Caring for a loved one can be hard work. However, the National Family Caregivers Association says that people who recognize themselves as caregivers are more proactive, engaged and confident. As a result, they provide better care and are able to do so longer, even as their loved one's care needs increase. Caregivers who access and use support services also report fewer negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety and anger. By seeking and accepting help, along with planning for the future, you can provide the care your loved one deserves while also making sure your needs are taken care of.
Through the National Family Caregiver Support Program, your area agency on aging and other local providers are ready to assist you with supports that may include:
Contact the area agency on aging serving your community for information and referral, as well as a free in-person assessment to identify your needs and link you to available resources.
Approximately 1.7 million Ohioans provide some level of care for a loved one who is older or who has a disability, according to AARP. You may be a caregiver if:
Brochure: 10 Questions That May Change Your Life (and the lives of the people in it)
Caregivers are spouses, children, grandchildren, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors and more. Approximately 60 percent of family caregivers are women, many of whom have their own families and jobs. In Ohio, family caregivers provide care that, if provided by paid caregivers, would cost $16.5 billion each year, according to AARP. More than three out of five workers have had to make some adjustment to their work life, from reporting late to giving up work entirely, to care for a loved one. Ten percent of family caregivers go from full-time to part-time jobs because of caregiving responsibilities.
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Caregiving is unique to every family and every relationship. What works well for one family may not be appropriate for another. What one family member finds easy to do may be difficult or even impossible for another. However, there are some key skills virtually anyone can use to be more successful at caregiving. The successful caregiver's toolbox includes strategies to plan for the future, discuss needs and preferences and take care of yourself.
Whether you are new to caregiving or have been a caregiver for years, you can benefit from having a plan. Too often, people don't think about what it will take to support an older loved one until there is a problem. No matter where you are in the caregiver's journey, it helps to take some time to consider where you are going and how you and your loved one want to get there.
Here is the information to gather and questions to ask to build the foundation of your plan:
Every caregiving plan must be based on the wishes and consent of the people involved. Family members should never plan or intervene in the lives of their loved ones without their knowledge or consent. When you discuss planning with your older loved one, remember to start small and build slowly. When starting the conversation, remember TEMPO:
If you find that your loved one is reluctant to talk about their care needs or situation, know that this is normal. Many people don’t like to think about needing help from others. Be persistent, but respectful. Try using examples from your life or people you both know. Find something that is important to them, such as choosing the care they prefer or activities they wouldn’t want to give up, and build from there.
It may also be helpful to involve someone else in the conversation that your loved one respects, such as a trusted friend or family member, clergy member or a professional, such as a doctor, attorney or financial advisor.
When you’re a caregiver, it can be easy to place the needs and preferences of your loved one before your own. But how can you care for others when your own needs are not being met? If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline, you probably are familiar with the pre-flight instructions about unexpected changes in cabin pressure that advise you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs.
If you have a loved one living with a chronic condition or disabling disease, illness or injury, you may experience another kind of pressure change: the one that comes with balancing caregiving duties with everyday life. Failing to do so can lead to stress and feelings of guilt that ultimately interfere with your ability to care for your loved one. We’re not saying you should put your own needs ahead of others’, but it is important to find and maintain balance.
Take care of your own physical health. Doing so will ensure that you have the strength and energy you need to provide for your loved ones.
We often experience stress in our day-to-day lives, but being a caregiver can add greatly to that stress. Caregivers often feel like they’re being pulled in many directions and that they can’t do all the things they feel they need to do, let alone the things they want to do. You won’t be able to fully eliminate stress, but you can keep it at manageable levels.
Caregiving often comes with a range of emotions, but guilt can often be the toughest one to deal with. You may feel guilty that you can’t be there for your loved one as much as you believe they need or want you to be. You may feel guilty about tending to your own needs when your loved one wants your help. You may feel guilty about making others depend on themselves more so that you can focus on caregiving. Whatever the reasons, you can help yourself feel a little less guilty with these tips.
Dementia is a medical condition that significantly impacts an individual's ability to think independently and apply reason to common situations. Symptoms can include short-term memory changes, confusion, difficulty finding the right words to express oneself, changes in mood, loss of interest in things someone once enjoyed, difficulty completing normal tasks and repeating tasks.
Dementia is a degenerative brain disease and currently has no cure, though medications may offer moderate relief of symptoms early in the disease. However, several medical conditions common in older adults that can cause short-term memory loss and confusion that may look like dementia, but that can be treated. These include urinary tract infection, vitamin B and B12 deficiencies, dehydration, malnutrition, anesthesia, stress, depression, medication and lack of sleep.
While we do not yet know exactly what causes dementia, the most common risk factors, according to the National Institute on Aging, are: age, alcohol use, diabetes, down syndrome, genetics, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, mental illness and smoking.
Alzheimer’s Disease is perhaps the most well-known type of dementia, but there are other types, including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and Huntington’s disease. Because each type is different getting the correct diagnosis is key to understanding how your loved one’s dementia will progress. Knowing what to expect will make caregiving easier and more fulfilling.
The key to providing care for a person with dementia is to understand that they see the world differently than you do, and the world they see is real to them. This can sometimes make communicating with them somewhat challenging. However, it can be easier when you keep it positive.
Someone with dementia sees the world differently. As a caregiver, you can help create an environment that is both comfortable and comforting, and protects your loved one from common hazards. Since dementia can affect vision, adding contrast to the environment will help your loved one get around and identify things around the house. For example, use a brightly colored seat on a white toilet, or use different color dishes and silverware. However, keep in mind that rugs and patterns in carpets or tile that are in contrasting colors may cause your loved one to misidentify them as holes or steps.
REALITY: The term dementia is very broad and simply refers to brain failure that is happening as the result of an underlying disease. While 60-80 percent of those living with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease, there are other causes of dementia that will not necessarily progress into Alzheimer’s symptoms.
REALITY: Although having a family history of dementia slightly raises an individual’s risk of developing the disease, the most significant risk factor is age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people age 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, but that increases to one in three after age 85.
REALITY: Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is important for your brain, as well as your body. However, be skeptical of claims that a specific food or nutrient is a significant cause of dementia.
REALITY: Dementia changes how a person understands and responds to the world around them. However, a lot of behaviors common to dementia are triggered by something in the environment, such as body language, obstacles, contrast and more. Like others, they respond to what’s around them, but because of their dementia, their responses may not be what you expect.
TRUTH: When safety is not a concern, it may be best to allow your loved one to wander. Instead of stopping them or trying to redirect them, ask them what or who they’re looking for. This can give you some insight into their reality and builds trust.
The Alzheimer's Association offers 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and recomend that you schedule an appointment with your or your loved one's doctor if you recognize any of them. They include:
Caregiving has many faces in Ohio, and includes situations in which grandparents or other relatives or friends become primary caregivers for children when their parents are unable or unavailable to do so. These arrangements can be temporary, but often are permanent. In a system that typically favors the immediate family, these "extended" families often face unique challenges.
Find resources at the State of Ohio's Foster, Adoption, and Kinship Care website.
Assistive Technology of Ohio is a federally funded nonprofit organization that is part of the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University. AT Ohio helps Ohioans of all ages remain independent as their physical abilities change. Their services include device lending and rental, computer refurbishing, training and more. Devices that can help older adults remain safely and independent in their homes include: Low hearing and vision aides, medication reminder systems, communication devices, dining assistance devices, home automation equipment and more. Call 1-800-784-3425 to learn more.
Caregiving - Curated tweets by OhioDeptOfAging
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