Welcome to “Caregiver to Caregiver”

Welcome to “Caregiver to Caregiver!” And say hello to our team of Caregiver Consultants, Merry McGowen, Carol Soma and Mary Kay Laabs, who are eager to support caregivers and their senior loved ones in Faribault County. We work individually and in small groups to provide education and information that will be useful to you now. We have different backgrounds and skills, but we unite in recognizing and meeting the unique needs of caregivers, wherever you are in your caregiving journey. 

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The Importance of Socializing for Senior Adults

Now that we have been through a pandemic and months of being and feeling isolated from family and friends, we can better understand why our aging loved ones so enjoy a visit from their children, grandchildren or friends. For those of us not yet in our “Golden Years”, it’s can become busy with life and too often forget that for our senior loved ones, there are often too many hours where they have nothing to do or at the very least nothing that helps them to feel useful and valued. The attached article speaks to the reasons it is so important for our aging loved ones to have social interactions. There are physical and mental health ramifications for those who are isolated for extended periods of time.

If you’ve experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation during the past year it may help you to better understand what your aging loved ones may experience regularly. Hopefully, it will  encourage you to make the effort to pick up the phone and give them a call or plan a visit to brighten their day.

Seniors and Socialization: How Social Engagement in Senior Living Benefits Health

PD New Exercise Recommendations

The Parkinson’s Foundation, working with the American College of Sports Medicine, has recently created new recommendations for a comprehensive exercise program geared to those with PD. Their collaboration over the past year has produced multiple goals to be included in this regular, ongoing program.

Domains include aerobic activity, strength training, balance, agility, multitasking, and stretching. Within these categories are specific types of activities and safety considerations, with  recommendations for frequency, intensity, etc. As always, anyone starting a new exercise program should first consult with a medical provider, and in this case, it’s important to work with someone familiar with your PD diagnosis, such as a physical therapist.

Exercise has always been a key part of PD management, and over the years there have been numerous studies that show how important exercise can be to controlling and even slowing down progression of the disease.

Of course, the best exercise program is the one you want to do! Seeing how these new recommendations compare to anything you already do may be interesting, and you may find many similarities. But looking at this entire comprehensive program may give you new ideas and goals. There is even a professional section you may want to share with your providers.

Here’s the link:

New Exercise Recommendations for the Parkinson’s Community and Exercise Professionals

If you’re interested in seeing the summary report yourself, you can access it here:

Exercise Convening Summary Report

Power of Attorney

Just as an advance Care Directive will help guide family members through medical decisions for an aging or sick loved one, a Power of Attorney will allow family or trusted caregivers to help with legal and financial affairs. It’s another part of a thoughtful plan that all adults should prepare so that someone they trust can help them through situations when they can no longer do it themselves.

Because taking charge of another person’s legal and financial future is critical to making sure your assets are in good hands, naming the right person to act on your behalf is very important. For example, choosing the child who always pays bills on time may be the better choice over the one who didn’t remember to send a birthday card. Trustworthiness is of the utmost importance in this case, so your family lawyer may be a better choice than a friendly neighbor you’ve only known a few years.

In fact, some scam artists often come into a senior’s life first as a caretaker, then gradually take over the finances. Sometimes their goal is to drive a wedge between the senior and their family, so that they eventually control everything the senior does and prevent any communication with loved ones. It’s another reason to choose your agent thoughtfully.

It’s never too early for adults to set up a Power of Attorney and name an agent (sometimes called attorney-in-fact). Sometimes, unfortunately, it can be too late, as when families try to set one up after signs of dementia present themselves and they need to consider long-term care situations. If a person is not clearly “competent” and cannot understand the implications of what they’re signing, then the court may need to create a guardianship or conservatorship, which is another, often more complicated matter.

Like other legal documents, a POA should be reviewed and updated regularly. This legal document is best prepared with the assistance of a qualified attorney. Since the POA agent’s authority ends with the death of their loved one, an attorney may also deal with a will, which takes care of a person’s assets after death.

There are many resources available to help you learn how to proceed when preparing your POA, such as these from AARP and AgingCare. The MN Attorney General’s website is helpful and also has a publication, “Probate and Planning” available for downloading or ordering.

Powers of Attorney: Crucial Documents for Caregiving

Things You Can and Can’t Do With Power of Attorney

Probate and Planning

Advance Care Directives

Looking ahead toward the end of life is never an easy task for our elders, their caregivers or other family members. But having an Advance Care Directive can make the process easier for all involved, including their medical providers. It’s an opportunity for adults of any age to let their loved ones know what kind of care or medical interventions they want in the event of an emergency or serious illness.

This legal document describes the preferences a person wants in the event that they become incapable of making their own health care choices. It may be something like emergency surgery, CPR, or life-sustaining measures, such as a ventilator or feeding tube, to deal with existing medical situations. We often think of these for older people who may be dealing with multiple, chronic medical problems, as well as cognitive decline, but in fact, these are important for adults of any age, since anyone may be involved in a car crash or have sudden, unexpected emergencies.

If you currently do not have a care directive, or want to encourage your family members to complete one, the best place to go is to your local medical provider. Clinics in our area are happy to provide you with a booklet that will describe the process, offer questions to consider, and include forms that meet the legal requirements for the directives. They will explain what to look for in finding your health care agent, the person who will agree to carry out your wishes, and may even include other guidelines for final wishes you’d like your family to know.

In addition, health care providers have people on staff who will be happy to discuss this with you if you have questions, and you may even talk with your individual provider for direction. They can help you with required signatures of witnesses or a notary public. Once you’ve completed the forms and all involved people have signed the directive, they will make copies so the clinic can have them on file, and you can have them available at your home, your agent’s home, your car, etc.

You can contact your Faribault or Freeborn County clinic from the list below for additional information:

Mayo Clinic Health Systems
Ask for Advance Health Care Planning: Making Your Wishes Known
Wells Clinic  (507) 553-6341
Albert Lea Clinic   (507) 377-6470 Attention: Jackie Carstens, social services

United Hospital District
Ask for Five Wishes
Blue Earth Clinic  (507) 526-3273 Email: kkuechenmeister@UHD.org
Wells Clinic  (507) 553-6550

There is a short form available from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office

Or an even shorter version available from Honoring Choices Minnesota

3-Minute Exercising for Everybody

Newton’s First law of motion explains that a body at rest will remain at rest, and nothing shows that better than some of us spending a winter sitting in front of the TV. Once that remote’s in hand, the next show may look just as good as the last one. But now that it’s spring, it’s time to break that habit and get moving!

According to the American Diabetes Association, “sitting for long periods increases your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and early death.” Yet breaking up those periods with short bursts of activity can turn it around, making you stronger and healthier. In one study of type 2 diabetics, they found that 3 minutes of movement every half hour could improve their blood glucose levels. 

So check out the list of ideas in their article below. You may want to set your alarm for every half hour, or perhaps some other reminder, like getting up during commercials, may do the trick. Anything that gets you out of your chair and moving your body will work: dance to some music, lift some weights (or substitutes like water bottles or cans), march in place with knees high, or just go up and down a flight of stairs. Even household chores, like vacuuming, putting dishes on those higher shelves, or making a bed can count for those 3 minutes. The goal is to find a variety of activities that move all parts of your body through the day and move enough to get your heart pumping. 

So start using those 3-minute breaks to keep your body happy and healthy!

Breaking Sitting Streaks

Strategic Snacking for Diabetics

Who knew that prunes have one of the lowest sugar concentrations in fruit, and may help in preventing bone loss?

Or that avocados not only have healthy fats, but are 79% fiber, which slows down digestion and prevents a spike in blood sugar?

Or that by combining popcorn with nuts, you get a healthy protein-fiber-fat combination that keeps you feeling fuller longer?

These are just a few tasty recommendations that AARP provides for people with diabetes who are looking for some good ideas to keep your snacks healthy. One of their recent surveys revealed that about 70% of respondents said they’ve been snacking more during this past pandemic year.

While eating too much and too often can play havoc with pounds and blood sugars, most medical providers recommend a healthy snacking plan, especially for those with diabetes. Snacks, preferably at regular intervals, can help manage blood sugar levels and control appetites. In fact, snacks should be part of a healthy diet for everyone, from preschoolers to pensioners.

For suggestions on how to choose healthy, easy snacks, see the following article:

Snacking Strategies for People with Diabetes

How to Keep the Conversation Flowing

Have you ever been with your aging loved one and found you are at a loss as to what to talk about? You’ve exhausted the usual topics of weather, your favorite sports teams and if you’re really desperate maybe even politics. Beyond those things you just don’t know how to begin a conversation that would be meaningful for all involved. 

The following article offers suggestions of leading questions to ask and many of them result in conversation that flows and brings up additional information about the specifics of your loved one’s life. When possible, it’s nice to record these conversations or at the very least take notes so that these life experiences can be shared with other family members and/or future generations. Another site the article suggests referring to is The Legacy Project which provides a more comprehensive list of questions to consider using in these conversations. Armed with some of the suggested questions, you will never be at a loss to think of what to talk with your loved one about.

20 Questions to Ask Elderly Loved Ones to Connect & Reminisce

Continue to Communicate

For caregivers of a loved one with dementia, one of the ongoing challenges is communication. As the brain changes due to dementia, so does the ability of the person with dementia to understand what’s said and to express thoughts and needs. One of the struggles for caregivers is finding new ways to talk to their loved one and making the shift from what’s been the norm for communication in the relationship to the new, changing normal. This article from the Alzheimer’s Association includes tips for communication and specific suggestions for structuring communication to be more effective when talking with a loved one with dementia. It also includes suggestions for changing communication as the loved one moves through the early, mid and late stages of the disease.

Caregivers: Be patient with yourself and know that learning these new techniques is trial and error and as with anything new it will take time to adjust.

Communication and Alzheimer’s

Hip Fractures – Oh My!

Few things put as much fear in the minds and hearts of the aging population as the fear of a fall that results in a broken hip. Many feel that such an injury will result in them losing all independence and spending the rest of their days in a nursing home. While that can be the end result for some, in many cases it doesn’t have to be. 

The following article points out statistics, ideas for making your home safe to navigate (throw those throw rugs!), the types of hip fractures and the methods of repair. 

Don’t let a fear of falling keep you from getting exercise. Remaining active (with your doctor’s guidance) to keep bones healthy and eating a healthy diet are some of the best ways to defend against falls and broken bones. Let’s do what we can to keep from adding to those statistics.

Hip Fractures in Elderly Adults: Prevention and Treatment

The Topic No One Wants to Talk About

Incontinence is something that is rarely discussed and often ignored, even when it causes issues on a regular basis. Yet it is an everyday problem for many seniors at some point in their lives, so let’s bring it out into the open. 

First let’s get rid of one of the biggest mistakes – we’re not talking about diapers here. For anyone to mention that word to someone who’s dealing with incontinence, the term is unkind and disrespectful, and certainly a non-starter for a helpful solution. Most of us value our privacy about such an intimate issue, so anything we can do to preserve someone’s dignity is imperative. 

Many women, especially those who’ve had children, have dealt with this occasionally in their adult lives. Most seniors realize that incontinence can be a medical problem to be solved, so like any other medical problem, the first thing to do is check with your medical provider about it. It may be as simple as a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can be cleared up with medications, or something more complex, like prostate problems. Sometimes exercises or surgical procedures are necessary. If fecal incontinence is the issue, it may require checking with a specialist for solutions. 

If incontinence continues to be a problem, then looking into the use of adult briefs or similar products may be called for. That can often take care of it, but for those who deny a problem exists, it usually becomes a bigger problem. The smell of urine on their clothing may not be as noticeable to an older person, and sometimes the smell permeates the house or apartment. 

Friends or family may be too embarrassed to point this out. Other seniors think that everyone will notice they are wearing these briefs and avoid them for that reason. 

If you as a caregiver see this developing, check out the article below for its many specific and helpful suggestions. Left untreated and unacknowledged, incontinence can lead seniors to become more isolated and embarrassed than ever. If dementia prevents a senior from recognizing it, then caregivers need to helpfully step in or find a neutral party to help out. 

How to Convince a Senior to Wear Adult Diapers