Tag Archives: aging parents

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue?

Worn out by Compassion Fatigue?

Worn out by Compassion Fatigue?

Caring for a child, a disabled sibling, an ailing spouse or an elderly parent can take a huge emotional toll on the caregiver.  Caregiving is an act of compassion that can lead one to an unsustainable level of selflessness; and in this selflessness, cause damaging, long-term effects on the caregiver.  Whether you believe asking for help is a sign of weakness or have convinced yourself that you are the only one capable of adequately providing the level of care you perceive is needed, you unwittingly set yourself up for experiencing the exhaustion, stress, frustration and isolation that it can create.

In medical circles, the ultimate fatigue and burnout that this situation can create is referred to as ‘Compassion Fatigue’.  This develops out of the demanding nature of showing ongoing compassion for somebody whose circumstances are likely not going to improve.  The caregiver may go through the motions of continuing to care for the loved one but, over time, the compassion diminishes.

In the worst case scenario, this can lead to neglect and/or abuse of the loved one requiring the care!

Some of the warning signs that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue are:  Abusing drugs, alcohol or food; anger; blaming; depression; hopelessness; emotional and/or physical exhaustion; GI complaints; frequent headaches; sleep disturbance; diminished sense of personal accomplishment; increase irritability and; less ability to feel joy.

Caregivers need, and deserve, a healthy personal life.  When a caregiver makes the effort to keep a balance between their empathy and their objectivity, they are able to realize the need for and to create a healthier self-care plan.

Set aside some time to nurture yourself.  When the caregiver is rested, energized and in a positive frame of mine, the caregiving load becomes a bit lighter.  Taking this time for yourself may feel selfish and unnatural at first, but commit to doing at least one thing each day that is focused on your enjoyment and benefits your sense of well-being.

Identify the things about caregiving that cause you the most stress.  Look for ways to eliminate them as much as possible or make sure that you create a routine that allows you to balance those activities with things that you may enjoy or at least find less stressful.  Don’t line up all of the stressful activities in a row; break them up and spread them out!

When you are feeling overwhelmed and are juggling too many balls in the air, know your limits.  That’s the time to take a moment to prioritize those ‘to-do’ items and determine what really must be done and what can wait awhile or be eliminated altogether.  Taking these few moments to do this may give you back a small feeling of control in the situation and help to eliminate some of the frustration.

Validate your commitment to providing good care to your loved one by reaching out for some help!  Preventing ‘compassion fatigue’ is going to allow you to provide the good care that you want to offer.  Far from being a weakness, asking for the help you require is a sign of strength in knowing what your own needs are.

So, do more than just survive the emotional grinder of caregiving.  Prevent compassion fatigue by keeping your own needs as part of the caregiver equation.  Both you and your loved one will reap the benefits!

On the journey with you…….Kathy

We’ve Got Important Things to Discuss

Let's Talk

Let’s Talk

As you were raising your children, there were conversations that you knew you needed to have with them at various times through the years.  When the kids were really young, they were usually instructional conversations about how to act and what to do but as the kids grew, the conversations became a little more complicated.

The ‘Sex Talk’ is a conversation that many parents dread.  Some feel awkward talking to their kids about this topic; agonizing over what to tell, how much to say and how detailed to become.  Kids sometimes dread these conversations as much as the parents do!  But it really is a conversation that can’t be ignored.  To refuse to confront the fact that your children are growing up is a mistake you cannot afford to make as a parent.

There is another conversation I feel has every bit as big of an impact on how things may go in your future.

That conversation is the one that needs to happen between adult children and their aging parents.  The conversation about what the parent’s plans and wishes are for the years when the aging parent may need help from the kids.  This is a talk that few really to want to have; but, I truly believe that you are in denial if you don’t face the fact that those times eventually come.  The one certainty in life is that, at some point, it ends.

I live in Pennsylvania Dutch country and one thing that people do not want to talk about here, is their money.  Many people are very private about what they have and don’t want to go around sharing that with others.

And that’s fine.  You don’t have to pass out a spread sheet to all of your friends and neighbors, but you might want to consider sharing some things with your kids.  Aging parents who expect, or hope, that their kids will help them to manage when they need help, need to share information about their finances and consider setting up some mechanism for access.  It does not mean you need to sign your money over, but if, at some point, decisions have to be made on your behalf, it is best for your family to be able to make an informed decision based on accurate information.

You should consult with an Elder Law Attorney about how to set things up to protect yourself while providing some path for your kids to help you should the need arise.

If you have a child that you trust, set them up to handle your affairs; if you don’t have a child or do not trust them to act in your best interests, find somebody else to do this for you (an attorney can help with that as well).

Once these decisions have been made and plans put into place, you must then share it with those who need to know!

Don’t hide information that may be important.  Organize the finances and share the location of the information with your appointed trustee.  Give them a general idea of the scope of assets, if you feel that you can, so that they will be able to make good judgments about what you may and may not be able to afford at any given time in the future.

My father was well into early dementia before the finances were handed off to my brother (who helps my mother) leaving my brother in a position where he was constantly discovering new things!  My father had long ago lost the capacity to handle things with the accuracy that they required even neglecting to begin taking mandatory distributions from some of his retirement funds which now may require that they pay a penalty.

If the conversations had been welcomed and initiated by my father (my mother would not have hesitated) years before, many hours spent addressing complications could have been avoided.

Parents frequently say that they do not want to become a burden on their children.  But by not having these conversations, that is often what happens in the end.  The time and frustration that the caregivers exert figuring out and then straightening out the situation when it becomes necessary, becomes a burden to them.

So, if you are the aging parent, make this conversation a priority; it is your responsibility.

And if you are the adult child, share this article with your parent and ask for that conversation.  Express to your parent that having this conversation would help you minimize the stress and strain, of what might already become sad and stressful time, in the future.

Communicate.  Work with an Elder Law Attorney to get the proper framework for your family situation set up.

Then, it can be filed away for the day when you might need it.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

4 Dementia Impersonators

Kathy Eynon, Parent Care Alliance

Dementia Impersonators

Being given a diagnosis of dementia for a loved one can certainly be devastating news.  But, it is especially important, since there is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, to get an accurate diagnosis.

With many types of dementia, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and allow the patient to maximize their cognitive function for as long as possible.  An accurate diagnosis allows the patient to have access to the appropriate treatments promptly.

But be aware that there are many things that can mimic the signs and symptoms of dementia.  Many of these other conditions can be treated and/or eliminated which will relieve those dementia-like symptoms.

Depression – Because someone who is depressed may exhibit some of the same signs as someone with dementia, it is important to consider this possibility.  When people are depressed they often have a difficult time concentrating and may be more inclined to forget things.  As both of these symptoms are hallmarks of dementia, it can be misinterpreted.  The physician who is assessing for dementia should also be assessing for depression.  Treating for depression can sometimes eliminate the signs of dementia!

Medication – Many commonly used medications in the elderly can lead to symptoms of dementia:  Confusion, Memory Loss and Disorientation.  While these can easily be attributed to dementia, it warrants an investigation and medication review if your loved one is on medications for:  Parkinson’s disease, Allergies, Migraines, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Depression, Colds and/or Diarrhea.  Also pay attention if the patient is taking any medication for sleep disturbance/insomnia.  By eliminating a problematic medication, the family may see the dementia-like cognitive changes resolve.

Nutritional Deficiencies – Nutritional deficiencies account for as many as 5% of dementia type issues.  The deficiencies most commonly associated with symptoms of dementia are deficiencies of the B Vitamins:  Thiamine (B-1), Niacin (B-3), Folate (folic acid), and Vitamin B-12.  Vitamin B-12 deficiencies can be addressed with B-12 injections as, often, the elderly lack the factor in the gut needed to absorb vitamin B-12.  Other deficiencies can be managed with supplementation.

Substance Abuse – This is not something that we automatically associate with our aging parents.  However, substance abuse is being labeled the ‘Invisible Epidemic’ by some due to the startling fact that 17% of older adults are affected by alcohol and prescription drug misuse.  Substance abuse may go undetected in this population due to several facts:  They are often less involved in the social mainstream, they are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and they are retired so that the abuse is not likely to cause a job loss.  But, alcohol impairs mental function more and more as we age so that even a drink or two can impair function in a more noticeable way.

There are many other conditions that present the symptoms of dementia so you can see the importance of a complete medical work-up which evaluates all possible factors.  The physician needs to do a complete and thorough examination which should include not only a physical exam, but also a detailed history and interviews with close family members if possible.

Getting the appropriate treatment for any of these conditions is important in making the life of our aging loved ones as healthy and full as possible.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent.  She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.

Seniors and Cell Phones

Kathy Eynon, Eldercare, Elder CareWho knew that getting my mother her own cell phone plan would be such a difficult task!  What three of us thought would be a relatively simple and painless task, turned into quite an event.

Years ago, when my father was still living, Mom expressed an interest in having a cell phone.  She had experienced a few unsettling episodes while she was out and about by herself and felt that this would give her a measure of safety and security.  The 3 kids, and our spouses, all agreed that this would be a small piece of insurance and would provide her with a little piece of mind.

In those days, my father was still very much in control of many of the decisions that were made regarding their lives, which is as it should be, and was strongly opposed to taking on a cell phone plan.  He could not see the benefits and felt that it was an expense that they did not need to incur.  Oddly, maybe due to his early stage dementia, he seemed unable to see the benefits that it would provide to my mother at the time.

So, of course, as I often say caregivers have to do, we found the back-door-in solution.  For my mother’s birthday that year, she got a cell phone from her children.  My sister added a line to their cell phone plan, we all paid a third of the yearly expenses, and Mom was up and running.

And while Dad had been so strongly against the idea of a cell phone, he began to use it for all of their long distance calling on the weekends when it was ‘Free’.  Oh, the irony!

Since my father has passed away, the idea that the kids needed to continue to pay for Mom’s cell phone plan has been revisited.  She is currently on my plan, but I rarely remembered to ask my siblings for ‘their share’ of the costs.  Mom thought it would be best at this point to have her own plan.

So, my brother, my husband, Mom and I set off for the mall on Saturday afternoon to do the ‘simple’ task of making the change.

We had looked at the Jitterbug due to its simplicity:  No contract, basic phone and options for how many minutes to purchase each month.  After all, a smart phone is not what Mom needed.  When we arrived at Sears, who carries the Jitterbug, there was another option to be considered (Consumer Cellular).  Both had similar options and pricing.  But, the store does not complete the activation process.  They claimed that it was simple and the Mom could still keep her cell number.

My brother felt that it was worth a call to the 800 number on the back of the box to confirm this detail.  The 800 number did not seem to be operational.  It seemed a sign for us to walk away from this option.

So, how about just moving Mom off of our Verizon plan onto her own?

This required a LONG walk to the other end of the mall, which is difficult for my mother, only to discover that they can only make those changes Monday-Friday.  What???  Are you kidding me?

So, Mom now has a new upgraded phone (her old phone had to be 5 years old or more) and is still on my cell plan.  The decision, in light of all of the challenges we encountered, was to keep her on our plan and have her pay us for her cell service on a yearly basis.  She came out feeling satisfied that she is covering her own phone costs, has a new (basic) phone that she can navigate, and we will likely never revisit those other options!

A cell phone can provide great security to seniors, especially those that live alone or go out and about on their own.  As I mentioned before, we considered it cheap insurance for Mom.  Don’t try to overwhelm them with smart phone technologies; a basic phone is usually all that they need and want.  Keep it simple.

Mom was exhausted.  But, it was likely the last time that we will need to drag her through that issue.  Nothing is ever simple, is it?

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent.  She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.

Difficult Conversations: Are your elderly parents resistant, reluctant or ready?

In our attempts to have difficult conversations about the future with our elderly parents, we might encounter one of three reactions.  These reactions will shed some light on their ‘readiness’ for those conversations.

 

 

What stage are you encountering in your attempts to discuss your concerns?

 

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent.  She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.