If you’re caring for an ageing parent or facing the challenges of assisting a loved one or friend who is chronically ill, disabled or elderly, you are not alone. You are one of the 22 million Americans who care for an older adult. Caregivers provide 80 per cent of in-home care, but unlike nurses and home health aides, they are unpaid for their labour of love.
“Caregiving is a difficult job that can take a toll on relationships, jobs and emotional well-being,” says Dr Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers. “Those who care for others need to be sure to take care of themselves, as well.”
Here are some important tips for caregivers:
• Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
We tend to wait until we are in crisis before asking for help and consultation. Seek out the help of a licensed clinical social worker or other trained professional.
• It’s Not Easy to Tell Your Parents What to Do
The most difficult thing about caring for a parent is the day you have to tell them they need to have help, they can no longer drive or they may have to move from their home. Discuss long-term care wishes and desires before any decline happens.
• Take Care of Your Mental Health
It is not unusual to feel frustrated with your parents or children when they refuse your input and help. Seek a referral to a professional who can help you cope with your issues and frustrations.
• Stay Informed
We live in a world of constant change. Medications and treatments are constantly changing and the only way to keep up-to-date is to stay informed with the latest news. Attend local caregiver conferences, participate in support groups, speak with friends and relatives, and talk with professionals in the field of gerontology and geriatrics.
• Take Time Out
Caregivers who experience feelings of burnout need to accept that occasionally they may need a break from their loved one to provide him or her with the best care.
Humour and laughter are tremendous healers.
If possible, you may want to hire help. The most important thing is to find trustworthy people to assist. Use recommended home care agencies, talk with friends about their experiences and interview professionals before deciding on the one you are going to retain.
You may relate to Joanne’s story. One out of four Americans cares for a friend or relative who is sick, disabled or frail. That’s 46 million Americans who offer unpaid help to a loved one. If they were paid caregivers’ compensation would exceed last year’s Medicare budget! And if you become a caregiver, you, like Joanne, may try to do it alone, shrouded in secrecy.
Joanne’s mother, Betty, had rheumatoid arthritis for years. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Betty was disabled by the pain, fatigue and limited mobility that she had feared since her diagnosis.
Joanne convinced her fiercely independent mother that living alone was no longer an option. And Joanne, the eldest of four children, knew that caring for her sick mother fell on her shoulders. Joanne was a legend in the circles of her family, friends and colleagues for her ability to act with grace under pressure.
Joanne took two weeks of vacation from her job and cooked and froze meals for her husband and three children. As she flew to her hometown, she wondered how she would coordinate her mother’s care from a distance. Supporting her husband as he built his new business, nurturing her kids and directing a major project at work already made her feel that she was running on empty.
Solo caregiving compromises your ability to nurture yourself and others. Let’s take caregiving out from behind closed doors. For your sake and the sake of those who count on you, please get some help. Caregivers are competent people who feel that they should be able to do this job. Yet, many soon find themselves unprepared and ill-equipped to manage the sometimes daunting tasks, such as managing a complex medical regimen or remodelling a house so it’s wheel-chair accessible or even finding someone to stay with their loved ones so they can go out to a movie without worrying their relatives will fall on the way to the fridge.
If you are a caregiver, you know that this act of love has its costs. You stand to forfeit up to $650,000 in lost wages, pension and social security. Add to that is the personal cost to your well being, as your new demands leave you less time for your family and friends. You may give up vacations, hobbies and social activities. Finally, caregiving places a burden on your health. Caregivers are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, depressed immune function and even hospitalization.
Instead of reaching out, caregivers become isolated. Many who assume the caregiving burden fit the profile of the giving family member, like Joanne, who does not want to trouble others with their problems. Some fear the consequences of disclosing their new demands to coworkers or employers. Caregivers are further challenged by the cultural conspiracy of silence. Our youth-centred society turns a blind eye to the unpleasant and inevitable reality that all of us age and die. This leaves both caregivers and care recipients unprepared. Look no further than the path of Hurricane Katrina to witness the consequences of a lack of planning.
What can you do? Start talking about the “what ifs” and make a plan.
- Start with yourself. What will happen to you and your family if you become disabled or die unexpectedly? Do you have disability insurance? Do you have a will? Do you have a living will and have you identified the person who will make the medical choices you would make if you are not in the position to do so?
- Approach healthy family members. Say, “I hope that you live many happy years in which you enjoy all of the pleasures you worked so hard to create.” Have you thought about what would happen to you if you cannot live independently any more? If some medical event befalls you, who would make your medical choices?
- Look into community resources that support caregiving. A day program, for example, helps your loved one by providing social connections with peers. Your community may even offer transportation to and from the program. Getting out of the house offers the additional benefit of getting bodies moving. Socializing and exercise are the two most powerful interventions that help your loved ones stay at their best.
- Make specific suggestions to friends, family members and neighbours who want to help. You may even want to keep a “help list.” When they say, “Let me know what I can do,” you have a response: “Could you take Mom to her physical therapy appointment this week?” “When you’re at the store, could you pick up some oranges and blueberries?” “Could you watch the kids for an hour so I can get to the gym?” Your giving friends will appreciate specific ideas about how they can help.
- Take care of your health. Get good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise to stay in top health. Wash your hands regularly to prevent colds and flu. Manage your stress with laughter, a prayer or even a deep breath. Nourish your soul with a taste of activities that recharge your batteries such as writing in your journal or gardening. Finally, talk to your doctor if you feel depressed or anxious.
The best strategies for effective caregiving include preparation, acts of self-care and reaching out for help. That begins with the courage to start talking openly about caregiving.
Potassium Concerns In The Elderly
Having sufficient nutrients in the body is a general goal for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily take great effort to achieve this goal. If you simply follow a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, you should be healthy. However, taking medication, genetics, and age can cause you to become vitamin or mineral deficient. Potassium is one such mineral that the elderly or those individuals who care for them should be aware
Potassium is a mineral that, in combination with sodium and calcium, maintains normal heart rhythm, regulates the body’s water balance, and is responsible for the conduction of nerve impulses and the contraction of muscles. The body of an average-sized person contains about 5 ounces (140 g) of potassium. Blood levels of the mineral are controlled by the kidneys, which eliminate any excess in the urine.
Potassium deficiency is rare because almost all foods contain potassium. The best sources of potassium include lean meat, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, beans, and many fruits (especially bananas and oranges). A diet that includes these foods is sufficient for obtaining adequate amounts of potassium.
Since potassium sources are so abundant, for most people potassium deficiency is not a concern. The elderly, however, are at a greater risk for potassium deficiency. The main reason the elderly should be concerned about sufficient deficiency is that their kidneys and other organs tend not to function as well. This results in the system not being able to absorb and regulate the amount of potassium in the body.
Besides, medications prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure are less effective with the elderly. High blood pressure can lead to serious health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. So, the elderly who are prescribed blood pressure reducing medications with little success may want to discuss potassium supplementation with their doctor.
The main symptoms of potassium deficiency are irregular heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, muscle weakness and abnormal skin sensations, such as numbness. To detect potassium deficiency a doctor tests the patient’s blood levels for the presence of potassium. If less than 5.6 grams of potassium are present the individual is determined to have a potassium deficiency.