Category Archives: Support for Caregivers

Posts mention resources and suggestions that can help caregivers stay healthy.

Caregiver, Heal Thyself!

“Caregiver, Heal Thyself!”…. it’s at twist on the biblical adage and my motto for 2016. We are the first line of defense for our loved ones. But too often we get injured or run down and fail to care for our health.

Caregiver Heal Thyself

Warm winter = thin ice

In 2015, I suffered a dislocated shoulder, chronic lower back strain, and plenty of wrist pain. Early in the year I got a mysterious skin infection which went away after I was treated with anti-biotics. My doctor suspected that I contracted MRSA from my mom. He didn’t reveal his theory until it healed because he knew I would panic. After the infection disappeared, he explained that many older people who have spent time in a hospital, residential care, a rehabilitation center, or a nursing home will carry the MRSA bacteria. They can bring it home and transmit it through skin-to-skin contact. My little scar still reminds me of this extremely painful episode.

If we stay aware of our health problems, we can do more about them. For years I’ve used yoga as a tool for healing muscular pain as soon as I notice it. I have a subscription to an online service called YogaGlo.  I’m not sure this would work for #caregivers who have never taken a #yoga class. However, if you have a yoga studio nearby, you can get some basic instruction first. Yoga is a tremendous aid for maintaining your health. YogaGlo costs $18 a month and can use the service from a computer, iPad, or smart phone — or all three. If you get your TV reception through a ROKU box like I do, you can also watch it on your TV. Cable subscriptions and satellites are too expensive. Since we rarely have time to watch TV, we like ROKU much better.

Online exercise channels are great for caregivers, especially if your loved one needs 24 hour care like my mom does. When you’re feeling worn down, you can choose a session to start healing a specific body part without ever leaving the house. My online yoga classes are as short as 5 minutes — or as long as two hours. I try to do a 20 minute class before I lift my mom out of bed in the morning. It makes me much more limber and it warms up my shoulder before I stress it again.

I don’t know why we get so careless with our health. Most of us know the terrible statistics about caregiver illnesses. These items, quoted from Caregiver.org should scare you a little:

  • Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments (including acid reflux, headaches, and pain/aching), increased tendency to develop serious illness, and have high levels of obesity and bodily pain.
  • Studies demonstrate that caregivers have diminished immune response, which leads to frequent infection and increased risk of cancers.
  • Caregivers exhibit exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stressful conditions which put them at greater risk than non-caregivers for the development of cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

I can’t bear to mention any more. We know this job is hard and we know it hurts. But we must remind ourselves that we also have choices about how we treat our bodies. Make 2016 the year when you make #caregiver health a priority.

 

Lifting Dementia Patients

Lifting a dementia patient can be tricky business. During most of 2015, we’ve been lucky. Since February, my Mom’s been able to support her own weight and walk with assistance. But now she’s developed something we call “mermaid legs”. That’s our non-scientific term for collapsing limbs.

Lifting Dementia Patients

Mom’s mermaid legs first appeared this summer. She only weighs about a hundred pounds, so I’ve always lifted her out of bed in the morning. Once on her feet, my mom could take a supported turkey trot to her wheelchair. Even when wobbly, her walk was extremely helpful since the wheelchair wouldn’t fit through her bedroom doorway.

During August, however, we had a few episodes when Mom would stand for a step or two, then suddenly fold her legs up. The need for me to grab her sinking body weight put a terrible strain on my lower back. As long as it only happened occasionally, I could use yoga to heal my back between lifts. But in October, Mom’s legs were folding nearly every day and I felt like a broken doll.

Fortunately, we got approval through my mother’s insurance plan to have a physical therapist come to our home. The insurance provider approved six visits which began a couple weeks ago. The therapists offer range of motion treatments to my mom and teach us how to administer them, too. They also removed the external “steering” wheels from my mom’s chair since she lacks the ability to “drive” it. Now her wheelchair fits through the door and we can park it right next to her bed. Even if she can’t walk in the morning, I only have to lift her a few inches from the bed to her chair. My spine is so grateful! I no longer walk around stretching my back muscles all day. It’s also easier to sleep at night because I’m no longer in pain.

It’s pretty common for dementia patients to have problems with walking. My mom developed a “cautious gait” long ago. Her balance was off and so was her compass. She preferred to follow someone so she could be sure she was going in the right direction. According to Patient Info, a British site that provides detailed health information, frontal gait disorder is common in Alzheimer’s patients. The degree of impairment may depend on  “the severity of the disease…and factors such as age, sex, depression, obesity, and the presence of co-morbidities“. These things have a tendency to get worse over time.

If your loved one is losing their walking skills or can’t support their own weight, I encourage you to find resources to help you learn to lift them safely. Check your insurance plan and your Area Agency on Aging. In extreme cases, you may qualify to get a medically approved lift for your home.

I know that in many ways I’m lucky because my mom is tiny. There are lots of wives out there lifting husbands twice their weight. Caregivers: get the help you need so you can move loved ones around in a way that’s safe for them and for you. If you get hurt, everybody suffers.