We all know the classic heart attack portrayed over and over again in movies and on TV: Someone writhing in sudden, severe chest pain.
But many heart attacks aren’t like that at all. Instead, they start slowly, typically with some mild, on/off pain or tightness in the chest. These signs are so much less dramatic than what people expect, they too often are ignored. The result, sadly, is often fatal when in fact a prompt response could have saved a loved one’s life.
In the last two weeks, as a loved one is nearing death, it is natural to want to be at their side. But then, what? Especially if you have never been in this situation before, you may feel uncertain—even awkward—about what to do. The ideal is to be a calm, reassuring, and loving presence focused on keeping your relative comfortable. Here are some tips.
If you are like most family caregivers, your social life has dropped in priority as you juggle your loved one’s needs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up all your friendships in addition to your family responsibilities.
Grief is the expected response to a loved one’s death. We expect to mourn, and we receive comfort from others. But in the context of a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the loss is not as clear cut. Your partner is “here but not here.” And you do not receive the same support or acknowledgment for the very real losses.
Time off from caregiving is precious. But after a break, many family caregivers find they don’t feel as refreshed as they hoped they would. Current research provides insights about how to get the most from a respite break.
If your loved one has health challenges, they may be feeling a loss of control. Add to that a terminal diagnosis and a sense of doom may prevail. But recognizing that life is coming to a close does not have to mean one waits glumly for the end. Following are some of the many ways hospice patients have chosen to take action and purposefully write their own “last chapter.” Perhaps one of these might appeal to your loved one:
Typically, it’s family members who fill in to perform the necessary tasks. But for many, perhaps including you, there are obstacles to helping on a regular basis. (Quitting your job to provide care is risky. Leaving work midcareer jeopardizes your retirement options and savings.)
For nonmedical support, check out community programs. Many are provided by nonprofit organizations. Others by faith communities. And still others by local government. Most offer discounts or a sliding-scale fee.
The holiday season is a festive time of year, but it may not feel much like a celebration for people grieving the loss of a loved one. Holidays are an especially tender time for missing those who are no longer with us.
There are many undergarments designed to help with incontinence. They can’t prevent it, but they can help your loved one feel more comfortable with outings and retain their dignity despite the embarrassment of accidents.
Once a year, Medicare offers the option to change plans. In 2021, the Open Enrollment period is October 15–December 7. Your loved one may be considering a switch to a “Medicare Advantage” plan. There are pros and cons.
If the person you care for has a life-threatening illness, you might think it’s only natural for them to feel down. Even hopeless from time to time.
But weeks of sadness are not a side effect one simply has to tolerate. It is not uncommon for someone with cancer or a similarly scary diagnosis to become depressed. But depression can and should be treated. Effective treatment makes for better quality of life. It can also improve other symptoms, such as pain and insomnia.
More than half of older adults take five or more medications per day. That’s “polypharmacy,” and can be dangerous. Taking too many medicines can cause problems such as dizziness, mental confusion, and heart failure. It can create an increased risk of falls, which often lead to the end of independent living. An estimated 10% to 30% of older adult hospitalizations are due to medication problems.
If the person you care for has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you may find their sudden emotional swings more difficult than their forgetfulness. Among many things, the disease has taken away their inhibitions. They can become quite irrational. And they are more likely to make a scene in public than they ever would have before their dementia. Family members mention embarrassment as one of the most difficult aspects of caring for their relative.
One of the most challenging dilemmas when caring for an aging parent is balancing their preference for independence with your concern for their safety. If you have noticed lapses in cleanliness, meals, bill payment, or other areas, you may be worried that your loved one is not able to safely live alone. They may refuse assistance, however, not recognizing there is a problem.
What do a marathon runner and your aging parent have in common? Both could benefit from compression socks! By applying pressure to the legs, compression socks help the valves in the veins do their work—so blood is pushed back to the heart and doesn’t pool in the legs. Older adults with edema (swollen legs), varicose veins, or deep vein thrombosis find that compression socks ease discomfort and can even prevent problems.
It’s only natural for family caregivers to worry. Understandably, we spend a lot of time thinking about “what’s next.” But if you are in a pattern of persistent worry and are starting to feel the stress in your body too—perhaps headaches, loss of appetite, or trouble sleeping—you may be dealing with anxiety.
Medicare is health insurance provided by the federal government. It covers adults 65 and older, as well as persons with disabilities. In terms of home care, Medicare pays for visits only by medically trained staff. In that light, there are two programs: Home health and hospice.
When your family member is in pain, you are suffering, too. The “mirror neurons” in our brains are programmed to recognize pain in others. That’s good news in that it arouses compassion and spurs us to action. But it can be bad news, too. When you are highly attuned to a loved one’s pain, you are at higher risk of depression, burnout, and poor health yourself.
A financial advisor manages investments. A daily money manager (DMM) is someone who comes to the home once or twice a month to handle the mundane aspects of personal finances: Paying monthly bills (but your loved one signs the checks). Balancing the checkbook. Navigating health insurance claims. Resolving billing errors. Tracking donations. Organizing paperwork. Gathering documents for tax time. Their job is to catch unnecessary expenses while making sure important payments are made on time.
Dialysis is life sustaining yet also quite taxing for the patient. About 25% of people who choose dialysis later decide to stop. Typically, this is because the burdens of this kidney disease treatment have severely reduced their quality of life. The tradeoff becomes no longer acceptable.
According to psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, we all have an inner critic and an inner protector. Together they help us maintain a balanced perspective. But too often as family caregivers, we have an overload of guilt, shame, and remorse, always feeling our performance is subpar, that we haven’t done enough. This is not healthy. The inner critic has an important role, but it’s not to pulverize our self-esteem.
Can listening to calming music actually ease pain? Can singing silly songs make you happier? Researchers say this isn’t just a folktale—it represents some of the measurable effects of music on the mind and body.
Although it’s not yet clear exactly how music works its magic, studies show that it is strong medicine, both in the moment and as treatment over time. Among the benefits, music
Receiving criticism is never a pleasant experience, especially from family members. Whether it is a sibling griping about how you care for a relative or complaints from the person you are caring for, you may feel suddenly flooded with difficult emotions. Perhaps anger, shame, or confusion.
We can’t stop others from giving criticism. But we can become wiser about how to deal with it. Try these tips:
There are two forms of government health insurance:
– Medicare. Basically, age-based insurance for older adults (age 65+), regardless of income and assets. (Assets include money and belongings, such as a house or car.)
– Medicaid. Income-based insurance funded with federal and state dollars. (The state where your relative lives may have a name different than “Medicaid.”) This insurance is for individuals who have very little means. The financial asset threshold is often set at $2000 or less.
Medicaid will sometimes pay when Medicare will not.
The most common expense covered by Medicaid is long-term care in a nursing home. Speaking very generally, Medicare pays for the first 100 days after a hospitalization. If a person needs to stay longer—permanently move into the facility—they must cover the cost from their own savings. Once nearly all their resources have been exhausted, they can apply for Medicaid, which will pick up the tab.
If making it to the bathroom in time is a frequent concern for your relative, they may have an overactive bladder. More than 33 million Americans contend with this condition, in which misfiring nerves cause the bladder muscles to contract involuntarily. Your loved one may be too embarrassed to bring it up with the doctor, or even with you. But it should be checked out. It’s not a “normal” part of aging. Overactive bladder (OAB) is a real and treatable medical condition. And you certainly want to be sure it’s not something else.
The basic symptoms of OAB include an urgent need to urinate more than eight times in a day and/or more than once or twice a night.
Many people let incontinence worries run their lives. They stay close to home for fear of accidents. They withdraw from social activities, dreading they have an odor from leaks. They may become anxious or depressed. And multiple nighttime trips to the toilet can result in insomnia and fatigue, bringing on more depression.
Perhaps you call regularly to offer emotional support. Maybe you handle finances. Perhaps you visit weekly. Or you may live with your loved one 24/7. Caring takes many forms. You may feel this is simply what a loving daughter/son/partner would do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time and energy from your day. Or night, if you skimp on sleep to create time to help.
Whether you provide hands-on care or assistance from afar, you ARE a family caregiver. And that means you need to watch for burnout. Use this list to take an inventory. Consider what is realistic for you. And think about options to help manage the load: Friends, family, community programs, paid help.
Are you worried that asking for help sounds like whining? You may believe you “should” be able to do it all without assistance. Or think you are “just” doing what any good or loving daughter (or son, or spouse) would do. Like many caregivers focused on family harmony, you may have become used to minimizing…
Dialysis typically buys a person some time. But it rules their life—and possibly yours. It requires strict adherence to the schedule. Also, severe food restrictions. Your relative’s energy level will fluctuate. That makes planning for other activities difficult. There is an increased chance of infection because of the access port for dialysis. And there are side effects: Itchy skin, trouble sleeping, headaches, and dizziness. Cramps, nausea, weight loss, and fragile bones are not uncommon.
It turns out that feelings of amazement, marvel, and wonder are beneficial emotionally AND physically. Exposing yourself to an awe-inspiring experience twice a week can replenish your well and increase feelings of connection. Learn more about the science of awe and what you can do to bring it more regularly into your life. Check out our blog for family caregivers.
Older adults are frequently targeted for financial abuse. They typically have more funds than their younger counterparts do. They tend to be generous and naïve, not understanding all the ways they can be scammed. Some have memory and thinking problems. And even if they do realize they’ve been “taken,” they may be too ashamed or…
Research on stress often involves family caregivers. No matter how much you love the person you care for, taking care of an ailing relative can be stressful! To offset the stress, consider the power of positive thinking. Studies show that people who “seed their lives” with moments of positive emotions are more resilient in the…
There may come a time when your loved one will need help handling financial matters. Maybe filing taxes. Or interacting with Social Security. Or signing a contract to move into a new residence. If your relative is unable to do these things because of illness or problems with dementia, you will need to show a…
At some point, the burdens of treatment may just become too much for your loved one: The nausea of chemo. The rigors of dialysis. Wearying trips to the ER. Perhaps the person you care for is already having these thoughts, to let nature take its course and stop fighting for health that stubbornly eludes them….