Taking Care of YOU: Tips for caregivers

caregiver stress

Caregiver stress can affect sleep, relationships — even your health.

If you’ve spent time taking care of a newborn, disabled child, incapacitated adult or aging parent, you know that it’s a big challenge. But were you aware that caregivers are more likely to experience symptoms of physical, emotional and psychological stress? That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself so you can continue taking care of your loved ones.

A Growing Need

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 40 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. Of these, nearly 9 in 10 are caring for a relative, and 60 percent provide care for an aging parent or grandparent.

The current national trend shows an increasing number of older adults opting to “age in place.”  People are choosing to remain in the home throughout their senior years, instead of a retirement community or nursing facility. All of this is leading to a greater overall demand for every type of in-home care.

A Tough Job

A caregiver – sometimes called an informal caregiver – is an unpaid individual (a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) who assists others with routine daily activities and/or health-related medical tasks. By contrast, formal caregivers – such as our professionals at Oxford – are paid care providers who deliver care in a patient’s home or in a care setting (day care, residential facility, long-term care facility).

Caregiving tasks may range from simple companionship and wellness checks, to basic medical tasks, including some medications. These varied demands are especially challenging for untrained caregivers, compared to home care professionals at Oxford. Stress is often compounded by unpredictable behavior of children with developmental delays, or seniors with dementia-related conditions.

The all-hours nature of informal caregiving often leads to unmanageable stress for the caregiver, particularly if the patient is a loved one or family member. This stress can leave caregivers feeling burned out and isolated. This is especially true if you are “on duty” for long stretches of time without respite or assistance. It can also increase your risk for everything from anxiety to depression, as well as physical impacts such as fatigue and decreased immune resistance.

Coping Strategies

Oxford offers a variety of information and resources for caregivers. Consider taking steps to reduce your stress before it becomes an issue that could impact care, or your family relationships. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN offers the following tips:

  • –  Accept help
  • –  Focus on what you CAN do
  • –  Set realistic goals
  • –  Connect to resources
  • –  Seek family/friend support
  • –  Set personal health goals
  • –  Join a support group
  • –  See your doctor

If you are able to continue providing care, we salute you. If you feel you cannot continue to provide a safe, healthy environment by yourself, Oxford understands. We have helped thousands of caregivers just like you with respite care resources, part-time assistance or other support. Contact one of our Care Coordinators and they will be happy to provide resources and options to help.

When Do You Know Loved Ones Need Care?

By Pam Gennings, Executive Director Special Projects*

Over the years I have talked to many family members who come home for the holidays and become concerned because they have noticed “changes” in their loved one or their circumstances.

They are not always sure if home care services are needed or if their concern is unfounded. The following indicators can be used as a guide to help determine if your loved one could benefit from home care services.

Medical Condition

  • New diagnosis
  • New medications or treatments ordered by a physician
  • Terminal illness
  • Recently discharged from a hospital or nursing facility
  • Physician has restricted activity during a period of recuperation—this could be a few days or several weeks
  • Frequent falls or fear of falling
  • Confusion, forgetfulness, depression or other changes in mental status
  • No longer able to/should not drive or driving is very limited
  • Frequent trips to the doctor, urgent care or ER
  • Uses an assistive device (cane, walker, wheelchair or stair climber) to help with balance or walking
  • Is required to take several daily medications

Caregiver Relief

  • The person being cared for should not be left alone and may require 24-hour supervision
  • Spouse/family members work
  • Caregiver appears to be stressed and overwhelmed
  • Spouse/family members in poor health
  • The person being cared for needs more assistance than the caregiver is able or willing to provide

Strong Desire to Remain at Home But is Unsure of How to Manage Because…

  • There is limited support from family or others
  • Spouse is in poor health
  • They worry about emergency situations
  • Family does not want loved one to be alone
  • They need assistance with housekeeping, laundry, meal preparation, shopping, bathing, hair care, medication reminders, transportation, or other essential daily tasks

If your loved one has one or more of the indicators listed above, call Oxford HealthCare and ask to speak with a Care Coordinator.

A qualified home care professional will:

  • Identify needs and available services
  • Evaluate funding sources and community services
  • Coordinate services upon request 

*Pam Gennings has a Bachelor’s of Arts and has worked in the field of Geriatric Social Work and Care Coordination for more than 30 years. She started working for Oxford HealthCare in 1993. During the course of her career she has helped thousands of people find resources to remain in their homes as well as provided guidance to families that were facing difficulties with their aging loved ones.

National Family Caregivers Month

CaregiverRecognizing and supporting caregivers is tremendously important.

This month, please take the time to lend a hand, or at least a kind word, to someone you know that Is caring for another. Whether the need comes from aging, disability, illness or injury, there are so many willing to take up the difficult task of caregiving.

We at Oxford honor the dedication and devotion of those caregivers always, but especially during this month.

Presidential Proclamation — National Family Caregivers Month, 2016

NATIONAL FAMILY CAREGIVERS MONTH, 2016

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Our Nation was founded on the fundamental ideal that we all do better when we look out for one another, and every day, millions of Americans from every walk of life balance their own needs with those of their loved ones as caregivers. During National Family Caregivers Month, we reaffirm our support for those who give of themselves to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors in challenging times, and we pledge to carry forward the progress we have made in our health care system and workplaces to give caregivers the resources and flexibility they need.

Each of us may find ourselves in need of or providing care at some point in our lives. That is why it is imperative that we maintain and expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At the time Medicare was created, only a little more than half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today, the ACA has given older Americans better care and more access to discounted prescriptions and certain preventive services at no cost. The ACA has also expanded options for home- and community-based services, so that, with the help of devoted, loving caregivers, more Americans are now able to live independently and with dignity. And because looking after an aging family member or a friend with a disability can be challenging, States and local agencies connect individuals with caregiver support groups and respite care. The women and men who put their loved ones before themselves show incredible generosity every day, and we must continue to support them in every task they selflessly carry out.

Many devoted caregivers across our country also attend to members of our Armed Forces when they return home, and my Administration is committed to improving the care and support our veterans and their families receive. For over 5 years, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative has worked to ensure those who look after our service members who come home with the wounds of war — whether they are visible or not — have the community and Government support they need to help their siblings and spouses, parents and children, neighbors and friends through one of the greatest battles they may face: the fight to recover and heal.

This month, and every month, let us lift up all those who work to tirelessly advance the health and wellness of those they love. Let us encourage those who choose to be caregivers and look toward a future where our politics and our policies reflect the selflessness and open-hearted empathy they show their loved ones every day.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2016 as National Family Caregivers Month. I encourage all Americans to pay tribute to those who provide for the health and well-being of their family members, friends, and neighbors.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

BARACK OBAMA

Brothers and Sisters and Parents. Oh My.

Senior Lifestyle

By Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Coordinator

Caring for a parent is hard. And sometimes, often in spite of the best of intentions, siblings can make that care more complicated. Often, one child becomes the primary caregiver for a parent and may become resentful that other siblings aren’t helping as much as they could. Some siblings may skirt caregiving responsibilities with excuses of “I don’t have enough time,” or “I just don’t have the money.” Sometimes one sibling might refuse help or advice from others, certain they can best handle things by themselves.

Many families don’t take time to consider the best supporting role each member could play while caring for a parent. There is a lot to do, but by supporting each other and sharing responsibilities, families can make caregiving a success. Share the load. Pitch in. There are always ways to help. Make phone calls, offer emotional support, run errands, or simply give someone a break.

When it comes to caring for a parent, brothers and sisters have to work together, and communication is the key to working together.

Family meetings can be instrumental in determining roles, pooling resources, and allowing everyone a voice. Open communication is the best way to overcome disagreements, resolve conflict, and reach consensus on the hard decisions your family faces.

But teamwork takes effort. There may be disagreement on what is best for your parent. Conflicts may arise out of present anxiety and fear of what lies ahead. Caring for a parent may re-ignite sibling rivalries thought long since over.

The best way to handle these struggles is often to simply acknowledge them and discuss them honestly. Admit your concerns and limitations, and embrace those of your brothers and sisters. Remember that you’re all after the same thing: what is best for your parent.

Sometimes it is best to agree to disagree. If you reach an impasse, consider involving an impartial observer, such as a social worker or counselor who can help families work through issues and stay focused on the task at hand.

Consider these tips for winning support from your siblings:

  • Ask for help clearly and directly. Be specific.
  • Be realistic—don’t ask for the impossible.
  • Try to accept your siblings as who they are, not who you wish they were.
  • Listen to your siblings’ concerns openly, without judgment, and carefully consider their feedback.
  • Consider the relationship your sibling has with your parent and look for tasks that work within that relationship. If your sister can’t be with mom for long without arguing, send her out shopping, or ask her to do some paperwork.
  • Be careful how you ask for help. If your tone reflects anger, your brothers and sisters are more likely to react in unhelpful ways.
  • Avoid making your siblings feel guilty. Guilt makes people uncomfortable and defensive, which only hurts things in the long run.
  • If your family isn’t able to assist with caregiving, explore outside resources for help.
  • Perhaps most importantly, be sure to take care of yourself. You have to be healthy to be up to the challenge of caregiving.

Families have long, complicated histories, and with the challenges of caregiving it is often hard to communicate without overreacting or misinterpreting. Dealing with siblings over parent care can be difficult, complex and emotional, but it is important to understand your emotions and to try to have sympathy for your siblings’ feelings as well, even when you disagree.

Family dynamics were in place prior to the need for parent care, and you may not be able to resolve existing conflicts to your satisfaction right now. The important thing now is to get support for yourself so you can find peace during your caregiving journey.

Oxford Health Care offers numerous home care programs that can provide you the help, support and relief you need, so you can enjoy time with your loved one and continue to care for them at home. If you have questions, our Care Coordinators will be happy to assist you.

Be Informed for the Better During Stress Awareness Month

By Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator

 

Stress is defined as mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is inevitable—everyone deals with it. So, during Stress Awareness Month, it is an excellent time to learn more, recognize stressors, practice stress relief and get help as needed.

 

Stress isn’t all negative; positive stress can motivate and help with concentration. Setting goals and accomplishing them feels good and rejuvenates the mind and body for the next challenge.

 

However, most of the time, stress is associated with something difficult or negative. When stress becomes a way of life, it is very hard to relax and recover. When stress becomes chronic, a person’s physical and emotional health suffers.

 

Caregiving is a demanding and stressful role. Being a caregiver can be an extremely rewarding and gratifying experience, but it can also be daunting, challenging, exhausting and overwhelming—especially if caring for someone who is ill.

 

Whether you are caring for someone daily, occasionally, long distance or 24 hours a day, there will be stress. While you may not be able to change the situation, there are steps to help manage the emotional, physical and mental impact.

 

First, it helps to recognize what personally stresses you. The body treats these stressors as threats, which prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol.

 

Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream. It alters the immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex, natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

 

When under constant stress, the body’s fight-or-flight reaction stays on alert. The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes.

 

When under this kind of negative, constant stress, there is a significant risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Compromised immune system
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease and increased blood pressure
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Memory and concentration impairment

 

Due to the health risks, it is very important for caregivers to learn healthy ways to cope with stress.

 

Stress management strategies include:

  • Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
  • Practicing relaxation techniques or learning to meditate
  • Fostering healthy friendships
  • Laughing—have a sense of humor
  • Keeping a journal—jot down thoughts as an emotional outlet
  • Seeking professional counseling when needed
  • Educating yourself—become informed about stress, disease process, etc.
  • Utilizing community resources that offer assistance and support
  • Visiting your doctor regularly
  • Finding opportunities for Respite Care—Oxford HealthCare can help
  • Chewing gum—studies have shown this simple act can lower anxiety and ease stress
  • Reminding yourself of comforting phrases that speak to you personally—God won’t give us more than we can handle. This too shall pass. Serenity Prayer. I can do this. Encourage yourself the way you would a friend.
  • Believing in yourself—find the necessary means to withstand stress and look forward to brighter days ahead.

 

Although April is officially Stress Awareness Month, we all know that stress affects us in some way, every day, year round. If you are a caregiver, it is extremely important that you also care for yourself. Oxford HealthCare offers numerous home care programs that provide the help, support and relief you need, so you may enjoy time with your loved one and continue to provide care at home. If you need help or have questions, contact an Oxford Care Coordinator.

“When words fail, music speaks” Hans Christian Anderson

By Carol Combs, MSW – Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator

While working in a skilled nursing facility, I had the opportunity to witness remarkable things. I was amazed to see individuals with dementia who could not put together a sentence, but could sing an entire song. Their faces would brighten, and I could see mood changes along with toe tapping and smiles. Soon, others would join in. Although the disease had taken so much away from them, music was a wonderful way to engage and encourage them.

The language area of the brain is impacted early in the Alzheimer’s disease process, but music touches a different part of the brain. The area of the brain linked to music is relatively unaffected by Alzheimer’s disease; so musical memories are often preserved. Rhythmic responses require little to no cognitive processing; so, a person’s ability to engage in music—particularly rhythm playing and singing—remains intact late into the disease process. Some individuals will respond to music when nothing else seems to reach them.

Music can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for dementia sufferers. Listening to music or singing can relieve stress and reduce agitation, anxiety or depression. For caregivers, music is a way to connect with loved ones who have difficulty communicating. Most people associate music with important events and emotions, and selections from a person’s young adult years—ages 18-25—are more likely to elicit a strong response. As an individual progresses into later stage dementia, music from childhood works well. Although individuals may not be able to verbalize or demonstrate affection with loved ones, they can still move with the beat of a favorite piece of music until very late in the disease process.

Caregiver Tips:

  • Experiment with different types of music to see which evoke the best reaction.
  • Play music or sing as the individual is walking to improve balance or gait.
  • Choose relaxing music, a familiar, non-rhythmic song to reduce sun downing or bedtime issues.
  • Compile a musical history of favorite recordings to help with reminiscing and recalling memories.
  • Encourage movement with the music —clapping or tapping feet, or dancing if possible.
  • Play or sing soothing songs to calm someone during mealtime or personal hygiene care.
  • When playing music, eliminate competing noises such as television or outdoor sounds.

Singing is associated with safety and security from early life. When caregivers engage in singing with their loved ones, it provides an opportunity to connect, even when the disease has deprived them of traditional forms of closeness.

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
Alphonse de Lamartine

Oxford Hospice provides numerous home care programs—including music therapy—to help caregivers and their loved ones. Oxford HealthCare is dedicated to helping families enjoy time together and remain at home. If you have questions about Oxford Hospice, Oxford’s Memory Care Program or receiving help at home, please contact a Care Coordinator, today.

 

Source: Alzheimer’s Foundation of America