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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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Problems getting dressed? Here are solutions

Getting dressed in the morning is one of those automatic chores we all do. Some people set out clothes the night before, others check the heap on the chair for the least smelly shirt, and some spend some time matching, ironing, etc. to look just right when stepping out for the day.

But there are many reasons why that daily activity can become a problem. Anyone who’s had an injury or surgery has probably dealt with this: a broken wrist, a cast on a leg, or a frozen shoulder means that what was an ordinary movement becomes painful or impossible.

Other long-term chronic issues, like arthritis or Parkinson’s Disease, means that certain movements or stretches are difficult. And because those diseases progress, changes are on the horizon all the time.

Dementia adds another wrinkle. Especially in later stages, some people have difficulty deciding what to wear, or they wear the same items for days at a time. Some no longer recognize how to actually put on a particular item, or they forget they already have underwear on so they put on another layer. Or they dress inappropriately for weather conditions, and wear winter clothes in the summer or vice versa.

Whatever the issue relating to dressing, though, there are a number of solutions. Make sure that the clothing you or your loved one wear is easy to put on and take off. There are a number of companies that sell adaptive clothing, such as shirts with velcro instead of button closures, or pants that have zippers down the side. People who use wheelchairs can find clothing that easily slips on the front with a back closure.

Occupational and physical therapists are great sources for help on this. If you are a caregiver, this is an issue that needs empathy, respect, and continual monitoring. In some cases, a home health aide may be needed to deal with this. If your loved one is bigger than you or has physical limitations that make dressing a major operation, this is when you need some help. Don’t put your own well-being on the line to make this happen every day.

The article below from AgingCare describes many helpful dressing techniques for anyone, not just those with PD. Buck & Buck is one company of many that has a very helpful online catalog you can search by specific clothing items or by health issues, such as for those with incontinence or who’ve had a stroke. And don’t forget to check with health care providers for recommendations in your situation.

Tips for Dressing Someone with Parkinson’s

Buck & Buck online catalog

Seniors learn new tech skills when that tech has value to them

Like many Americans, including most of a certain age, the first thing I do in the morning is reach for my glasses and put them on. Without them I certainly could not do most of what I do every day. They are so helpful that I can’t imagine life without them.

Yet long ago eyeglasses were a new technology. By now have proven their worth to generations of wearers.

Similarly, many seniors today find much technology very useful in their lives: they communicate using smartphones and tablets, they buy cars with reminder tones to take the keys or check before changing lanes, and they have figured out how to watch their favorite TV shows by navigating through countless streaming or satellite options.

So if you’re wondering why your spouse refuses to try Facetime or Skype for family visits, or why your parent insists on sending a check through the mail rather than setting up online banking, take a breath. Could it be that he or she just hasn’t found a good reason to do so?

A few recent articles discuss how determining factors to encourage seniors to embrace technology is often a matter of making sure that the benefits and ease of use are clear. Perhaps in a few cases, the reluctance may be fear of the unknown – or scammers – but many other factors may be in play as well.

For example, the ability to exchange photos of grandchildren is often a driver for a grandparent to choose a smartphone with a good camera or sign up for a social media account to check the latest videos of Junior’s last soccer game or piano recital.

And their reluctance to pull out that smartphone to browse the Internet while in the car or a restaurant? To many seniors, they see younger people doing that in a gathering and find it rude to ignore others in their presence. Are they right?

One new technology frontier for seniors has become health care, and the benefits of that are many, especially in rural areas. So it may be worth our while as family members or caregivers to encourage and support their seniors as they learn new tech ways to keep themselves healthy.

For a fresh look at encouraging seniors to use technology well, check out the articles below. And I’ll let you know when I trade in my glasses for some high-tech eye surgery!

Designing better tech for seniors means simplifying tech for everyone

Why Older People Really Eschew Technology

Resilience: How to handle those “Curve Balls” life throws your way.

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events.  Being resilient doesn’t mean you don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval and suffering, it’s about how you handle it.  Resiliency can be learned or acquired over time, here are some helpful tips for honing your resiliency as a Caregiver.

Communicating and Coping with Hearing Loss

It’s hard to come to terms with hearing loss. Because it is usually a long, gradual process, many people don’t realize they aren’t hearing normally until someone else points it out. The TV volume goes up, the conversations change, especially with someone whose voice may be in a missing range, or sometimes it’s easier to skip an activity in a loud environment, like a family party, rather than become frustrated.

The best thing to do for hearing loss is to use hearing aids or some other assistive device, but those don’t work in all situations. Some conditions require other solutions, and for some, it’s a lengthy process to find the best solution. We probably all know someone who has hearing aids home in a drawer but won’t use them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a different problem, like dementia, makes using or simply keeping track of hearing aids an insurmountable task.

In the meantime, though, caregivers, family members and friends can help out with some simple communication guidelines. This article from AgingCare outlines several techniques people can use with their loved ones, such as first getting their attention, using good lighting, and facing them directly to maintain attention. Patience is always helpful for everyone.

Losing the ability to hear well usually leads to isolation, social withdrawal, and eventually cognitive decline, so it’s important to maintain communication with your seniors as much as possible. This is a case where a team effort can make a big difference.

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I can’t smell! Is it Covid? Aging? or something more?

One of my favorite childhood memories was the smell of Mom’s cinnamon rolls when I walked into our house after school, knowing there was probably a batch coming out of the oven at that moment. And working in the Flogstad Bakery for a few years had the same effect on me, as well as most of our customers. Who doesn’t love some favorite smell to bring you back to a pleasant memory or experience?

That ability to smell and taste is something we take for granted – until it fades away or suddenly disappears. Then it can change our appetites, possibly resulting in poor nutrition, lead to excessive salt or sugar use, and even cause depression. There are instances of people ingesting dangerous substances or not recognizing a gas leak because they can’t smell or taste.

If you were like many people over the years, you may have had a cold or two every winter and thought little about it. Sneezing, stuffy head, runny nose and a cough were part of the typical scenario. It’s also possible that with that cold, or a sinus infection that may have followed, you temporarily lost your ability to smell, which was accompanied by a loss of taste or even an interest in food. But those symptoms were gone with the cold.

Covid-19 changed everything in the past year, and one of its most common symptoms was an accompanying loss of smell and taste. In fact, for some people that was often the first and sometimes the only symptom of the disease. Many regained their ability to smell after a few weeks to a month. Research is ongoing in this area.

But the loss of smell and taste has been a hallmark of several other health conditions, and as we age, it’s important to recognize this symptom.

It’s not unusual to have a minor loss of taste and smell with aging, according to the Mayo Clinic. That loss can also be a result of several issues over the years, like chronic sinus problems, allergies, some medications, dental problems, smoking, or some types of head or facial injury. Some of those can be treated with lifestyle changes or medical treatments.

Yet more seriously, the loss of smell and taste are common symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. In fact, it may appear years before other changes occur. Unlike with a cold, this inability may be a signal that one area of the brain, the olfactory bulb, is already being damaged. Research into these connections have been going on for some time, and many experts are looking into using this to evaluate patients as part of diagnosis and testing.

For general information on taste, smell and aging: Is loss of taste and smell normal with aging?

For information about smell and Alzheimer’s: Can a Smell Test Sniff Out Alzheimer’s Disease?

For information about smell and PD: Loss of Smell

What did you say?

Seven years ago, Frozen was the top Disney movie, and “Let it Go” became the song every young girl in the country knew by heart. Ebola broke out in Africa, causing the deaths of 6,000 people world-wide. The winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia.

So how long is seven years? That’s the average length of time it takes a person diagnosed with a hearing loss to be fit for their first hearing aids. Some studies put that even longer, around 10 years.

Why do people wait so long before getting help? Is it the potential cost? Is it vanity, thinking they’ll appear old if others notice their hearing aids? Is it that spouses, children and friends all mumble just to be annoying?

Anyway you look at it, delaying help for hearing loss is a terrible loss. Because it is usually gradual, it’s easy to brush off, at least for a time. If noisy environments are problematic for a person with loss, those situations can be avoided, at least some of the time. Others try to control conversations so they can lead a conversation rather than struggle to follow the words of others.

But seniors with untreated hearing loss often show higher rates of depression, anxiety, decreased social and emotional connections, and eventually show cognitive decline. In fact, one study noted that those with moderate loss had twice the cognitive decline of normal hearing adults, and those with severe hearing loss had five times the risk of cognitive decline.

In other words, once you lose the ability to hear sound, your brain loses the ability to make sense of that sound, and eventually cannot regain that function.

Other research has indicated that about 9 percent of the risk of dementia can be attributed to midlife hearing loss, the greatest single dementia risk that can be modified by behavior. That is higher than other risks like smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, social isolation and lack of exercise.

Are you wondering if you really have a hearing loss? Start with this quiz from AgingCare, and if you have 3 yes answers, check with your doctor now! Your brain will not want to wait seven years.

Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone?

Do I have trouble hearing when there is noise in the background?

Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at once?

Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?

Do many people I talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?

Do I misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?

Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?

Do I have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?

Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?

Do I hear a consistent ringing, roaring, or hissing sound?

Do some sounds seem too loud?

Here are some of many related articles:

Hearing Loss Quiz: 10 Symptoms of Hearing Loss

A Delay in Getting Hearing Aids Can Mean More than Hearing Trouble

Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults

Cataracts and your vision

We all enjoy birthdays, but the more you have, the closer you get to some unpleasant side effects, and one of those is the risk of cataracts. The National Eye Institute estimates that about half of all Americans 80 and over either have had surgery for or have developed cataracts.

Cataracts occur when the lens start to cloud, often in middle age, and gradually worsen. Proteins in the eye start to break down, clumping together and eventually blurring your vision. Some people experience a fading of colors, see double images, have trouble seeing at night, or have other visual distortions. Cataracts may develop in only one eye or at different rates for each eye.

While aging is the most common cause, there may be other factors, such as smoking, some chronic conditions like diabetes, certain medications, or too much sunlight, especially without sunglasses. Cataracts often take many years to develop, and there is some evidence that the risk may run in families.

Taking good care of your eyes with regular checkups is the best thing you can do to prevent and deal with cataracts. By going in for annual eye exams and sharing symptoms and concerns with an eye specialist, you can work as a team.

There are several recommendations for handling cataracts, such as wearing sunglasses more often, avoiding night driving, and changing a prescription for glasses or contacts. When it interferes with most of your daily living activities, though, surgery may be the preferred solution.

Cataract surgery has improved remarkably over the years, and with high-tech solutions now available, it is often a one-day surgery. Recovery time has also been streamlined, and most see improvement soon. Most insurance plans will cover a normal surgery, but it’s always a good idea for you to check in advance of any medical procedure.

If you’d like more information on cataracts, prevention and treatments, including some good images of how it affects your vision or how the surgery works, look into these websites:

What Are Cataracts?

What to Know About Cataracts and Cataract Surgery

Handling the Heat

Minnesota’s had record-breaking heat already this summer, and while it’s good to feel the summer sun, excessive heat can cause all sorts of problems. Here are a few ideas to stay comfortable, healthy, and most of all, safe when the temperatures soar.

For many people, it’s easy to stay cool if your house and car are air-conditioned, and you can avoid being outside in the heat. But if you need to be out, take precautions first. Try to run errands in the cool mornings or evenings, wear lightweight clothes, stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water and other cool beverages. Never leave children, pets, or anyone in a hot car!

Those guidelines are for everyone, but seniors usually need to take a few additional steps. And if you’re a caregiver, especially for someone with dementia, those extra steps are critical to keeping your loved one safe in a heat wave.

For example, seniors often don’t sweat as effectively as younger people. Poor circulation, heart disease and other chronic conditions add to the problem, and some medications can also make things worse. Keep your house as cool as possible with AC or fans, and eat nutritious, light foods.

Dehydration is also a concern at the top of the list. Many seniors no longer feel thirsty under any conditions, so they drink less. Some don’t drink enough water because they want to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom, or they’ve become used to drinking coffee or other caffeinated,  sugared drinks, and those cannot replace fluids as well as water does.

Heat exhaustion or heat stroke is a danger when a person overheats, and this is often demonstrated with confusion, nausea, or even high body temperatures and fainting. These merit immediate action and a 911 call.

For more information on both staying cool and preventing heat-related health problems, check out these articles below:

Tips for Protecting Seniors from Dangerous Summer Heat

How to handle a heat wave: Safety tips and ways to stay cool

Drink up, Seniors!

Do you think you’re drinking enough water these days? You probably aren’t, and if you’re a senior, it’s even more likely that you’re not. Yet drinking enough water, especially on hot days, is critical for good health.

Water is necessary for almost everything your body does, from pumping blood, lubricating joints or keeping a constant body temperature. So if you’re not hydrated enough, it doesn’t take long to affect your health and well-being.

As we age, our muscles and kidneys lose some of their ability to conserve water, plus our awareness of thirst lessens, so we need the fluids, whether we recognize it or not. Some seniors who deal with incontinence deliberately drink less to avoid accidents. Those with dementia may forget to eat or drink regularly, plus in later stages, swallowing may become more difficult.

Dehydration signs can be subtle at first. It may start with a headache, dark urine, constipation, or muscle cramps. More severe symptoms may be a rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, or a weak pulse. Without fluids, a person may eventually experience heat stroke, seizures, or kidney failure. Any of these symptoms that persist more than a day or two require a doctor visit or even an ER visit.

Many health experts recommend about 64 ounces of fluid every day, which includes water but also juices, or any fluids other than alcohol. Smoothies, popsicles, and many fruits or other foods can contribute to the day’s requirement. For example, one serving of cucumbers, watermelon,  or grapes, contains over 90% water. Even a glass of water can be more appealing with a slice of lemon or other fruit added. Juices can be diluted with water and ice to lower the sugar content.

For additional tips to stay hydrated, check out these links:

Hydration Tips for Seniors

The Importance of Staying Hydrated for Seniors and Elders

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