November is National Family Caregivers Month, and AARP has teamed up with the Ad Council in a campaign that includes the results of a new caregiving poll as well as a series of powerful public service ads highlighting the changing roles of family caregivers.
As I cared for my parents, helping them to live independently at home as they aged, I learned to listen to the learnings of other family caregivers. Recently, I shared 5 Tips for Caregivers and asked others for their views on our @ AARPAdvocates Facebook page. The comments from fellow caregivers came flooding in. While I wish I could share them all, here are 10 tips from caregivers to caregivers:
At less than a foot tall and under 25 pounds, Mr. Jackson might not seem like the powerhouse that he is in our family. His floppy ears and big brown eyes make him adorable, but it's the intelligence and sensitivity that are apparent through those eyes that have made him my constant, loyal and vital partner in caregiving for my parents over the past five years. As caregivers, we all need to build a caregiving team - no one can do this alone. But I couldn't have predicted the crucial role this four-legged team member would play. I can't imagine my caregiving journey without him.
Family caregivers who are caring for loved ones with cognitive and behavioral health conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and depression, face particularly demanding challenges, according to a new report from AARP and the United Hospital Fund.
I was a long-distance caregiver for my parents for nearly 15 years. Through illness, surgery and rehabilitation, I helped them stay out of institutional care, like a nursing home, and instead remain at home - where they wanted to be. During this time, I purchased my house on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with my parents in mind - hoping that Mom and Pop could come to the Cape from New York, enjoy time by the seashore, and get some rest and relaxation. Finding a home with a ground-floor bedroom and bath was at the top of my list, so my mom could navigate throughout the house in her wheelchair.
Over the past five years of intensive caregiving for my parents, I have watched my numbers go up - my cholesterol, my weight, my body fat and, yes, my jeans size. And let's not even mention my stress level and the number of pieces of chocolate I eat daily.
The dog days of summer can complicate caregiving. For my 90-year-old dad, whose progressing Alzheimer's disease makes him sensitive to extremes in temperature, the typical 110-degree Phoenix weather is too hot to go outside, but an overly air-conditioned room is too cold. The result for my father is low motivation, appetite and activity levels that aren't good for his health. Here are some of the creative ways I use to keep up with my dad's health care, socialization and exercise needs during the extreme heat of summer, even as Alzheimer's is changing his capabilities:
I don't usually leave Daddy for long. But this time a series of work commitments - and a high school reunion - means I'll stay away from home for 19 days. Although my sister Linda is going to be with Daddy for most of that time, it's still very hard to leave knowing he may change a great deal while I'm away, and that he will probably feel less safe and secure without my presence. He doesn't always know I am his daughter, but on a deep, basic level he knows me. While my head knows I'm doing the sensible thing, my heart is twisted in sadness.
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