Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2017

By Deanna Leyh

Many of us know someone whose life is affected by Alzheimer’s disease, whether they, a family member, or a friend have it, or whether they are a family caregiver or professional caregiver of someone with it. Getting involved in your local area’s upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a great way to draw attention to Alzheimer’s disease and to raise money and awareness for the fight against Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and money for Alzheimer’s support and research. There are over 600 communities nationwide that hold the event annually to further the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission of advancing care, support, and research across the world.
Pittsburgh’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is quickly approaching! With November being National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month, the walk will be held on Saturday, November 4th, 2017. The Walk will take place at Stage AE, and it begins at 10am with registration beginning at 7:30am. To register for Pittsburgh’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, please visit their website at or visit to learn more about creating a team and fundraising for your local walk! Go purple with a purpose in November in support of Alzheimer’s awareness!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Stigma Around Caregiving

Contributed by Deanna Leyh

Caregiver. It can be a scary word for some people to see. For some people, they see that word and think that it means someone that has committed their life to taking care of another person and maybe someone that has “no life” of their own. Some tend to shy away from that label or adamantly refuse to acknowledge that they are a caregiver. The definition of a family caregiver according to the Family Caregiver Alliance is “any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for, an older person or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition” (  The definition of a caregiver is just someone who essentially provides some assistance to another person. So why is there this stigma around using the term caregiver?

Well for some, using the term “caregiver” can be an acknowledgement that this new role they are in is real and has an impact on their life. They may just say that they only help their mother out with errands and doctor appointments but that they’re not a caregiver because it can be difficult to acknowledge that they are in this caregiving role that can affect different areas of their life. For example, some people may not acknowledge that they are a caregiver at work because they’re worried their employer might think that their caregiving role will impact their productivity or that they will be passed over for promotions. Other people may downplay their role as a caregiver to their friends because they’re worried their friends may not reach out to them as much or invite them to social events because they figure they are “too busy” caring for their loved one, when many caregivers are aching to have that social connection.  So how can we help caregivers and the community in general get over this stigma around caregiving and instead better support family caregivers?

One answer is education! In order for people to understand more about what it means to be a caregiver and to start to break down that stigma is to educate people that caregiving is something we will all be affected by in some manner. One great resource to learn more about what caregiving actually means and what caregivers need is the Family Caregiver Alliance at

Also, keep an eye out for any friends, family, or co-workers that help others out with things like medications, preparing meals, cleaning, running errands, mowing their lawn, accompanying them to doctor appointments, etc. Chances are that they’re a caregiver! Ask them about their caregiving role, and if they’re leery about using the word “caregiver”, try inquiring about what’s holding them back from saying that they’re a caregiver? Start the conversation so that we can work to end the caregiving stigma!

Offer your help and assistance to them! Try asking them if there’s anything that you can do to help them out or to make things easier for them, i.e. “I’m going out for groceries—what can I pick up for you while I’m there?” or “I’m mowing the yard tomorrow, so why don’t I come over and mow you and your mom’s yard too?” Or just offer your emotional support and let them know that you are a safe person for them to talk to about their caregiving situation.

The littlest act of kindness can go a long way for caregivers, and the more that we talk about caregiving, the less stigma there is surrounding it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Creative Ways to Engage

by Emily Anderson

Once upon a time, you and your mom would go to museums and movies and parks. But now it feels like the only place you go is to doctors appointments, and most of the time she watches TV while you take care of everything in the house.

A lot of caregivers feel like they lose track of their relationship with their loved one in the process of caregiving. It's overwhelming, there is a lot to do, and you get tired at the end of a long day. As a result, where you used to talk, share, enjoy, and experience things together, now everything is about care with your loved one.

The "all work and no play" approach is problematic for you and your loved one though. For your loved one, boredom can contribute to problems like excessive sleeping, depression, restlessness, irritation, and behavioral issues. For caregivers, it can lead to feeling disconnected and resentful of your loved one.

Mix it up and bring some life back to your life by planning an activity that adds creativity, connection, and interest back into your relationship with your loved one. Follow these steps to plan an enjoyable activity that brings the two of your closer:
  1. Set a manageable goal, like one fun event a week, or even one per month.
  2. Think back on the things you used to enjoy together, or plan a new experience for you both. You may not be able to participate in hobbies in the same way, but think about other ways that you both can enjoy something fun together. It's okay to get creative with past activities or new experiences. 
  3. Then plan for problems you might encounter. Get a ride, pack medications, bring a snack or a change of briefs, enlist the help of a friend, or contact the location of your outing so there is a wheelchair waiting for you. Don't let the challenges stop you--instead, plan to overcome them!
  4. If your loved one can't get out, or you would rather do an activity at home, consider exploring the National Center for Creative Aging here. They have comprehensive guides for activities that are engaging, enjoyable, and easy to put together for you and your loved one.
Right now you might be thinking to yourself, "That's just one more thing to do, and it will be such a hassle!" Try thinking of it this way: you won't look back nostalgically at all the laundry and doctors appointments. The moments you will treasure are the ones where you connect with your loved one ins spite of all the chaos around you. Once a month or so, let the laundry wait, and give your energy to something that will feel rewarding to  you both.




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Upcoming Fall Caregiver, Wellness, and Aging Events

Contributed by Deanna Leyh

If you’re looking for upcoming events in the area for caregivers or regarding wellness and aging issues, check out some of these local happenings below!

September 20th—Where to Turn Resource Fair, 8am-12:30pm, David L. Lawrence Convention Center, free event

September 20th, October 11th, November 15th—Ursuline Support Services 3-Part Speaker Series, 6:15pm registration/refreshment & speakers beginning at 7pm, Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206, $20 fee per event or $50 for entire series, featuring: Dr. Richard Schulz (Sept 20th), University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Service Professor and internationally renowned researcher on aging and caregiving, Dr. Theresa Brown (Oct 11th), BSN, RN, author of The New York Times bestseller, “The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives”, Nikolas Jintri (Nov 15th), storyteller, musician and illusionist who challenges audiences to explore spiritual, social and practical concepts critical to caregivers.

September 27th—Senior Health Fair, 10am-2pm, Crowne Plaza Pittsburgh South, 164 Fort Couch Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15241, free event

September 29th—Arthritis Expo, 12:00pm-4:00pm, Cumberland Woods Village, 700 Cumberland Woods Drive, Allison Park, PA 15101, RSVP to 412-250-3348, free event & lunch provided

September 29th—Senator Randy Vulakovich and Representative Hal English’s Annual Fall Senior Expo 2017, 10am-1pm, Allison Park Church, 2326 Duncan Avenue, Allison Park, PA 15101

September 30th—Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship Wellness Walk and Health Fair, 11am-3pm, 2501 Main Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15235, free event

October 2nd-November 6th—Joy of Living Caregiver Series, Mondays 6:30pm-8pm, Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, RSVP to 412-369-4673

October 11th—Celebrating You! A Caregiver Gathering for Mind, Body, and Spirit, 10am-4pm, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, 799 Pinkerton Run Road, Oakdale, PA 15071, RSVP to 412-369-4673, free event

November 10th—Navigating the Path Ahead: A Dementia Caregiver’s Conference, 9am-2:30pm, The Priory Grand Hall, 614 Pressley Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, free event

November 11th—Life Options Pittsburgh’s 3rd Annual Healthy Aging Expo, 10am-4pm, Monroeville Mall, 2nd Floor, free event

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Supporting Our Caregivers in the Work Force

Contributed by Deanna Leyh

Out of family caregivers, 60% are employed while also caregiving (AARP 2015 Report: Caregiving in the U.S., 2015). It can often become difficult for caregivers to balance caregiving with working, and caregiving can lead to employees turning down promotions, decreased productivity, more missed time at work, and increased rates of leaving the work force altogether. More than 8 out of 10 caregivers state that they could use more information on or help with caregiving topics (AARP 2015 Report: Caregiving in the U.S., 2015). So how can working caregivers get information about balancing caregiving with work and how can employers learn ways to better support their caregiving employees?

The Caregivers First Initiative is now offering trainings and workshops for interested businesses, non-profits, and employers in the greater Allegheny area! We can provide a variety of trainings, lunch and learns, and workshops based on what you and your employees feel you need information on, such as stress management and self-care, supporting working caregivers, resources available in the community, managing common caregiving issues, and much more. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, please call us at 412-694-6146 or email us at

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Days are Growing Shorter and the Weather is Getting Colder

By Deanna Leyh

With the cooler fall season soon approaching and the days beginning to grow shorter, it’s easy for people to get stuck inside and to cut down on their activities. This is something that can especially affect older adults when the bad weather and short days can make it difficult to physically get out of their homes. It can be easy if it’s cold or darker outside to just say, “I’m going to stay inside today instead of going out.”

Over a third of adults over age 45 have self-identified as lonely according to the AARP’s Loneliness Study (September 2010) and social isolation grows increasingly more common as we age, and so it is very important to find ways to support older adults and prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation in them. Below are some helpful steps for older adults and caregivers to try to prevent that loneliness or isolation that can happen, especially in the winter months, and to keep older adults engaged and active in their communities and in their lives!

1)      Stay connected to loved ones and friends by phone or email: If you’re able to get out and meet up with family or friends for lunch or hobby groups that’s great! However, when the weather is bad and the days are shorter, it’s still important to keep that contact and connection to others going. Calling up friends or family often to stay in touch, or setting up an email pen pal are also good ways to stay connected if you can’t get out to physically be with others.

2)      Look into transportation options to help get you out and about: There are often transportation options available to help older adults get out into the community if they are unable to drive or find their own means of transportation. Allegheny County offers older adults the option to use their Access Transportation Service (412-562-5353), and there are also newer services like Go-Go Grandparent (1-855-464-6872), which is a number that older adults can call that connects them to an operator who set up a ride service like Uber and Lyft to transport them.

3)      Look into companion programs that offer a friendly visitor to come to your house: It can be difficult to get out sometimes for older adults, so it can be helpful to have a friend come to your home to visit with you through programs like Senior Companions (412-350-5460) or In Service of Seniors (412-345-7420). Volunteer caregivers can help older adults get a social visit, assist them with errands, do light-housekeeping, engage in meaningful activities with them, etc.

4)      Check out learning programs and classes offered in your area: There are many programs like Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs offering noncredit courses with no assignments at local colleges and universities, like Pitt and CMU, for adults over age 50. There are also many free classes, workshops, and events offered at local libraries, such as learning about gardening, financial planning, how to play instruments, writing clubs, etc.

5)      Look into attending exercise programs through your local gyms: Many gyms and exercise centers offer classes specifically geared toward older adults or certain health conditions like Parkinson’s or arthritis. YMCAs and other gyms can offer classes like Silver Sneakers, yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, Zumba, light cardio, etc. that are specifically for older adults, which is a great way to stay active, engaged, and healthy!

6)      Check out your local senior community center: Senior community centers often offer older adults a low-cost or free meal every day and a wide variety of classes and events to keep seniors active and engaged in the community, such as bingo, card clubs, exercise classes, sewing and quilting clubs, and charitable events. You can find your local senior center at

These are just a few ways for older adults to try to stay active and engaged in the community, especially when the weather is worse in the fall and winter and the days are shorter. As caregivers, it’s important to encourage our loved ones to stay active and healthy and to assist them in staying connected with others.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Defeating Malnutrition in Older Adults

by Emily Anderson

I used to read the back of my cereal box every morning as I was groggily getting my day started. At some point, the boxes I was reading transitioned from fun games and puzzles to infographics on good nutrition and balanced diets. We all know that eating right is important for energy and weight management, but it is also an important underlying factor in wellbeing, disease, and recovery from illness.
Nutrition can become more difficult to maintain with age due to medical, social, and psychological factors. As many as 30-60% of older adults qualify as malnourished, and malnourishment worsens with events like surgeries and hospital stays. As a caregiver you may be concerned about keeping your loved one healthy and nourished. Understanding what is going on, what to look for, and what to do can help you keep your loved one on the right track, or healing after a setback.


How Malnutrition Develops

Malnutrition is rarely the result of neglect. More often, it sneaks up on a person and their caregiver due to a combination of medical, social, and psychological causes.
First are medical factors. With age comes some profound changes to the way we taste and digest food. Due to changes in the GI tract and hormones, older adults tend to feel full sooner and are less sensitive to noticing their hunger. Loss of taste buds and medication side effects can make food taste bland or unpleasantly bitter. An older adult, for example, needs eleven times as much salt in a dish in order to sense it. Other common medications—like those for high blood pressure, cholesterol, antibiotics, and heartburn—can reduce appetite, cause nausea or diarrhea, and reduced absorption of nutrients. Only 35% of people over age 75 have all their own teeth, which contributes to dry mouth and difficulty chewing. This particularly leads to a lack of fiber, protein, and the micronutrients often found alongside those first two, like calcium and iron. Finally, particular disease like dementia can create confusion about how to prepare foods, as well as making it more difficult to eat and swallow.
It’s not all medical though. Ever had to cook for just one, and then eat your meal alone too? It certainly doesn’t encourage you to put a lot of effort into the meal. People who live alone are more likely to be malnourished. If your loved one is on a fixed income, they may have difficulty affording high-quality, nutritious food. Older adults experience a lot of loss as well, as friends or family pass away, which can lower appetite. Finally, many older adults experience depression, which often goes unnoticed or untreated, and contributes to a loss of appetite.
Once an older adult becomes malnourished, it takes longer for them to regain good nutrition due to these complications as well. The best approach is to prevent it if possible, and if not, then to notice it as soon as you can and take action.


What to Watch Out For

  • If you go to the doctor with your loved one, write down their height and weight. Use this calculator to figure out your loved one’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Anything under a BMI of 23 is a concern. 
  • Watch your loved one for changes in appetite, and ask if they are experiencing changes.
  • Take note of unintentional rapid weight loss of 5-10lbs over 6 months that leaves their clothes dropping and dangling.
  • Peak in their refrigerator to see what kinds of food they are eating and how much is getting left behind.

What to Do

  • Talk to your loved one about yours concerns. Try to find out if they are having low appetite, or their food tastes bland, or they are getting indigestion.
  • Ask for a consultation with a nutritionist to make a dietary plan. Your primary care doctor may also be able to help you make a plan.
  • Pack your food with flavor! Load up on herbs, vinegars, and ingredients that add flavor without adding salt, sugar, or fat. Read this article for more healthy ideas to pump up the flavor on healthy meals.
  • Encourage your loved on to eat foods high in folic acid, B-12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Omega 3s.
  • Join a congregate meal program. Most senior centers offer lunches that are low cost but filling and nutritious, as well as enjoyable to share in good company.
  • Keep some nutritional shakes on hand, either as a powder you can add to meals or that you can mix up as a drink. Mixes with protein are often sweet, while vitamin-only drinks often come in fruity flavors. Beware of high-sugar drinks like Gatorade though, that offer little nutrition and a lot of diabetes.
  • Use supplements as a last resort. It’s always best to get your nutritional needs from food, but a supplement can help fill in the gaps. If your loved one doesn’t want yet another pill, try gummy or liquid vitamins.

Happy, healthy eating!