Tuesday, 17 July 2018 08:00

As a caregiver it’s easy to slip into a daily routine and forget about the original intent of a caregiving journey: to make your loved one’s life simpler, happier and worth living.

You may become bound by appointments, caregiving duties and the stress of balancing your own family life. But as a caregiver it’s important to always remember these 10 essential commandments:

1. Yes, they’re still the same person

Your loved one’s memories may have faded, but essentially they are still the same person who deserves the respect, dignity and happiness of any adult on an everyday basis.

2. Always treat your loved one like the adult they are

Your loved one’s behaviour may be inappropriate, unpleasant, unkind and even child-like at times, but they are still adults and must always be treated as one. Baby talk and patronisation is never ok.

3. Take the journey into their world

The reality is that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients simply cannot function in the world you live in. You have to take the plunge into their world and remember to accept what is ‘normal’ for you, may not be ‘normal’ for your loved one.

4. Actions are more meaningful than words

Sometimes the act of affection, a hug, a touch on the hand, a kiss on the cheek can say so much more than a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient can understand through words. Don’t neglect affection!

5. A consistent schedule is key

A daily schedule of caregiving duties helps your loved one to tap into relevant memories they may have formed, helping to strengthen parts of the brain. Schedules provide a sense of security and calm.

6. A daily dose of the outdoors is vital

Fresh air and sunshine is absolutely imperative to keep elderly loved ones sane, happy and in a positive frame of mind. A short walk in the sunshine, 20-minutes on an outside bench or a day bed in the sunshine each day should suffice.

7. Incorporate pleasurable activities into your routine

Even if a loved cannot remember that you took them for tea and cake, the pleasurable feelings and happy emotions can still last for hours afterwards. Remember to regularly provide them with these feel-good endorphins.

8. Keep things sociable

This is important, but must be tailored to what your loved one is comfortable with. If large crowds are a no-go, stick to smaller social gatherings of two –three people at a time. Even if they cannot remember grandchildren, make an effort to visit to help boost feel-good emotions.

9. Create a safe environment

This means offering your loved one the freedom to move about on their own, but in the safest manner possible. This may mean installing hand rails throughout the home, removing all fall and trip hazards and buying a walker.

10. Keep them as healthy as possible

Yes, indulgences are allowed, but for the most part make sure your loved one is eating a nutritional, balanced diet which will help to promote healthy brain function and immune system.   

Some days may be harder than others along your caregiving journey, in fact, that is a given. But if you ever falter on what’s important, these 10 caregiving commandments should set you back on track.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018 08:00

Did you know we breathe more than 25 000 times a day without even thinking about it? It’s one of the most natural human processes which is often taken for granted throughout our everyday lives. Breathing gives us life, so it’s no wonder that practicing certain breathing techniques can help to boost oxygen levels, reduce stress and anxiety and offer a host of other benefits.

As we age, many people tend to develop respiratory issues and difficulties with breathing. This is why learning to control your breathing can help to alleviate some of these symptoms while also helping to improve both physical and mental capabilities.

Both caregivers and their loved ones can work to improve the body’s oxygen levels, relieve symptoms associated with asthma attacks, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnoea. This, in turn, can help to improve immune function, energy levels and reduce stress and anxiety within your everyday life.

Here are three breathing techniques to begin practicing today:

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Most people breathe incorrectly, taking short, shallow breaths straight into their chest throughout the day. For those with limited lung capacity, the shortness of breath is even greater. A proper breath is drawn from the diaphragm, pushing it down and expanding the belly. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can dramatically help to increase oxygen flow and levels:

Step 1: Sit up straight, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest
Step 2: Inhale slowly through the nose and feel the stomach expand with each full breath
Step 3: Exhale slowly out the mouth
Step 4: Repeat 6 or more times each minute – try and do this for 15 minutes to boost oxygen levels and reduce stress.

2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

This breathing technique is highly effective in helping you fall asleep faster, helping to ease tension throughout the body and promote relaxation. The technique has also been proven to help beat food cravings throughout the day, reduce anxiety levels and assist with insomnia.

Step 1: Breathe out of the mouth fully, creating a ‘’whoosh’’ noise as you do so
Step 2: Inhale through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, while counting to 4
Step 3: Hold this breath and count to 7
Step 4: Exhale through the mouth for a count of 8, make sure to repeat the ‘’whoosh’’ sound
Step 5: Repeat steps two –four at least 5 times.

3. The Buteyko Nose Breathing Technique

This breathing technique came about in the 1950’s, aimed at curbing asthma attacks and helping to treat a host of respiratory issues. People across the globe have consequently adopted this technique because of its natural and effective healing capabilities. This breathing technique has reportedly provided relief for thousands who suffer from asthma, hypertension and sleep apnoea. Make sure elderly loved one perform this technique under supervision to avoid hyperventilation.

Step 1: Sit in a quiet, peaceful place, upright and focused on breathing
Step 2: Inhale slowly through the nose and fill the lungs as much as possible
Step 3: Exhale slowly through the nostrils as much as you can, until you feel compelled to inhale once again
Step 4: Repeat steps two and three at least 5 times.

If you want to reap the full benefits of these breathing techniques, whether for your own benefits as a caregiver or to help an elderly loved one, consistency is key. Set some time aside each day to focus on your breathing and track your progress in a diary to note any changes in your health.

Tuesday, 03 July 2018 08:00

While delirium and dementia share very similar symptoms, they are completely different conditions which are commonly confused with each other. Likewise, the cause of these conditions is very different – but what they do have in common is that going under the knife with general anaesthesia can exacerbate both of their symptoms.

Common symptoms of both delirium and dementia include confusion, issues with perceptions, mood swings and impaired cognition, however they are separated by the length of time they affect the elderly.

Delirium is often characterised by short, abrupt disruptions in mental cognition and function, while dementia is indicated by a gradual decline in mental function over time. People with dementia can often show signs of delirium and vice versa. However, these two conditions are vastly different.

Delirium and anaesthesia

Delirium, brought on by anaesthesia, can be a fairly common occurrence in the elderly who undergo surgery and hospitalisation. In fact, this has led to studies aimed at whether anaesthesia can cause permanent brain damage or even drive the onset of dementia. However, results have been inconclusive, with no real body of evidence to prove either of these theories. At present, post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is the terminology used to describe a specific decline in cognitive ability post-anaesthesia.

Is anaesthesia safe for those with dementia?

As a caregiver you may be faced with a big decision when it comes to a loved one needing surgery which requires full anaesthesia. The truth is that the risks associated with anaesthesia and dementia still remain a little blurry, some seniors make a full recovery without any further cognitive decline, while others never return to their pre-cognitive ability.

When it comes time to make such a decision, here are some important thoughts to consider and steps to take:

1. Consider the benefits of the surgery on their future quality of life. Will the surgery help to drastically improve mobility, pain levels or a loved one’s overall health? Do the pros outweigh the cons?
2. When making the decision, take into account their age, physical health and pre-existing cognitive abilities. Is their level of dementia just too advanced to risk any further cognitive decline, or do the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks?
3. Consider their ability to co-operate, participate and understand post-op rehabilitation, if it’s needed.
4. Meet with their doctors and consider whether full anaesthesia is needed for a procedure. Regional anaesthesia in combination with a sedative can also be a safe and effective alternative to reduce the risks posed by full anaesthesia.
5. Make sure that a full pre-op evaluation with their existing physician is done, and make that surgeons and anaesthesiologists are aware of their medication regimen and any pre-existing conditions i.e. dementia, heart or lung conditions, hypertension, diabetes etc.  

No matter your age there are always risks associated with undergoing anaesthesia, and when it comes to the elderly, preparation and evaluation is key. Ensuring the medical team is up-to-date on your loved one’s health status will always decrease the risk of anything going wrong!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018 08:00

Nobody likes to be rushed, most especially if you are using your own time to help someone else – such as with full-time caregiving. For those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, time may seem far more fleeting than it actually is, creating a sense of anxiety and an air of mis-judgement around everyday tasks.

However, this sense of timing is not only reserved for those with cognitive impairment. In fact, many seniors become increasingly aware of time as they age, often inaccurately timing certain tasks in order to avoid ‘’being late’’ or ‘’missing out’’ on certain things. As we age, we tend to become ‘early birds’ as part of the process!

While timing mis-judgement may seem amusing or endearing to other family members, it can pose a real challenge for a full-time caregiver who is already strapped for time, with a packed schedule to balance. Being rushed by a loved one, only to arrive somewhere 30-minutes early, can become extremely frustrating as that extra time could have been used for other duties or commitments.

In order to reach a compromise with an elderly loved one who is highly-strung on time, here are a few simple tips:

1. Understand their ‘need for speed’

Try and get to the root of your loved one’s ‘need for speed’. There must be an underlying reason why they have to be 30-minutes early for their weekly doctor’s appointment or moans and groans if you’re 10-minutes later than their usual pick-up time. There may be an underlying anxiety around leaving the house, perhaps they are worried about missing their favourite TV show or leaving a pet unattended. With a clear understanding on what the rush is, you can work out a schedule together which can help put their mind at ease and leave you with a little more time to spare.

2. Devise a precise timing schedule

When drawing up your schedule with your loved one, try and be realistic about timings. If you know that it takes 15-minutes to put on their shoes, gather their belongings and get into the car, factor this timing into the schedule. Make sure you arrive 15-20 minutes earlier so that you aren’t underestimating the time it takes to perform everyday tasks and get to appointments on time.

Let your loved one know that you have accounted for everything in the schedule so there is zero chance of being late or staying out of the house for longer than is needed. Just remember to be a little flexible here, as unforeseen circumstances can come up, so flexibility is key.

3. Learn to value extra time

Having a little extra time because you arrived 20-minutes early to an appointment is all about perspective. You can choose to sit and feel annoyed by it, or you can use this time wisely, to your advantage.

Take the extra time and use it to catch up with a loved one, have a real conversation with them, if possible. Alternatively, use it to catch up on text messages to friends, writing out a shopping list, updating your own schedule or catching on emails. If you know that your loved one insists on arriving 20-minutes early to every appointment and is reluctant to change this, schedule that extra 20-minutes into your day and use it for something productive where possible.

A large portion of caregiving is about how you approach a situation and choose to deal with it. Choosing to reframe a frustrating situation can go a long way in saving both your sanity and your respect for your loved one.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018 08:00

When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic or long-term illness such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, the immediate assumption is that a family member will become their primary caregiver. While this assumption is not 100% incorrect, this puts tremendous pressure on family members to step-up to the plate and fulfil caregiving duties, while maintaining the balance of their everyday lives – most especially, within their careers.

Be open and honest

Becoming a primary caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can put you in a precarious situation when it comes to employment. However, experts advise that the best measure for a full-time caregiver to take is to disclose their new responsibilities and expectations to their employer.

Being 100% honest with an employer means pointing out that your two roles may overlap from time-to-time and that you may need to test the waters to see how they feel about this.

One of your best courses of action as a full-time employee and now a caregiver is to define your responsibilities as a caregiver and explain that there will be instances where you may require time away from work. This way, your employer knows where you stand and will not question your absenteeism.

In most cases, most employers should be completely empathetic and supportive of your situation. However, it’s important to remember that employers also have their own set of obligations to uphold for the sake of other employees and company stakeholders. Essentially, business is still business.

So when is it time to consider roping in the help of other family members if you feel your career and its trajectory is being jeopardised?

1. Limited involvement in workplace activities

When your involvement in workplace activities begins to take a back seat over your caregiving responsibilities, it may be time to look for help from other family members or friends for a few hours a week. These activities may include participation in meaningful fundraisers or enjoying time with other employees at birthday or anniversary events.

2.  Turning down a promotion

It really doesn’t happen all that often that an employee would turn down an opportunity of promotion and salary increase. If this has happened or is something you’re considering as a caregiver, it may be time to consider finding additional support if your ambition is to move forward in your career.

3. Turning down a relocation opportunity

Moving away from a loved one who has fallen ill and accepting an amazing new career opportunity may seem like a cruel and selfish thing to do. But why should it be? If your career is important to you and your family members know that and support you, then should it not be time for another sibling or family member to step-up and offer themselves as a primary caregiver? Yes, it may seem like a lot to ask, but ultimately, family members should band together in times of need.

If additional support from family members is just not an option, an assisted living community may also be your answer.

4. Feeling completely disconnected from your career

If you used to wake up with enthusiasm and motivation each day about your job, but that has become secondary now, it may be time to re-look your caregiving responsibilities. Perhaps you have a little too much on your plate and this is making you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Try and spread out caregiving tasks to willing family members so you can re-focus on other things which are also important to you.

Taking on the role of primary caregiver is a huge task, whether you work full-time and have a career or not. You will need to strike a balance between the two if both are just as important as the other. This may be easier said than done, but becoming a full-time caregiver does not mean your life needs to be put on hold. Reach out for support when you need it – there’s nothing selfish about it!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 08:00

Allergies – they affect a huge portion of the British population and do not discriminate by age! As the weather turns warmer and all our favourite trees, shrubs and flowers begin to bloom, allergies are a daily reality that begin to plague much of the elderly community.

Unfortunately, being highly sensitive to airborne pollens and resulting allergies is not something one can usually ‘outgrow’ with age. In fact, many people may even tend to develop other allergies as they get older. But when it comes to the elderly, allergies can be all the more difficult to manage due to a number of chronic or long-term illnesses they may already be suffering from.

Allergies have a tendency to complicate pre-existing conditions, making it more difficult to control stuffy noses, watering eyes, tight chests and bouts of asthma. This is why allergy season needs to be taken seriously, as allergic reactions can lead to disease complications.

In order to make allergy season a little more comfortable for your senior loved ones, here are a few simple steps to follow:

1. Keep track of allergy symptoms

Some pre-existing conditions in the elderly, specifically Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s make it difficult for seniors to express their discomfort during allergy season. To add to this, a caregiver may be too pre-occupied with more pertinent duties. However, this is no excuse to avoid all the common symptoms of allergies – look out for sneezing, runny noses, itchy noses, itchy eyes, watering eyes, raspy breathing or discomfort when breathing.

2. Visit your doctor, ASAP

If you notice than an elderly loved one is suffering from typical symptoms of allergy season, you’ll need to visit their doctor right away. If a senior suffers from chronic conditions such as heart disease or lung disease, it’s especially important that allergies are nipped in the bud as early on as possible. Allergies will only exacerbate these types of conditions by putting strain on both the lungs and the heart, posing a real risk to your loved ones.

3. Avoid antihistamines

While this may sound completely counter-productive for allergy season, antihistamines aren’t always the best solution for allergies in the elderly. These medications tend to carry adverse side-effects for seniors, including drowsiness, urine retention, dry mouth, dry eyes, confusion, and dizziness. Ultimately, these symptoms can contribute to an already weakened state and lead to dangerous falls and urinary tract infections which are highly common in seniors.

Antihistamines can also interact with other chronic medications a senior may be taking, leading to mood and behaviour changes. Your doctor should be able to prescribe another form of allergy relief, such as a nasal steroid or topical medication.

4. Opt for a medication-free approach

If you are wary of prescribing more medication to an already medicated senior, then prevention may be another approach to consider when managing allergies. Though this approach may work best with someone who only suffers from mild allergies.

Try and minimise a senior’s exposure to allergens throughout the day by avoiding the outdoors on days with particularly high pollen and allergy forecasts. If you have to venture outside, make sure they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes or even a surgical mask over their mouths if necessary. Once they are back in the comfort of home, make sure they wash their hands and face, shower and change into fresh clothes free of allergens.

Staying alert to the comfort of your loved one or care receiver can go a long way in saving time on unnecessary doctor’s visits and doctor’s bills. Keep a close eye on them during the spring and summer months as allergies do not discriminate!

Tuesday, 05 June 2018 08:00

With an estimated 127 000 people affected by Parkinson’s disease in the United Kingdom alone, measuring the progression of this complicated disease has long been tedious, time-consuming and challenging. But in today’s day and age, this could be greatly simplified with the development of the cloudUPDRS app.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018 08:00

As adults we are often referred to as ‘’creatures of habit’’ – no matter our age or the stage of lives we are in, adults tend to become creatures of habit due to the daily routine of life. Without even realising it, many of us become accustomed to the ins and outs of our daily life, only to hit a wall when we fail to keep up with the tides of change which ebb and flow as we grow older.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 00:00

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia it could be considered one of the worst days of their life, and yours. They have just been diagnosed with a degenerative disease, for which there is no known cure. The future may seem scary, daunting, depressing and overwhelming.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 00:00

When a person is alive and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, there is actually no way to know for certain it is, in fact Alzheimer’s. Only once that person has passed, can an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be made during a full autopsy.

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