in the study who started with higher BMI measurements, considered at an early age to be overweight or even obese, but maintained their weight over the years, did not show the increased risk in developing breast cancer.  In a separate study published earlier this year by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, researchers found for the first time weight loss directly lowers hormones linked to breast cancer.  By slowly losing weight through diet and exercise, you can lower the amount of these hormones circulating through the body, which can result in a decreased risk of developing breast cancer.

Maintaining your college weight is tough for anyone – 57 percent of the NCI study participants failed to keep their college figures.  Metabolism slows, childbirth weight gains may never completely come off (just ask Jessica Simpson how tough it is) and what researchers are calling busy life syndrome takes over – fast food nutrition, lack of gym time and restless nights with fewer hours of sleep.  And studies show caregivers have an even increased risk for neglecting their own health and wellness needs than the general population.

While some pounds may have crept on, Dr. Anne McTiernan who led the Fred Hutchinson study believes just 10% weight loss can have major impact and reduced breast cancer risk.  Other researchers support the findings including one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University.  He told ABC News, “Weight loss by postmenopausal women is one of the best ways to reduce risk of breast cancer.” Willett also mentions a study showing women who lost a moderate amount of weight had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer.

Calculate Your BMI

Both men and women throughout their lives should have a BMI measurement of 18.5 – 24.9.  Here is how to calculate yours:

  1. Take your weight
  2. Divide it by your height in inches
  3. Divide this new number by your height in inches again (yes, a second time)
  4. Multiply the new number x 703

 Prescription for Healthy Weight – 5 Things Caregivers Can Do to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

1. Get your shuteye.

In a National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) study, 87 percent of caregivers felt they didn’t get enough sleep and cited insomnia as a side effect of caregiving. Most experts advise at least 7-8 hours of restorative, uninterrupted sleep.  One Australian research study found less than 5 hours of sleep a night can be equal to .05 blood alcohol level and another study found just 5.5 hours or less of sleep a night can translate into a 12-pound weight gain over 1 year.

2. Cut back on cookies and turn to healthy snacks. 

Because our metabolism slows as we age, most experts agree you should decrease the amount of calories you eat by 10 percent every decade.  You can also increase your intake of super foods to give you energy and which are loaded with anti-oxidant cancer-fighting ingredients. WebMD encourages you to swap out crackers for almonds, replace red meat with salmon, eat more blueberries than blueberry muffins and 2 oz. of chocolate a day is okay – as long as its 70 percent cocoa – it will decrease your cholesterol levels by 10 percent!

3. Get physical. 

According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, regular exercise reduces your breast cancer risk by 10 to 20 percent.  An added benefit is physical activity boosts the body’s immune system which can help slow or kill the growth of cancer cells. Take the stairs at work, walk around the block in the morning or at night – just 30 minutes a day – which can be broken down into three 10-minute cardio, heart-pumping sessions – will do.

4. Sobriety Test.

A NAC study found 10 percent of caregivers use alcohol to cope with their stress but drinking more than 1 glass of alcohol per day increases your breast cancer risk by 7 percent.  If you have 2-3 glasses of alcohol per day, your risk increases by 20 percent according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

5. De-stress. 

Stress is the No. 1 complaint for caregivers.  But stress releases a hormone called cortisol which can lead to belly fat.  Finding ways to de-stress whether it’s meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or finding outlets to let off steam such as support groups or just a friend who will let you vent will keep you healthier in body, mind and spirit so you can continue to care for your loved one and for yourself.

 

Photo credits: All Dreamstime contributors: Pixelbrat, Maxexphoto, Valua Vitaly, Nress, Blasbike, SlavenkoVukasovic

Mars vs. Venus – Do Men and Women Differ When It Comes to Caregiver Stress?

In the movie, When Harry Met Sally, we contemplated, “Can men and women really be friends?” When it comes to caregiving our question is, “Are men and women different in dealing with caregiver stress?” According to researchers at Bowling Green State University the answer is a definitive “yes.”

Bulldog Miffed Spouse dreamstime_m_7663328 (2)When it comes to coping with caregiver stress, men and women tend to take a Mars vs. Venus approach.  Stress is one of the biggest challenges caregivers face and even more so for those 15 million Americans caring for an older parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  Several reports and studies in the last several years have found chronic stress and depression can lead to health risks for caregivers and dementia caregivers may be at an even greater risk.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 percent of dementia caregivers rate their stress levels as very high and one-third also report depression.  A UCLA study found the depression statistic for dementia caregivers may be closer to 50 percent.  Often, dementia caregivers encounter additional physical and emotional burdens beyond the typical caregiver activities of bathing, feeding, dressing or administering medications. Dementia caregivers may face a loved one with memory loss, tendency to wander, sundowning, violent outbursts and other issues which take a significant emotional toll creating more physical and psychological stress for the caregiver.

Mars vs. Venus Caregiver Stress

How are men and women are different when it comes to dealing with stress?  The Bowling Green State University research study looked at men and women who were caring for an older parent and how they differ in coping with stress.  The study found while women are more natural nurturers, they also worry more about their caregiving performance.  The anxiety of analyzing how they are handling caregiving and whether their loved one is happy with the decisions they have to make creates constant stress for caregiving daughters.

Caregiving women tend to carry around the anxiety of their caregiving performance creating chronic stress. And this can lead to severe health issues later in life. In fact, a Commonwealth Study found caregivers who suffer from chronic stress are twice as likely as the general population to develop chronic illnesses earlier in life. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, etc. are the end result if women cannot find ways to manage the daily stress of caregiving.

For the men, the approach is sports-driven.  Sons caring for an older parent take a block and tackle approach – they have a list of tasks they must perform and they gain satisfaction on accomplishing these goals without worrying about their performance.  This led the researchers to conclude the men who are caregivers actually experience less psychological stress.

In addition, the researchers found the men who were caregivers were given more praise by others.  The conclusion is society still sees women as the natural caregivers and thus, does not single them out for praise in providing care.  The men who become caregivers are seen as rare and thus acknowledged more positively for stepping into a caring role.

Ladies, it’s time to take a page out of the men’s caregiving playbook – let the stress float away.

The Stress Inside

stress imageWe know ongoing stress can lead to burn-out as well as multiple health problems – headaches, back pain, insomnia and even hypertension leading to serious health risks such as heart attack or stroke.  A recent study conducted by Umea University in Sweden found psychological stress in middle age can also be a cause dementia later in life

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 90 percent of doctor visits are stress-related and a National Alliance for Caregiving study of Alzheimer’s caregivers and health risks found dementia caregivers visited their physician’s three times as often as the general public and increased their health care costs by $4,766 per year.

The difficulty is stress is often invisible. It is not like a rash or broken limb which is an obvious sign of a physical health problem.  One test for stress is this:  Do you have your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth?  If so, this is a sign of chronic stress you may not realize you have.  Visit the Alzheimer’s web site for a specific test for caregiver stress.

There is also the stress from social isolation and shame. Despite the increased awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, the stigma of dementia remains. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International’s World Alzheimer Report 2012, 25 percent of people with dementia report hiding or concealing their diagnosis due to the stigma surrounding the disease and 40 percent say they are often excluded from everyday life.  This extends to their family caregiver who follows their loved one’s lead in keeping the diagnosis hidden.

Finding ways to eliminate the stress inside will lead to a healthier caregiving life. (Read my Huff Post blog on the “Eliminating Caregiver Stress.”

August – Relaxation and Vacation

Hammock dreamstime_m_4985601 (2)Two things caregivers rarely get to do: Relax and Take a Vacation. Our blogs this month help caregivers find ways to do both as we celebrate summer getaways and getting away from caregiver stress on National Relaxation Day August 15.

The Health Risks of Being “The Good Daughter”

 

Grandmother with adult daughter and grandchildIn this interview for Caring.com, Sherri talks to a caregiver who was a good daughter, a good niece and good mother – caring for everyone around her but neglecting her own health needs.  Studies show caregivers typically put their own health at risk and are twice as likely to develop chronic illness earlier in life due to the prolonged stress of caregiving.

Read Sherri’s articles on how caregivers can:

Use Me Time Monday to Stay Healthy and Happy

7 Magnificent Ways to Avoid Burn-Out

Caregiver Stress is No Joke

 

The Monday Prescription for Better Caregiver Health

Monday calendar dreamstime_14224102 (2)Caregiver Monday is an initiative from the non-profit Healthy Mondays organization that promotes a weekly dose of caregiver self-care to stay strong — physically and emotionally — as a caregiver. Check out Caregiving Club’s Me Time Monday videos (in the right hand sidebar) which support the Caregiver Monday campaign.

 

To read more about Me Time Monday, click on these article links:

Caregiver RX for Stress: 3 Steps to Me Time Monday for the Huffington Post

Caregiver Solution to New Year’s Resolutions

Watch the Me Time Monday video tips on Caregiving Club’s YouTube channel

PBS Next Avenue Articles

PBS Next Avenue together

Following are all of Sherri’s articles for PBS Next Avenue:

17 Essential Books for Caregivers

90-Year-Old Billionaire David Murdock Doles Out Advice

Alzheimer’s App Uses Singing to Boost Mood

Alzheimer’s Epidemic Hits Women Hardest

Are You a Caregiver or Just a Good Child? (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Can caregiver guilt be good for you?

Caregiver Tipping Points

Caregivers of 9/11 – Cancer and PTSD New Challenges for Survivors

Caring for Her Blind Husband Challenged Her Marriage

Casey Kasem’s Legacy for Caregivers

Dark Side of Caregiving – Elder Abuse News

Difference in Caring for Moms versus Dads

The Emmy Awards We’d Give – TV’s Best Caregivers (2012)

The Emmys We’d Award – TV’s Best Caregivers (2013)

Employers must do more to support working caregivers

Finding Affordable Home Care for Your Parents (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

First U.S. Dementia Village

For Caregivers, New Tracking Technology Offers Peace of Mind

Fran Drescher on cancer and 3 tips for caregivers (PBS 2015)

Glen Campbell’s Farewell Tour

Healing Power of Pet Therapy

Help Your Parents Join the Aging in Place Revolution (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Holly Robinson Peete’s Most Challenging Role – Sandwich Generation Caregiver

How Online Volunteers Support Caregivers

How Strong is Your Living Will? (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

How to Avoid the Goldilocks Syndrome

How to Care for Your Parent Without Losing Your Job (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

How You Can Combat the Senior Hunger Crisis

Joan Lunden on challenges of guilt and caregiving

Kimberly Williams Paisley Chronicles Her Mother’s Dementia

Latest report shows rise in male caregivers

Meet the Hall of Fame Caregiver Who Changed the NFL

Moving Together to Prevent the Risk of Falls

New Report Highlights Stress of Long Distance Caregiving

Norman Lear – Longevity, Laughter, Love of America

The Osmond Family’s Greatest Act – Winning the Daily Battle Against MS

Patient Navigators – New Help for Caregivers

PBS Powerful Expose on Assisted Living (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Rise of Men as Caregivers

Robots vs. the Real Thing in Pet Therapy

Rosalynn Carter – A Pioneering Caregiving Advocate Says More Must be Done

Seth Rogen Getting Millennials to Care About Alzheimer’s

The Sibling Caregiver

Social Media Dangers for the Modern Caregiver

Suze Orman’s Lessons Learned on Long Term Care for Her Mom

Tax Rules for Caregivers

A Victory for Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

The Village Movement – Redefining Aging in Place

Virtual Reality Is A Caregiver’s Empathy Machine

Waltons reboot – multigenerational living is back!

Want to Live Longer?

What Lies Ahead for the Nation’s Caregivers?

What Parents of Wounded Veterans Need

What We Can Learn from Brittany Maynard’s Death

What’s Next in Caregiver Technology

What’s Your Caregiving IQ?

When the Old Care for Their Children

When Parents Face Driving Retirement – Alternative Senior Transportation

Why Caregivers Need to Plan for the Worst – Emergency Preparedness

Why Laughter is Crucial for Caregivers

Why You Need to Make Your End-of-Life Wishes Known

Why and When Denial is Good for Caregivers

Huffington Post Articles

Huffington-Post-Logo3Following are Sherri’s articles for Huffington Post:

8 Ways to Volunteer to Help America’s Largest Volunteer Health Care Work Force: Family Caregivers

An Essential Caregiving Fairy Tale: Sleeping Beauty

Caregiver RX for Stress: 3 Steps to Me Time Monday

Caregiving Conversation Between Your Heart and Your Head

Caregiving Goes to the Oscars (2013)

Caregiving Is A Small World After All

Caregiving’s Lost Generation: The Nation’s Children

Caring for Those Heroes with Invisible Wounds

Creating Company Culture that Cares About Caregivers

How to Manage the Sandwich Generation Juggling Act – 8 Childish Things Caregivers Should Do

Let the Caregiving Movement Begin with the Caregiver Bill of Rights

Mars vs. Venus On Caregiver Stress

Rizzoli & Isles Creator is on the Case