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Posts Tagged ‘Carol D. O’Dell’

Last week I was asked as a Caring.com senior expert to speak on NBC Miami Live show and talk to folks in South Florida about how to choose a senior care facility for your aging loved one. Sometimes no matter how much we want to keep our loved one in their own home, or with us, it’s jut not possible. Working caregivers, frequent falls, severe dementia or other round the clock care needs can make it impossible for your loved one to remain with family. If, or when that time comes, it helps to have a plan and to already know your area and what it has to offer for families.

Here is a link to Caring.com’s YouTube channel to view the NBC Miami Live interview:

http://www.youtube.com/user/caringcom#p/u/0/u_8LHy-Cjto

It’s such a big decision and you want to make sure your loved one adjusts and is safe and well cared for. Are there specific points to help guide you through the search? It’s so overwhelming I thought I’d just bring up three key points to help guide you.

3 Tips to Consider When Searching for a Senior Care Facility:

  • Look past the fancy “storefront” and notice how folks are being treated. More and more facilities are beginning to look like country clubs, and that’s great but real care is what you’re after. Look past the golf carts that whiz you in and out, look past the luscious garden-like entrance, past the swanky lobby and even ask to see something other than the staged guest room all decked out with new pictures on the wall and a great view of the courtyard. Ask to have lunch with the residents. Stroll to the community center or gathering room. See if you can go down the hall where your loved one might be placed and see who their neighbors will be.
  • Don’t just take the tour–branch off–ask the residents (and their family members) who live there. Ask the residents if they like the food, if they get their medications on time. Ask their family members if they’ve ever had a bed sore or have problems with any of the staff or other residents. Even if they say the right words, notice how they hesitate, get antsy, or look around as if they’ll be heard. If your loved one has dementia ask to see that ward. Make sure there are safety measures for them not wandering away, and also make sure they are spoken to in a firm but kind manner. Look in their faces and see if they have that hazy drug look. Notice if they’re dressed, if their rooms are tidy, and if there’s a smell of urine in the air.
  • Ask how concerns will be handled, and what you can do if you need to change care facilities. Face it, you’re going to have certain questions and concerns. You’re going to have to ask them if they’ll change something to accommodate your loved one’s needs–that’s just normal adjustments. Find out how that’s handled up front. Talk to not only the day staff, but the night and weekend staff. Ask how they do their background checks and if they’re updated. Ask how you handle serious issues and what happens if you choose to move your loved one to a different facility.

Don’t think that once you move them in that your job as a caregiver is over. It’s not. You’re their care advocate. Visit often and not at the same time. Be cordial with the staff, get to know them and genuinely care about them. Bring in a treat or send them a thank you card if they’ve done something thoughtful or helpful. People respond to positive reenforcement and caring for a (sometimes) cantankerous, sick person who isn’t always jolly is more than a job, it’s a calling. It’s to your benefit to reach out. People who are visited often receive better care, and besides, it’s just the right thing to do.

There’s so much more I could talk about, but this is enough for now. In the end, follow your gut instinct. Stay involved and do all you can to surround your aging loved one with good care–no matter where that might be.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Got a caregiving question: Send it to me, Carol O’Dell, Caring.com’s Family Advisor at Carol@caring.com

(NBC Miami Live interview is now on Caring.com’s YouTube channel (click on link below):

http://www.youtube.com/user/caringcom#p/u/0/u_8LHy-Cjto

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I have a magnet on my back door that reads, “Cherish this moment. This moment IS your life.”

As caregivers, we sometimes think we’re living for our loved ones. We’ve put our life “on hold,” and as soon as they’re better, or after that die, we’ll get our life back. Not a great way to look at caregiving–or your life. No wonder we feel resentment. No wonder we’re always agitated, gripey, or zone out–we’re constantly saying (whether we realize it or not, we’re giving out the message),  “I don’t want to be here.”

But what if “here” is all you’ve got? All you’re ever going to get?

Remember that great line in the movie As Good As It Gets?”

 Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson is plagued so badly with OCD that his life is nothing but self-imposed rules. He can’t allow people or love into his life because they’ll make a mess, cause him to step on a crack in the sidewalk, or mess up his arrangement of silverware. He falls in love with a waitress who has a “messy” life. Not enough money, a sick child, living with her mom and waitressing for a living. (The quotes are so, so good from this movie, check out a few here)

After almost losing the love of his life because he’s so darn difficult, he decides he’s got to get better, he’s got to get help. He barges into his psychiatrist’s office and demands to be seen. He looks around and sees an office full of scared and miserable people. People waiting for their life to start. Waiting for their OCD to go away. Waiting.

He can’t wait any longer.

He blurts, “Wake up, people. What if this is as good as it gets?!”

So I ask you, what if your life right now, today, is as good as it gets?

Are you going to give up, go to bed and pull the covers over your head? Forever? No, you’re going to make it work. Sadly, the end of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is death. So yes, there’s a way out, just not a good one. But death is the way out for all of us, so don’t let that get you down.

I love a little book that came out a few years ago, “Do One Thing Different” and the concept really stuck with me. When you’re caregiving, much of your life is structured around meds, treatments, and rehab, so jumping into a full exercise routine or enrolling full-time in college really isn’t an option. But you can change one thing. One thing that takes, oh, ten minutes a day–or less. Don’t tell me you don’t have ten minutes. Everybody wastes ten minutes–on tv, over-cleaning, or chowing down on something that’s not even all that tasty.

For me, I’m concentrating on my waist. Sounds silly, but according to many health experts, your waist circumference determines how healthy you are. Women need to be under 35, and men under 40. Those are pretty generous numbers, (American size), and I’m fortunate to have a pear shape, but I figure that instead of going for a total body makeover I’d never achieve, I’d spend ten minutes a day doing exercises that focus just on my waist. Ten minutes. I’m not going crazy and saying I’m going to workout 2 hours a day when I’m know good and well  that’ll last about 2 days. I can coax myself into ten minutes working out in front of the tv instead of sitting in front of the tv.

The other thing I’m focusing on is brushing up on my Spanish. I may be spending time in South America this fall, and although I don’t want to fork out $400 for Rosetta Stone, I went online and found several YouTube and iTunes Spanish lessons for free. I’m also going to a used bookstore in town, trading in some old books and buying some children’s books in Spanish to read. So the way I look at it, these two small items allow me to exercise my body and my mind with little or no cash outlay needed.

When do I say, “That will have to wait until after my caregiving years are over.”

Really? Is there some small way you could jump start process?

Remember, everything that has come into creation was once just a thought. Jack Canfield wrote an amazing book, “The Success Principles,”in which he describes years ago when he was only hoping to be a sought after speaker and author how he wanted to go to Australia to speak. He had never been asked to speak internationally, so it was unlikely he’d get a call from “down under.” So he went to a travel store and bought a poster of Sydney’s famous opera house and hung it in his office. Within a year, he was speaking in Australia.

Take it down to your level. Maybe you’re dreaming of a vacation. Take out that seashell you picked up a few years ago and put it on your kitchen counter–just as reminder–and a way to lay claim to your own future. Check out a book from the library about where you’d like to go, or visit an online forum where other travelers have been there and suggest places to go and see. Daydreaming is great way to get your mind off the daily caregiving stress.

I know you can’t just get in your car and drive away (although that was one of my favorite fantasies–I was going to drive to Key West, and still might!) But you can start with one small change. Don’t put your entire life on hold–it won’t even make you a better caregiver, just a fussier one.

I hope you’ll take me up and drop me a line at writecarol@comcast.net or leave a comment and share what one small change you’ve made.

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I have to admit that I didn’t attend a caregiver support group while I was caring for my mom.

I started full time caregiving back in 1998 and honestly, I didn’t even know caregiving support groups existed, and by the time I did, Iwas feeling so overwhlmed that if I had the opportunity to dress and leave the house (and leave my mother), I had decided that it wasn’t going to be to go and talk about my mother! Yeah, I’m stubborn.

It’s not that I didn’t need a support group. I’m sure my friends were sick of my griping and whining.

But honestly, what little energy and thought I had were used to continue to parent my children. In addition to my mom’s meds, physical therapy, and every day needs, I also had to think about SAT prep, teaching my youngest how to drive, helping another study for a big test, making sure they attended a youth group–and my spare time was spent driving them or making sure they got to their activities. And that’s the way it should be–that’s what being a sandwich generation parent is all about.

But now I know now that it would have benefited me greatly to attend a workshop, conference or support group–at least a couple of times a year.

Caregiver Support Groups Help By:

  • Giving you a safe place to vent
  • To know you’re not alone
  • To find out about your community’s resources
  • To make short and long term plans
  • Helping you understand what part of the journey you’re on
  • To give you validation and permission to feel all that you’re feeling

So yes, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do a bit of Internet browsing and find out what’s available for you–almost every city and county offers something–an Alzheimer’s Association meeting, an American Heart Association gathering, stroke group meeting or a hospice based workshop.

I know you might not have fully accepted your role, your “name tag” as caregiver. That’s a big step. 

That means you’re at the top of a really big hill–and we all know where it’s headed. But I promise you’ll feel more relief in attending than you think.

Don’t Just Attend a Support Group–Also Consider:

  • Talking to someone while you’re there and even exchanging email addresses or phone numbers
  • Ask a question–chances are if you don’t know the answer, others don’t know it either–and would really appreciate your candor
  • Get info, lots of info–and follow up, make some calls or check out various groups on the web
  • Many home health organizations attend these workshops–you could find some great resources, so look around
  • Begin to take pride in your caregiver’s “badge of honor.” Get educated. Help others. Be okay that this is who you are and where you are–for now.

One last thing-

I hope you’ll step outside your comfort zone and sign up for yoga, take a computer course at the community college, get Rosetta Stone and learn a language.

I know, you’re exhausted. Overwhelmed. Too numb to live your pinky finger.

Don’t let caregiving shut your personal growth completely down. It doesn’t have to.

Carve out an hour a week for a class. Carve out 15 minutes a day to learn to knit or practice your Spanish verbs.

Learning and moving is absolutely vital to your body–and soul.

It even makes you a better caregiver.

Go on, type in caregiver support group, and the name of your city or area.

Find out what’s available.

Finding new friends and resources is a good a thing. 

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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For many of us, caregiving a spouse is in our future. We like to not think about it, or at least imagine that it’s a long, long time from now. For many, it’s a daily reality.

According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, there is a much higher likelihood of receiving care from a spouse than from an adult child. 
Nearly one-quarter (22%) of caregivers who are themselves 65+ are caring for a spouse. Personally, I think it’s higher than that.
And it’s not all the women who are doing the caregiving. 
I know lots of men who are caring for their wives through cancer, MS, heart disease and dementia.
 These men have my full respect. The ones I’ve met are kind, thoughtful, and are trying to very hard to give their wives the best of care. I’m sure there are many who are not like this, but I do have to pay homage to the ones who are.

So why does caregiving my spouse scare the bejezus out of me and most everybody else?

 Because my husband is my strength, my rock, the person I can rail against, nag, complain about–but would never want to do without.

Even when he gets the flu, I’m a wreck. I’m projecting into the future, seeing him years from now, weak, and me trying to care for him.

He’s 9 inches taller than me and about 60 pounds heavier than me, and the few times he’s had minor surgery, I’ve seen how difficult it is.

But that’s not it.  We’d find a way to make it work.

It’s not that it’ll be hard, exhausting, or challenging. I cared for my mom through Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I’m no wimp.

So just why is it so hard to care give a spouse?

I’ll just vent and you pick the one that best fits you:

(some of them don’t paint me in a good light, but I’m being a guinea pig here so that we can all identify with our less than admirable selves)

I don’t want to become his “”mother.” (By that, I mean I want to remain his wife, lover, and friend).

I don’t want to be stuck by his side 24/7–I’m very independent.

I don’t want him to be weak–for me, or him. He’ll hate that.

If you’re sick, then I have to be well? What if I get sick?

Who am I now? How do I define myself?

I don’t want him to order me around all the time–and he will. I don’t want to fight all the time.

I don’t want to cry all the time either.

I don’t want him saying “thank you” a gazillion times a day and feeling guilty.

I don’t want it to be over.

I don’t want to watch him /her  slowly die.

I don’t think I can manage our life and home without him.

I don’t want the fun times to be over–the trips, the banter, the ordinary days.

I don’t want our world to grow small, isolated, and lonely.

I don’t want our world to revolve around doctors and medicine.

I don’t want that time to come when I can’t make him smile.

****

This just starts the list. No one wants any of these things. But until we can admit them, I’m not sure we can move on.

I know that the next step is to take this list and turn it into a WANT list, find the good in whatever life throws me.

I was at a talk for Community Hospice on Saturday at the Mary Singleton Senior Center in Jacksonville, Florida and I told this crazy story about a time when my husband passed out at an amusement park. He said he was dizzy, grabbed his neck and fell stiff as a board onto the gravel road.

I was freaked. I thought he died. And you want to know that first fleeting thought?
“You…(I’ll leave out the colorful phrase), you have died–died and left me to raise three kids? Alone?

I then began to pound on his chest (not CPR, even though I was trained) and yell in his face “Help!” What? As if HE could help us? I did it over and over.

Thank goodness, he started to come to, and then I had another thought…”He’s a narcoleptic! He’s going to be conking out all the time!”

I swear, I followed him, walking three feet behind him like some antiquated Japanese woman (did they ever really do that???) for the next two years.

As if I could catch him.

***

That true, but embarrassing example is a light hearted version of what wives and husbands feel everywhere.

Deep inside we’re all screaming, “Don’t leave me here without you!”

Spousal caregiving kicks up a lot of emotions. Some sweet and sentimental, some down right  self-serving. 

The only thing I can offer is:

  • Talk, talk often. Get used to this conversation so that if something awful happens, you’ll have practiced. Kid around, make jokes, talk about the “what ifs.” Nothing is as scary as an unsaid fear.
  • Tell your loved ones how you want to be cared for. Please, for your family and spouse, sign a living will. They are so, so easy. Go to The Five Wishes and request one or print one out. Don’t make your family guess and then fight or feel guilty because they didn’t know what you wanted–or they all heard something different.
  • Have health insurance, life insurance and long term disability or care insurance. I know the economy is tough, but try to keep these, or seek a governmental equivalent (for health insurance if you qualify). Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) likes to strike the second you’re unprotected, and caregiving is tough enough without adding the stress of finances.  

If You’re Already Caregiving:

  • Be present. Each day is precious. Even if it’s hard, chaotic, or near the end, it’s a privilege.
  • Keep your blinders on when you need to. There’s a time to think about the future, and a time when this moment, this hour, is all you can deal with. When times get rough, make your life simple, quiet, and don’t go to all those scary places. It’s not the time.
  • Never stop being a spouse. I know that caregiving is a lot of “doing.” Meds, baths, physical therapy, doctor appointments, home health aids…after a while you can forget you’re a married couple. Never ever forget that this is the person you said ” I do” with. At times we have to force ourselves to step out of “Nurse Nightingale (or Nurse Ratchett’s) position and step back into that role that no one, no one but you can fulfill. You’re his sweetheart. You’re her sweetheart.
  • Give  up being perfect. It’s exhausting and impossible. It’s the quirks, the foibles, and the fights that define us. Do the best you can. Forgive yourself when you lose your temper, forget something important, or just can’t do it all. Look yourself in the mirror each night and say out loud, “You did well today. I’m proud of you.”
  • Trust that as grueling and dark as it is, you will find the strength, you will find your way through spousal caregiving. Somehow.

***

At the end of my talk, the very sweet woman had me sign her book. She could hardly talk, she was crying so. Her husband of 54 years has Alzheimer’s. I held her and cried too. I try to give tips and I try to encourage, but I can never convey how deeply I care. Your stories touch my heart, and sometimes, all the advice in the world won’t be enough. 

Caregiving a spouse is so hard. Why? Simple. Because we love them.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother

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New Year’s is a time of hope. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again.

I was on a walk the other day, thinking about resolutions. Thinking about the word, resolve.

To re-solve. To solve something again–that it was once solved. So a resolution is a re-solution.

That means that once upon a time it wasn’t a problem.

That’s true.

We weren’t always overweight. We didn’t always drink too much, smoke, spend to much, or see our loved one’s too little. 

So, a resolution is just getting back to that former state.

Think back, when was it that you weren’t overweight?

Perhaps your teens? Before kids? For some of us, we have to think back even younger.

But there was probably a time. You didn’t think about food all the time. You rode your bike. Played little league.

Your body remembers this. In sports, they call this muscle memory. If your body (or mind) has ever done it once, it remembers–and can do it again.

This works for more than just weight.

So I thought about it–I used to spend copious hours on my bike as a kid. I can bike now. I used  to sing for the heck of it. I can sing in my car. I used to draw. I think I’ll go outside and draw that live oak tree in my back yard.

Sometimes we make things so big and so hard. Simple pleasures are deeply satisfying.

We buy too much, eat too much, smoke and gossip because we’re trying to fill a hole.

 We have to (at least I know I have to, I have no right to speak for anyone else) learn how to be with ourselves–and be content. 

To be content is to have content. (Sorry, I’m a word-nerd)

To have content is to have substance–something meaningful that fills up space.
I love the word contentment. To be deep in joy–to belong–to not want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

 

According to GoalGuy.com, here are the top ten resolutions: (every site I researched had a similar list, so it’s pretty much a given)

 

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

 

                1. Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape

2. Stick to a Budget

3. Debt Reduction

4. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

5. Find My Soul Mate

6. Quit Smoking

7. Find a Better Job

8. Learn Something New

9. Volunteer and Help Others

10. Get Organized

This list tells me we’re all pretty much alike. There’s things we need to stop doing–other things we need to start. Push and Pull.

 

So, just for fun, I propose a Top Ten Caregiver’s Resolution List:

1. Sleep. Sleep more. Sleep any where, any time, any how. Dream of uninterrupted sleep.

2. Not totally blow my top at any one–a nurse, my loved one, the pharmacist…this could be tough (especially when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s)  

3. Not eat my way into oblivion–food is not my best friend (repeat 10 times a day)

4. Remember where I’m driving–zoning out is dangerous–I may need a loud buzzer horn or taser. Stess causes zoning out, I’m sure.

5. Walk every day. Even if it’s just to the mailbox. Walking is good. Sun is good. I need this.

6. Get out and meet people. Normal people not in the health care/elder care profession. There’s a great big world out there and I need to see it once in a while.

7. To actually want sex and intimacy and do something about it. Sex drive? Is that like, four wheel drive? Yes, i remember….vaguely.

8. To get dressed in something other than a jogging suit–something NOT with an elastic waistband. This relates to not eating a whole frozen pizza and walking to the mailbox, doesn’t it?

9. Do something for me, just me. People do that? Lunch with a friend, getting my nails done, putzing through an antique shop–caring for me is actually part of caregiving…who knew?

10. Ask for help. Pray, cry, meditate, journal, scream, go to a support group, go to church, ask for respite care, pay for care for an afternoon off, try adult day care for my loved one. Ask, ask, ask–caregiving is not a lone sport. It takes a village.

Bonus–

11. Not be afraid–of caregiving, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or death.

Fear is a big woolly monster trying to gobble up your precious days. Turn around and face  it–yell big and loud–“I’m not afriad. I can do this.”

12. Attitude of gratitude. Each night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “what was the  best part of  the day? Usually, it’s a dragonfly who stopped right in front of me–or a neighbor who gives me a big smile when she sees me. It’s the small moments that stick. Being grateful in a time in your life when so much is beyond your control is a way of turning the tables in your favor. The more you’re grateful, the more you have to be grateful for–it’s like a fan that keeps expanding.

Just like the other list–things to stop doing, other things to start. Push. Pull.

New Years is a magical time. Resolutions represent hope. Hope for change. You already know how to do this. After all, it’s just a re-solution.

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother–available on Amazon

 

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Below is an excerpt from my book, Mothering Mother. I wrote it during my caregiving years, observing that as my mother contined to age, she lost her ability to filter her thoughts or hide her fears.

It got me thinking about where I am now…and who I will become.

What concerns will linger and play and replay like a needle stuck on a record?

What judgements will slip out when I am too tired or too sick to guard them?

I’m determined to do a little “soul keeping” every day.

From Part I of Mothering Mother.

I have this theory; I’ve decided Mother is like concentrated orange juice. We all are, really. We start out potent, tart and pure—right off the tree. When we’re babies we don’t care if you like us or if we’re pleasing you. We are uncontaminated, unfiltered, and unadorned, with no knowledge of what we should or should not do. In this concentrated version, we are a wild DNA cocktail of mama and daddy, ancestors and humanity, naked and wordless.

Instincts—eating, drinking and bodily functions—drive us. We search for satisfactory ways to please ourselves. We propel toward our uncertain futures with blind self-adoration, and for those first few months, maybe a year or two, we are our life in its most concentrated form.

During the next seven or eight decades we become diluted, filled up with waterous thoughts, language, expectations, and experiences. We gain the ability to somewhat satisfy ourselves in every arena from sex to career. Our other goal is to avoid pain as much as possible. We wail at the slightest bit of emotional, spiritual or physical discomfort. We become bloated, self-aggrandized, and then, when we finally figure out how to make things go our way—most of the time—life takes its final turn, and we begin to deflate.

As our mates leave us, and our friends and family trickle into nursing homes or relatives’ homes, we realize that all we’ve built up is beginning to dissolve. We lose our water and distill, leaving concentrated versions of ourselves, only now we have memories, fears, hates and hurts thrown into the concoction.

Mother is at this final stage during which we all reduce to our own cosmic juice and revert back to some pretty potent pulp. She is no longer interested in betterment, learning or growing. She is tart, almost bitter, and that makes it hard to want to spend time with her. She doesn’t seem to have the ability or inclination to be nice. It’s all about her now, and it doesn’t matter whether I have a hangnail or a tumor; it wouldn’t register.

Whatever Mother has accumulated along the way is now strong and unpleasant to those of us who live in a watered-down world. I see the things that remain. She can recall a moment of jealousy or disappointment from forty years ago and gnaw on it for days. Most of the actual events, people, and moments she once held so tightly are now forgotten.

I now understand something: we are what we are; the only way we can add to ourselves is by experiencing something powerful enough to alter our belief system. If Mother were naturally trusting, she would continue to trust. But since fear has become so entwined, it’s now a part of her concentrated self and must play itself out to the end.

I’m Carol O’Dell.

Got a caregiving question? Email me at Caring.com/family advisor and I’ll do my best to shed some insight on your situation–and your question might help others.

 

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Halloween is just for kids? Who says?

Our elders really get a kick out of Halloween. They love to see the kids dress up and enjoy handing out candy, or at least watching the parade of adorable angels, fairies, pirates, and ghosts walk by.

Easy Ways to Enjoy the Fall and Halloween Season:

  • Pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store. Even if you don’t cut it, it’s still pretty sitting on the front porch.
  • Decorate your house with a few spooky bats. Use some black construction paper or even use some purple, red, or green wrapping paper–who says bats have to be black?
  • Hang a ghost from a tree–all you need is a sheet and two black eyes and some string.
  • Buy a witch’s hat at a discount store and walk around with a broom and cackle. Your mom or dad will perk up, I promise, if you greet them with their afternoon meds as a witch!
  • Splurge on a little Halloween candy. Get something your mom or dad can eat. A couple of marshmallow pumpkins won’t hurt anything. We all have a sweet tooth–at any age. My mom had a thing for Little Debbie snacks–and I couldn’t help but let her enjoy herself with a couple of swiss cake rolls every once in a while.
  • Plan ahead, bundle up your senior, and either sit outside or near the front door and pass out candy.
  • Light some candles or even string a few Christmas lights around your door–you can leave them up for the next two months and they give off a nice glow.
  • Make it a point to meet a few of your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors, you need to–and what better way to strike up a conversation than over a cup of hot cider or commenting on how cute their kids are.
  • Do you know that young couples miss their grandparents and would love a surrogate grandpa or grandmother for their kids to look up to?
  • Let your mom or dad be the candy passer-outer. That will allow them to see the children’s costumes and they’ll enjoy the festivities.
  • Consider renting a oldie–but goodie. How about the Bride of Frankenstein–or the old Dracula? If you mom or dad don’t seem to be up for being frightened, then try a little Planet Earth–the one about all the bats in the caves of Mexico scared me more than any scary movie ever could! For a G-rated film, try Charlie Brown’s Halloween Special.
  • Make a pot of veggie soup–or chili. Mix up some cornbread and enjoy the fall chill in the air.
  • If you’re near your grandkids, then consider going to their house and enjoying the fun. This is how you make family memories–and it’s worth the trouble.

I read this great short story once about a daughter who took her mom, who had Alzheimer’s, to a Halloween party. Her mom loved it–and totally got into the masks and charades and felt free–not to have to be one person or another–to be concerned with knowing someone, recognizing someone. For Halloween night, she could be anybody she wanted.

I have a favorite Halloween memory of my mom and me. It’s a bit unusual since I grew up in a strict religious household–my mom was a minister–so you don’t exactly think they’d buy into the whole Halloween thing, but she did. I’m glad she didn’t take it too serious because to this day, and I still love to dress up.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, SAID CHILD, which is the prequel to Mothering Mother. (SAID CHILD is about being adopted at age four, and my search for my birth family–and how I learned to love both my adoptive and birth family). 

 

               Daddy had been in the hospital for back surgery on Halloween when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an especially cold Georgia Halloween night and I fidgeted beside his hospital bed, tired of coloring and wanting to go home and get on my fairy costume and go trick-or-treating. By the time Mama and I kissed Daddy goodbye and we made it out of the hospital and hit the cold night air of the parking lot, I realized it was long since dark. The cold bit into my chest.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” she said as she walked a little faster.

We hurried home and I moped around, standing on the heater grate, curling my sock feet over the metal edges for warmth. Mama burst out of her bedroom,

“Count to one hundred, and then come knock on my bedroom door.”

What was she up to? I did as I was told.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Knock, knock.

Mama cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked out with a sheet over her head,

“Ohhh!” She moaned like a ghost. I squealed and giggled.

“I am a Halloween ghost!” she said in a low voice spooky voice. “Would you like some candy, little girl?”

I ran and got my orange plastic pumpkin bucket and thrust it toward the door. Mama dumped in a handful of Bit-O-Honey candies. She leaned down and whispered for me to count to one hundred again with my eyes closed, and then go to the bathroom door and knock. She motioned for me to turn away as she ran to the next room.

Mama opened the bathroom door wearing Daddy’s trench coat and hat and a mustache she must have drawn on with her eyebrow pencil. I laughed until I fell down and then held out my plastic pumpkin as she emptied Bazooka bubble gum into it.

We ran from room to room and each time Mama appeared as a new character—a maid with apron and spoon in the kitchen, a lady in a evening gown and fancy hat in the closet, a little girl with curlers in her hair and a teddy bear when she emerged from my room.

 

Mama wasn’t so boring after all. As regular as a clock, she kept my childhood in order. She made sure I scrubbed under my fingernails and practiced my times tables. But she was also a mother capable of a surprise or two–especially on Halloween. 

***

Have a Happy, Safe, and Fun Halloween!

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com  

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Let’s face it: Caregiving can get ugly.

What I mean is, when I was a caregiver, I’d sometimes go days without looking in the mirror. On purpose.

I was busy, tired, overwhelmed–and that leads me to feeling frumpy, puffy, and in a rut–and when I feel that way, I tend to go into denial and avoidance.

It’s good to  care give, even if you let yourself go for a little bit. 

Generosity, patience, and tenderness have a way of making you beautiful and gives you a glow much like pregnancy, and I doubt Mother Theresa stared in the mirror much (not that I’m comparing).

But face it, you can let yourself go to the point to where you don’ t feel good about yourself. I know.  

I gained close to 40 pounds during my two+years at a full-time caregiver. I don’t blame my mom for this.

Honest. I take full accountability. I could have put down the bags of Oreos and Fritos. (Notice how all tasty snacks tend to end in O’s? I could have walked more. Even with my mom and kids and a big house to manage, I could have gone for two fifteen minute walks a day and eaten more veggie soup. No one was forcing sugar down my throat.

Yeah, I was tired, frazzled, and distracted–it comes with the territory–but I used that as an excuse not to pay attention. I’m just saying I contributed to own “junk in the trunk.”

It also helps to lighten things up a bit (metaphorically speaking) and think about haircuts, color, make-up and clothing takes the emphasis off the heavier aspects of life. Being able to feel good about yourself, to smile with confidence with a spring in your step helps not only you, but your loved one.

Depression doesn’t like color, light, and laughter–so let’s flood the room!

Now you’ve seen the light (aka seen yourself with the lights on!) and you’re ready to do something about it, I’ve got a few simple suggestions.

First, don’t make it hard, but let’s stage your comeback and surprise your loved ones with a fresh look.

Seven Easy Comeback Solutions:

  • Fixate on your health, not your weight. Take it from Queen Latifah, the new spokesperson from Jenny Craig. She’s not trying to become America’s Next Top Model. She loves her curves. Love yours–and focus on your health not your flab. We all have flab.
  • Nix the elastic waist pants. Why? They’re comfy, I know, but it’s too easy to keep on snackin’ when you’re not feeling a pinch in your side. Put on real pants. Even if you have to go up a size. Beauty is not a size, it’s a state of mind.
  • Set very small goals. Walk ten minutes twice a day. Stretch–even encourage your elder/loved one to do some simple stretches with you. Don’t bring home the snacks. If you must, get a snack pack at the gas station–one of those bags for 99 cents. Eat them and throw the bag away. Don’t worry about the money–the economical size bag will cost you more in the long run (health, Weight Watcher’sfees, cholesterol meds).
  • Get your Vitamin D–and how? By heading out the door for those ten minute walks! That’s all it takes. And your elder needs their Vitamin D., so at least have them sit on the porch for a few minutes per day. There are supplements, too, and recommended for elders. 
  • Go look in your closet. Anything that’s been in there for more than five years–toss it now! I mean it! Go to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dress you wore to your daughter’s wedding or your 25th anniversary. Come on, let it go. Guys–this is for you, too. Even three years is long enough. You’re not a museum–you’re a living work of art!
  • Now, match up three outfits that look nice that you could wear every day. Stop waiting for an excuse to dress up. Dress up for yourself. You deserve it–and your loved one deserves to look at a person who takes pride in their appearance. I know you’re tired and you think this doesn’t matter. It does. No high heels, but a nice pair of jeans or slacks, a decent shirt that’s not all stretched out and something that has some nice color. Spritz with some perfume and comb your hair. You’ll feel better.
  • Plan a daily tea time. Crazy, I know. It’s English, so pretend you’re English. Choose a time–say, 4:00, and set out a cup for the two of you. Have tea and two cookies. Just two. You can even say it’s medicinal–all tea is good for you, but go for a green tea variety and get your antioxidants. Sit out on that porch to get your vitamin D., or sit in the living room. Chat for ten minutes and sip tea. Your loved one will feel special, and you’ll begin to relax. It’s just a simple tradition, but it’s soothing–and something to look forward to.

Ladies, if you’re ready for a real comeback, have I got a book for you!

Staging Your Comeback by Christopher Hopkins is for real women over 45–primarily focusing on women in their 50s and 60s is really amazing. It isn’t downgrading or patronizing. He’s been featured on Oprah and Today Show, and he isn’t your run of the mill “I’ll make you look 20” kind of salesman.

There are lots of pics and the most astounding before and after photos you will see. My 21 year-old daughter was with me at Target when I bought the book, and even she was amazed. (I heard the make-up in the book is heavier than he would normally recommend and was only done that way for the book).

 The book is designed to be interactive with his website that has downloadble worksheets to help you plan your comeback. 

Is all this frivolous? I don’t think so. We have to balance out all we’re dealing with–disease and death are not the only things in life. We need balance. We need to relax and enjoy our one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver would say.

We need hope.

And bottom line, isn’t that really what we all need?  

 

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“No! I’m not obsessed with caregiving–it’s just something I have to do,” you argue back.

You have to give your loved ones their daily medication.

You have to take them to the doctors.

You have to bathe and them and change their clothes.

And yes–you do. But are you caregiving too well?

What do I mean?

I was recently at an event where a woman received the caregiver of the year award for her community.

Her daughter wrote a lovely letter about all her mother did for her mother.

The list started at about 5am and ended about midnight–with frequent middle of the night interruptions as well. The list went on and on. Daily baths, attention paid to her mother’s nails, lotions, pulling chin hairs…on and on and on. She got a standing ovation, but my heart ached for her.

She was in her early 50s and looked in her late 70s.

She was smiling but looked as if life had beat her with a crowbar.

It sounds vailiant. And it is, in some ways, but caregiving can be taken to the max–and isn’t good for you.

You can become obsessive–and use it to avoid other aspects of your own life. You can ruin your health and your relationships on this noble “holy grail.”

Some cultures are so tightly bound to family that they leave people few options and this committment, duty, becomes a noose that’s winds up not being good for anybody.

You can use caregiving to avoid your marriage, your health, your financial setbacks, your relationships with your own children or relatives. You can use caregiving and family duties to avoid going to work, building a career, returning to school, or finding a mate.

You husband or wife, mother or father can become your “living doll.”

Don’t be embarrassed. It’s easy to do.

After a lifetime of caring for others–your spouse, your children, maybe even having a career in the health/people related fields. Add onto that a natural propensity toward being a nurturer, and you’ve become “good” at caring. Too good. (This applies to men and women–men like to feel needed too).

How do you know if you’re obsessed with caregiving?

  • Your caregiving duties continue to increase–more baths, more attention to detail.
  • You tell yourself it’s necessary, but others seem to question you.
  • You are an expert in your loved one’s illness but are ignoring your own body’s warning signs.
  • You haven’t taken a day off in months.
  • Your other relationships are dwindling.
  • You feel as if you have nothing in common with the outside world.
  • You constantly think, “they don’t understand.”
  • You take a deep sense of pride when someone says you’re a great daughter/son/caregiver–and you actually try to create situations (subconsciously) where someone would be prompted to say this.
  • You never sit down because there’s always something to do.
  • You’re getting less than 5-6 hours sleep a night on a regular basis.
  • You fear when your loved one dies and almost feel frantic at the thought of wide open days with no one to pick up after, watch, feed, or medicate.

I know, this just sounds like normal caregiving!

What’s the difference?

It’s more about intensity, urgency, and an underlying, almost imperceptible sense of fear–you’ll be found out, your loved one will “die on your watch,” they’ll take your mom from you, you’ll have to put her “in one of those places.”

What’s your unsaid driving force?

Fill in the blank…”I’m afraid that if I don’t ________, that __________will happen–and it’ll be my fault.”

*****

Now, be rational. Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend. Is this really true? Wouldn’t you (your best friend you) cut you a little slack?

There were times when I did get this sort of sick sense of pride that I was the “best caregiver in the world,” while underneath I felt like a sham–I felt like I never did enough, I never could “fix” or manage my life. Alzheimer’s really does a number on you–you feel like you owe it to your loved one to do everything you can for them–that this is such a horrible, horrific disease that you want to counter it. But you can’t.

I had many arguments: “If I’m going to do something, I might as well do it well. This is where God wants me and needs me. She’s my mother–and wasn’t this the right thing to do? Any of these sound familiar?

I couldn’t help it that my caregiving duties never ended.

I also know there are some of you out there who say you’re a perfectionist–you can’t stand a mess. You can’t relax until everything done and cleaned up. Really? If that were the case, then I could never relax because I’m not sure I’ve ever been “caught up” even once in my entire life?

It’s funny that we call that being a perfectionist.

I’ve changed that word in my mind to mean something different.

A perfectionist sees the “perfect” and the good in everyone and everything that sounds me.

I came across this mindset in a book by life coach and inspirational speaker, Allen Cohen.

This is who I choose to be–and how I choose to see the world. (It’s a work in progress and a daily, moment to moment choice).

Sometimes you just have to let the chaos rule!

No, an adult doesn’t have to have a full bath every day.

It’s okay to have a frozen meal, pizza, or eggs for dinner.

It’s okay if your there are dishes in your sink when you go to bed at night.

It’s okay to take a day–or (gasp) a weekend off and arrange for respite care.

It’s okay to sign up for a class once a week.

It’s okay to call and invite a friend to lunch.

It’s okay if you don’t take your loved one to follow up doctor appointments–just for a recheck.

It’s okay to notice that there are areas of caregiving that you might have taken too far.

Laugh at yourself. Take a deep breath, and make a new choice.

Find the perfect in the imperfect.

~I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

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Most people, in fact 85% don’t want to go into a nursing home–that’s what they used to call them.

Many of our seniors cringe at the word and imagine long, dark halls, people screaming, sitting in soiled diapers, horrible food, and being abused. Thank goodness, this is not the norm–and there’s more vigilance to report elder abuse and substandard care today.

According to surveys done by AARP, most of us would prefer to Age in Place–meaning, stay in our homes  and augment care as needed–a mix of family caregiving, professional caregiving services, adult day cares, and other elder-care community based resources.

I highly recommend staying at home, including various elements of family caregiving, paid care, and community care–but I do know that there are times and circumstances when this just isn’t enough.

What Are the Different Kinds of Care Facilities–and Which One Is Right For my Loved One?

Contining Care or Graduated Care is when you buy into a community in which you can choose your living condition (small home or condo at first), and then “trade” it in when/if your care needs increase. Within one “complex” you might see homes or duplexes, condos or apartments, a building (care facility) that houses many units of care, and all these may be near a hospital or hospice facility. These are usually a large development and can offer meals, hired care workers, transportation, activities, and other amenities.

Assisted Living is similar and can be a part of graduated care. Assisted living can be houses/duplex, condos/care facility where the person has their own apartment but has access to additional help. There may be a place for meals, a van for transportation, and non-skilled care workers can be hired to do various needs and levels of care. Some assited living and care facilities are individually owned while others are a part of a larger corporation.

Care Facility or Skilled Nursing Care is considered a full-care facility and is what people think of when they say, “nursing home.” They can be a part of other facilities, such as the continuing care, or assisted living home, but they have the added component of a skilled nursing staff (RN’s–registered nurses) as well as non-skilled care, usually called CNA’s (Clinical Nurse’s Assistant). Care facilities are for people who have medical needs, have severe mobility issues (can’t walk, falls), and need supervision as well as medical care. They often have a staff of doctors and other care workers who will come to visit them, prescribe medications, and offer in-house treatments such as physical therapy.

Memory Disorder Facility or Center can be a part of an assisted living or care facility and focuses on the needs and care of people with neurological disorders such as brain injuries, advanced Parkinson’s or Lewy Body, Alzheimer’s and dementia.This facility has the feature of secured doors and exits so that people who tend to wander can’t leave. They specialize in dealing with the behavoiral, psychological and physical issues that come with neurological disorders. Since this is an area that overlaps, many of their clients need medical care/skilled nursing care/visiting doctors, etc.

Rehabilitation Facility is usually a short term facility that focuses on people recovering from surgeries, accidents, and for those who need various care treatments such as physical or occupational rehabilitation therapies. They are a “half way” facility people go to when they’re not quite ready to go home, or need more care than a graduated or assisted living facility offers. Most rehabilitation facilities are corporate owned and work closely with hospitals and doctors. 

How Do I Assess If My Loved One Should Go Into a Care Facility?

  1. They choose a graduated/continual care or assisted living on their own.
  2. They have no family nearby and no one can or will coordinate their care (don’t forget how helpful geriatric care managers can be in figuring out various stage of care and evaluating care facilities)
  3. They need full-time care, perhaps with needs of skilled nursing care as well–and this has become too much to manage for a loved one to deal with.
  4. Their dementia/Alzheimer’s has increased to a level to where they’re not manageable at home–violent, escapes, can’t be managed by one care helper–needs more supervision, medication, and physical control than the family/and caregivers can provide.
  5. Are at the late stages of various diseases/aren’t mobile/and the family can’t manage their care–perhaps hospice is involved and there are end of life and palliative care needs (pain management).
  6. You, the family caregiver simply can’t do it anymore–your own health or finances are falling apart and you’ve done all you can.

There are valid reasons for your loved one to enter a care facility.

You have not failed as a caregiver–nor are you “done” when your loved one enters a care center/facility.

Your loved one needs you more than ever to oversee their care and make sure they are safe, respected, and receiving all the care they need and deserve.

Also know that the first care facility may not be your last one–it may not be a good fit, you may have to change and try a different one. Also, as time goes on and their care increases, you may have to move them again.

Don’t forget that hospice and palliative care is still needed (and must be asked for) to supplement their care at the end of life.

You may also consider letting them come “home” to die.

You  have many options.

Helpful Links:

Great article:

newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/faced-with-caregiving-even-experts-struggle/  

~Carol O’Dell, Author of Mothering Mother–an Amazon Bestseller in Alzeimer’s and Aging Parents.

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