Boston Aging Well
Helpful tips for family caregivers
This month we look at the many faces of courage. It takes a lot of courage to care for an aging family member. Remember Bette Davis’s famous quip, that “aging ain’t no place for sissies”? Well, caring for an aging relative has its own challenges too! See Danny Trejo’s hilarious video spot (1 minute): Caregiving is Tougher than Tough.
For instance, you may put yourself in harm’s way during cold and flu season, risking exposure as you help your loved one avoid it. Or when nursing your parent if they do get sick. Check out our article on Courage as a Signature Strength to explore the other ways that you exhibit this virtue, perhaps without even knowing it. And then, consider ways to draw upon your courage to address the sensitive subject of a parent’s alcohol problem. It can be done with respect and empathy.
Preparing for Cold and Flu Season
Did you know that 60% of people with flu symptoms leave the house during their illness?
Furthermore, 70% of them go to the drugstore.
That’s a good reason to stay clear of the pharmacy during peak cold and flu season!
Good preparation involves a lot more than a vaccine. Cold and flu germs are highly contagious. If an infected person sneezes, anyone within a 3-foot radius is likely to get exposed. And those flu germs live up to 24 hours on hard surfaces. Not to mention that the sick person unwittingly starts spreading germs as early as three days BEFORE feeling any symptoms and continues to be contagious up to 24 hours after the natural break of a fever.
Tips for yourself and for your loved one
- Get the flu vaccine. Even if it’s not a perfect match with this year’s influenza virus, it will minimize the intensity of symptoms.
- Get eight hours of sleep at night. In one study, those who got fewer hours were three times more likely to catch a cold.
- Wash hands often. Touching hard surfaces (counters, doorknobs, the poles on public transit) is a sure-fire way to bring germs into your body.
- Frequently clean surfaces at home and work.
- Shy away from crowded situations.
Avoid the pharmacy by stocking up ahead of time on
- soups, teas, and other fluids to keep well hydrated;
- fever reducers: Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin;
- saline drops or a neti pot to gently flush nasal passages;
- honey and/or cough drops to soothe the throat;
- decongestants (to dry up the nose), cough suppressants (for nighttime sleeping), expectorants (for daytime purging of mucus in the lungs). Consult with the doctor beforehand to be sure there are no conflicts with prescribed medicines;
- lots of tissues. Don’t keep used ones around;
- humidifiers to ease breathing;
- wedged pillows to sit (and sleep) more upright.
Signature Strength: Courage
In the tradition of “positive psychology,” we encourage family caregivers to know and use their signature strengths. These personality traits can become reliable tools.
Courage, for example, has many faces beyond bravado and derring-do. See if you recognize yourself in these descriptions.
Honesty and integrity are facets of courage. Are you a person who insists on living by your values? Do you prize authenticity? Courage is at the root of what it takes to
- know your limits and take respite breaks when you need to;
- talk compassionately with a family member about behaviors that are not healthy;
- ask a sibling to participate more in helping out with Mom or Dad.
Steadfastness. Another aspect of courage is the willingness to continue even if the going gets tough. Think about ways you advocate for your parent with the healthcare system. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself calmly handling once-unimaginable tasks in personal care or wound care.
Maintaining focus. Courage also involves feeling several things at once, yet staying focused. A courageous person may feel fear. But they steady themselves with a belief that they can have an impact. The thoughtfully courageous assess situations with eyes wide open. They see the risks. Rather than run, they look for ways to reduce the chance of a negative outcome.
Tempering qualities. The roar of a lion—a blustery manner or righteous indignation—may look like strength. But that type of courage is not usually constructive in family dynamics. Better to remember that lions can be tender too, and they work for the overall good of the pride.
Courage may not be something you think of as your signature strength. This fresh look at the many sides of courage may help you see the daily bravery you exhibit as a family caregiver.Return to top
When your parent drinks too much
Alcohol is a sensitive subject. Consider asking your parent’s doctor or a respected friend to initially bring up the subject. Tell them the reasons for your concern: slurred speech, unexplained falls or bruises. Be specific in your examples. Your parent will have less face to save with a trusted friend or professional than with their own child.
If you do talk, don’t say “alcoholic.” Even if it’s applicable, this is a loaded term. Tread lightly. A confrontation will just make your relative defensive and could jeopardize your relationship long term.
Instead, clear yourself of judgments about what he or she “should” do. Your relative is an adult and has the right to make unwise or unhealthy choices. He or she is doing the best they can, using the coping strategies that are readily available to them.
Open the door. Let them know that you notice some things aren’t working well and that you care. Rather than preach, create an invitation: “I notice you’ve been falling” (or losing weight, or seeming kind of withdrawn). “Are you concerned? Want to talk?” If yes, great. If no, just make it clear you’re available any time.
Casual help. Rediscovering meaning, purpose, and connection is one route to recovery. Separate from a conversation about alcohol, help your loved one explore ways to feel engaged with life, perhaps through involvement with others. Maybe you can go together to a social activity to make the first time easier. Or you might help remove barriers by providing transportation or covering costs.
Formal programs. Older adults also respond well to short-term interventions that address the specific isolation and loneliness of late life. If your loved one shows interest, help him or her find a recovery program that is geared to the needs and concerns of aging.Return to top