Becoming a Savvy Caregiver

Becoming a Savvy Caregiver is as much a journey as Alzheimer’s.

 

The Savvy Caregiver Program is a training program for caregivers like you. Caregiving is a role far different from being a spouse or child.  Those terms describe relationships. Assisting and guiding someone who is living with a chronic illness is the definition of caregiving. It is work.

The caregiving role has a “job description”. Putting together the tasks, the helping, the cleaning up, watching, worrying, everything make up the caregivers job description. Hiring someone to do what you do isn’t truly possible. With enough money you can hire people to do many of your caregiving tasks. However, the caregiver role is more than one person can handle.

Caregiving is a job most of us never expected to have and are untrained to do properly. Lacking proper training leads to stress, frustration and sometimes injuries. Taking care of a person living with a demanding illness like Alzheimer’s is specialized work. Doing this work successfully requires special skills and knowledge,  You also need an outlet and attitude that helps you look after yourself.

Why Do I Need Caregiver Training?

Being unprepared for the role of caregiver is common. Lacking awareness of available training or even the need for training is also common. Many family caregivers tackle their role as a caregiver in a way similar to raising children. Unfortunately, this method leads to a lot of stress, frustration and tears. Consider the situation you’ve found yourself in. Caregiving is likely very different from any other role you have experienced. Seeing, recognizing and understanding that difference are important first steps in appreciating the work you have undertaken as a caregiver.

Most importantly, the Savvy Caregiver Program teaches you how to be a great caregiver. I attended the accelerated version (3 weeks vs 6) this past May. Learning how to be a better care partner to my Mom was a blessing. Taking this training earlier on the disease would have been a huge benefit to my Dad. Between his chronic illnesses and caring for Mom, he had too much on his plate.

What Types of Things Will I Learn In This Training?

Firstly, you’ll learn about providing contented involvement.  In other words, successful caregiving comes down to helping the person be as comfortable & involved & happy as possible. Keeping in mind that a person living with a demanding disorder can still:

  • zero in on a task or activity
  • stay with it for some time
  • have a pleasant time doing it

Keeping the person involved and content may help lessen confusion and reduce the chances of distress and difficult behaviors. Determining contented involvement takes practice. For instance, think of Goldilocks trying to find a balance between too much and too little. That is to say, a just right amount.

As a result of taking the training program I learned new ways to approach caring for Mom as she declines further.  Learning that we, as caregivers, are more in charge than we thought was huge.  While we can’t control the disease, we can control our reactions. For example. reacting in calm, more understanding ways helps our loved one stay calm. Anyone dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s knows that being calm can be a challenge.

Changing our behavior, reactions will change the outcomes of many of our interactions. That’s the benefit of becoming a Savvy Caregiver. As a result, our journey as caregivers can be a lot easier.

This is the painting that was discussed in this episode.

Fruitful life, painted by a person living with Alzheimer’s.

 

Learn More About Training Opportunities

Coping & Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

 

Creating Breathing Spaces for Family Caregivers

Breathing Spaces Logo

Breathing Spaces is a caregiver support network that focuses on self-care.

 

Sometimes the simple act of breathing, a deep breath in and out can mentally give a caregiver space to solve a problem.  Understanding the roller coaster of emotions caregivers go through is our guest, Cyndi. Living with and taking care of her Mom and brother was overwhelming. Cyndi was a stressed out family caregiver not taking care of herself. (Sound familiar?)

Self-care is a vital component in the overall caregiving journey. I am very reluctant to miss my regular exercise classes or bike rides because I know how I feel when I do. It is not a selfish thing to take time for yourself. Being a good care partner means assembling your support network so self care isn’t neglected.

In addition to exercise I’m in a caregiver support group, I participate in many online chat groups and I talk to many knowledgeable guests. Despite all this, I still struggle. Struggling is part of the journey unfortunately. However, we don’t have to struggle alone. In fact, we should do our best not too.

Gathering your support network is just as important as making sure your loved one has what they need. In fact, it may even be more important. Failing to be able to care for someone because you neglected your own needs is something all caregivers need to avoid.

Tuning in to this episode will give you insights into self-care, challenges in getting help and ways to make it happen.

Alzheimer’s Association Support Group Locator

Senior Social Program with Kids Episode

Honoring Grandma – Zach’s Alzheimer’s Journey

Zach’s Grandmas journey with Alzheimer’s was the catalyst for his career choice.

 

Choosing to embark on an Alzheimer’s journey is not one most of us take.  Generally, Alzheimer’s chooses us and generally later in life. That is not the case for today’s guest, Zach Smith. Zach volunteered at our local Alzheimer’s Associations chapter as a way to fulfill a graduation requirement.  At the time his grandmother was already living with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it was a natural place for him to want to volunteer.

During his volunteer time, Zach met his future  supervisor. She was in charge of Public Policy for Northern California/Northern Nevada.  Volunteering was not glamorous but it was eye opening. Alzheimer’s is  the sixth leading cause of death for seniors in American but got the least amount of research funding. Feeling angry at this financial imbalance  Zach decided to become more involved.

A career In Alzheimer’s Policy Advocacy

Congress had passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which introduced a Secretary position into the office of National Institute of Health. (The National Alzheimer’s Act was introduced in February 2010 & became law in January 2011.)  While volunteering, Zach attend the State Advocacy Day, National Advocacy Forum, and worked with the legislative ambassador volunteers. Consequently, he decided to make a career of policy advocacy for Alzheimer’s. Changing the course of the disease for everyone effected in the future was Zach’s vision.

Studying health care public policy  in college combined with advocacy work made his career vision a reality. While completing his studies Zach was lobbying, and participating in the legislative process. Seven months after graduation he started working in the Alzheimer’s Associations program department. A year later he was promoted to the public policy department where he’s been for  2.5 years.  Zach says it’s his pleasure to come to work everyday, work with advocate volunteers and teach them what he did as a volunteer.

Zach teaches that sharing our stories with our elected officials, both state and federal is an important step. This step helps them understand the need for legislation and increased funding. With increases in funding we will be *that* much closer to a cure.

During the course of this podcast I’ve talked to many people whose lives were changed by Alzheimer’s. Zach is in a unique category as the youngest person I’ve spoken to. He has a passion for changing the future of Alzheimer’s care. Zach’s grandmother would be immensely proud of what he’s doing and what he’ll achieve.

Changing the Face of Alzheimer’s Work

A fascinating side note is the increase in Millennial’s who are caregivers. Over 10 million Millennials care for someone with Alzheimer’s. Sadly, no Google search tells me how many millennials go into policy advocacy but I’m sure it’s not high.

Meeting Zach’s grandmother would have been something I would have enjoyed. Hearing about her reminds me of my grandmother who also had memory loss at the end of her life. Regular listeners know, we’re not sure if it was due an aneurysm or dementia.  Assuming Alzheimer’s is my thought because her mother also had dementia at the end of her life.

If you’re interested in becoming a state advocate (you don’t have to do politics) you can contact Zach at zsmith@alz.org  Working with Zach will be a joy, I promise!

A $10 Million Dollar Ask for Alzheimer’s

More info on The National Alzheimer’s Project Act

Caregiver Forgiveness – Easing Emotional Challenges

Forgiveness helps reduce emotional challenges.

Caregivers have enough stress. Learning to forgive past hurts goes a long way in reducing emotional challenges.

Becoming someones full time care provider has many emotional challengesh. Dealing with unresolved past hurts makes caregiving even tougher. Therefore learning to forgive the person you’re caring can go a long way in reducing stress.

Easing emotional challenges is important when you’re providing care for someone. This is especially important for an adult child who is caring for a parent to master. It is common for the person you’re caring for to say or do things that are unpleasant. When their behavior triggers negative memories in their care provider, it makes the challenges that much more difficult to manage.

How do we learn to forgive when the forgiveness is one-sided?  What can we say or do to our loved ones who don’t understand their words are hurtful? That’s what this episode is all about. Caregiver Forgiveness!

My Journey to Caregiver Forgiveness

I’ve had to get past many past hurts. Currently, I do more caregiving for Mom so when she’s cranky with me it stings. The feeling of being unappreciated is very hard to get past, but she’s not going to change. Her lack of awareness of how her words are hurtful will never improve. Because of thisI have had to learn how to let her words just flow past me.

Having learned to “hear the emotion” has saved me a lot of frustration. Learning how to react to my Moms needs versus clinging to our “old” relationship has enabled better communication even as her verbal skills have declined. Listening to my conversation with Susanne and reading her blog will allow you some freedom from common emotional challenges.

More About Susanne & Caregiver Help

My guest for this episode is Susanne White.  Learning how she went from butting heads to understanding her Mom is very enlightening. Susanne is the author of the blog Caregiver Warrior and is working on publishing her first book.

Going from butting heads with her Mother to becoming her caregiver was a big challenge. Subsequently, she became aware that changing her expectations would make her caregiving journey just a bit easier. Certainly, we can understand that changing the behavior of someone living with dementia is impossible. Alternatively, the only behavior we can change is our own.

For example, I used to respond to the question “does my husband know where I am?” with “yes Mom, Dad knows you’re with me.”  Two minutes later I’d get the same question. Consequently, I’d become irritated which made my Mom uneasy. Learning to respond differently made a huge difference. To clarify, Mom was looking for reassurance that my Dad (deceased) would not be angry if he didn’t find her at home as expected. After becoming aware of that I’ve changed my response and get that question far less often.

Likewise, you will gain an understanding of emotional challenges and how to make them less stressful just by listening to this episode.

Find Susanne at:

www.caregiverwarrior.com

More info for caregivers:

Caregiver Confessions Episode

A Path Revealed – Coping With Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Art was one part of the path forward during Martha’s journey with Alzheimers.

 

Carlen’s story is about a path that emerged in the darkest of hours. In other words, a path that was neither planned nor foreseen. It’s a story about the inner struggles and insights that emerged when he lead Martha and their children through a life-altering quandary. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at 50 was never part of anyone’s plan.

Suggested by a Protestant minister and friend, a search began. Martha and Carlen visited a Catholic nun and a monk in the hills and back roads of Kentucky. Scrambling for answers, Carlen devoured scores of medical and spiritual books; flew halfway around the world to Sydney and back. Carlen spent dozens of weekends at a nearby monastery; then landed all alone one week in Thomas Merton’s cabin.

Thinking of caregiver support we may not see the potential in meditation. Showing us by example, Carlen’s used mediation to ease the fears and confusion of Alzheimer’s.  Starting early on the path of meditation allowed Carlen to use learned techniques as Martha’s disease progressed. Easier fears and confusion are critical to our caregiving and this is one potential solution.  Listening to this episode may help you to reveal a path you didn’t realize was available.

Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Generally, Alzheimer’s effects those over the age of 65 and is most common in seniors over age 80. However, approximately 5% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed in their 40s and 50s.  The warning signs of the disease are the same at any age. Martha went from a confident, independent woman to one who could no longer handle many of her normal tasks.

Finding support is important for both the person living with Alzheimer’s as well as their care partner. Additionally, learning all you can about the disease. Treating the early onset version of AD is the same as late in life AD.

Stay as positive as you can. Keep up with the activities you still enjoy. Try different ways to relax, like yoga or deep-breathing or meditation.  Keep your body in good shape, too. Make sure you eat healthy food and get regular exercise. Exercising outdoors when possible is also important. My Mom always seems to have a little more clarity when we’ve been outdoors.

There are different paths for each person with AD and their care partner. I hope this episode gives you something you can take advantage of.

 

 

Find Carlen Here!

Understanding a Dementia Brain Part 1

Understanding a Dementia Brain Part 2