Caregiver Support Coming to Purcellville, VA

I’ve been away from the blog far longer than I planned. However, being a caregiver and all that entails is never far from my heart and mind.  One of the most important and meaningful things I’ve been doing while away from the keyboard is training to be a Caregiver Support Group Facilitator through Alz.org.

Here are the details of where and when this group will meet.

Caregiver Support Group, Purcellville, VA, 20132

When: Thu, April 28, 3pm – 4pm
Where: The Carver Center, 200 Willie Palmer Drive, Purcellville, VA, 20132 (map)
Description: Alzheimer’s Association Support Groups Alzheimer’s Association support groups provide a place for people with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, family members, and/or friends to share valuable information, caregiving tips and concerns throughout the Alzheimer’s journey. Groups are facilitated by trained leaders and are ongoing, free and open to the community. Please call our 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) or contact the facilitator directly for more information and to confirm date and time. The Carver Center | 200 Willie Palmer Drive, Purcellville, VA, 20132 | Bobbi Carducci, bcarducci@comcast.net

For information on where to fond a support group near you go to: http://www.alz.org/nca/in_my_community_support.asp

If you are a support group facilitator I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps you’d be willing to share resources or tips on what your group finds useful. If you attend a support group I’d love to hear about how your group has helped you.

Winner, Winner

find some humor

Sometimes all you can do is laugh. The following is an excerpt from my book, Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver.

When he first came to live with us, the only things he asked us to buy for him were Milk of Magnesia and prune juice. He had prescriptions for stool softeners and laxatives issued by his former doctors and continued by his new doctor. He constantly complained of constipation, greeting everyone he spoke to, including strangers, with “Hello. How’s everything? My bowels don’t move.” If he did happen to go, he made sure he told them about that as well, in great detail. It soon became clear he was taking far too much of the stuff. Every day, in the morning and at midday, he’d drink a large glass of prune juice, followed by Milk of Magnesia. Often he’d wait a few moments after taking it, look at his watch, and take some more. A few moments later he’d do it again. One day, after just telling me he’d had a bowel movement, I saw him drink another large glass of prune juice and reach for the Milk of Magnesia.

“Why are you taking that? “ I asked.

“For the constipation,” he said.

“But you just went.”

“That don’t count. It was all liquid.”

That’s when I knew I had to do something. No matter how we tried to explain it to him, he wouldn’t accept that it was the laxatives that were causing his problem. The more he took, the worse it got—and the more he worried—resulting in a vicious cycle that was interfering in his normal bodily functions. His psychiatrist said that it’s not unusual for a schizophrenic to keep track of what goes in and out of his body. In his mind, solid food was going in but nothing solid was coming out. That meant something was very wrong. Once I began to limit his access to prune juice and Milk of Magnesia, and started monitoring his use of laxatives, he started showing signs of stress. He paced and muttered to himself and began making frequent trips to the bathroom where he’d sit for hours, waiting for something to happen. I hated to see him like that, but I had to ease him off the stuff. His doctor tried to help by telling him that taking too many laxatives could interfere with his other medications and land him back in the hospital. He wasn’t buying it. When I wouldn’t give in, he complained to Mike, and when Mike backed me up, he called him one of the worst insults he could think of.

“You’re nothing but a dictator! You’re another Mussolini, that’s what you are!”

Later, after Rodger calmed down and we were getting ready for bed, Mike looked over at me and shook his head. “Mussolini? Now I’m Mussolini?”

I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The giggles I’d been trying hard to stifle came rolling out. “The Mussolini of laxatives!” I laughed harder. “You Fascist poop dictator!”

Mike looked at me in confusion for a moment, and then the hilarity of the situation hit him and he was laughing as hard as I was. I laughed so hard I got the hiccups, and that made us laugh even more. We ended up rolling on the bed, laughter feeding more laughter, until we were exhausted.

“Oh wow, I needed that,” I said when I was finally able to catch my breath.

“Me too,” Mike agreed. “I don’t know how you do it every day. He’s so damned stubborn. I’m glad I’m not like that.”

“Right.” I poked him the ribs. “Me either. I’m not stubborn. I’m determined.”

“Yes, dear,” Mike said with a grin. “Do you think you can determine to keep loving me through all this?”

“Sure, if you can determine to come over here and give me a kiss.”

“Sure thing, Babe.” He enveloped me in his arms and kissed me, both of still chuckling.

If you’ve have a winning moment that laugh you laughing, I invite you to share it here:

And if you want to vent – Please join me in pinging on Dr. Phil to use his resources to help caregivers via creating a grant for respite care and other kinds of help for caregivers who need it most.  Send him a message at www.drphil.com

Good Morning Caregivers – Get Off My Mountain

Many paths to success

Just as there are many paths up the mountain there are the many paths of caregiving.  How ours will twist and turn depends on the reason it began in the first place and how the one in our care responds to the many obstacles in the way. Will he reach for me to guide him along the way or will he insist on refusing my help only to fall and accuse me of pushing him?

Every day, around each new bend, we are faced with something unexpected. It could be a breathtaking moment when the air clears and the sun breaks through the clouds of confusion and he smiles. I feared I’d never see that twinkle again. “Thank you, Lord,” I whisper.

Far more likely it’s another loss making every step we take together more difficult. Our path is longer and far more arduous than we could have imagined. It is also the way that works for us. We figure it out as we go along.

 The last thing we need is “the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”

Unfortunately there seems to be as many of them as there are of us. If you are dealing with someone like that send them this Hindu proverb and tell them the Imperfect Caregivers says, “You are not helping. You are making things more difficult.”

GET THE HELL OFF THE MOUNTAIN

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Where Have My Friends Gone?

friend therapy

Being a caregiver for a loved one is lonely. From morning til night, and often well beyond, caregivers are on call even when our loved ones demand we leave them alone. We become the bad guys. The woman or man who insists they bathe when they don’t want to and serve them food when they have no wish to eat. Our parents or our spouses resent being treated like children. Their losses are devastating and they resent being reminded of them. Days go by when they don’t say a word. Some can’t. Others were told long ago not to speak to strangers and that is who we have become.

Knowing we are busy and often unable to leave the house our friends drift away. Not intentionally. It simply happens. They visit a few times only to find us distracted and harried, on constant alert for a call from our loved one or the sound of that horrible thump that signals another fall.  Sometimes we cry and then refuse to follow well intentioned advice to take time for ourselves and get enough rest. We aren’t as much fun as we used to be. I get it.  But still we need you. If only for a few minutes now and then we need you to come by and share a cup of coffee with us. We need a bit of adult conversation. Having a friend say, “Tell me about it,” and then sit back and listen as we speak is a moment of respite we cherish.

Please, even if you only have a few moments, be a friend to a caregiver today. Someone is waiting.


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NaBloPoMo November 2014

 

 

Moment of Respite – A Dog Comes to Visit

Dog give me strengthI didn’t know how he would react but I was ready to try anything to brighten his day and relieve some of the stress we were both feeling. His daily walks were a thing of the past. His diet was severely restricted and either he wasn’t sleeping well or he was sleeping all the time. Mike and I discussed it and decided to contact some people we knew who trained therapy dogs and request a home a visit. We had heard stories of how people in nursing homes and hospitals would smile and begin to share stories about pets they had when the friendly animals came to visit. Nurses and staff members reported that patients were happier and more alert for hours, and in some cases days, after they dogs left. We felt it was worth a try.

I wish I had a picture of that visit. I had let Rodger know he was going to have two visitors, one of them a dog. He was skeptical at first.

“What am I gonna do with a dog? I can’t walk no more. Who will clean up after it?”

“The dog isn’t going to live here. He’s coming for a short visit.”

“Why?”

“For something different. To help pass the time.”

“Do what you want. I hope it doesn’t pee on the floor.”

Rodger rarely smiled but when a beautiful golden retriever slowly entered the room and sat at his feet he couldn’t help himself.

After introducing herself and her dog, who was wearing a vest identifying him as a therapy dog, the volunteer sat quietly and allowed Rodger and Casey to get acquainted.

Shortly after the smile appeared Rodger slowly leaned over and tentatively began to pet Casey.

“Did you have a dog as a pet when you were a boy?” the volunteer asked.

“No. No pets. In the old country dogs are for working. Not like here where pets are spoiled.”

And then he began to talk. He spoke about life on the farm. For a while he went back to a time and place where he was able to walk outside in the sun and work up an appetite for homemade pasta and oven fresh bread. He sat up straighter and the light so rarely seen in his eyes made an appearance. I could feel my neck muscles relax as I watched the transformation. He may not have had a pet growing up, and to him dogs were meant to work, but what he didn’t seem to notice was that this one was working too. Casey was working a little bit of magic for both of us and for that I was grateful.

For more information on the positive impact dogs can have on loved ones with dementia go to:

http://www.alzheimersproject.org/About-Us/News-Photos-and-Calendar/Latest-News/Pets-and-Dementia

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NaBloPoMo November 2014

Good Morning Caregivers – Just for Today

Maxine - Throw in the towel

Caregivers, just for today leave the towel where it landed. I know you are doing everything you can to maintain your home, your family, the person in your care. You do much more for others than you do for yourself. Just for today let go of every little thing that doesn’t have to be done right now.

Maybe you were taught to make your bed every day. Just for today leave it unmade. 
Instead of cooking dinner order a pizza.

Let the dust settle on the coffee table. It will be there tomorrow.
Stay in your pajamas.
Let someone else take out the trash.

Consider the things you do automatically because you have always done them … pick at least one … and just for today let it go. Use those few moments to have a cup of coffee with Maxine and absorb a bit of her attitude. Do it just for today. Do it for you.

 

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Good Morning Caregivers

An Army of One

Look around. Whom do you see? Women, men, teens, grandparents, spouses, sisters, brothers, friends, significant others.  Nurses, home-health aides, doctors, Visiting Angels, hospice care workers, social workers. Priests, nuns, ministers of every denomination. People of all races and ethnic origins.  All across the world, in every country, we are there. We are the caregivers.

Yet we are alone. Every story is different. Every caregiver fails in his or her own way. The guilt eats at us. The lack of sleep drains us. The accusations of neglect and abuse by loved ones suffering from dementia or brain injury haunt us day and night.  We feed and clothe and them. We bathe them. We cry for them and with them.  We love them. And some days we don’t like them. We go to battle for them and we beg for some time away.  We are part of you and we are alone.

My husband and I planned for the time when one or more of our parents would need care. We would bring them into our home and provide a safe, loving place for them as longs as it was needed.  It would be hard but hard is what life is sometimes.

Living with and caring for my father-in-law, Rodger, was far more difficult than I ever imagined.  I never suspected his quirky behavior was due to schizophrenia first diagnosed in his early twenties. A diagnosis long hidden from members of the family, including my husband and me. Not only had the disease affected his life but so had the years of powerful drugs that enabled him to function.  His memory and ability to reason were vastly diminished. Suspicion and paranoia made it impossible for him to trust me while I, innocent that I was, trusted him when he said he took his medication.

Although he lived for five years after his last psychotic break he never really recovered from it and the near fatal bout of pneumonia that he came down with while in the hospital.  After that came the heart attack, followed by surgery to implant a pacemaker. The pacemaker led to blood clots forming in his arm.  Blood thinners requiring regular blood tests caused him great anxiety.

“What is the government doing with my blood? Why do they need so much?”

My suspicion that he was developing Parkinson’s disease was deemed incorrect until months later it could no longer be denied. It ran in his family and his sister had recently died from it.  He needed a walker and could no longer use the stairs. Severe swallowing problems meant pureed food and thickened liquids made up his diet. I learned to cook food that tasted good and offered as much nutrition as possible but even I had to admit it looked awful.  Dementia came next bringing the phenomenon of sundowning along with it.  No one slept much once that started.

When people learned I was a caregiver they would say they understood. Some may have, on some level. But, I knew deep in my heart that they could not really know how it was.  How could they?  His life was his own. His back story defined who he became.  His history of illnesses was as convoluted and complicated as his mind.  He needed so much. What he got was one woman, part of a vast army of caregivers who tend their loved ones alone.

Some Caregiver Statistics from The Family Caregiving Alliance

Who are the Informal Caregivers?

Although there may appear to be wide discrepancies in estimates of the number of informal caregivers in the U.S., the figures cited below reflect variations in the definitions and criteria used in each study, e.g., age of care recipients surveyed or relationship of caregiver to care recipient.

Magnitude

  • 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. [The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009), Caregiving in the U.S. National Alliance for Caregiving. Washington, DC.] – Updated: November 2012
  • 52 million caregivers provide care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness. [Coughlin, J., (2010). Estimating the Impact of Caregiving and Employment on Well-Being: Outcomes & Insights in Health Management, Vol. 2; Issue 1]Updated: November 2012
  • 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age and 14.9 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. [Alzheimer’s Association, 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer‘s and Dementia , Vol.7, Issue 2.] – Updated: November 2012
  • LGBT respondents are slightly more likely to have provided care to an adult friend or relative in the past six months: 21% vs. 17%. [MetLife: Still Out, Still Aging 2010. Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Baby Boomers]Updated: November 2012

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Good Morning Caregivers

A Caregiver’s Dream

One of the most common bits of advice for caregivers is to get a good night’s sleep.

“Goodnight.”

What wonderful images that simple word brings to mind.  I close my eyes and see myself drifting off to sleep in the biggest most comfortable bed on the market. I’m covered with a whisper soft blanket. I’m hugging my pillow. A tiny smile hints at sweet dreams to come.  When morning arrives I will awake refreshed ready to face another day caring for my loved one.

That is what I was supposed to do, right? That’s what all the experts said.  Trust me, it’s what I would l have loved to do.

Enter reality:

“Goodnight, Rodger.”  “Goodnight.”

It was eight o’clock in the evening and he had just had his last breathing treatment of the day. Only one round of medications was left to be taken. I had two hours to spend some time with my husband. We were exhausted and only half listening to each other.  I kept one ear open in case Rodger needed me. Nodding at my husband to indicate I was paying attention, I was also fighting to keep my eyes open.

At 10:00PM I got up and took Rodger his last medication of the night.  He took it without complaint. Yea!

“Goodnight, Rodger.” “Goodnight.” I was too tired to brush my teeth. Tomorrow was another day and I hadn’t had much to eat anyway. Did I take a shower in the morning? I couldn’t remember.  I’d do that in that the next day too.  After saying my prayers I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come. My thoughts looped and circled around on themselves. What ifs and why didn’t I competed with I should have until I finally lost consciousness.

12:15 AM – His bed alarm went off. He hated the alarm. He hated the bedside commode and he resented me for making him use them. I ran down the hall to discover he had scooted down to the foot of the bed and managed to squeeze through the space between the bedrail and the foot of the bed.  He was clinging to the rail, trying to keep from falling.

“Here, let me help you.”  I eased him over to the commode and helped him stand to pee. He refused to sit.  “I’m not a girl!”

“Why didn’t you call me if you wanted to get up?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I used my short cut.”

“Short cut?” It took me a few moments to understand he was talking about the gap between the bedrail and the end of the bed.

“You aren’t supposed to get up unless someone is with you. You could fall. That’s why the doctor ordered an alarm for your bed.”

“The doctor sent it?”

“He explained it when you saw him last month?”

‘I don’t remember. How does he know if I go to the bathroom? It’s none of his business.”

Five minutes later we were both back in bed.

12:45 AM– His bed alarm went off.  That time he tried to climb over the rail and was stuck half way.

“What are you doing?”

“I have to pee.” I got him up and helped him to the commode. He stood for a couple of minutes. Nothing happened.

“I thought I had to go.” We went back to bed. 2:00 AM – The bed alarm went off. He was stuck half way out of the bed again. We repeated the scene above.  2:10 AM – Alarm went off again. His foot is stuck in the rail.  3:05 AM – Alarm went off again. He had scooted down to the foot of the bed and was trying to get up.

“I have to pee.” That time he did. 3:15 AM – Alarm went off again.  “I’m thirsty.”   I went to the kitchen and mixed some thickener in water and helped him spoon it into his mouth.

4:00 AM – He was calling for me.  I rushed to room. His covers were tangled around him and he couldn’t move.  I got him into a chair and arranged his bedding.  Had him pee while we were up. 5:15 AM – The bed alarm went off again. I knew I was up for the day.

The next day, and the next, and the days after that? Repeat the above actions from the beginning.  Sometimes it was the voices that woke him.  Some nights he thought it was day and he was ready to start his routine.

Believe me, I followed all the suggestions, I kept him up during the day. It didn’t matter. I put him in adult pull-ups so he didn’t have to use the bedside commode. I’d find them torn to shreds the next time I went to his room.   I followed all the advice about soothing music and quiet time before bed. I tried it all again and there we were night after night. Sometimes I made a bed for myself on the floor beside him so he knew he was not alone.  Still the alarm went off through the night.Get a good night’s sleep? I was ready. I even drifted off for a while, and then his bed alarm went off.  Again.

Caregivers do need a good night’s sleep and they know your suggestions are well intended and sincere. What they want you to know is that it’s not that simple. Their days and nights are full, minute to minute, crisis to crises.  So if you are wondering how to help a caregiver my suggestion is a gift certificate for a few hours of respite each week so she or he can take a nap.

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Sometimes Caregiving Looks Like This

Pull Up Big Girl Panties

There were days when I felt more like the mean girl than the patient saint some believe caregivers to be. I didn’t want to do it any more. I got mad. I hollered back when he shouted at me. I regretted it the moment it happened but let’s be honest, this is what caregiving is like some days.

I have to admit I never looked that good when going through it. I more closely resembled the image below, right down to the scraggly plumage. But, I couldn’t resist posting this image. I love her attitude.

Rough Week

 

It is critical that we address the realities of caregiving  and not sugar coat it.We have to do everything we can to support the over 65,000,000 caregivers in this country and the millions more who will become caregivers very soon.

 November is National Caregivers Month. The President has issued a proclamation in support of caregivers. Caregiver conferences are being held across the country. It’s time to talk less and provide more help. Our legislators would do well to read caregiver support sites and hear from the caregivers themselves. Feel free to start by sending them a link to my blog.

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NaBloPoMo November 2014

If You Stumble …

if you stumble

“You must be a saint.”

I heard that I a lot when I was caring for Rodger. Always from people who were not caregivers themselves. Rodger would have been the first to agree with the response I always gave.

“I’m no saint.”

Caregivers know there is nothing saintly about us or what we do.  I  lost my patience, became angry on occasion, felt put upon for all the changes in my life, and often prayed for the strength to make it through another day. I stumbled often and denigrated myself for doing so.

I didn’t understand that stumbling along is the only way either of us could move through the challenges. Ours was not a lovely choreographed waltz through life.  Raucous and primitive the music of dementia demands unpredictable movement and uncomfortable positions. Falling from time to time is a requirement  allowing us time to take a much-needed breath and identify the ever-changing rhythm before grasping hands and continuing on.

The fault here is not in our movement, it is in the mistaken belief that every step must be perfect for the dance to hold beauty.

Caregivers, my message to you today is, be kind to yourself.  “When you stumble make it part of the dance.”

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