Healthy Living

THE CONUNDRUM OF CAREGIVING

By Deanna Mims

“There is no perfect way to take care of an elderly parent except with the most love and patience you are able to muster on that particular day.” –AgingCare.com

Forget perfect, I would settle for consistently patient or always “minding my gap” between stimulus and response, or can’t I at least manage easygoing amusement?

If this resonates with you, you are likely a woman with career and family demands or in the famed “sandwich generation,” finding yourself spending an average of 30 hours a week bringing a parent to medical appointments, paying bills, making meals, interacting with therapy professionals, navigating the medical system, filling prescriptions and spending time on Medicare, Medicaid and all varieties of insurance and paperwork deadlines. You are not alone. You are doing what an estimated 65.7 million Americans are currently experiencing. And if you aren’t yet, consider that by 2050, the number of people over age 65 is expected to more than double, to 86.5 million. And we are addressing only aging relatives here, not other caretaking situations.

However, it can be true that this shared journey can be rewarding in meaningful ways. In revelations I get daily, I gain new perspectives on aging, enhanced gratitude, maturity, more tolerance and patience and the opportunity to serve. I’ve also learned that there are some common signs of caregiver burnout waiting to happen, such as loss of energy, inability to sleep or periodic longer periods of sleep, hypervigilance, an inability to relax, a sense of overwhelming anxiety, loss of joy or enthusiasm and feeling hopeless and lonely.

But you knew there would be good news here too, right? The quicker you commit yourself to some fundamental tools, the easier your new reality can become, and the better you can maintain and remember the “you” you were and will be again, with more energy, resourcefulness, grace and joy. Here are four fundamental mantras of coping that I’ve found helpful in my journey as a caregiver.

1) School yourself on what you are coming into. There are numerous questions that arise with an aging loved one that will be unique to their health or situation, such as, “What are the health needs of my loved one, and how will those needs impact our current resources?” “What should I expect during a hospital stay and after he or she has come home?”

“What are my local, state and national resources?” “What are my housing and at-home care options?”

2) Drop your “shoulds” and overinvestment in other people’s judgments. You want to do the best thing, so you usually prioritize your care receiver’s needs before your own, and then you berate yourself when you aren’t as patient, easy-going or loving as you or others would like or think you should be. Analyze each day as it comes, and manage your expectations with realistic objectives and what is possible on that given day. Let go of preconceived notions of what caregiving should  look like, and focus instead on how you are taking care of yourself and your loved one.   

3) It’s okay to constantly adjust your expectations. Inflexible schedules are a thing of the past. Sometimes, “done” really is good enough.

4) Empower others to lend a hand. You apply yourself to getting your loved one’s needs met, so be as good to yourself. When a friend offers help…allow it, AND have a specific suggestion. Need a date night? Ask a friend to sit with your dad for a few hours. Can’t get to the grocery store? A true friend will feel great about making a contribution by adding a few things to her basket for you. Need to vent? Tap that support group who really “get it.” Also, plan ahead. It’s essential that you have something to look forward to. 

5) Don’t forget YOU. Taking care of yourself is vital to your own health and the health of your loved one.

Too often, caregiver burnout occurs when the health of the caregiver is put last on the list. Take time for yourself every day to do something you enjoy, to exercise, and when possible, take an extended vacation to truly refresh and renew your mind, body and spirit. Prevention really is the best medicine—be sure to seek medical and professional help with taking care of your mind and body so burnout doesn’t get the best of you.

My mother—artistic, smart, funny, curious and strong. She worked full-time and raised me while caring for her own mother, providing all the extras and opportunities she could afford. Now it’s my turn, my honor and my responsibility to provide my mother what she originally gave me, all while keeping my own health a priority and helping her experience the last best chapter she deserves. May we
all have someone who loves us enough
to accompany us on this caregiving journey.  

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”   —Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Music and Healing—the Beautiful Sound

By Keasi Smith

American philosopher, psychologist and physician William James once said, “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.” A man before his time, he already knew what scientists have since proven: music can heal us. Not only that but a speedy tempo can motivate you to run faster, a funky rhythm can inspire your hips to sway and particular melodies can bring us the tears. We have all experienced the mysterious power music can have on our emotions and behavior, but the science of music and music therapy as a disciple didn’t really form till after WWI and WWII when hospitals began to see the positive effects volunteer musicians had on veterans suffering from the traumas of war. Over the decades studies have unveiled the effects music has on our brain and in turn uncovered an effective tool for addressing physical, emotional and cognitive needs of individuals.

Possibly the most remarkable effects of music therapy can be seen in patients suffering from dementia. Nursing homes from across the country have seen the benefits of inviting musicians to come play at their facility and as the 2014 documentary “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory” demonstrates, providing each patient with an iPod can do wonders for facilitating movement and promoting engagement even in the most docile individuals. This is because a person’s ability to engage in music remains intact late into the disease process as our brain requires little to no mental or cognitive functions to enjoy a tune. Music selections from the individual’s young adult years—18 to 25—have been proven to have the strongest responses and because memories are so spread throughout the neurological pathways, music has the amazing ability to evoke powerful memories in patients who have lost their identity to dementia.

Music therapy techniques are also used in hospice care, including at Tallahassee’s very own Big Bend Hospice, where music therapy is used to increase relaxation, give spiritual comfort and provide an outlet for self-expression and communication. Techniques vary but include learning how to play the piano to improve fine motor skills or using music instruments to cope with emotions. And because music therapy comes with no side effects and is so non-invasive, this approach has become a wildly popular tool to help increase the quality of life for those suffering due to a terminal illness. It can also be extremely helpful to the patient’s families, providing support and comfort for them throughout their hospice journey alongside with their loved one.

The healing benefits of music span people of all ages, including children with autism. A 2012 study shared in the Pertanika Journal found that children over a ten-month period found weekly music therapy sessions improved inattentive behaviors and additional studies have shown that childhood music lessons serve extreme cognitive benefits such as decreased stress, depression, and addictive behavior. For those suffering from insomnia, the Institute of Behavior Sciences in Hungary conducted a study in 2015 which found music to be an effective tool for improving sleep quality in adults. Hospitals continue to utilize music therapy to heal, alleviate pain and counteract apprehension and fear, which all can lessen the amount of pain medications prescribed.

Still, you don’t have to be suffering from any of the above ailments to take advantage of the healing benefits of music. After all, music predates recorded history and has been used by cultures all over the world for religious, spiritual and communicates purposes. We are hardwired to enjoy music. Listening to your iPod can be considered preventative medicine as music gets your good genes moving and slows down genes that cause brain degeneration, meaning that listening to music can actually project your brain from while simultaneously counteracting effects of chronic stress, a contributing factor to illnesses and disease. So next time you’re enjoying your favorite song, remember that that magic you’re feeling is actually the beauty of neurotransmitters and chemicals in your brain, healing you from the inside out. So, turn up the volume.

How To: Breast Self Exams

By Janecia Britt

The best way to prevent cancer is to be proactive. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.  Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” Now, a self-exam is considered to be less effective than other techniques, such as regular mammograms. This has led groups such as the American Cancer Society to deem breast self-exams optional. While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your health care professional if there are any changes.

There are a few ways to perform a breast self-exam on yourself. These being in front of a mirror, in the shower or lying down, the most common is lying down, as it is easier to feel for lumps or abnormalities.

  1. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall.
  2. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head.
  3. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
  4. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps.
  5. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.

   *For more information on mammograms and self-exams visit nationalbreastcancer.org