Swollen legs and feet

Swollen legs and feet

Many older adults experience swollen legs and feet. For some, it’s because of sitting a lot and leading a sedentary lifestyle. For others, it’s the water retention side effect of a medication. And for others, the swelling—called “edema”—is a symptom of a chronic or even serious illness such as heart failure or liver or kidney disease.

Does brain training work?

Does brain training work?

The brain is another organ to keep fit, and regular workouts are a good thing! Our brains enable many types of thinking: Problem solving, planning, attention, and memory. They manage our emotions and help us understand the emotions of others. Our brains also control movement (balance, speed, and coordination). And it’s where we process our spatial awareness—used for packing a suitcase or reading a map.

Understanding the rhythm of a disease

Understanding the rhythm of a disease

Much of the strain of caring for a loved one lies in the loss of a predictable routine, a sense of “normalcy.” Understanding the course of your loved one’s condition—the rhythm of how it unfolds—can empower you to respond more flexibly to its challenges.

Text message scamming: “Smishing”

Text message scamming: "Smishing"

Your loved one may be watching for phishing scams on email, but now there are scams carried out by short message service (aka, texting). “Smishing” scams rose 58% in 2021. Nationwide they cost victims over $10 billion. Seniors are a prime target, as three out of five now own smartphones. While convenient, smartphones present new opportunities for getting scammed. Time to alert your relative to smishing.

Caregiving with kids

Caregiving with kids

Children generally like to feel included. But they may not know how to relate to an ill family member with limited abilities. Here are some ideas for home-based activities with elementary-age children.

Living with cancer as a chronic condition

Living with cancer as a chronic condition

Has your loved one been diagnosed with cancer? The vast majority (67%) of people with cancer live for another five years or more. A cancer is considered “stable” or “controlled” when tumors shrink or at least temporarily stop growing. This is not the same as being cured—no tumors—but it does make cancer more of a manageable chronic disease, like diabetes or asthma.

When you envy others

When you envy others

Do you ever look at friends and find yourself mad or upset because they have free time? They don’t have a relative that needs help? You might even wish they had it harder, had some real challenge in their life. And then you feel guilty. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Envy is a natural human emotion.

Primary care providers

Primary care providers

A primary care provider (PCP) is charged with monitoring and treating a person’s whole body. Specialists abound and indeed are important. But we are more than the sum of our organs. Your relative’s PCP helps ensure that specialists are not doing things that counteract each other. If you are looking for a new PCP, there are several types of providers to consider.

Cooking tips for the visually impaired

Cooking tips for the visually impaired

Is low vision making it harder for your loved one to cook? If food preparation has been one of their pleasures, they are probably grieving not only the change in their eyesight, but also the loss of creating and serving delicious meals. Even if cooking has not been a passion, the ability to safely prepare food for oneself is critical for maintaining independence and self-esteem. Fortunately, there are ways to empower your relative with simple strategies and inexpensive tools. Here are some techniques that augment and use all the senses. They also protect safety.

Interrupt the stress cycle with deep breathing

Interrupt the stress cycle with deep breathing

We’re breathing all the time. But when it comes to stress relief, not all breathing is equal. Our bodies are built to handle periodic crises. When we sense danger, our bodies release “stress hormones” that enable us to respond powerfully and fast. When the crisis is over, those hormones are no longer released. The body returns to relaxed, “normal” mode. But chronic stress is damaging. When we’re stressed every day, the “fight-or-flight” hormones keep running. Not a lot, but enough to upset the body’s balance and undermine physical health and mood. The body is distracted from its routine tasks of repair and maintenance. This can result in significant consequences.

Poetry and dementia

Poetry and dementia

If the person you care for has dementia, you may have noticed their withdrawal from conversations, movies, even from reading books or the newspaper. Anything with an involved plot line is now too difficult for them to follow. Poetry, on the other hand, involves rhythm and images, which can stimulate memories of experiences, emotions, smells, tastes, and other sensations. All quite accessible by persons with dementia. Plus, many older adults went to school when poetry was an active part of the curriculum. Exploring fun poetry together may tap into positive memories from the past.

Organ donation

Organ donation

Those who donate organs, eyes, or tissue leave a tremendous legacy, often the gift of life itself: Allowing someone a steady heartbeat. Or the vision to see a grandchild. Or healthy skin to cover a burn or cancer site. National Healthcare Decisions Day (April 16) is when everyone is encouraged to create or update their advance directive. These end-of-life documents include a section for letting family members and healthcare providers know whether you choose to be an organ donor.

Should Dad move in?

Should Dad move in?

Combining households has many benefits: Less hassle running back and forth between two residences, less worry about Dad eating well and remembering his meds, more family social time for him, cost savings on rent and utilities, etc. But if things do not work out, disentangling could cause hurt feelings and damage your relationship. Consider these questions before you move in together.

The journey of late life

The journey of late life

Families spend three to five years caring for an aging relative. At first it may be light chores or small errands now and then. But over time, health challenges emerge and needs grow. In his book, My Mother, Your Mother, geriatrician Scott McCullough outlines eight “stations” in the journey of late life. For each one, he offers insights and tips to help you counter the modern system of “fast medicine” with personalized solutions he calls “slow medicine.”

“Chemobrain”

"Chemobrain"

People who go through chemotherapy for cancer often complain about “chemobrain.” If your loved one is under treatment and is having trouble with memory, thinking, and concentration, it is likely from the chemo drugs. The fuzzy thinking may not go away right when chemo stops. But it usually recedes over time.

Caregiving apps

Caregiving apps

Juggling multiple schedules, keeping other relatives informed, ensuring prescriptions are filled … these are but some of the many duties you may face as a family caregiver. In some instances, a simple spreadsheet can do the trick. But an app makes it easier to coordinate with others.

Psychological first aid

Psychological first aid

Anxiety and stress commonly accompany family caregiving. The ongoing pandemic and its stream of variants are only adding to that. Perhaps you could use a little “psychological first aid.” These are skills or techniques first responders are trained to teach or apply to distressed persons after urgent physical issues have been addressed.The goal of psychological first aid is to help people feel safe (physically and emotionally), calm, and hopeful. Connected to others. Sound good? Try these strategies on yourself.

When your relative has money questions

When your relative has money questions

Is Dad asking if he should sell the house now that Mom is gone? Or perhaps Aunt Mary is anxious about her stock investments. Even if you are good at managing your own money, helping a relative make financial decisions can bring a lot of pressure. Consider hiring a professional to advise you.

Reducing the nausea of chemo

Reducing the nausea of chemo

If a loved one in your life is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, very likely they are dealing with the common side effects of nausea and vomiting. Not fun. Encourage them to follow these tips.

Protecting the house from Medicaid

Protecting the house from Medicaid

Care in a nursing home is expensive. For an extended stay, most people will need to pay quite a bit out of their own pocket. If there are no savings, Medicaid—the joint state-federal health insurance for low-income individuals—will step in.

Signs of an online “sweetheart scam”

Signs of an online "sweetheart scam"

Romance crime is on the rise. Over 25,000 people reported a sweetheart scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019, a threefold increase since 2016. Individuals age 65 and older were the hardest hit, with a median loss of $9465 (across all ages, the median loss was $2500 per individual). If your loved one has been taken advantage of, they are not alone! Romance scams are the second most common crime reported to the FBI.

Subtle signs of a heart attack

Subtle signs of a heart attack

We all know the classic heart attack portrayed over and over again in movies and on TV: Someone writhing in sudden, severe chest pain.

But many heart attacks aren’t like that at all. Instead, they start slowly, typically with some mild, on/off pain or tightness in the chest. These signs are so much less dramatic than what people expect, they too often are ignored. The result, sadly, is often fatal when in fact a prompt response could have saved a loved one’s life.

When your relative is actively dying

When your relative is actively dying

In the last two weeks, as a loved one is nearing death, it is natural to want to be at their side. But then, what? Especially if you have never been in this situation before, you may feel uncertain—even awkward—about what to do. The ideal is to be a calm, reassuring, and loving presence focused on keeping your relative comfortable. Here are some tips.

Need a new doctor?

Need a new doctor?

The pandemic has brought on a wave of physician retirements. Perhaps one of your relative’s doctors has sent a letter announcing the close of their practice. Yikes!

When choosing a new physician, it’s worth the time to do some research. The right fit is critical to your loved one’s health and well-being.

Friends? Who has time?

Friends? Who has time?

If you are like most family caregivers, your social life has dropped in priority as you juggle your loved one’s needs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up all your friendships in addition to your family responsibilities.

A spouse’s grief in the face of dementia

A spouse's grief in the face of dementia

Grief is the expected response to a loved one’s death. We expect to mourn, and we receive comfort from others. But in the context of a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the loss is not as clear cut. Your partner is “here but not here.” And you do not receive the same support or acknowledgment for the very real losses.

Making the best use of your time off

Making the best use of your time off

Time off from caregiving is precious. But after a break, many family caregivers find they don’t feel as refreshed as they hoped they would. Current research provides insights about how to get the most from a respite break.

Writing the last chapter

Writing the last chapter

If your loved one has health challenges, they may be feeling a loss of control. Add to that a terminal diagnosis and a sense of doom may prevail. But recognizing that life is coming to a close does not have to mean one waits glumly for the end. Following are some of the many ways hospice patients have chosen to take action and purposefully write their own “last chapter.” Perhaps one of these might appeal to your loved one:

Private pay services for care at home

Private pay services for care at home

Typically, it’s family members who fill in to perform the necessary tasks. But for many, perhaps including you, there are obstacles to helping on a regular basis. (Quitting your job to provide care is risky. Leaving work midcareer jeopardizes your retirement options and savings.)

Hearing the TV better

Hearing the TV better

Is your loved one having trouble hearing the television? Closed captioning isn’t helping enough? Check out these possible solutions.

Engaging activities for persons with dementia

Engaging activities for persons with dementia

It is usually obvious what a person with dementia is no longer able to do. But finding things your loved one CAN do may feel like a challenge, especially if memory loss is severe. Here are some tips:

Help at home: Community programs

Help at home: Community programs

For nonmedical support, check out community programs. Many are provided by nonprofit organizations. Others by faith communities. And still others by local government. Most offer discounts or a sliding-scale fee.

Holidays without your loved one

Holidays without your loved one

The holiday season is a festive time of year, but it may not feel much like a celebration for people grieving the loss of a loved one. Holidays are an especially tender time for missing those who are no longer with us.

The special needs of Vietnam-era vets

The special needs of Vietnam-era vets

Almost 3.5 million members of the military served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975. Was your relative one of them? This group of veterans continues to face physical and mental health problems.

Products for addressing incontinence

Products for addressing incontinence

There are many undergarments designed to help with incontinence. They can’t prevent it, but they can help your loved one feel more comfortable with outings and retain their dignity despite the embarrassment of accidents.

Is Medicare Advantage the best choice?

Is Medicare Advantage the best choice?

Once a year, Medicare offers the option to change plans. In 2021, the Open Enrollment period is October 15–December 7. Your loved one may be considering a switch to a “Medicare Advantage” plan. There are pros and cons.

Depression after a scary diagnosis

Depression after a scary diagnosis

If the person you care for has a life-threatening illness, you might think it’s only natural for them to feel down. Even hopeless from time to time.

But weeks of sadness are not a side effect one simply has to tolerate. It is not uncommon for someone with cancer or a similarly scary diagnosis to become depressed. But depression can and should be treated. Effective treatment makes for better quality of life. It can also improve other symptoms, such as pain and insomnia.

Too many pills: When less is more

Too many pills: When less is more

More than half of older adults take five or more medications per day. That’s “polypharmacy,” and can be dangerous. Taking too many medicines can cause problems such as dizziness, mental confusion, and heart failure. It can create an increased risk of falls, which often lead to the end of independent living. An estimated 10% to 30% of older adult hospitalizations are due to medication problems.

Managing emotional outbursts

Managing emotional outbursts

If the person you care for has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you may find their sudden emotional swings more difficult than their forgetfulness. Among many things, the disease has taken away their inhibitions. They can become quite irrational. And they are more likely to make a scene in public than they ever would have before their dementia. Family members mention embarrassment as one of the most difficult aspects of caring for their relative.

The “dignity of risk”

The "dignity of risk"

One of the most challenging dilemmas when caring for an aging parent is balancing their preference for independence with your concern for their safety. If you have noticed lapses in cleanliness, meals, bill payment, or other areas, you may be worried that your loved one is not able to safely live alone. They may refuse assistance, however, not recognizing there is a problem.

Not all socks are created equal

Not all socks are created equal

What do a marathon runner and your aging parent have in common? Both could benefit from compression socks! By applying pressure to the legs, compression socks help the valves in the veins do their work—so blood is pushed back to the heart and doesn’t pool in the legs. Older adults with edema (swollen legs), varicose veins, or deep vein thrombosis find that compression socks ease discomfort and can even prevent problems.

Dealing with anxiety

Dealing with anxiety

It’s only natural for family caregivers to worry. Understandably, we spend a lot of time thinking about “what’s next.” But if you are in a pattern of persistent worry and are starting to feel the stress in your body too—perhaps headaches, loss of appetite, or trouble sleeping—you may be dealing with anxiety.

Services at home: Medicare

Services at home: Medicare

Medicare is health insurance provided by the federal government. It covers adults 65 and older, as well as persons with disabilities. In terms of home care, Medicare pays for visits only by medically trained staff. In that light, there are two programs: Home health and hospice.

Coping with another person’s pain

Coping with another person's pain

When your family member is in pain, you are suffering, too. The “mirror neurons” in our brains are programmed to recognize pain in others. That’s good news in that it arouses compassion and spurs us to action. But it can be bad news, too. When you are highly attuned to a loved one’s pain, you are at higher risk of depression, burnout, and poor health yourself.

What is a daily money manager?

What is a daily money manager?

A financial advisor manages investments. A daily money manager (DMM) is someone who comes to the home once or twice a month to handle the mundane aspects of personal finances: Paying monthly bills (but your loved one signs the checks). Balancing the checkbook. Navigating health insurance claims. Resolving billing errors. Tracking donations. Organizing paperwork. Gathering documents for tax time. Their job is to catch unnecessary expenses while making sure important payments are made on time.

The decision to stop dialysis

The decision to stop dialysis

Dialysis is life sustaining yet also quite taxing for the patient. About 25% of people who choose dialysis later decide to stop. Typically, this is because the burdens of this kidney disease treatment have severely reduced their quality of life. The tradeoff becomes no longer acceptable.

Learning to forgive yourself

Learning to forgive yourself

According to psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, we all have an inner critic and an inner protector. Together they help us maintain a balanced perspective. But too often as family caregivers, we have an overload of guilt, shame, and remorse, always feeling our performance is subpar, that we haven’t done enough. This is not healthy. The inner critic has an important role, but it’s not to pulverize our self-esteem.

The healing power of music

The healing power of music

Can listening to calming music actually ease pain? Can singing silly songs make you happier? Researchers say this isn’t just a folktale—it represents some of the measurable effects of music on the mind and body.

Although it’s not yet clear exactly how music works its magic, studies show that it is strong medicine, both in the moment and as treatment over time. Among the benefits, music

Dealing with criticism

Dealing with criticism

Receiving criticism is never a pleasant experience, especially from family members. Whether it is a sibling griping about how you care for a relative or complaints from the person you are caring for, you may feel suddenly flooded with difficult emotions. Perhaps anger, shame, or confusion.

We can’t stop others from giving criticism. But we can become wiser about how to deal with it. Try these tips:

What is a Medicaid spend down?

What is a Medicaid spend down?

There are two forms of government health insurance:

– Medicare. Basically, age-based insurance for older adults (age 65+), regardless of income and assets. (Assets include money and belongings, such as a house or car.)
– Medicaid. Income-based insurance funded with federal and state dollars. (The state where your relative lives may have a name different than “Medicaid.”) This insurance is for individuals who have very little means. The financial asset threshold is often set at $2000 or less.

Medicaid will sometimes pay when Medicare will not.
The most common expense covered by Medicaid is long-term care in a nursing home. Speaking very generally, Medicare pays for the first 100 days after a hospitalization. If a person needs to stay longer—permanently move into the facility—they must cover the cost from their own savings. Once nearly all their resources have been exhausted, they can apply for Medicaid, which will pick up the tab.

Bladder issues

Bladder issues

If making it to the bathroom in time is a frequent concern for your relative, they may have an overactive bladder. More than 33 million Americans contend with this condition, in which misfiring nerves cause the bladder muscles to contract involuntarily. Your loved one may be too embarrassed to bring it up with the doctor, or even with you. But it should be checked out. It’s not a “normal” part of aging. Overactive bladder (OAB) is a real and treatable medical condition. And you certainly want to be sure it’s not something else.

The basic symptoms of OAB include an urgent need to urinate more than eight times in a day and/or more than once or twice a night.

Many people let incontinence worries run their lives. They stay close to home for fear of accidents. They withdraw from social activities, dreading they have an odor from leaks. They may become anxious or depressed. And multiple nighttime trips to the toilet can result in insomnia and fatigue, bringing on more depression.

What’s involved in giving care?

What’s involved in giving care?

Perhaps you call regularly to offer emotional support. Maybe you handle finances. Perhaps you visit weekly. Or you may live with your loved one 24/7. Caring takes many forms. You may feel this is simply what a loving daughter/son/partner would do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time and energy from your day. Or night, if you skimp on sleep to create time to help.

Whether you provide hands-on care or assistance from afar, you ARE a family caregiver. And that means you need to watch for burnout. Use this list to take an inventory. Consider what is realistic for you. And think about options to help manage the load: Friends, family, community programs, paid help.

Explaining your needs to others

Explaining your needs to others

Are you worried that asking for help sounds like whining? You may believe you “should” be able to do it all without assistance. Or think you are “just” doing what any good or loving daughter (or son, or spouse) would do. Like many caregivers focused on family harmony, you may have become used to minimizing…

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Medical management without dialysis

Medical management without dialysis

Dialysis typically buys a person some time. But it rules their life—and possibly yours. It requires strict adherence to the schedule. Also, severe food restrictions. Your relative’s energy level will fluctuate. That makes planning for other activities difficult. There is an increased chance of infection because of the access port for dialysis. And there are side effects: Itchy skin, trouble sleeping, headaches, and dizziness. Cramps, nausea, weight loss, and fragile bones are not uncommon.

Giving “awesome” new meaning

Giving "awesome" new meaning

It turns out that feelings of amazement, marvel, and wonder are beneficial emotionally AND physically. Exposing yourself to an awe-inspiring experience twice a week can replenish your well and increase feelings of connection. Learn more about the science of awe and what you can do to bring it more regularly into your life. Check out our blog for family caregivers.

Signs of financial abuse

Signs of financial abuse

Older adults are frequently targeted for financial abuse. They typically have more funds than their younger counterparts do. They tend to be generous and naïve, not understanding all the ways they can be scammed. Some have memory and thinking problems. And even if they do realize they’ve been “taken,” they may be too ashamed or…

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Seeds of family resilience: Focus on rewards

Research on stress often involves family caregivers. No matter how much you love the person you care for, taking care of an ailing relative can be stressful! To offset the stress, consider the power of positive thinking. Studies show that people who “seed their lives” with moments of positive emotions are more resilient in the…

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How to get durable power of attorney

There may come a time when your loved one will need help handling financial matters. Maybe filing taxes. Or interacting with Social Security. Or signing a contract to move into a new residence. If your relative is unable to do these things because of illness or problems with dementia, you will need to show a…

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Transitioning from curative care

At some point, the burdens of treatment may just become too much for your loved one: The nausea of chemo. The rigors of dialysis. Wearying trips to the ER. Perhaps the person you care for is already having these thoughts, to let nature take its course and stop fighting for health that stubbornly eludes them….

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Managing arthritis pain

The most common arthritis is osteoarthritis, which occurs most often in the hands, knees, hips, lower back, neck, and feet. It affects roughly half of those age 65 and over. With osteoarthritis, the smooth layer of cartilage between the bones in the joints deteriorates, causing bone to scrape directly on bone. Ouch! If your loved…

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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…

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Dementia dogs

Dog training organizations are looking toward a new challenge: Training highly skilled “dementia dogs.” These dogs are individually trained to meet the needs of persons with memory loss problems. They provide safety and companionship. They also relieve the anxiety of family caregivers. To support a person with dementia, dogs are trained to help with memory…

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Time for smart monitoring?

From sensors and cameras to remote alarm systems, today’s marketplace offers a plethora of technology to help older adults safely age in place. Those devices with monitoring features are particularly useful if your loved one lives on their own, whether near to you or far away. Indeed, many apps and devices can help you stay…

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Coping with vision loss

It’s common for those newly diagnosed with a vision-loss condition to feel anxious and depressed. Understandably so! They worry about losing their independence. Also, that they will need help with many activities of life. This in turn suggests a loss of privacy. Many newly diagnosed persons report a sudden lack of confidence and feelings of…

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What is “cremation authorization”?

With National Healthcare Decisions Day coming up on April 16, it’s good to review who your loved one has chosen as their healthcare power of attorney (sometimes called a “proxy” or “agent”). This is who will make decisions for them when they are no longer able to do so themselves. Often this occurs in end-of-life…

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Is Dad taking his meds “as directed?”

Did you know that nearly half of adults taking prescription medications for a chronic condition make errors in taking their meds? The most common problem areas: Memory. Forgetting to take a medication Organization. Failing to order a refill in time and running out Convenience. Being away from home and missing dose(s) Side effects. Experiencing unpleasant reactions…

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How to read an Explanation of Benefits

Before your loved one pays a medical bill, wait for the insurance’s Explanation of Benefits (from Medicare, this is called a “Medicare Summary Notice”). This document indicates what services were billed by which providers for what days. It is an important summary to help you catch errors, duplicates or, sadly, even identity theft or fraud….

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Maximizing your resources

When we think of “resources,” as family caregivers we might think of money. Or time. But there is another resource we’re using every day that is often overlooked: Emotional energy. Our emotions and mood contribute mightily to our ability to deal with challenges. When circumstances are difficult, it’s hard to generate enthusiasm or initiate projects….

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When kidneys fail: Dialysis?

If the person you care for has chronic or advanced kidney disease, dialysis will come up as a treatment option. This procedure mimics the cleansing function of the kidneys. It mechanically “rinses” the blood to take out toxins. Dialysis is not a cure for kidney disease. But it does buy some time. People often live…

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When high blood pressure goes untreated

Don’t confuse a lack of symptoms with a lack of risk. A person with high blood pressure usually feels “just fine.” And that makes it easy to also feel unconcerned. Your loved one may not be motivated to treat high blood pressure. Or may want to stop taking medications because they don’t notice any difference….

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Dementia communication: Speaking

Nearly every type of dementia compromises the ability to process language. It’s harder for the affected person to grasp words, to comprehend their meaning, and to track what’s being said. Communication with your family member may seem a frustrating struggle. Still, aim for interactions that maintain a positive relationship. Your emotional tone is key: Pay…

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Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a very common condition affecting the retina of the eye. It causes blurry vision and dark spots in the center of the visual field. This makes it challenging to read, drive, and recognize faces. Although AMD typically gets worse over time, it does not lead to total blindness. It is,…

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“For better or for worse …”

Are you supporting a relative who is also a caregiving spouse? Many long-lived couples see it as both a duty and a privilege to walk that last mile with their partner, fulfilling vows of “for better or for worse.” That does not mean the journey is easy. Caregiving partners often experience physical challenges as they…

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Keeping blood pressure in check

Only 24% of people with high blood pressure have it under control. The remaining 76% are at very high risk for death or disability through heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. In fact, in 2018 high blood pressure was listed as a primary or contributing factor in nearly a half million deaths. With COVID-19, high…

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A robo-pet for companionship?

There is no doubt that seniors are suffering emotionally, and physically, from the social isolation of the pandemic. Those with dementia have been especially hard hit. Even elders who live on their own with no memory problems are struggling with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. How is your loved one doing emotionally? Want to introduce a…

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Slowing the progression of glaucoma

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among older adults. It causes pressure in the eyeball to build up to a point that the optic nerve is damaged. There is no cure or repair. That’s a grim reality if your loved one has been diagnosed with this disease. Fortunately, glaucoma’s progression can be slowed and…

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Problems with hygiene

It’s not uncommon for a holiday visit to reveal that things with mom or dad are newly amiss, particularly in the area of personal grooming. Maybe mom has always been fastidious about her appearance, and now she’s disheveled. Or dad didn’t change clothes the entire time you were there, and maybe even had a strong…

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Repairing identity theft

It’s a fact that scam artists prey on older adults. Scammers steal identifying information and use it to obtain cash, make purchases, or open new credit card accounts. If your relative’s identity has been stolen, take action quickly. But be methodical! Keep track of every report you make. Log every call. Send any documents by…

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Montessori for people with dementia

Caring for a loved one with moderate-to-advanced dementia often leads to bewilderment. And sadness. Perhaps your relative seems withdrawn. Or is fidgety, pacing, or wandering. They may seem to recede each day. How can you connect with them now? How can you keep them engaged? Experts in dementia care are culling tips from pioneering educator…

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Add a dose of laughter to your life

Don’t you just somehow feel better when you laugh? It turns out, that’s not just fantasy. Laughter has physical benefits at the cellular level. Research consistently demonstrates that a good belly laugh engages many different systems in the body. And laughter delivers emotional health benefits as well. Studies show that laughter supports the heart. If…

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Leaving a legacy with StoryCorps

The desire to leave a legacy calls strongly to many older adults. Perhaps this is of interest to an elder in your family. A legacy does not have to be financial in nature. One way to leave a legacy is to record a personal story and bequeath its insight to future generations. StoryCorps, a project…

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“Should we delay that procedure?”

Should your loved one go ahead with cataract surgery? What about a hip replacement? Dental work? A cardiac stress test? In light of COVID, other health issues seem to pale. But putting off treatment or tests can result in tough consequences down the line. How do you know which procedures are worth the risk? Consider…

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What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer.” This is because it is dangerous but has few outward symptoms. As the heart pumps, it pushes blood through the blood vessels, creating pressure on the artery walls. High blood pressure means that your heart is having to work extra hard to get the basics of…

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Dementia and communication: Listening

People with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss conditions often have trouble expressing themselves, sometimes right from the start of the disease. This can easily lead to confusion and frustration for both of you. Your willingness to exercise patience is key to successful communication: Patience and calm, over and over and over again. This is hard!…

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Video chatting for the “tech challenged”

Many older adults are embracing technology to stay connected with family and friends during the pandemic. Although some popular technologies—Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype—are relatively simple, they still require a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Plus some tech savvy. Your loved one may be challenged to learn new skills because of memory issues. Or perhaps arthritis or…

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“Should we bring Dad home?”

In the context of COVID, many families are wondering if an older relative would be better off moving out of their assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing facility. It’s not an easy question to answer. The advantages of facility living. Facilities have staff on site 24/7 to assist with residents’ needs. They can provide…

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Health risks of Korean War vets

Close to 2 million American soldiers fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. More than half of those who served in what is often called the “Forgotten War” are still alive. Most of these soldiers were born during the 1920s and 1930s. They are now in their 80s and 90s, with some cresting…

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Constructive criticism: When to speak up

Caring for a family member often involves collaborating with other relatives. Sometimes you will agree. Sometimes you won’t. Debating every item may not be the best use of family time. In some situations, the wisest course is to be quiet and let others do it their way. That said, there are times when you should…

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Would having a dog help? A fish?

Increasingly, research shows that older adults can benefit in myriad ways from the companionship of an animal. Physical health benefits Pets seem to help us stay calm in the midst of stress: Reduced blood pressure and heart rate. Some research shows improvement even when the “pet” is fish swimming in an aquarium! Strengthened immune system….

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When you can’t hold a funeral

Between travel concerns and restrictions on group gatherings, holding a traditional funeral can be challenging. Many families are turning to “virtual funerals” using video conferencing programs, such as Zoom. About 20% of funeral homes offer virtual services. And there are online companies that specialize in funerals. They assist with everything from sending out invitations and…

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Supporting a person with arthritis

Arthritis is a difficult condition to understand as an onlooker. The pain is invisible and unpredictable. Some days are good. Other days are not. Arthritis challenges the affected person’s ability to accomplish the basics—simple tasks, such as opening jars or walking up stairs. Such disability can generate feelings of frustration and low self-worth. The chronic…

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What is palliative care?

Life with a serious illness is not all dreary and glum. The condition and its symptoms can certainly take over. But daily life continues. And patients are more than their disease. Like everyone, they need to eat, walk, talk with friends and family, and enjoy pleasant activities. Palliative care is an extra layer of support. Its…

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What is “mindfulness,” anyway?

Many people confuse mindfulness with meditation and Eastern religions. Mindfulness is a skill gained by training your mind to observe life situations in a less emotionally charged way. It is a mental skill that gives you a less-cluttered perspective. It lowers daily stress and is particularly helpful when making important decisions under duress. Mindfulness is…

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Nonverbal signs of pain

Dementia itself does not cause physical pain. But people with dementia still encounter pain, just like anyone else: headaches, arthritis, tummy aches. They just can’t describe it. They might even deny having pain when you ask because they don’t understand the question. Learn the nonverbal signs of pain so your loved one doesn’t suffer. (Your…

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BPH: Weighing surgical options

Ever wondered why older men seem to need to urinate frequently? An enlarged prostate gland is likely to blame. The condition, benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, is so common that it affects 90% of men by age 80. The prostate gland is roughly donut shaped and is located below the bladder. The urethra, the “tube”…

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Getting the most from doctor visits

Time with a doctor is precious—and that creates pressure to make the most of each visit. Whether your loved one’s next appointment is in person or through telehealth, a little preplanning will go a long way to making it a productive session. Here are some helpful tips: Identify the goal. Are you seeking a diagnosis…

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“But I wasn’t there when she died”

Many of us hold unconscious covenants with our kin. Among the most poignant, perhaps, is a commitment to “be there” when death is near. As adults, we may feel an obligation, and an honor, to be with our parents as they leave, just as they helped us enter. With our spouses, the ultimate commitment—’til death…

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Caregiving as a team

Millennials and Gen Xers are using strategies that might benefit family caregivers of all ages. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s now find themselves “in the sandwich.” They serve as primary support people for an aging parent. Plus, they have children who are still at home or at least financially dependent….

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Repetitive questions

“When are we going out?” A reasonable question under normal circumstances. But if the person you care for has dementia, you may get this question multiple times in an hour. Aargh! Indeed, repetitive questions are one of the top irritants mentioned by family caregivers whose loved one has dementia. The repetitive questioning isn’t done intentionally,…

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Help prevent choking

Swallowing involves the coordination of many muscles in the mouth and throat. The action pushes chewed food down toward the stomach. At the same time, the throat needs to close off the windpipe to the lungs. Between 15% and 20% of older adults have trouble swallowing. Choking while eating or drinking is the fourth-leading cause…

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How to beat “decision fatigue”

Caring for an ill family member often requires taking on the role of “decision maker.” Sometimes it’s multiple mundane decisions (Should you ask your sister to do the shopping? Is this a good day to shower Mom? Now or after lunch?). And sometimes it’s several important health decisions, all in a short period of time….

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Osteoporosis: What you can do

If you are concerned about a loved one’s osteoporosis—brittle bones—it’s a good idea to bring this up with the doctor. He or she will likely discuss various medicines that can help. In addition, changes in daily life outlined below can go a long way to making stronger bones. Consider: Diet: There are two key nutrients….

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What’s in an Alzheimer’s test?

When symptoms of memory loss or confused thinking arise, it’s natural to wonder: Is it Alzheimer’s? There is no specific test for Alzheimer’s disease. To achieve a diagnosis, doctors typically order a variety of tests. Most of the tests are to rule out the many, many conditions besides Alzheimer’s that can cause similar symptoms. Some…

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The importance of staying connected

Staying connected is extremely important. Isolation and loneliness are not just sad situations. They have been shown to increase the likelihood of dementia, depression, and heart disease in older adults. Even early death. As a family caregiver, you may be struggling to find ways to have meaningful interactions. Especially if the person you care for…

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Talking with children about serious illness

Children are like sponges. They soak up whatever is around them. If Grandpa is sick, or Grandma has dementia, they’ll pick up on your emotional responses. If no one has explained the situation, they’ll make up their own ideas about what’s going on. As a result, they may feel unnecessarily scared and alone. Instead of…

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Is twice a night too much?

Many older adults complain of having to get up several times in the night to pee. Some of this is a normal part of aging. Our bladder capacity gets smaller, so we need to void more often. But frequent trips to the toilet can have a serious impact on sleep. Nocturia—the medical name for getting…

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Cooling down to make a decision

Our fight-flight-or-freeze reactions are deeply embedded in our body and brain. In intense situations, they take over. As a family caregiver, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many decisions that must be made. And the responsibility. This is especially true in times of great stress and uncertainty. We become emotionally flooded and enter a…

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Coronavirus scams

Scammers thrive in crises. The Federal Trade Commission is reporting a surge in fraud complaints. Bad actors are leveraging fear and shortages to bilk consumers out of millions and to harvest information for identity fraud. Help your loved one avoid scammers by following these tips. Research requests for donations. Verify the nonprofit on Guidestar.org, the…

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Removing “junk stimulation”

If you were asked to name the stresses in your life, you might think first about all the tasks and responsibilities you are juggling. Or challenging relationships. Or financial difficulties. Less obvious are the stressors in your environment that can tax your nervous system behind the scenes. “Junk stimulation,” like junk mail, simply overwhelms the…

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Avoiding regret

Family caregivers are often thrust into the role of making decisions for a loved one. Some decisions are relatively small: Purchase a walker with wheels or one without? Others are large and may have life-changing ramifications. Approve that surgery? Initiate a move to assisted living or set up care at home? Rarely is there a…

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When broccoli is bad for you

“Kale smoothie, anyone?” Maybe not…. Good nutrition has always been a mainstay of good health. Indeed, there is growing awareness of the power of food to support healing for a wide variety of conditions. What is less well known is the fact that even very healthy foods can cause health problems when combined with specific…

Signs of osteoporosis

Does the person you care for seem to have shrunk a bit? Pants are too long? Can’t reach items on their regular shelf? You can see the top of their head? it could be that their bones have become more porous with age. This is called “osteoporosis.” With osteoporosis, bones are less dense and easily…

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Common misconceptions about hospice

Many families caring for a seriously ill loved one struggle alone unnecessarily. They miss out on vital support services because they don’t understand what hospice can provide. Home visits by a nurse to manage pain and other difficult symptoms. Home visits by a nursing assistant to bathe your loved one and shampoo hair. Free prescriptions…

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Harnessing stress

Stress has gained a dirty name during the past decades. It’s something we talk about needing to getting rid of, as if it were wholly bad. While chronic stress can be damaging to our health, recent research demonstrates that stress isn’t always a threat to our well-being. In fact, the very things that bring greatest…

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Return to a good night’s sleep

If your older loved one snores loudly, he or she likely has sleep apnea: A collapsing of the airways while sleeping that results in mini-suffocations 5–30 times an hour. And, left untreated, this serious condition is a strong contributor to heart-related deaths, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, and car accidents. It’s also a huge problem…

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Hallucinations in later life

“I don’t like that bear on my bed!” A visual hallucination such as this can occur in the later stages of dementia or near the end of life. Some people also have auditory hallucinations—hearing things that others don’t—or feel things that aren’t there, such as string in their mouth or ants on their arm. These…

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Doctors and advance directives

If your loved one and family have had the conversation about end-of-life wishes, kudos to you! In addition to writing down those wishes in an advance directive, your relative should also share them with his or her health care team. Even if your family member is in perfect health now, that could change at a…

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Are you pushing against reality?

We all quarrel with reality from time to time and wish things were different than they are. Especially now, when life seems unfair. All flights have been cancelled due to the coronavirus and you won’t be able to be with your Dad on his 80th birthday…. Your mom is in an assisted living facility that…

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Are generic drugs inferior?

If your relative is taking brand-name prescription drugs, a switch to generic could provide significant savings. Why are brand-name drugs so expensive? It takes a lot of money and time to develop a new drug. In particular, it must be tested to show it works and is safe for humans. Patent laws give an innovator…

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Keep calm and stay in balance

This is a time of great uncertainty. It’s natural to feel a wide range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, confusion, or loneliness. It is also a time to take extra care to address your feelings and keep them from paralyzing or overwhelming you. Get the facts. Our emotional responses come from the part of our…

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Does Dad “saw logs” all night?

If your loved one snores, this may be a sign of “sleep apnea.” All snoring jokes aside, sleep apnea is a serious condition that deprives the brain of oxygen. A person with sleep apnea goes without oxygen for at least 10 seconds, five to 30 (or more) times an hour. It happens because the soft…

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Caring for someone with COVID19?

What we know so far is that COVID-19 is spread much like the regular flu—through coughs and sneezes that put droplets in the air and on surfaces. It may be 2–14 days after exposure before a person has symptoms. That means people can spread the virus without knowing it. And many have symptoms that seem…

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Dad can’t brush his teeth

Is dementia making oral care difficult? Unfortunately, this isn’t a task to let go. Poor mouth care leads to cavities and gum disease, and then to toothaches, sore gums, and a disinterest in food. It can also contribute to a deadly infection, “aspiration pneumonia.” Even if the person you care for is no longer eating,…

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The myth of self-reliance

As a society, we value independence. The self-sufficient super-achiever. When it comes to family caregiving, however, this mind-set can backfire, resulting in stress and burnout for you, not to mention greater risk for your relative. (Imagine if something happened to you and no one else has really been part of the team, sharing the tasks!)…

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Early signs of heart failure

Too often, older adults assume that fatigue and trouble breathing are just a natural part of aging or being out of shape. They aren’t. In fact, these can be early signs of heart failure. Heart failure means the heart is having difficulty pumping effectively. As a result, fluids build up, especially in the lungs and…

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Caring for your marriage, also

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, it’s a good time to consider strategies to prevent your partner from getting overlooked because of your caregiving. Caring for an aging relative definitely affects your ability to nurture your significant other. A poll at caregiving.com revealed that 81% of family caregivers say caregiving tested their marriage in ways…

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When is your loved one “too isolated”?

When caregiving draws us closer to a family member’s routines, we’re sometimes surprised by what we find. Perhaps you’ve noticed that Dad only leaves the house once or twice a week. Social isolation has been shown to be a risk factor for many conditions. Depression. Heart disease. Obesity. Dementia. Should you be concerned? Not necessarily….

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Immediately after a death

Upon a loved one’s last breath, you may find yourself a little disoriented. Respect that otherworldliness. Families often just sit in silence for a while. Or share chuckles and sweet memories, tears and hugs. There is no need to rush to call the funeral director. A body can safely remain at home—or in a facility’s…

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What is a “CCRC?”

A CCRC, or continuing care retirement community, answers the desire to “move just once.” Rather than relocate several times over the course of aging, your loved one can stay on one campus. Even as care needs change. Typically, residents start by moving in to an independent living unit with no support services. When help is…

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Adding meaning to your life

Each new year’s dawning seems like a nudge to check one’s personal compass. Are you headed in the direction you want to be going? Has life seemed just a frenzied dash through the to-do list? Or maybe your past year was dominated by feelings of frustration or futility. Perhaps you yearn for a sense of…

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What is a speech therapist?

For many of us, the words “speech therapy” make us think of a classmate in grade school who had trouble because of stuttering. In fact, speech therapists help with many problems that crop up later in life. Consider stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia, and brain injury. All these disorders can affect a person’s ability to find and…

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Dad lost weight!

A holiday visit sometimes reveals surprising changes, such as little food in the cupboard, a loved one’s loss of appetite, or his or her unexpected weight loss. Talk with the doctor first. A weight loss of 5% over 6–12 months is considered worthy of medical attention. (For a 130-pound woman, that would be seven pounds….

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Overcoming sadness

Whether you are caring for a loved one with dementia or helping a relative with cancer, sometimes the sadness of it all feels overwhelming. Especially at the holidays. The sadness is natural, of course. But you don’t want to get paralyzed by it. Pivoting from the sadness As family caregivers, we need to learn how…

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Visiting in the digital age

Today, there are many ways to stay in touch with the elders we love. That’s a good thing because research suggests that older adults who are socially engaged enjoy greater happiness and a sense of purpose. Those who are isolated and lonely are at a higher risk of depression, heart disease, obesity, and Alzheimer’s. But…

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Coping with the Holiday Blues

Caring for a seriously ill family member can lend a tinge of blue to the holidays. It may be sadness that cherished family rituals are no longer possible. Or you may be worried that this year will be the last for a sick or ailing loved one. Perhaps the thought of visiting relatives is simply…

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Diet and Parkinson’s

Dietary habits make a big difference in quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. Eating-related symptoms often crop up. For example, difficulties with swallowing. Also, problems with constipation as a result of slow muscle response. And problematic food–drug interactions. On the plus side, some foods can reduce the free radicals common in Parkinson’s. Here are…

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Too much gratitude?

The benefits of gratitude are well understood. Studies show, for example, that approaching life from a grateful stance yields a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. Plus, people who report more gratitude also report greater feelings of joy, aliveness, and optimism. Those who tend toward gratitude experience less loneliness and isolation and…

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Talking about brain health

Are you concerned a loved one may have dementia? If so, be careful how you bring it up. It’s a scary subject! Before jumping to conclusions, gather some information. Ask family members and close friends what they have observed. Have others noticed changes? Think of the issue as one of “brain health.” Brains change as…

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Preventing flare-ups of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) thickens airways, making it harder to breathe in and get enough oxygen. Damage to the lungs also makes it harder to exhale and get rid of waste gas (carbon dioxide). COPD is characterized by flare-ups that rather suddenly make breathing much more difficult. Often the patient needs to go to…

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Red flags for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung condition that gets steadily worse over time. It is often characterized by “flares,” or “exacerbations,” periods when breathing suddenly becomes more difficult. It can be very frightening and often results in a dash to the emergency room. It’s important to know the early signs of a flare…

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Emotions following a stroke

A stroke usually results in damage to the brain. Some of the effects will be permanent. Others, temporary. Through exercises and practice, your relative may regain many if not all of his or her physical abilities. The emotional toll. What takes most patients and families by surprise are the emotional changes that can come with…

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What is a physical therapist?

Trusting the body’s ability to heal itself and get stronger: This is the basis of physical therapy. Physical therapists use exercises and hands-on care to reduce physical pain and limitations. Their motto? “Physical therapy brings motion to life.” Their goal is to help people stay active. And mobile! In some situations, physical therapy can be…

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Lessons from theater improv

While there is no denying the hardships of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, a growing number of families are exploring innovative strategies for including lightness and laughter on the journey. One option is to steal a page from the theater arts—specifically, improvisational theater. In conventional comedy improv, actors are presented with the unexpected and must come…

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When Dad resists a walker

For many older adults, use of a walker carries great stigma. It’s a symbol of disability and often of isolation. In actual fact, a walker can be the key to staying actively engaged with favorite activities. The benefits of a walker It can bear up to 50% of a person’s weight. (A cane holds only…

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When caregiving ends: Re-entry

Reentry If caring for your loved one was the main focus of your day, after his or her passing, expect a feeling of emptiness to dominate your awareness. In caregiving, you may have given up many personal activities, friendships, and possibly even a career, to accommodate your relative’s needs. This is especially true if he…

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Medicare Open Enrollment Tips

Are you happy with your relative’s Medicare plan? If not, fall is the annual “Open Enrollment” period. This is when you can change plans for the coming year. Open Enrollment for 2019 is October 15 to December 7. Even if your loved one likes the current plan, consider any new diagnoses or prescriptions since last…

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A doctor’s visit after a fall

A surprising number of conditions, from simple to serious, can cause an older adult to fall. If you observed the fall or arrived soon after, find out if your loved one had a warning or felt dizzy beforehand. Any chance he or she fainted? Was the fall from stumbling on an obstacle? Or more from…

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What is MCI?

“Senior moments” are a normal part of aging. They happen to everyone. We just don’t process things as quickly as we did in younger years. Some people develop significant memory and thinking problems. These people are eventually unable to live safely on their own. Typically, they have a stroke or develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease….

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If Mom is afraid of falling again

Many older adults who have fallen believe it is best to “stay safe” and avoid falling again by restricting their activities. Unfortunately, that’s the worst thing they can do! Inactivity is a path to reduced strength and mobility, which increases the risk of a fall and injury. One of the most important things you can…

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When caregiving ends – Part 1

Waves of emotions. When a person you’ve been caring for dies, you are likely to have many feelings. Sometimes conflicting feelings. You may find that emotions wash over you unexpectedly, arising suddenly like a wave, and then subside. This is a normal part of life after loss. Grief can be described as a combination of…

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How Parkinson’s affects communication

If the person you care for has Parkinson’s, you may be surprised to discover the many ways the disease hampers communication. Voice problems alone affect 60%-80% of people with this condition. Low volume and slurred speech may make it hard at times for you to grasp what your loved one is saying. He or she…

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Genetic testing for Alzheimer’s

These days, most everyone is wondering if they are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. If someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with the disease, you might feel at especially high risk. There is a test for an Alzheimer’s gene (APOE4). But it’s not 100% certain: Not everyone who has the APOE4 gene will…

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Starting a safe walk routine

Walking for exercise is recommended for every phase of life! Walking is the easiest physical activity to engage in, and it brings multiple benefits. The ability to get around readily is often the deciding factor in whether an older adult can stay living at home. Many older adults are hesitant to walk much. If you…

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Bad news

If a person you care for receives a serious diagnosis, it can feel like a gut punch—for everyone in the family. There is no way to sugarcoat such a reality. There are ways, however, to make the emotional journey less traumatic. Grief AND joy Even if your loved one has only months or weeks to…

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Personal emergency response systems

A personal emergency response system (PERS) can provide peace of mind if the person you care for lives alone. There are many factors to consider when shopping for a device. The need for a personal call button. Is your loved one at risk of a fall or heart attack? If so, you’ll want 24/7 emergency…

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“Lie to my mom?”

Mom taught you to always tell the truth. But in the context of caring for someone with memory loss (dementia), honesty may not always be the best policy. There may be times when the kindest strategy—the one that reduces your loved one’s anxiety or fear—is to omit the truth or bend it a little. This…

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What to do with their stuff?

Perhaps your loved one is downsizing. Or maybe planning a move to assisted living or a nursing home. He or she may even have passed away… If you find yourself needing to pack up a relative’s belongings, start by sorting them into five categories: items to keep items to sell items to donate to charity…

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Communicating with aphasia

If your loved one suddenly developed difficulty with speaking, he or she probably has aphasia, typically from a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Slow or garbled speech can be frustrating for everyone. Recovery is enhanced by following the advice of speech and occupational therapists. Your support is invaluable in terms of bolstering self-worth and confidence….

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Getting out of the mental spin cycle

Do you find yourself in a repetitive cycle of reliving an exchange over and over? Reflecting on experiences gone badly is one way we learn. We think about what happened and look for insights that might promote a positive outcome in a similar situation next time. But sometimes reflection can be unhealthy. If you find…

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Common elder scams

Financial abuse of the elderly is thriving. Advise your loved ones to be on the alert for these common scams: Government impostors Individuals call saying they represent Social Security, Medicare, the VA, or the IRS. They describe a problem with an account. Or taxes owed. Then they ask for name, date of birth, and Social…

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Plan ahead when downsizing

Moving into a smaller living situation is a big decision. More emotionally challenging, however, are the many little decisions your loved one must make about what to keep and what to let go. Possessions, from knickknacks to garden tools, hold many dear memories. Letting go of them is like discarding the people or events they…

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Distraction techniques

If the person you care for has a problem with memory loss (dementia), you may find that he or she gets agitated about things that don’t make sense. Your long-retired dad, for instance, may wake up in the mornings and insist, “I have to go to work!” It can be confusing for you. And frustrating!…

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The value of nostalgia

Nostalgia has historically gotten a bad rap, viewed as a precursor to feelings of sadness and longing. Emotional downers. Today we know that’s a faulty assumption. Research shows that nostalgia typically brightens mood. This is because nostalgia helps us in many ways: Focus on the positive in our past. People, events, places. We remember good…

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What is an occupational therapist?

Eating, dressing, getting in and out of a chair. In the course of daily life, we use many skills to accomplish even “simple” tasks. Walking or using a fork is surprisingly complex. Nerve signals and muscles have to coordinate in a very specific order. A healthy body is a marvel! We take these skills for…

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When language falls apart

One common outcome of a stroke or other brain injury is the sudden loss of ability to process language. This disability is called “aphasia” (ah-FAY-zya). Depending on which part of the brain has been damaged, the affected person may have trouble speaking or trouble understanding. Or may have difficulty with reading or writing. Needless to…

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Aging and the self-fulfilling prophecy

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” —Henry Ford It turns out this truism applies to the ways we perceive the aging process itself. Research shows that older adults who view aging as a time of continued learning and development are physically more resilient. They seem to weather a setback and…

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Fighting Parkinson’s with exercise

If your loved one has Parkinson’s disease, you have likely observed physical symptoms such as tremors, slowed movement, and poor balance. In addition to treatment with medication, evidence is mounting that exercise itself can reduce or delay progression of these symptoms. Even as little as 2.5 hours of physical activity a week. Benefits and types…

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Keeping your marbles: reducing dementia risk

If you have a relative with Alzheimer’s or one of many other dementia conditions, it’s natural to wonder about your own risk. While there is no cure as yet, there is increasing evidence that lifestyle changes in middle age may do a lot to delay the onset of memory loss. The plaques and tangles of…

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“Spiritual” advance directive

Every adult needs to complete an advance directive (and that means you, too!). It is the health care planning document that medical professionals follow if a patient becomes too ill to speak for him or herself. It gives your loved one the option to name someone as decision maker. And it is the place he…

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When the worrying won’t stop

Worry is useful when it calls us to action. But it’s a problem when it becomes an ongoing state of mind. It can become a habit, bringing tension and stress. If you’re a worrier, you may have mixed feelings. It may seem that worry keeps you on your toes, yet it makes you edgy and…

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Managing chronic pain

“Chronic pain” is pain that lasts for 12 weeks or more. The cause is usually nervous system misfiring, like a faulty car alarm system. Often there is no specific trigger, which makes treatment difficult. Chronic pain is common, affecting 50%–66% of adults age 50 and older. Opioid drugs are recommended for pain control in life-threatening…

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Dementia: safety and independence

Everyone with a memory loss condition deserves the opportunity to stay engaged in life for as long as possible. Early in the disease, your loved one will continue to do many things quite well. Your challenge is to balance respect for your relative’s independence with the need to ensure safety. All this while preserving a…

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Smartwatches for seniors

The makers of smartwatches are now designing products for older adults. And they just may have come up with an acceptable alternative to the standard “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” pendant. Perhaps you’ve tried to get your loved one to wear a personal emergency response system (PERS) pendant—only to hear, “No. I don’t…

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Researching treatments online

For those facing a serious—or even incurable—condition, the Internet can seem to be the last refuge of hope. But how can you distinguish a trustworthy website from that of a huckster? “Follow the money” is an important key for deciding if a website is truly unbiased. Start by asking yourself who, what, and why. Who:…

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Age-friendly kitchen

Aging creates so many “new normals.” Even routine activities such as cooking may become challenging for your loved one. Balance issues can make reaching, bending, or lifting a problem. Arthritis often makes it difficult to maneuver pans and tools, turn on a faucet, or twist off lids. Extreme fatigue may sap overall motivation. And problems…

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Setting limits: saying “no” nicely

Many of us were raised to believe that the only polite or kind answer is “yes.” But as Dr. Christine Carter, a UC Berkeley researcher, notes, “If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no,’ it’s a recipe for overwhelm and exhaustion.” Not to mention resentment, burnout, and ill health! Ironically, research shows that…

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Conserving energy in the face of fatigue

People with congestive heart failure (CHF) often tire easily, especially if they exert themselves. In CHF, the heart is swollen with fluids and cannot beat efficiently. The body’s cells then become hungry for oxygen. If your loved one has CHF, you witness this in his or her fatigue, shortness of breath, and frequent naps. Even…

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Embarrassing Behaviors

What do you do when sweet Mom starts cursing angrily? When straitlaced Dad makes off-color remarks? In persons with dementia, these behaviors are not on purpose. They are caused by the brain changes of the disease. If you can’t find humor in the situation, draw on your patience. Believe it or not, your relative is doing…

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Bathing and Dementia

Bathing brings many discomforts. Bathrooms can feel cold and drafty when a person is wet. And running water can be noisy. Nudity makes bathing very intimate, which can be distressing when a modest person needs help and may not recognize the helper. Plus, bathing is a complicated process with many steps in a specific order….

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Signature strength: calm

Many of us admire people who have the gift of remaining calm. Calm as a signature strength is the ability to respond to threats from a place of appropriate confidence. To remain “centered.” It’s not always easy to achieve. Our bodies react to the stresses of modern life—including family caregiving—with the same fight-or-flight hormones that…

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Preparing for a safe return

No one can keep an eye on another person 24/7. Even in the most vigilant household, a loved one with dementia—Alzheimer’s or other memory disorder—may just find a way to slip out the door. After you have set up strategies to reduce the chance of wandering, it is also wise to pave the way for…

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2019 Medicare improvements

Here’s some good news to start the year! In 2019, we’ll see improvements in coverage across the major Medicare plans. About two-thirds of people on Medicare use “original Medicare.” Patients with original Medicare can go to any health care provider that accepts Medicare. Original Medicare pays for 80% of costs after a yearly deductible. The…

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How to discourage wandering

It is natural to fear that a loved one with dementia may wander. Indeed, 60% of people with Alzheimer’s do get restless and head out the door. As a family member, you can’t be watchful every minute. But you can take steps to reduce the chance of wandering. The many triggers for wandering include anxiety,…

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The power of sleep

When your schedule gets tight, is sleep one of the first things to go? According to the experts, that’s all too common. And it makes about as much sense as deciding to do without food, air, or water. Sleep is that essential. Most adults need 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep promotes…

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A new year reflection

After the hubbub of the holidays and in the darkest nights at year’s end, nature seems to beckon us to reflect. Rather than make a resolution about exercise or diet, consider looking at your approach to family caregiving and personal qualities you might nurture to become more resilient in this role. Psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD,…

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Preventing Burnout

Burnout is more than stress. And it isn’t just undesirable. It’s a risky condition. The consequences of burnout include emotional depletion, often leading to depression; reduced resistance to common illnesses, such as colds and flu; increased likelihood of a chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes; lack of energy to do what is necessary for…

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Gifts for Older Adults

What to get for the “chronologically gifted?” The age-friendly ideas below address the special interests or concerns of persons in their later years. Providing an experience. Don’t add to household clutter—give an activity! This way, you give the fun of anticipation as well as countless hours of enjoyment afterwards, remembering. Ideally, arrange the gift as…

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Exercise and COPD: an oxymoron?

Does Mom say she feels too weak to exercise? Does Dad run out of breath just walking down the street? People dealing with COPD often believe that exercise will make things worse. Actually, in moderation, quite the opposite is true. Very real benefits. Even people with severe COPD can become more physical. Something as simple…

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Savoring good experiences

Sharing happy experiences, like sharing a good meal, warms and strengthens friendships and family bonds. There are other benefits to savoring positive experiences. Even in the privacy of your own thoughts, reflecting on pleasant memories is an easy and effective way to increase your overall happiness. Hard wired to focus on the negative Have you…

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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…

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Late-life veterans’ issues

If the person you care for is a combat veteran, you may not have heard much about those experiences. You are not alone. In generations past, veterans made it a point to put the war behind them and “forget.” But things can take a dramatic turn in later life. As they face the challenges of…

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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…

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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. 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….

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Making the home safer

Most hazards around the home are obvious once you are made aware of them. But they are easily overlooked in the course of day-to-day living. Don’t let your loved one get injured because of a simple oversight! Here’s a home safety audit you can do yourself. Lighting. In every room of the house, you want…

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Preparing for Hip or Knee Replacement

If your loved one is slated for joint surgery, don’t underestimate the impact. Expect that he or she will have reduced energy and greater needs. Limited mobility will create surprising challenges. Things you take for granted will need extra care and attention. Plus, the body simply needs time and energy to rebuild bone, muscle, and…

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Signature Strength: Wisdom

Each of us has strengths . . . and, well, areas that could use improvement. As a family caregiver, you may often feel inadequate. Or guilty. Or think that you aren’t doing enough. Such negative self-assessments are common. A more balanced assessment would acknowledge that you also have qualities that shine. Most of us believe…

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Does Mom have a drinking problem?

Alcohol use is on the rise among older adults. And it’s not easy to spot. Many of the signs resemble common problems of aging. And who wants to think that when Mom stumbles, for instance, it might be because of drink?! There’s a lot of shame associated with drinking, so older adults—especially older women—often hide…

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Balance exercises to prevent falls

If remaining independent is a goal for your older relative, bringing some balance to his or her life is essential—balance exercise, that is. All it takes is short but consistent focus for Mom or Dad to significantly reduce the chance of a fall. In one study, two 15-minute sessions of balance exercises over a six-month…

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Reducing the risk of falling

Has your mother fallen recently? She’s not alone! One out of four adults 65 and over experiences a fall each year. That makes falls the leading cause of injury for older adults. Falls are serious business. A few grim statistics: In the U.S. an older adult dies once every 20 minutes as a result of…

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“I don’t need help” – Part 3

It’s not easy to lose abilities and admit you need help. The reluctant elder in your life is more likely to ease into acceptance if you provide good listening, compassion, and a commitment to working together. In this third installment of our series, we look at elders’ concerns around privacy and pride. Privacy. Having someone…

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