Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Holiday Caregivers

Being a caregiver to an elderly relative is both challenging and rewarding. This role can take a physical and mental toll on the person who has taken it on, adding to their many existing responsibilities of work and family life. This time of year can create additional stress for caregivers as one also attempts to plan for the holidays, entertain, shop etc. While we have written previous blogs on caregiving in our pages, for our last blog of 2015, I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts on how to reduce one's stress as a caregiver during the holiday season.

Communicate - always an important aspect of caregiving and stress management, communicating with your loved ones and support network is critical. People cannot be expected to 'guess' what you need and what you are feeling. Often just sharing your concerns and thoughts will result in tremendous support for both you and the person you are caring for.

ASK FOR HELP - part of communicating is knowing when you need help and not being afraid to ask for it.

Share Responsibilities - when possible, delegate and share responsibilities that are weighing heavily on you. Caregiving is much easier when its a 'team effort'. There are often many people willing and able to help out - if you only let them know what you need.

Prioritize/Be Realistic - part of coping with significant responsibility is knowing what is important and necessary and recognizing what you can let go of. Sometimes this means changing the way you do things and other times it may mean letting others know your limitations. Taking on too much will only result in you feeling overwhelmed and sometimes in  physical or mental health issues. Instead of a happy holiday, you may indeed end up with quite an unhappy one. It is far better to do less and stay healthy, than do more and become unhealthy. In our world of unnecessary excess, simplifying your celebrations and just taking the time to relish the pleasures derived from sharing time with family & friends may be a wonderful change and the start of a new holiday tradition for you and your family.

Give yourself permission to feel - the holidays are often an emotional time for people, filled with memories of years gone by. As one's situation changes, and losses occur, you are bound to experience a wave of very normal emotions. It is completely okay to feel them and to share them with others.

Balance - the stress of caring for someone else can be diminished if you are able to ensure a balance in your life. do things for yourself every day: eat properly, exercise, sleep and take breaks when you need them. Don't neglect your own health - if you aren't feeling well, make the time to seek medical attention. Don't allow pressure from others or feelings of guilt to force you into doing something that you are not comfortable with. It is really okay to say 'no' if you can't or don't want to do something.

Whatever you do and however you do it, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of our followers!


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Forget me not

Our regular followers will know that Alzheimer's is a subject I have written about several times and one that I have had some personal experience with as I had a grandmother whose decline from the disease, I witnessed first-hand. It's a sad disease on many fronts, but I think hardest for the family is seeing a person who they recognize but who bears no resemblance to the person they once knew. Harder still is the moment you realize that the person who has known you for your entire life, no longer recognizes you.

Almost daily, we read in the news about the 'silver tsunami' we will experience in the not too distant future and often, we read of predictions of the number of people who will succumb to dementia in the coming years. We can only hope that in rapid progress will be made in terms of treatment, maintenance and care of those who are unfortunate enough to develop a disease that robs them of their mind, spirit and the very essence of who they are. 

It is not often that I post other people's work but, I came across a poem the other day that reminded me of my grandmother and all of the other seniors and their families that I have known over the years shared similar stories. Given our followers and the forum that this blog is, I decided it would be something worth sharing with all of you. My thanks to Joann Snow Duncanson who so eloquently has been able to say what so many families feel.


Two Mothers Remembered
by Joann Snow Duncanson
I had two Mothers – two Mothers I claim
Two different people, yet with the same name.
Two separate women, diverse by design,
But I loved them both because they were mine.
The first was the Mother who carried me here,
Gave birth and nurtured and launched my career.
She was the one whose features I bear,
Complete with the facial expressions I wear.
She gave me her love, which follows me yet,
Along with the examples in life that she set.
As I got older, she somehow younger grew,
And we’d laugh as just Mothers and daughters should do.
But then came the time that her mind clouded so,
And I sensed that the Mother I knew would soon go.
So quickly she changed and turned into the other,
A stranger who dressed in the clothes of my Mother.
Oh, she looked the same, at least at arm’s length,
But now she was the child and I was her strength.
We’d come full circle, we women three,
My Mother the first, the second and me.
And if my own children should come to a day,
When a new Mother comes and the old goes away,
I’d ask of them nothing that I didn’t do.
Love both of your Mothers as both have loved you.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Multi-generational Living

As our population is aging, communities are having to come up with different models for care. It is always interesting to hear of new ideas and twists on older ones. There was a news piece today about a retirement home in the US where music students live among the seniors in the community. The students interact with and entertain the senior residents and in many ways seem to have become 'extended family' to each other. The arrangement is mutually beneficial despite initial concerns about housing two extreme age groups with different lifestyles and needs. In Toronto, several years ago, there was a home that did something similar by renting out rooms to students from local post-secondary schools many of whom were international. Perhaps a bit of a social experiment, it seems to be successful provided that the students are properly screened.

It reminds me a bit of a co-housing arrangement which originated in Denmark but has now spread to North America. They discovered the benefits of different generations living under one roof  many years ago. I suppose, before retirement homes and nursing homes, when extended families lived together this was known and acknowledged. Over time, as families have moved away from each other, we have lost the value of this sort of an arrangement. I wonder if, as senior care evolves, more communities will embrace multi-generational living as an option.

This model has been shown to have tremendous benefits for all involved and may be a solution to some of the problems seniors face with housing, affordability, and care. Even in small numbers, it is nice to see people 'thinking outside the box' and at the same time, improving the quality of life for seniors and young people alike.


Monday, 2 November 2015

When is it time?

Relocating one's home - no matter what your age or situation - can be an extremely stressful task. For those who are aging and are experiencing decreasing independence, it can be overwheming and daunting to think about relocating from what in many cases is a lifelong home, to a new place. It is not surprising that for many seniors, this is a taboo subject even when others around them are concerned. There are situations where people knowingly live at risk because the thought of moving to a care setting is something they are completely opposed to. Yet, leaving it too long, often necessitates a sudden move, a crisis situation and limited options. Moving when one is still fairly independent often results in increased health and prolonged independence largely due to social, physical and mental stimulation in a healthy environment.
  So, when is it the right time to start talking and start looking? 
After years of experience and listening to hundreds of stories I think that, as uncomfortable as it may be at first, it is never too early to talk about what a loved one wants in terms of care and decision making if/when they become unable to remain independent. Much anxiety around relocation stems from pre- conceived notions of what a care setting is like. Visiting a few retirement homes and speaking to residents and staff often serves to shatter negative perceptions and gives 'food for thought' for the senior and their family. While completely well and independent seniors might be opposed to this, once there are health &/or cognitive issues and some form of care is required, the need to start looking at and discussing options becomes critical. Watching someone you care about live at risk is more difficult than taking the time to address concerns and problem solve. If this is a situation you are in, do take the time to research options - before time and circumstance takes you in a less desirable direction.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Life Stories

I am always fascinated by 'life stories'. I wonder, does our story choose us or do we choose it?

I was privileged yesterday to participate as a judge in a Senior of the Year contest sponsored by a local community centre held through a neighbouring retirement home. As a judge I was sent several nominations which I was asked to read through and choose from. There were 3 other judges that did the same. I have to say it was a difficult choice and all entries really deserved recognition. The winning senior was a holocaust survivor. As a young girl, her family was taken from her; as a senior, many years later, she is able to reflect on her past and inspire those around her. One can only imagine her pain of the past but despite it, she has thrived and triumphed.

Several months ago, I participated in a friendship contest as well again as a judge. Here too, seniors told their stories of friendship - many that were decades long and all were inspiring. For most people, without opportunities like these, their remarkable stories would be untold or reserved only for the immediate family that cared to ask.

It would be wonderful to see a future project where life stories or special moments of seniors are put together into a book of sorts. Sometimes, it only takes a paragraph or two, to tell a story that has meaning to many and conveys life lessons we can all learn from. So, I would like to throw out a challenge - to those of you who work with seniors - ask them to participate, tell a story from their life that holds meaning to them. Create something with it and share it among your community. If you have seniors in your life, you can do the same. Ask them to tell you a story or small stories that can be written down and passed along to generations. So much can be learned from those who have lived their lives before us; it only takes a little effort to find a way to share their knowledge.

If you wish to share any stories with us, we will do our best to incorporate them into our regular blogs as well. Just send them to our info@senioropolis.com account!


Friday, 9 October 2015

Giving Thanks

In the spirit of the season, I have been thinking about the concept of 'being thankful for what we have'. In our fast-paced world where there are never enough hours in the day, taking the time to recognize our fortune is a luxury few recognize. The daily news is filled with stories of misfortune - by birth or accident - that give us all pause. Yet, how many people think in terms of themselves and  what they have that others do not? We all know people who  have seemingly everything but are eternally complaining or  unhappy. Perhaps it's because we live in such a rich and materialistic society that so many of us have 'First World Problems' but never quite recognize that their problems only exist because of how fortunate they actually are.

It seems rare these days to come across someone who knows that life is about the people you hold dear, not things you own. Unfortunately, we are inundated with messages through the media about 'must have' items which will lead to happiness and this in many ways influences what we strive for. 
Often it takes a tragic event, or significant illness, that give people an understanding of what truly is important in life. Having worked in a hospital for many years, often with very ill or dying people, this reality became quite clear to me many years ago but I too, have been known to take for granted my good fortune. 

For many, the concept of 'thanksgiving' is something they celebrate annually because the calendar tells them to but really isn't it something we should be doing far more regularly....... How often do you 'give thanks' for what you have, or even just stop for a moment to recognize it? No need for a big dinner to do it either. The world is full of sadness and tragedy but those who have the good fortune to be healthy, have others who love them and who they love, have a roof over their head and food to eat, are truly blessed. At the end of it all, we all end up in the same place. It's what you do with your time on earth, who you touch, who and how much you love, not what you acquire, that is most important.

Friday, 25 September 2015

What's it like inside?

On a fairly regular basis, I speak with seniors and their families about different care options. It's surprising how many people have no idea or have the wrong impression, of what a retirement home is like. Many assume that retirement homes are the same as  long-term care homes - which they most definitely is not! Others think you have to need all sorts of care to get into them. Many of these people who make these incorrect assumptions have never walked into a retirement home and often are basing their beliefs on something someone else told them or information from years gone by.

As someone who has visited many, many homes over the years, I have to say that most people would be very pleasantly surprised if they went for a visit. Newer homes look more like a hotel or a cruise ship on land than an institution. Many have 'chef-prepared' meals and varied menus. Some have swimming pools and spas on site. Most have gyms and a full activity calendar. The healthier a person is when the enter, the more there will be to do. Even older homes have a lot to offer as many have renovated to keep up with the changes in the industry. While cost might be a factor for some, for those who have an existing property that they can sell, they may find the cost involved is equal to or less than what they were paying to live in their own homes, especially if they had services and assistance coming into the home.

My advice to everyone considering relocation is to visit a few retirement homes to see what they have to offer. If your health is a bit of an issue you may be best to explore options while you are still able - waiting until a crisis may limit your choices and create a situation where you only have the option of long-term care. We find that with many people, going into a retirement home when they are still relatively healthy, keeps them healthy longer and for many, allows them to avoid long-term care entirely.

Many retirement homes have events open to the public where you can see a bit of the home as well. If you want to see more, they will all be pleased to take you for a tour. If you think it might be a place you want to live in, ask about a trial stay for a few days to see what it's really like in a retirement home - you might be quite pleasantly surprised!