Being Heart Healthy

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When I think of the month of February two things come to mind: Valentine’s Day and Heart Healthy Awareness month.

I would like to focus on the heart. Let me explain.

Caregiving requires many traits when you’re the one responsible for a loved one, no matter what the diagnosis might be. Among the many hats a caregiver wears, the most important part of that caring comes from the heart.

You’ve probably seen firsthand the nurse or CNA that loves what they do and how they interact with residents or patients. They have a heart for their profession; it’s a true calling for them. It’s the same for caregivers. You might be thinking right now that you didn’t volunteer for the caregiving role you have, it just happened. Well, you might be right, but I believe the right people are placed in that position because they have what it takes to be a caregiver. . .HEART.

I’ve met many caregivers over the years and I can honestly say I’ve never met one single person who was bitter or angered because they were the primary caregiver. True, they may have been caught off guard or felt dismayed that they were the chosen one, but in all honesty, they know deep down they have what it takes to persevere and get things done for the benefit of their loved one(s). Why? Because they have the heart for this role.

Does having the heart to be a caregiver make it easy? Not at all. In fact, it probably  makes it harder.

When you’re in the role of a caregiver you have so many decisions to make and many of those decisions are downright difficult. For example: Do you move your loved one out of their home into an assisted living? Or do they need a memory care facility? Do they need skill nursing care? Will doctors change when their living arrangements change? Are more medications needed or do they need to eliminate medications? Is it time for palliative care? Hospice? Decisions can be heartbreaking.

As you can see, these are only a snippet of items needing decisions by the caregiver if your loved one is not capable of making their own decisions. Hopefully, you’ve taken care of the legalities by having a Power of Attorney for healthcare and financial decisions. If not, this needs to be done now.

Something I discovered while being a caregiver is how much of a heart I have for the elderly. They don’t have to be sick or have some terminal illness. I just have a heart for them. I found there are many people who don’t have families so no one ever visits them. Those are the ones I became attached to. Those are the ones whose eyes would light up just because I would take the time to acknowlege them and give them a few minutes of attention. They are the ones who made my heart overflow with joy.

Be heart healthy all year long.

The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.  Helen Keller

A New Year, A New Decade

We are not only in a new year, but a new decade! I don’t usually think about these things until it’s actually happening. Wow! A new decade!

What does that mean for caregivers? It could be you lost a loved one at the end of last year, or it could be someone near and dear has just been diagnosed with a form of dementia or another type of illness.

For each example it is a new start for the caregiver. If you’ve lost a loved one, you’re starting over in life learning how to live without that person; moving forward to rebuild your own life. For the person just becoming a caregiver, you, too, are going to have to learn how to live a different kind of life. Your journey is just beginning and there is no time frame to speak of.

Every person’s experience is unique. However, there can be a common thread in both situations. Focus on the “now” and the good that can and will come through your experiences.

If you’ve lost someone recently, give yourself permission to grieve for as long as you need. Remember, there is no time limit for grieving. Allow yourself to feel and work through those feelings the best way you can or know how. Let other people do things for you if they offer. You will eventually see and find the good during this time. This is not an instant accomplishment, but one that occurs over a period of time. Just don’t limit your time, move through it day by day.

If you find yourself suddenly becoming a caregiver, don’t panic. Our first thoughts are always fight flight flee! Yes, it’s a terrifying thought becoming a caregiver. What does a caregiver do? How will I be able to work full time and be a caregiver? Is anyone else willing to step up and help out? Is there anybody else in my shoes? Will family and friends understand? Will I be alienated from family and friends?

All the above questions are normal for someone starting out as a caregiver. It is undoubtedly the most frightening job because of all the unknowns. So what can you do?

First, give yourself time to digest the fact that your loved one has been diagnosed with some form of dementia or another type of illness. Talk to each other and discuss any fears you might have. Being transparent with one another is crucial. Never lie to each other and keep secrets. This is going to be a different kind of relationship that will be dealing with ups and downs like an emotional roller coaster. Learn together and let your loved one know you are with them every step of the way; you love them unconditionally. You will find good in your journey, and even blessings if you enter into this role being open to help and support, not just from family, but from experts in the field, friends and church.

Whatever you do, do not make this about you!

Being a caregiver is hard, I’m not going to lie. But this journey isn’t about you and your woes. This is about the person with the disease. Put yourself in their place and think about what they just heard in their diagnosis. What is going through their mind? How can you help them understand that they don’t have to go this journey by themselves because they have YOU! You, in turn, will not be alone as a caregiver because you will have others helping you to understand how to be a caregiver. This is where the experts come in like the Alzheimer’s Association and many other organizations available to help caregivers. These experts are the “good” and the “blessings” you will find and need.

For the past four years when the New Year comes around, instead of a resolution I pray for a word for the year. This year the Lord sent me two words: Surrender and Freedom.

My prayer is for you to have a divinely appointed “word(s)” for 2020 and see how you’re guided throughout the year.

 

May 2020 bring you Light and Love

Caregivers and Holidays

Caregiving and holidays can be a stressful and sad time of year.

Caregiving is exhausting and planning for the holidays is stressful and exhausting. The two together can be overwhelming. So what’s a caregiver supposed to do?

If you are a caregiver ask your family or close friends to lend a hand in helping you out. For instance, if you still want to put up holiday decorations but you’re completely depleted of energy, ask your adult children, grandchildren or other siblings to do the decorating. Nothing has to be elaborate, just a little holiday cheer to help your mood and maybe your loved one’s mood, if they’re still at home

Take some time for yourself and go with friends or family to see the Christmas lights. The neighborhoods are all aglow right now; seeing all the beautiful lights and decorations can boost your spirits even if it’s only for an hour. It’s also a great stress reliever if you’ve been with your loved one all day, whether at home or being with them at a memory care facility.

Another reason caregivers might dread the holidays is because it can be sad for them. They may have just lost a loved one or they have no joy because their loved one has progressed in their dementia to the point they don’t recognize them anymore. Nothing is more distressing than not having your loved one know who you are, or they think you’re someone else. You may have known this day was coming and tried to prepare yourself, but when it actually happens, it still stuns you. Honestly, we’re never prepared for behavior changes that come with dementia. It’s hard. It’s sad.

Surround yourself with happy upbeat people. Laugh, really laugh and get those endorphins flowing. Nothing makes you feel better than good hearty laugh and being surrounded by those you love. If you’re able to, share a meal with those closest to you and celebrate the blessings you’ve had throughout 2019. If you feel like there’s been no blessings I recommend you have some quiet time and start thinking about each day you’ve been able to spend with your loved one, no matter how far they are in their journey. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at all the blessings that come to mind.

Merry Christmas!

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Ephesians 9:7

 

AlzAuthors 3rd Annual Caregiver Appreciation Month

I mentioned in  an earlier post at the beginning of the month that November is National Caregiver Month.

Take a moment to peruse through the many books available at AlzAuthors 3rd Annual Caregiver Appreciation Month with special pricing starting today, November 21-25.

This is a great way to help yourself, your family or friends navigate through their journey as a caregiver. This is a gift of LOVE.

November Caregiver Appreciation Month

 

November is Caregiver Appreciation month.

Starting November 21-25, there will be special pricing on Amazon for my book, To Helen With Love, A Memoir of  A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey. Paperback will be on sale for $10.99 and Kindle $.99. 

With the holidays quickly approaching, this would make the perfect gift for someone you know serving in a caregiving role.

AlzAuthors.com is another great resource to peruse books and information on dementia, Alzheimer’s, caregiving and much more.

Let’s all show the LOVE to the thousands of caregivers doing their best to help those diagnosed with all forms of dementia.

Don’t Build A Wall

How many caregivers are building walls around themselves?

Is that a crazy question? In my opinion, it’s not crazy at all. I’ll tell you why.

People just starting out in the role of caregiving have this idea that they can do it themselves. I know this because I was one of those people.

Caregiving is not a solo position. It takes a village to walk through this role. If you think I’m exaggerating, talk to other caregivers who have been in this situation for a few years. You’ll quickly find out your situation is very similar to what they have been experiencing.

Building a wall around yourself is prideful. It’s not helpful. It causes more stress. It can make you physically ill. Why would you want to do this to yourself?

You might say, “Well my situation is completely different, you just don’t understand.”

Your situation might be different in some ways, but the bottom line is, dementia is dementia and there is a common thread no matter what your situation might be.

I’ve said in previous posts that it’s OKAY to ask for help. Just because you are now a caregiver doesn’t mean you’re an expert in the field. Research, talk to healthcare providers in this particular field, meet with other caregivers, reach out to organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and other dementia related organizations. That’s why they are there. . .TO HELP YOU.

Building a wall around yourself might feel like a security blanket; it’s not, it’s damaging.

This is how it’s damaging:

  • Your health delcines
  • Your family feels the neglect
  • Your job starts to suffer
  • You isolate yourself from friends/family
  • You become afraid of everything especially the unknown
  • You have trust issues

The list can go on, but these are just a few of some of the damaging affects.

Put aside your pride. Reach out for help. If someone offers help, accept it. This will become your Village.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Psalms 34:4

 

 

 

Angels Around Us

I’m one of those people who truly believes angels are always around. I’ve experienced a couple of encounters in my lifetime.

I found being a caregiver requires a lot of divine intervention, if you know what I mean.

There were days I was physically and emotionally exhausted dealing with a specific behavior of mom’s. Who knew that random behaviors could trigger such exhaustion!

One day might be a really good day for her, the next could be off the charts crazy and unfathomable. In short, it was a rollercoaster ride. Fortunately, the nursing staff were like my angels. Many times they were able to step in and resolve a situation I was unable to resolve.

Over the years I learned the ups and downs of being a caregiver. I learned to respect my mother in a different way than before she had Alzheimer’s. Things that were important to her, but not necessarily important to me, suddenly became important to me because of the new respect I had for her.

As caregivers, we don’t think the same way as someone who has dementia. We want to be right and show them we are right and they are not. Having that kind of attitude will only get you into trouble, and by trouble I mean a confrontation. You never want to get into that position with your loved one. Why? Because you won’t win! Even if you are right, you won’t win.

Understanding someone with dementia means you have to think outside of your normal brain and start thinking like them. Sounds crazy, I know. But you’ll eventually see how much easier it will be to communicate and have less confrontations.

For me, praying for guidance helped me get through rough situations. I like to think my angels were surrounding me keeping me centered. Sometimes I felt the peace and my encounters with mom seemed to go much smoother.

Whether our angels come in the form of nursing staff, prayer, friends, relatives, or even strangers, the bottom line is to accept their help and be grateful for their intervention.

Caregivers don’t need to prove they’re super humans. They just need to be there for their loved one(s) and do the best they can.

 

Memory Types

I read an article by the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK describing the brain and dementia. We know the brain is responsible for all functions. The article went into great detail about the specific areas and functions of the brain known as memory types.

MEMORY – The mental capacity or faculty of retaining or reviving facts, events, impressions, people, etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences. (Dictionary.com)

This describes the three memory types listed below and their specific functions.

……

Episodic Memory  – Our personal memory of events at a certain time or place. Example: I ate cereal this morning in my kitchen. These are memories specific to each of us and can  have an emotional aspect.¹

Semantic Memory – Our general knowledge about objects, word meanings, facts and people. Example: Birds have feathers and can fly.²

Procedural Memory – Memory for skills we have learned. Example: Riding a bike, brushing our hair or brushing our teeth.³

This, of course, is just a snippet of how the brain works in these memory types.

The more we learn about what’s going on with a loved one’s brain, and why they do certain things and have certain behaviors, the more tolerable we can become while caring for them. As caregivers, we can become impatient or irritable because we don’t understand why our loved one is behaving a certain way or being repetitious.

Read, go to seminars, attend support groups and LEARN about what’s happening to your loved one’s brain. This will help you navigate the different stages of their disease and help you understand the “why’s”.

¹,²,³ Fact Sheet 456LP, Alzheimer’s Society UK, Dementia and The Brain

 

Fear of What To Say

I follow a blog called “Suddenly Mad”. The blogger is a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. I’ve become attached to her through her blogging. She is one amazing lady. She never gives up trying. Never gives up doing. She is a fierceless warrior on Alzheimer’s disease even though she’s rapidly declining.

With all of her tenacity and pushing forward to keep her brain working however she can, she has come across previous co-workers, students and even friends (people she thought were her friends) who when they see her, they don’t acknowledge her. It’s as if she has some contagious disease. She doesn’t undertand why these people are turning their backs on her. It’s hurtful.

This morning I was reading something Max Lucado wrote. If you’re not familiar with Max Lucado, he is a Pastor in San Antonio, Texas and a renowned author.

This morning Max wrote about “The Touch of God”. One of the things he said described why people shy away from those with illness and other maladies. Here’s what he said:

But others of us tend to forget. Our hearts are good; it’s just that our memories are bad. We forget how significant one touch can be. We fear saying the wrong thing or using the wrong tone or acting the wrong way. So rather than do it incorrectly, we do nothing at all.

Do you see that? “We fear saying the wrong thing or using the wrong tone or acting the wrong way. So rather than do it incorrectly, we do nothing at all.”

I believe that is what’s been happening to my blogger friend. People are insecure about what to say to her.

If you are a caregiver, I’m sure you’ve seen this too. But instead of getting hurt or angry at these insecure people, speak up. Let them know there is no wrong way to talk to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The important thing is to acknowledge them, smile, shake their hand and say something kind. Of course, I don’t think that’s hard to do, but that’s my personality. Other people might be so insecure they just can’t bring themselves to reach out and say a simple hello. If that’s the case, give them a little nudge and tell them it’s okay; the person with dementia won’t bite.

People with dementia and Alzheimer’s still want to be recognized even if they don’t show it. They are still “in there”, and having a friend or relative take the time to just stop by and see how they’re doing will more than likely put a smile on their face. If you think they won’t remember you, you might be wrong. It’s surprising what they remember. And even if they don’t remember you, so what? You have made their day.

I can only reinforce how important it is to stay present in your loved ones life. If you still have a hard time with this, imagine yourself in their shoes.

Here is the full story from Max Lucado if you would like to read it.