Boston Aging Well
Helpful tips for family caregivers
The holidays are coming. Here’s a list of good gifts for persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory conditions. Plus, your loved one’s fatigue may not be “just old age.” It’s worth talking to the doctor about testing for possible lung problems. Last, we look at providing for a beloved pet’s care.
Gifts for those with memory loss
Deciding what holiday gifts to give a person with memory loss can be challenging. Following are some tips to share with family members.
The gift of time:
- A special date to share cookies and send holiday cards to others
- A time to share and wrap gifts (before the rush)
- Attending seasonal music events or caroling together
A person with early-stage memory loss is often still striving to do his or her usual activities. Gifts that provide reminder systems or simplify daily tasks are useful.
- A clipboard with attached pen for notes. Attractive stick-on labels for cabinets and drawers. An erasable white board for listing the day’s activities.
- A push-button wristwatch that will literally “tell the time” out loud.
- A cell phone or personal alert system with a single button to request support from anywhere in an emergency.
- An automated pill dispenser.
A person with mid- or late-stage dementia thrives with simplicity. Even when words are failing, sensory pleasures can still be enjoyed.
- Music is almost always a hit, especially from the era of your loved one’s youth.
- Easy on/off clothes, such as sweats. Soft fabrics and favorite colors are a plus. Shoes with Velcro straps.
- Cozy items for staying warm. A soft throw blanket, a fleece vest, or soft scarf. Even a furry stuffed animal as something to cuddle.
- Scented skin lotions for arms and hands.
You might also give family members ideas of gifts to help you:
- A collection of nature shows or old-time comedies on DVD to entertain your loved one.
- An album with captioned photos of family members and family events.
- The gift of respite time. That is, a chance for you, the family caregiver, to get away and have a few hours (days?) with minimal responsibilities.
- A gift certificate for a massage or lunch with a friend.
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More than fatigue
Did you know we take some 20,000 in-and-out breaths every day? Lungs are extremely hard-working organs! Each in-breath supplies oxygen to the blood stream. Oxygen gives us energy and helps us think clearly. Each out-breath takes away toxins, such as carbon dioxide.
Fatigue and lowered stamina can be a normal part of aging. But they may also indicate a lung problem.
Watch for these symptoms:
- Ongoing tiredness
- Wheezing or shortness of breath, especially at rest
- Chest pain or a feeling of “tightness” in the chest, with activity or when lying flat
- A stubborn cough that gets worse
- Coughing that brings up dark-colored mucus or blood
- Swelling in the ankles or legs, or neck and face
- Fever and/or chills
- Nausea or loss of appetite
If you observe any of these symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment for an assessment. Lung cancer is the diagnosis that people are often most frightened of. But there are other possible causes that can be managed effectively.
Lung tests are fairly easy and not very invasive. For instance:
- Chest x-rays display visible changes in the structure of the lungs.
- Blood tests help determine if the problem is an infection, such as pneumonia.
- Lung CT scans detect even small changes in the lungs.
- Spirometry is a simple test that involves blowing into a tube to measure lung capacity.
- Pulse oximetry measures the oxygen level in the blood via a sensor on the finger.
- Sputum culture involves spitting mucus coughed up from the lungs into a jar and then having it examined under a microscope. A culture will help identify any infections and what antibiotics would be the best.
Late-life lung problems often begin with very subtle symptoms. Even if there is no cure, once you have a diagnosis, there are ways to support better breathing and quality of life.
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Who will care for Fido?
Pets often become members of the family. They provide companionship and love, especially for an ailing elder. Your relative may be worried about a pet’s future, especially when your relative is no longer able to provide care. Consider what you can do to make arrangements ahead of time and ease that worry.
Formal pet care arrangements can be made through legally valid documents. This sounds good. But hiring an attorney to write up a special document is expensive. And a will involves too many delays to make sure a pet’s immediate needs are taken care of. One streamlined legal option is a Pet Protection Agreement. It covers things such as naming primary and backup guardians. It outlines personalized instructions about the pet’s needs and leaves funds for care. The ASPCA offers guidance and a form.
Often a simple arrangement with a friend or family member is best.
- Commitment. Have future caregiver(s) sign a letter of agreement. The letter should include instructions about the pet’s needs and habits. It should also include contact information for the vet and the pet’s health history.
- Options. Life circumstances change. Have a backup person and/or agency in case the lead person is no longer able to help.
- Rescue agency. Don’t assume an agency will accept responsibility for care. Talk with any organization of interest and find out what it would need to potentially serve as guardian.
You want to address financial realities when asking someone to make a commitment to care for your pet. Consider the pet’s age and likely needs (food, medications, vet visits, and burial). Be careful, though, that money is not the primary incentive for the commitment.
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