Elder Care Issues: How to Reduce Caregiver Anxiety Symptoms

Caregiving is, by its very nature, the giving of yourself for someone else. Caregivers need to respond to the every need of the person they care for, and they often find themselves essentially giving up their own life for the life of someone else – all while dealing with the natural stresses and anxieties of caring for someone with special needs.
That kind of sacrifice comes with a price. Caregivers are often prone to serious stress and anxiety that can be debilitating, and may take away from your ability to deal with the needs of the person under your care. For those that are suffering from caregiver anxiety, consider these tools and tips for improving your own mental health.

Caregiver Anxiety Tips

  • Be “Selfish – Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your mental health affects your ability to be a good caregiver. Caregivers with anxiety and stress won’t be 100% at all times. So if the stress is starting to get to you, it is in your best interests – and the best interests of the person you care for – to take a moment and find a way to relax. It’s not selfish to want yourself to be at your best, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
  • Join Support Groups – So much of caregiving involves taking care of those with dementia, or fading health, or Alzheimer’s, or some other disorder. Witnessing that breakdown can be emotionally difficult. Support groups give you an opportunity to surround yourself with others experiencing the same thing. It makes you feel like you’re not alone and supported. Developing that type of community can be powerful.
  • Exercise – One of the first things that caregivers neglect when they start caring for others is attention to their own physical health. Yet the mind and body are powerfully connected. If you’re consistently inactive you’ll end up with excess energy that will only fuel your anxiety further. If, on the other hand, you exercise regularly, you’ll burn away not only excess energy, but also cortisol (a hormone released when you’re stressed).
  • Go Out With Friends – As hard as caregiving is, chances are you have some free time (as little as it may be). It’s important you do not let yourself fall into the trap of using that time to simply mope about your stress. Force yourself to stay active. Go out and spend time with your friends, and allow yourself the opportunity to create social support for yourself, laugh, and create memories outside of your caregiving.
  • Therapy – Many people look at therapy the same way they do pharmaceutical medicines, and this is simply unfair. Therapy can be extremely effective at helping you cope with your stress and anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has received ample research into anxiety reduction tips and strategies, and seeing a therapist is 100% side effect free. If you can afford it, therapy can be an extremely helpful option to consider.

Developing Strategies to Cope With Anxiety

You can also find your own coping strategies as well, provided they are emotionally healthy. Skipping stones at a park or walking your dog may be a worthwhile way of coping, and if it helps you improve your mental health you should always find time to do it, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
The above methods of decreasing stress and anxiety are valuable, but they’re just suggestions. The most important thing you can do for your caregiver anxiety, however, is recognize that you own your mental health matters. No matter how much you need to care for someone else or how important that other person is, they – and you – need to always make sure that you’re taking at least a bit of time to ensure you are able to relax, otherwise neither of you will get the attention that you deserve from the caregiving relationship.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist that has written countless tips for managing stress and anxiety. He has a website dedicated to anxiety disorders and treatments at www.calmclinic.com.

Senior Care and The Importance of Staying Physically and Mentally Active

Before Mom got sick, she was an active lady. By active, I don’t mean she walked every morning. Rather, she was involved in almost every woman’s club in town, dedicated time to fundraising and countless local charities and took a deep level of interest in her family’s lives.

I vividly recall the first community I visited. As the admissions director walked me through the amenities during the tour, I drifted thinking about whether my mom would be bored there. I asked the admissions director what their most unique activity was. She responded: “armchair exercises.”

She proudly told me about the activity and suggested that I stay 30 minutes for the start of the next session. I was intrigued, so I stayed.

Slowly a few residents arrived, most of them with the help of a community caregiver and a wheelchair. Once seated in a semi-circle, the activities coordinator began walking the residents through a number of arm and leg motions.

The concept was solid. The problem: the activities director either didn’t notice or didn’t care that the residents weren’t participating. Many residents had a scowl on the face, evidence of the fact that they did not want to be there. Others went through the motions as best they could.

I remember thinking to myself when I left the community: armchair exercise is not an activity!

The point of my story is not to be sarcastic, but rather to illustrate something important. Activities represent an important part of your loved one’s day. They should be engaging both physically and mentally.

Being physically active can prevent and help treat many of the most common chronic medical conditions associated with old age. Physical activity is one of the most important steps older adults can take to maintain physical and mental health and quality of life. Yet today, more than 60% of older adults are inactive – and this number is probably much higher for residents of assisted living communities. Many are sedentary, physically unfit, and experience disability from chronic medical conditions as they age.

Community administration and staff members hear many reasons from residents as to why they are not active:

  • It’sboring.
  • It doesn’t feel good.
  • It makes my arthritic joints hurt.
  • It takes too much time.

However, they need physical activity more today than they care to admit. In fact, without physical exercise they will continue to suffer the loss of strength and stamina.

Walking groups and physical activity programs can help residents become and remain active.

Strength training is recommended for all adults, but it is a vital link to health for older adults. The reason is that strength training prevents sarcopenia, the muscle deterioration that comes with aging, and also helps maintain bone mass. “Stronger people have better health outcomes,” noted Dr. David Buchner, Chief of CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch and renowned Gerontologist. However, some elderly people avoid physical activity and become sedentary out of fear of falling and fracturing a bone. Dr. Buchner added that emerging data indicate that physical activity can prevent falls by improving strength, balance, and endurance.

Keeping Young at Heart aerobic activity, which is cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular endurance activity, is also important. It keeps the heart strong, lowers blood pressure, and relieves anxiety and depression. Even when the activities in a program such as this one are too strenuous, older adults can obtain significant health benefits with moderate physical activity, such as walking or gardening.

“We need to make physical activity part of the daily routine for older adults,” said Dr. Buchner. To that end, you should search for a community that has an active, diverse fitness program. Or, should the community you select have less-than-desirable physical activity programs, become instrumental in developing them.

What about Mental Fitness?

A large-scale study of women aged 65 and older found that cognitive decline was least common in those who were most physically active, while a large-scale study of men aged 71 and older found that those who walked less than a quarter of a mile a day were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia as those who walked more than two miles a day.

Basically then, aerobic exercise appears to improve higher cognitive functions (planning, organization and working memory) in the elderly. Another way physical training may help cognitive function in the elderly is by increasing their confidence in their abilities.

A small 14-day study found that those following a memory improvement plan that included memory training, a healthy diet, physical exercise, and stress reduction, showed a better performance on a cognitive measure controlled by this brain region, and participants reported that they felt their memory had improved.

The memory training involved doing brainteasers, crossword puzzles and memory exercises. Diet involved eating 5 small meals daily (to prevent fluctuations in blood glucose levels) that were rich in omega-3 fats, low-glycemic index carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains) and anti-oxidants. Physical exercise involved brisk walking and stretching, and stress reduction involved stretching and relaxation exercises.

Photo credit: brad montgomery

6 Senior Care Consumer Advocacy Groups To Know

There are many consumer advocacy groups both on a state and national level whose mission is to protect the rights and benefits of seniors or anyone who requires long-term care.  They are:

Health Information, Counseling, and Advocacy Program (HICAP): An independent resource established by the California Department of Aging that provides free counseling and advice about Medicare and healthcare insurance options to senior citizens.  To find counseling services in your area go to: www.cahealthadvocates.org/HICAP/

The Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living (CCAL): A national nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the needs and rights of assisted living patients, their families and their caregivers. CCAL assists consumers with education about their choices for assisted living environments.  www.ccal.org

American Health Care Association (AHCA): The nation’s largest association of long term and post-acute care providers.  They advocate for quality care and services for frail, elderly and disabled Americans. Their mission is to improve service and administration of nursing homes. www.ahcancal.org

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR): A statewide nonprofit 501(c)(3) advocacy organization, is committed to improving the choices, care and quality of life for long term care patients. Their mission is to educate and support consumers and advocates regarding their legal rights and be a voice long term care reform and humane alternatives to institutionalization.  www.canhr.org/

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care (NCCNHR):  Formerly the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, NCCNHR is a national nonprofit organization of consumers and advocates dedicated to improving care for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.  www.nccnhr.org/

Long-Term Care Ombudsman: An ombudsman is an advocate for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. They provide information about how to find a facility and what to do to get quality care. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an Ombudsman Program that addresses complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system. To locate state agencies and citizen advocacy groups by state:  http://www.ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman

To find additional U.S. government information regarding senior consumers, go to http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Seniors/Consumer.shtml

Photo credit: ktylerconk

Your Senior Health Care Bill: $260,000!

I have always been a big fan of Howard Gleckman, author of Caring for Our Parents.  In fact, he was the very first person I interviewed for my Leaders in Elder Care series.  If you aren’t familiar with Howard’s blog, you’re really missing out on a complete play-by-play of how the health care debate is impacting the cost of senior care.

This morning, he shared some startling statistics about paying for elder care that I have quoted below.  In this article, Howard has links to some fascinating studies about the out-of-pocket costs for seniors, and it is shocking.  It is mind-boggling to me how financing elder care will be solved as we move forward. He wrote:

A typical couple would have to save nearly $200,000 to pay for their out-of-pocket medical costs from the time they are 65 until they die, according to an important new study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Add in nursing home costs, and they are likely to need $260,000.

But that’s only part of the story. About 5 percent of 65-year-old couples will face catastrophic medical and long-term care costs exceeding $570,000, according to researchers Anthony Webb and Natalia Zhivan.They estimate those expenses would have exhausted the total financial assets of 85 percent of all retirees even at the peak of the stock market in 2007.

As someone who has first-hand experience with out-of-pocket expenses and my Mother’s care, I was still so stunned by these numbers, that I could not write a conclusion to this article.  What do you say?

Obviously, I encourage you to check out Howard’s writing.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts about these big numbers?

Photo: bubble dumpster