Care & Share

Welcome to our Care & Share blog! This blog features care advice for caregivers, family members, and friends of those with dementia. We also have information on caring for caregivers. If there’s a topic you would like to see addressed, please let us know! You can give us a call at 901.854.1200 or email our Program Director, Sheri Wammack at sheri@pagerobbins.org.

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  • October 30, 2017

    Preparing for the Holidays


    The holidays are busy. Parties to attend, family to visit and family to entertain, gifts to buy, dishes to make. It can all be too much – especially when you are caring for a loved one with dementia. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

    The point of the holidays isn’t all the stuff and the hoopla. The point is to celebrate, to honor, and to cherish. It’s okay if the season isn’t as grand as it once was. Don’t expect it to be. You want to know the best holiday recipe? A heaping cup of simplicity and a half of cup of planning with a pinch of good communication and boundary setting. That makes for some joyful days!

    Here’s our recipe for happy holidays. We suggest you start prepping the ingredients now, but in your holiday prep, keep in mind that there’s no perfect holiday. Perfection is unattainable, but really good days are possible. This is how we think you can make them happen:

    Declutter the calendar.

    Don’t plan to attend every event and party. It is OK to say No to invitations (and not feel guilty about it). Strategically pick and choose which events you would like to attend. For example: Instead of hosting your usual Christmas Eve dinner with the whole family and you cook everything, choose to host a lunch potluck. Lunch may be a better time of day for your loved one, and a potluck takes the pressure off you. AND/OR you can ask another family member to host, so you and your loved one can attend and leave when needed.

    Scale down, and turn down the volume.

    Your loved one may not be able to handle a full day of the entire family. Limit time at gatherings. You can also find a quiet room for your loved one to be in, and ask family and friends to visit one-on-one in a much more manageable environment.

    Stick to the routine.

    The holidays can get our schedules out of whack. Keep routines as much as possible because routines make for easier days. Serve meals at regular times, schedule afternoon rest at the regular time, go to sleep at the regular time. Keeping to a schedule will help your loved one remain as rested as possible.

    Involve your loved one.

    While Mom may not be able to independently make her famous coconut cake, she can help pour pre-measured ingredients and stir everything together. While Grandpa might not be able to chop wood or light the fireplace, he can help carry in a piece of wood. While your wife may not be able to play the piano, she can still sing along, dance, or just enjoy the music.

    Make a wish list for you and your loved one.

    Your gift wish list should look different than it has in the past. Here are some things we suggest: money to pay for care, soft blankets, 30-piece puzzles, magazine subscription, gift card for stores or for meals to-go, favorite music, personalized book with family pictures and captions about who is in each picture/what is going on in the pictures (recommendation: Shutterfly).

    Help your family and friends know how to interact.

    Explain to family and friends about your loved one’s current state, so they will know what to expect. Remind them NOT TO QUIZ. Instead of asking, “Do you know who I am?” coach them to prompt: “Grandpa, it’s Jason. I’m so glad to see you.” And instead of asking, “Susan, who is in this picture?” coach them to tell a story: “Susan, (while showing the picture), here is a picture of us in Gatlinburg. That was a fun trip. It snowed the whole time.” Remind family members not to argue, even if what is being said makes no sense. Go with the flow of the conversation.

    Simplify decorations.

    Too many decorations may be too much for your loved one to take in… and too much for you to put up. It is OK to scale down. Maybe you only decorate the mantle or have a table top tree instead of decking out the whole house. Maybe you just put a wreath on the door instead of lights everywhere. Maybe you just put out a pretty tablecloth instead of the endless china set.

    Plan ahead.

    Planning ahead allows you to create opportunities for success. Order your groceries online to avoid the craziness of the aisles at the store. Start your gift shopping early to avoid the rush and crowds. Crowds are overwhelming. Plan around them.

    Make time for yourself.

    Plan for an in-home caregiver, so you can go to a Christmas party or get shopping done. (Schedule this EARLY!) Or ask a family member to come stay with your loved one, so you can get things done.

    Enjoy!

    Sit with your loved one and listen to Christmas music. Turn down the lights and watch the tree glow. Go for a drive to see lights. Watch an old Christmas movie that you both have always loved. Eat pumpkin pie for breakfast. Take time to enjoy the holidays and your family.

    2 Important Bonus Notes:
    1. If you are traveling, plan, plan, plan, and see our blog post on travel tips.
    2. If your loved one lives in a facility, ask when holiday activities are scheduled, and plan to be there to celebrate with your loved one.

    September 29, 2017

    Tips for Mealtime


    The following are tips for enjoying meals with your loved one with memory loss. As always, if this blog post sparks a question or if you need advice for your specific situation, give us a call at 901.854.1200. We would be happy to help!

    Simplify.

    • Eat at the table, not in front of the TV.
    • Limit table décor. Plastic fruit can be mistaken for real fruit. Centerpieces, chargers, napkin rings, salt and pepper shakers, and placemats all on the same table can be distracting.
    • Limit utensils to reduce confusion.
    • Avoid busy patterns on the table cloth.
    • Be sure food, plate, and table are contrasting colors, so food can be easily seen.
    • If your loved one seems to be eating just a certain portion of his or her food, you may need to rotate the plate throughout the meal.
    • Limit choices. Three veggies and a meat might be too much, instead offer the meat and then one veggie at a time.

    Serve food that is ready to eat.

    • Check the temperature. Your loved one may not know if the food is too hot or too cold.
    • If your loved one is not able to cut the food, serve it pre-cut.
    • Be mindful of which utensils are used. A fork may be easier than a spoon, or finger foods might be best.
    • Use plates or shallow bowls with a lip, so there’s something to push against to get food on the fork/spoon.

    Serve to your loved one’s preferences.

    • Food preferences may change.
    • If your loved one has eaten spaghetti his or her entire life, but now says, “I don’t eat spaghetti,” serve something different.
    • Serve foods with different colors and textures.
    • If your loved one doesn’t remember that he or she has already eaten, you might offer multiple smaller meals rather than arguing that you have already eaten.

    Enjoy your meals together.

    • Don’t rush. It may take your loved one longer to eat than it used to.
    • Your loved one may look to you for cues on how to eat – what to eat first, whether to use hands or a fork, etc.
    • Savor the good stuff! Find foods you and your loved one really like, and enjoy them often.
    • Shared meals are important. They are social. They build and strengthen relationships. Try not to treat them as an item on the checklist. Treat them as an opportunity to enjoy one another. Good food, better company!

    August 30, 2017

    The Importance of Laughter


    Knock. Knock.
    “Who’s there?”
    “Humor.”
    “Humor who?”
    “Humor me for a second, and read this blog post.”

    We know… we should stick to the caring and supporting and leave the knock, knock jokes to someone else. If you made it through that joke without cringing or scrunching your face up in confusion, we applaud you. Go treat yourself to a cookie (or several).

    Here’s the point: It is so very important for you, as a caregiver, to laugh. Life is hard. Hold on to your sense of humor. Sure, a sense of humor won’t change your situation, but it can change your perspective.

    Take these 2 examples:

    Your dad stands up in the middle of a restaurant and starts singing and dancing. One of his favorite songs is playing in the background at Huey’s. You can be mortified and quickly ask him to sit down, or you can get up and dance, too. Because WHO CARES?

    Your wife says something completely inappropriate to a total stranger. You can blush furiously and angrily shush her. Or you can let it go and laugh later… because come on… it was a pretty funny comment.

    *Serious side note: We are not encouraging you to laugh AT your loved one. Laugh WITH him or her. Laugh at the bizarre, awkward, ridiculous situations you get into.

    Laughter isn’t just an important part of your emotional health, it’s also essential to good mental, physical, and spiritual health. There are lots studies to back this up, but we won’t bore you with the details.

    You need to laugh. You have permission to laugh. You carry a heavy load as a caregiver, so we invite you to put down that load for a few minutes and remember what it’s like to laugh until you cry snort. What it’s like to smile. What it’s like to embrace ridiculous. What it’s like to get carried away into a vortex of funny Internet videos.

    So if you’re needing a laugh, here are some things that have made us laugh recently. A little inspiration, if you will. Happy laughing!

    This video from Jeanne Robertson because we’ve all had an embarassing clothing malfunction:

    This video from Ellen about autocorrect mishaps… because it could happen to you:

    This BuzzFeed article with hilarious posts about dogs because dogs are the best (our therapy dog, Daisy, made us say that).

    This video from The Late Late Show with James Corden because he’s never not funny:

    This video from BuzzFeed of men trying on Spanx (Slightly inappropriate? Maybe, but try not to laugh.):

    This epic homemade commercial. We’re not entirely sure what’s going on in it, but it makes us laugh.

    This video of quadruplets laughing because what’s not to love about laughing babies:

    And finally, these well-mannered insults to have in your back pocket:

    July 31, 2017

    The Race of Endurance

    I have heard it said that caregiving is not a sprint but a race of endurance. Maybe you’ve just begun the race, but you’re already feeling out of breath. Or perhaps you have been caring for a loved one for several years and are thinking, “I’m too worn out. I just can’t do this anymore.” Caregiving is hard, and even though the road ahead sometimes looks impossible, you’re going to make it! Here are 8 things every caregiver should know for the path ahead.

    As always, if this blog sparks any questions or if you would like to talk about your specific situation, give us a call at 901.854.1200 or email our Social Worker, Sheri Wammack, at sheri@pagerobbins.org. We would be happy to answer your questions!

    1. You are not alone.

    At times, you will feel isolated. Thoughts like, “No one else understands what I am going through…” or “I am the only one who…” are common for caregivers. But you are not alone. According to The Family Caregiver Alliance, in 2015 there were over 34.2 MILLION people providing unpaid care to someone over the age of 50. That is a lot of people who are in your same boat. Seek out a support group (like ours here). Find those friends who understand, so you can share with one another and have someone to run alongside.

    2. Lean on others: Accept help. Ask for help.

    In our opinion, no one can/should caregive alone. Every caregiver needs assistance and an occasional break. Friends and family are often willing to help, but they do not know how to help you. When friends and family say, “Let me know if you need anything,” take them up on it. Ask for a friend to visit and chat or to sit for an hour to give you a break. Ask someone to bring a meal to your home. Come up with a wish list of things others can help with. Then, when someone asks, “How can I help?” you have an answer ready. Here’s our blog post on creating a caregiver wish list if you’re interested in learning more.

    Also, seek the help of professionals. Professionals in the field can help you navigate the waters. They know resources you might not and can be a good source of information for you.

    3. Don’t put off making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision.

    Many caregivers put off making decisions about care because they worry about making the wrong decision: “Mom needs more care than can be given at home, but I just can’t decide which facility would be best.” Putting off these decisions can cause more work for you because Mom needs more care than you can provide, but you continue to do it and wear yourself out.

    As a caregiver, there are so few decisions you cannot take back. For example, you decide to move your parent into Facility A, and a month into it you realize that it isn’t a good fit. Life is not over. Move Mom to Facility B. Or you decide to let the physician start your dad on a medication, but a couple of weeks into it there are some negative side effects. Call the doctor to discuss it, and stop the medication.

    When you lay your head on the pillow every night, if you can honestly say you made the best decisions that you could for yourself and your loved one, then, you did the best you could. Tomorrow, you might change your mind and make a different decision. That is OK. You are making decisions based on the information you have, and it is enough. You can change your mind later.

    4. You are not perfect.

    You were not perfect before becoming a caregiver, so why should you be perfect now?

    You will handle situations wrong. You will say the wrong thing at the right time and the right thing at the wrong time. You will react in frustration rather than love. Cut yourself some slack. You will still get mad, upset, and frustrated because you are human and you have emotions. Try to learn from your mistakes. Try to take a breath when emotions overcome you. Try to step back and realize that your loved one is not purposely frustrating you.

    5. Find joy in the moment.

    Caregivers often stay task-oriented: Mom needs to get a bath. I need to clean up the mess from breakfast. It is time for Dad to take afternoon meds. Spending all of your time focusing on tasks will rob you of your joy. Look for joy in the moment: When liquid dish soap gets put in the dishwasher and the kitchen is filled with bubbles. When Mom remembers your name. When the grandkids have Dad laughing uncontrollably. When life feels normal.

    It is so important to hold on to your sense of humor. There will be moments that are just funny, and it is OK to laugh, reminisce, and enjoy. You bear enough struggle and heartache. Choose joy. Make space for joy. Invite it into your home and daily living.

    6. This too shall pass.

    When you just can’t take it anymore, when your loved one is being so incredibly hurtful, when you are screaming inside… know that this too shall pass. This moment of frustration, irritation, unbelievable sorrow, and anger will pass. These bad feelings may return, and the same situation may arise again, but this too shall pass. To date, you have a 100% success rate at making it through all tough situations.

    7. Be realistic. Pick your battles.

    You can quickly drive yourself crazy expecting life to be perfect. There will be bumps in the road and days when things just don’t go right. Expect it. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Scheduling 3 appointments in one day may not be the best idea. Mom may insist on wearing her pink polka dot shirt with her red striped pants. Who cares? At least she is dressed.

    Try to avoid arguing over small things. There will be plenty of things to argue over later. If the outcome isn’t life threatening, give in, and change the subject.

    8. Make yourself a priority.

    It seems easy for someone to say this without knowing your personal situation, but know that you MUST make yourself a priority. You MUST take time for yourself, time in which you are not a caregiver but just YOU. Make time to go to your own doctor’s appointments, so you can maintain your health. Make time to invest in your relationships with your spouse, children and friends. Make time to do the things you enjoy.

    You may not be able to give the time you used to, but you should set aside some time. Some days, it might be 5 minutes alone on the porch swing, others it might be a few hours, and others it might be a week-long getaway.

    June 29, 2017

    Home Safety Tips


    As they say, home is where the heart is (and where we spend a lot of time), so it’s important to keep your home happy and safe. When you care for someone with dementia, there are new things to consider when thinking about the safety of your home. The goal of home safety is to prevent the avoidable disasters, to the best of our ability, and to prepare for the inevitable ones. These are our home safety tips for caregivers.

    As always, if this blog sparks any questions or if you would like to talk about your specific situation, give us a call at 901.854.1200 or email our Social Worker, Sheri Wammack, at sheri@pagerobbins.org. We would be happy to answer your questions!

    General Home Tips

    • Display emergency numbers in a prominent place, such as the refrigerator or taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Also, put those numbers in your cell phone contacts. These numbers could include personal emergency contacts, non-emergency numbers for your local police and fire departments, and poison control (1-800-222-1222).
    • Have an updated copy of your loved one’s medications (dosage and frequency) and allergies in a place where you can find it quickly. OR have that information listed in the notes on your phone.
    • Check your hot water heater settings. The hottest setting needs to bearable to the touch. Your loved one may unintentionally turn the water as hot as it will go and burn his or herself.
    • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly to ensure batteries are working. Once a month is recommended.
    • If you still have a landline, set your answering machine to begin after the shortest ring setting available, so you can better screen calls and ensure your loved one won’t fall victim to telephone scams.
    • Remove all weapons from the house, or have them hidden and locked away. Keep all weapons disarmed.
    • Label important rooms and spaces, such as the bathroom. You may want to use pictures or symbols instead of words if your loved one has trouble reading.
    • Remove locks on interior doors, so your loved one cannot lock his or herself in a room.
    • Get rid of the junk drawer… and the junk in general. Clutter causes confusion. Is it trash or food? Is it scrap paper or an important receipt? No one knows! Keep it simple and clean.

    Kitchen

    • Make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher in working order and know how to use it. Here’s a short video from FEMA if you are unsure of the proper procedure.
    • If you have a gas stove, make sure you know where the shut-off valve is located.
    • Unplug the microwave (or any appliance of concern) when not in use. This way you can better monitor use the appliance.
    • Put knives, other sharp utensils, and any precious/breakable items in cabinets with child-proof locks.
    • Keep alcohol hidden or locked away.
    • Use a drain trap in the kitchen sink.

    Bathroom

    • Lock up medications (both prescription and over the counter).
    • If your loved one seems confused about the difference between the toilet and the sink, install a brightly colored toilet seat.

    Fall Prevention

    • Good lighting is essential in hallways and rooms. Also, consider nighttime lighting. Place nightlights throughout the house, or keep key lights on when it’s dark outside.
    • Try to avoid using extension cords, and if you have to use them, make sure they are tucked away out of foot paths.
    • Make sure your stairway has a hand rail. And if you have slippery stairs, add something like a clear, adhesive stair tread to add more traction. Putting reflective or brightly-colored tape on the end of each stair might also be useful.
    • Use slip resistant wax when finishing floors.
    • Remove throw rugs. While rugs are pretty, they are a fall hazard.
    • Avoid clutter. The more things there are, the more things there are to trip over!

    Outdoors

    • If you have a pool, make sure your loved one does not have easy access. A gate will help ensure he or she doesn’t accidentally fall in.
    • Remove the fuel sources for grills when not being used.
    • Keep power tools locked up and out of sight.
    • Keep a spare key outside in a hidden area just in case your loved one locks you out.
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