Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others
When you are taking care of a loved one it is easy to focus on them so much that you lose sight of your own needs, Or perhaps you are well aware you’re not taking care of yourself but feel you can’t take the time and effort away from those in your care. Keep in mind that your ability to care for someone else is eroded by poor health and emotional outlook.
Staying informed is always a best practice so that you can provide the optimum care to your loved ones. We hope that these caregiver tips can aid you by helping you to care for yourself so that you will have the time and energy to care for those you love.
- Make sure to manage your stress levels
- AARP notes that increased stress levels deprive people of energy and focus. If you are unable to manage your own stress level, not only may you have difficulty recognizing issues with those under your care, you will also have less emotional energy to empathize with them. Your mental well being is important both to yourself and to those around you, and giving yourself even 5 minutes to leave a stressful situation may give you the needed boost to strategize on how to finish your day.
- Studies show that stress can also negatively affect patient care. Healthcare professionals such as nurses who have little control over their environment tend to make more mistakes. Although adequate training and assisted care ); procedures can help to lower risks of patient care and medical errors, striking at the root issue of chronic stress in the workplace was highlighted by researchers.
- Chronic stress can take many forms, but implementation of stress management techniques such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, praying, and taking a positive attitude can assist you in dealing with the stress of patient care in a positive manner.
- Know your personal risks and limitations.
- Life is full of unexpected challenges. You may have unexpectedly become a caregiver, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to take care of yourself. As noted in our blog, seniors are at greater risk than younger individuals. (http://www.coltenadultcare.com/senior-caregivers-at-greater-risk-than-their-younger-counterparts/) Knowing your personal limits, such as if you tend to get ill during the winter, or that you burn out when giving care for too long while being unassisted, can support your care giving as well as your personal health.
- Know your own limitations. If you lack knowledge as a family or professional caregiver, organizations like the Caregiver Action Network can give you support that can improve your knowledge and coping skills. Networking with others will help you gain knowledge of best practices, as well as find help if you are overwhelmed.
- Know when to ask for professional help. Some people do not have the time or skill set to care for their family members, even those they greatly love. Opting for assisted living may be the best decision possible when time, distance, or knowledge limit your ability to provide the best possible care.
These caregiver tips are only a starting point; every individual and care giving environment is different. Best practices and provided skill sets will adapt and change with time. Feel free to contact us at Colten Adult Care with your own caregiver tips, or to give us any comments or input on your own experience in patient and assisted living care. We would be happy to meet you and your loved one’s particular care needs.
Over-medication is a common occurrence in nursing homes. When someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia has to move into an institutional setting complete with rules they don’t understand and territory that is unfamiliar, anxiety and agitation are common reactions. As the disease progresses, changes in the brain can result in unwanted behaviors. To make it easier for staff to handle patients many nursing homes turn to drugs to calm patients down and make them quieter.
Anti-anxiety drugs might make sense if they are used for a few weeks during a difficult transition period and then gradually eliminated. The problem is that many of the drugs are the staff’s first line of action, and they are then continued because it is easier. Many of the drugs used are actually antipsychotics, such as Risperdal, Haldol, and Seroquel – approved for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious psychoses. None of these antipsychotic drugs are approved by the FDA for use in seniors with dementia. When used to keep patients calm and quiet they are called chemical restraints and this use is against federal law.
Yet nursing homes in Phoenix and around the country use antipsychotics for their dementia patients on a regular basis. The national average for antipsychotic use in nursing homes is 19% (that is, 19% of the patients in nursing homes nationally are given prescription antipsychotics); the Arizona average is just below that, at 18.8%. Many nursing homes in the Phoenix metro are well below the state average, and some are so far above the average, it’s scary.
We looked at data from 24 nursing homes in the Phoenix area (Source: NPR.org). There was no data available on 5 of the 24; 12 were below the state average and 7 were above the average. Of those seven, 5 used antipsychotics more than 10% more frequently than the state average. One home used them for 60.3% of their residents.
There are numerous dangers to seniors who are given these drugs in high doses.
- Dementia patients who take antipsychotics nearly double their risk of death over those with dementia who are not taking them. Many of these unexpected deaths are from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure (sudden death for unexplained causes), and pneumonia.
- Drug interactions can also cause problems, particularly if the patient is given more than one psychoactive drug at a time.
- The risk of falls is highly increased. Many sedatives and antipsychotics make the patient dizzy and affect their balance. It’s one of the greatest dangers of their use in the elderly.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home (or even in their own or your home), watch for signs of over medication:
- Sudden changes in personality and behavior
- Extreme lethargy or confusion
- Sleeping most or all of the day as well as all night
- Increase in falls
The use of psychoactive drugs may be an indication that the nursing home has a staff shortage, because using them reduces the amount of patient interaction necessary, and thus allows them to keep a smaller staff. Also watch out for a “drug first” attitude. Hands-on care and a gentle but thorough assessment should always be the first response to behavioral problems in nursing homes. Non-drug therapies can be tried before any drug is used.
With dementia, it is sometime difficult to find the cause of the problem. The patient can’t always tell you what’s wrong, and it may take trying a number of potential solutions to find one that works. Medication may sometimes be the solution, but it should be the last one if a safer, gentler solution exists. The important thing is to stay alert and involved with your loved one’s care.
Diabetes is a concern for many people as they age. It has historically been primarily a disease of middle to old age. Nowadays, however, more young adults and even children are developing it because of unhealthy lifestyles. There are 2 forms of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes, which often occurs in childhood, occurs when the pancreas is not able to produce insulin. When this happens, the blood glucose (sugar) level increases and insulin must be taken to balance out the count. Juvenile diabetes occurs mainly because of genetic factors.
Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes results when the body does not utilize the insulin the pancreas produces, called insulin resistance. The pancreas then overproduces insulin but eventually will be overloaded and cannot produce enough. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be triggered by lifestyle, the environment, or one’s family medical history.
According to the American Diabetes Association, it’s important to understand everything you can about diabetes. Misconceptions about the disease can lead you to think and act in ways that increase your risk of developing it. Here are a few of the more common myths:
Myth: Diabetes is not considered a serious illness
Fact: The disease results in more deaths annually than AIDS and breast cancer combined. It can lead to heart disease, stroke, cataracts, kidney disease and nerve damage. However, if diabetes is properly managed, you can prevent or delay many of its complications.
Myth: You must be overweight or obese to develop type 2 diabetes.
Fact: People who are normal weight can develop type 2 diabetes just like those who are overweight. Besides weight, other risk factors come into play, including age, ethnicity, and family history.
Myth: Eating lots of sugar can lead to diabetes.
Fact: Eating sugar is not a direct cause of diabetes. However, a diet high in simple carbohydrates such as sugar, fats, and calories contributes to obesity, which is a cause of the disease. As well, people who consume sugary drinks regularly are at greater risk for diabetes. The American Diabetes Association strongly suggests you avoid drinking beverages sweetened with sugar, such as fruit punch, sports drinks, soda and sweetened iced tea. Drinking sugared drinks raises the blood glucose level and boosts the number of carbohydrates consumed at one setting. For instance, 12 ounces of soda = 40 grams of carbs – about 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Myth: Diabetics must follow special diets or eat certain diabetic foods
Fact: Eating a healthy diet is the best approach to controlling diabetes. You don’t need to buy specific foods as long as you eat low-calorie, nutritionally-dense foods. The carbohydrates that you consume factor into meal planning, too. The diabetes association recommends eating about 50 grams of carbohydrates at each meal.
Myth: Diabetics Cannot Eat Chocolate
When combined with a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, chocolate can be eaten every now and then. Just make sure you primarily concentrate on foods that are both lower in calories and nutritious.
Myth: Diabetics Catch Colds and Flu More Frequently
While diabetics are often encouraged to get shots for flu, they are not more likely to catch cold or get sick with the flu than others. However, they do develop complications more easily if they do get sick.
Myth: You are Not Properly Controlling Your Diabetes if You Have to Start Taking Insulin
Fact: Type 2 or adult onset diabetes is a condition that is progressive. When you are first diagnosed, you may be able to keep your blood glucose at a healthy level with oral medication. However, as the body produces reduced levels of insulin over time, you may need to replace oral medicines with the administration of insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease that is altogether too common – TOO common because it is mostly preventable. There is a genetic component to your risk for diabetes that you can’t control. However, a healthy lifestyle – including exercise and a nutritious diet – can help you reduce your risk of developing this devastating disease.
Sailing into the golden years alongside our loved ones is a dream for most of us. We want to see those special people live into their later years of life happy and healthy. The reality, though, is that most of us experience failing health as we age and eventually need someone to help us. We may shudder at the thought of relinquishing control of a loved one’s care to some kind of stranger.
“What if they’re too young, or unqualified?” “But they’re not family!” These are common concerns and many seniors take on the care of a loved one, particularly a spouse, because they feel it is their responsibility.
Yet other questions that are just as important can, at times, go unasked. Is there anyone inquiring about your own needs? Who is the advocate for the caregiver, who is also a senior? These kinds of questions are often ignored — thus leaving the older caregiver’s needs neglected.
Stress is an important factor to consider when deciding to be the primary caregiver for another senior. A recent Pennsylvania State University study showed profound positive effects in the lives of caregivers of elderly who participated in an Adult Day Health Care program. Caregiver participants in the Penn State study had their saliva measured on days where their care recipient was in the day care program and on days when they had not attended. Biological indicators of stress registered a lower reading on days when the care recipients attended, versus days when they had not. Older care providers can feel the burden of the stress of care giving disproportionately, more so than their younger counterparts.
The choice to put the essential care of a loved one into the hands of professionals can be a positive experience when you consider the real advantages it creates for everyone involved. Hiring in-home help or moving your loved one into a facility with proper resources and skilled staff is an excellent alternative to taking senior care into your own hands — it’s frequently a far more healthy option for both the caregiver and the recipient, not to mention other members of the family who worry about both of you.
Having access to information and scientific data is useful when trying to make an informed decision. Seniors accepting the role of primary care provider may be putting themselves and the person receiving care at increased risk. Consider some of the drawbacks to a senior’s being the primary caregiver to another senior.
Poor health patterns
Being a primary caregiver at an older age can result in an increased likelihood to abuse drugs, tobacco, and/or alcohol, as well as neglecting nutrition.
High blood pressure
Higher blood pressure readings occur for spouses in the presence of their elderly partner, when the spouse has assumed the full time care role.
Older caregivers (aged 66-96) have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
Sometimes it’s possible to care so much for another that you miss doing what is really best for both of you. The paradox is difficult: You want to do what is best for your loved one, but it may not be best for yourself. While providing the care is often something you wish to do, it’s not always advisable. For most people, the goal is optimum care, and you can still participate in that care even if you are not the primary caregiver.
More than 34 million Americans provide long term care to loved ones over the age of 50. Some 23% of family caregivers report having fair or poor health. An astonishing 40-70% have significant symptoms of depression. These are but a few sobering figures common in the caregiver community, most of whom are adult children and spouses of aging loved ones.
Long term care also influences a caregiver’s financial situation. The out-of-pocket costs for caregivers who are caring for someone who was age 50 or older averaged $5,531 in 2007. About 37% of caregivers for someone age 50 and older reduced their work hours or quit their job in 2007 (AARP, 2008). Working less hours, requesting unpaid time off, and paying out-of-pocket expenses on behalf of a loved one all contribute to burdens caregivers experience. We have to make compromises as a result of caring for a loved one.
Many of us become so consumed in meeting the needs of our aging loved ones that we forget to meet the needs of ourselves. If you identify as one of the 5.3 million, remember you are not alone. There are resources available to family caregivers in Arizona who provide long term care.
- Caregiver magazine lists caregiver support groups in Maricopa county
- Azcaregiver.org offers a free Caregiver Resource Line at 1-888-737-7494
- RewardingWork connects families in need of caregiving with personal care workers
- The Arizona Department of Economic Security offers a Family Caregiver Support Program that you may be eligible for.
- The Department of Economic Security also lists many local resources
- Banner Alzheimer’s Institute offers many resources specifically for caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s or related dementia
Reading up on caregiver resources takes time and effort, which some of us may not have at the moment. Don’t fret. Here’s a quick list of caregiver survival tools to help you remember that your loved one is not the only one in need of TLC.
- Take a break: Stepping away from our caregiver responsibilities for a few hours, a day, or long weekend does not mean we are doing less than we should for our loved ones. Taking a break recharges our mind, body, spirit and promotes a positive outlook.
- Eat right: Eating well and staying hydrated fuels our bodies and sustains our mental focus. We may have to rely on convenience foods more often than we prefer, but we do have choices. Stopping at the local grocer to grab a deli sandwich, apple, and juice may take the same amount of time as waiting for a hamburger, fries, and diet soda. You may save a little money too.
- Accept help: You don’t have to do it all nor should you. If a friend or family member offers to take your loved one to an appointment so you can do errands, cook dinner, or catch the early show, say yes.
- Acknowledge feelings: We all have good days, bad days, and many days in-between when providing long term care. Try not to feel guilty for feeling frustrated, inadequate, or burnt-out. Rather, seek a caring friend or support group to talk things through or to listen to other caregivers share similar sentiments.
- Exercise: Talk a walk. Go to the gym. Bike around the block. Doing a physical activity you enjoy a few times a week helps promote a healthy body and alleviates stress.
- Treat yourself: If taking a day off is out of the question, take time to indulge in something you enjoy. You deserve a little me-time for all that you do for your loved one.
- Check your health: When our minds are too busy to tell us to slow down, our bodies show symptoms we should no longer ignore. Take care of yourself or seek a doctor’s advice.
- Be present: As long term care providers, we are often one, two, or three steps ahead of everyone else. Remind yourself to appreciate today for what it is. Cherish its victories and learn from its trials.
The most important thing to remember is that you do not have to go through this all alone. Friends, family, and community members are always available to provide emotional support and help you in your care of your loved one. All you have to do is ask.