Boston Aging Well
Helpful tips for family caregivers
This month we focus on ways to prevent problems from getting out of hand.
Seniors and crime
It is wise to be cautious about crime. But extreme fear traps some elders at home unnecessarily, undermining their quality of life.
If you are concerned about the person you care for, these tips can help you support your relative’s safety and address his or her anxiety.
The facts about seniors and crime show that
- fear is out of proportion. Older adults are the victims of crime far less often than are people in other age groups.
- violent crimes are uncommon. Seniors most fear assault and rape. But older adults are rarely the victims of such crimes.
- pockets and purses are targeted. Seniors are known for carrying cash. Wallets in back pockets and dangling purses create grab-and-go opportunities!
Help your relative implement these four steps (and consider them for you, too):
- Live smart. Stay focused when out on the street. Observe who and what is going on around you. At home, use locks on doors and windows. Don’t go out at the same time every day. Don’t let anyone in without double-checking their identity (ideally, call their company for verification). Don’t answer questions on the phone if you didn’t initiate the call. Buddy up to go to the bank or grocery store.
- Be prepared. Know who to contact if a crime occurs and what information they’ll need. Learn the best quick-response number for your neighborhood. Calling from a cell phone may differ from calling from a landline. Learn which agencies help victims of crime.
- Get involved. Participate in projects that support networking and the quality of the community. Consider starting or joining a Neighborhood Watch program. Get to know neighborhood children by volunteering to tutor at a local school.
- Go direct. Direct deposit of Social Security payments is a sure way to protect against stolen checks. The federal “Go Direct” campaign streamlines sign up.
Caught in a cycle of negativity?
For most family caregivers, frustration and guilt are common, as is anxiety and resentment. These feelings are normal and reasonable under the circumstances. It’s not realistic to eliminate negative emotions. Caring for an ailing family member IS emotionally taxing, especially in the case of memory loss. But sometimes the negativity can feed on itself.
You can avoid amplifying a downer mood. According to stress and coping research, you can reduce your distress by concentrating on the ultra-present moment, the here and now.
To interrupt the cycle
- observe yourself. Practice noticing your thoughts and feelings. Get curious about your emotions. Explore them objectively, as though you were outside yourself. Your thoughts and feelings aren’t “you,” they are one part of your experience.
- identify your thoughts. We increase our own suffering when we allow ourselves to get stuck in “shoulda, woulda, coulda” thinking. Those “shoulds” and “if onlys” try to rewrite the past. They are a springboard to anger and depression. The “I wants” and “what ifs” focus on the future. They tend to prompt anxiety.
- acknowledge your negative feelings. None of them is wrong. Don’t judge them. They are temporary and will subside (as long as you don’t feed them!).
- accept what is. Life is a series of moments. This one may not be your favorite. But what’s happening right now is a done deal. If you simply allow it and don’t fight it in your mind, you’ll be that much less stressed.
- focus on the present. Stay out of the past and future in your thinking. Take a few deep breaths. Shift your attention to create room for something positive right now. Think of something that engages one of your senses: The taste of your coffee, the color of the sky, or the music on the radio, for example.
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When should you take over Mom's checkbook?
Money matters are often intensely private. And no one wants to infringe on a family member’s independence. Yet it is through (sometimes expensive) financial mishaps that you may learn of changes in your parent’s memory and thinking.
Signs of a problem
Diseases that affect memory also tend to impair arithmetic skills and reasoning. That’s why money trouble can suggest the onset of dementia. Be alert for the following changes:
- Difficulty counting change or balancing a checkbook
- Frequent late payment of bills
- Confusion about banking transactions
- Unusual or repetitive purchases
- Accusations that others are stealing from them
- Investing in sweepstakes or other “get rich quick” schemes
If you notice a problem, ask the doctor to begin screening for dementia. But don’t wait to see if the symptoms progress before taking action.
Offer to help in a way that saves face. For example, “Gosh, it looks like you’ve forgotten to pay your utility bill. You’ve got so many other things to do. You know, there are some easy ways to take some of these chores off your plate. ”
If your relative is agreeable to it, a number of safeguards are available. For example:
- Set up auto deposit of Social Security and other retirement income
- Arrange for overdraft protection at the bank
- Initiate auto payment of bills and/or third-party notification if a bill is not paid
- Hire a licensed and insured bill payer
- Consider a joint bank account (with online services for you)
If your relative refuses help or is fiercely secretive, you may want to
- consult with his or her doctor. A doctor’s tests or stated clinical opinion may persuade your family member to accept assistance.
- consult with a lawyer. If your relative is dangerously undermining his or her financial well-being, guardianship may be necessary.
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