Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Good News! The Caregivers First Initiative Lives On!

by Emily Anderson

This blog is run by the Familylinks Caregivers First Initiative, an effort to recognize and support caregivers of older adults in our community. Though we are based in Pittsburgh and only provide in-person coaching in Allegheny County, we strive to provide resources that can help caregivers wherever they are.

As a grant-funded program, though, we rely on the benevolent support of our funders. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Foundation, we are happy that we will be able to continue providing support to caregivers far and wide over the next year!

In addition to this blog, find out more about the one-on-one coaching and group workshops we offer by clicking here

Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way! We're happy to be able to continue serving older adults and caregivers in the coming year!


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Simple Ways to Support Caregivers

by Emily Anderson

As a caregiver, sometimes people ask you how they can help. In the moment, you might feel stumped. Do they really want to help, or are they just being polite? How much is too much to ask? Will they think you're a "Debbie Downer" if you share how frustrated you are? Even when we are struggling, overwhelmed, and tired, it can be difficult to ask for help.

And yet, it is critically important to get help with your role as a caregiver. The stress of caregiving is related to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes, depression, immune system deficiency, and even death. Sometimes, though, caregivers just aren't sure what to ask friends or family to do. One caregiver told me that she wished she could collect rain checks for favors from friends and family so that later, when she thought of something they could do, she could cash them in. We also hear from friends and family though, who say they want to help their friend, coworker, or employee, but aren't sure what to offer.

Below is a list of simple ways to get or give support. Keep in mind that people offering to help usually truly do want to help. They may be busy, they may have lives and families and work, but they probably still have an hour or two a week that they are happy to give to a friend, neighbor, or loved one. If you are the person offering help, be specific and persistent! Caregivers often feel guilty accepting help, but they will appreciate your efforts.


1. Deliver a meal
When the rest of life gets overwhelming, making a balanced meal can become the last priority. It's easy for a friend to double their own dinner and deliver a delicious heat-and-eat meal and free up time for other important tasks.

2. Listen
Caregivers often feel lonely in their role, but don't want to make anyone uncomfortable by sharing too much. Make it clear that you are ok with listening and letting them vent, or as a caregiver, ask if your friend minds lending you an ear for a while.

3. Visit at home
Getting out of the house can be challenging when your loved one is sick, but that's no reason to be lonely. Ask your friends to meet at the caregiver's house for a brown bag lunch or afternoon tea.

4. Offer a ride
Rather than meeting on location, carpool! Rides can also be helpful if the caregiver is going to a place that has challenging parking, like the downtown area of cities or an airport.

5. Use your special skills
Do you sew? Fix toilets? Mow lawns? Use your special skills to relieve caregivers in your life of work and worry.

6. Give a break
Many caregivers start to feel trapped and smothered by their constant role as a helper. Give them a chance to breath by offering to stay at home with their loved one for a few hours.

7. Send a note or make a call
Knowing that people are thinking of you can be a great lift for lagging spirits. If there is nothing else you can do, it always helps to let caregivers know that you are thinking of them


For more suggestions on ways to offer support to a caregiver, check out this list.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Take a Break!

by Emily Anderson

Hey new and loyal readers! We are on vacation this week, and think you should take a break too! Not sure what to do? Try these simple pleasures:

1. Make iced tea or lemonade and go sit outside in the heat for five minutes so you can really enjoy the chill of your summer beverage. 
2. When you're grocery shopping this week, grab some flowers for yourself. Put them in a vase in a central area and smell them every time you go by. 
3. Turn on some lively music and dance--by yourself or with your loved one! Don't worry about how you look, just start jiving however the music moves you. 
4. Set a timer for 5 minutes, lay down, and take nice deep breaths. If you're brain is feeling too hectic, try one of these free guided meditations. 
5. Take off your shoes and put your bare feet in the grass. For bonus points, do this in the morning when you can feel the fresh dew.

A few minutes here and there of a break can do a lot to keep you going day to day. Prioritize yourself and take a break today!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

8 Essential Online Resources for Caregivers

by Sally Perkins

The first of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) started celebrating their 65th birthday back in 2011 with an estimated 10,000 more crossing the threshold daily until 2029. As the aging population grows, the demand for caregiving increases as well. Pennsylvania currently has more than 2.2 million citizens over the age of 65, and will have more than 4 million by 2030.

Senior caregiving is no straightforward task. It consumes time, energy, resources, and emotional reserves. Finding or maintaining a functional support system for caregivers is of utmost importance. Here are some resources available to caregivers that are easily accessible online.

Family Caregiver Alliance

The Family Caregiver Alliance is a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services and education programs. The website offers many informative articles pertaining to health conditions and general caregiving tips.

LongTermCare.gov

A government website full of educational resources, LongTermCare.gov helps people plan for long-term care and assists you in understanding the options and benefits available to you.

Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center

The Alzheimer’s Association is one of the leading authorities on the much-feared disease. This website provides an abundance of information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s based on the latest research on the subject.

The AARP's Caregiving Resources

In addition to the many resources they provide for seniors, the AARP also provides planning guides and educational resources for caregivers of older adults.

Caregiver’s Home Companion

The Caregiver’s Home Companion website includes forums that help connect caregivers to one another as well as resources that cover many different aspects of caregiving ranging from the spiritual to the practical.

Meals on Wheels

Ensuring that someone is eating enough nutritious meals forms a big part of caregiving and this is no small task for a tired and overwhelmed caregiver. Meals on Wheels can assist with that part of your job in order to take one more thing off your plate.

National Respite Network

Even the most tenacious of caregivers needs a break at times. The National Respite Network helps caregivers locate respite services that will temporarily take over some of the caregiving tasks so family caregivers can have a well-deserved break.

National Volunteer Caregiving Network

The National Volunteer Caregiving Network helps connect volunteers that want to assist others with suitable seniors and people with disabilities within their own communities. These volunteers assist with tasks such as transport, general errands and home repairs.


Senior caregiving can be both challenging and rewarding, and just a little bit of help making a world of difference in terms of sustainability and effectiveness. By finding resources that best fit your needs you will feel less overwhelmed and more empowered in your role.

Find even more useful resources at Sally's more expanded list.


Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and travelling as much as possible.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer Reading List for Caregivers

by Emily Anderson

Image result for summer readingIn my imagination, summer is all about relaxing by a body of water, preferably sitting in a hammock, and reading a book. In reality, they tend to be much more hectic, and for caregivers summers carry on just as busy as before. Books, though, can be a source of connection, information, and inspiration. Harken back to your school days by picking up one of these titles for some summer reading, or pass this list on to family members who are curious about caregiving, but don't quite understand what you're going through.

Memoirs on Caregiving


Still Alice--Lisa Genova
Not actually a memoir, this work of fiction written by a neurologist nonetheless paints an accurate, personal, and meaningful picture of the experience of early onset dementia.

Can't We Talk About Something More PLEASANT?--Roz Chast
This graphic novel written by comic artist Chast is a quick read that manages to be honest and funny, with just a touch of heartbreaking.

No Saints Around Here--Susan Allen Toth
Written in the final 18 months of her husband's struggle with Parkinson's disease, Toth chronicles the practical and emotional tasks involved in loving and caring for someone as they fade away.

We Know How This Ends--Bruce Kramer
With wisdom, humor, and some very down-to-earth descriptions, Kramer shares his own progression towards death after his diagnosis with ALS, particularly how how facing death helped him find a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

A Bittersweet Season--Jane Gross
A mix of personal stories, lessons learned, and advice, Gross boldly talks about the realities of caring for an aging parent in the modern world.

All Gone--Alex Witchell
A potluck of stories, advice, and actual recipes, Witchell shares her experience caring for her mother with dementia and how cooking helped her reconnect to the parent she loved so dearly.

The Long Hello--Cathie Borrie
Flipping the usual language of dementia as a "long goodbye" on it's head, Borrie takes the position that Alzheimer's disease helped her discover and appreciate new--if sometimes painful--aspects of her mother and their relationship together.


Self-care Books


The Gifts of Imperfection--Brene Brown
Follow Brene's 10 guideposts to "whole-heart living" to realize your true strength of character through acceptance of your imperfections.

Self-Compassion--Kristen Neff
An expert on ending self-criticism and negativity, Neff teaches readers how to "stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind." Don't have time for a book? Try her website here for some practical tips and exercises to develop self-compassion.

The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You--Jessica Turner
Perfect for any woman (or man) who is doing everything for everyone...except themself. This practical guide teaches readers to find and use pockets of time that already exist in their days for self care and doing the things they love.

The Happiness Project--Gretchen Rubin
Rubin takes us on a ride as she tests scientific data, common sense, and ageless wisdom on how to be "happier."

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself--Shad Helmstetter
If self-help and inspirational books aren't usually your thing, try this one instead. Helmstetter focuses on practical principles of self-talk to help reverse negativity, focus your plans, and find more personal success.

Start Where You Are--Pema Chodron
Coming from a Buddhist perspective, Chodron guides readers towards acceptance that allows us to make friends with ourselves and develop genuine compassion for others.

Wherever You Go, There You Are--Jon Kabat-Zinn
Ever heard of mindfulness or thought about trying meditation? This is the handbook for you! Kabat-Zinn offers simple practices and ideas for people trying to rediscover the richness of everyday life.


Have other books you like that you don't see on the list? Send them to us by email! Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Can Coconut Oil Cure Dementia?

by Emily Anderson

Image result for coconut oilThe short answer is no, it won't cure dementia or even prevent it. The longer answer is no, it won't cure dementia and it may actually hurt your health.


Several years ago, researchers found that fats called "Medium Chain Triglycerides" (MCTs for short) can help improve cognitive function in older dogs. For dogs, this meant they were more alert, playful, and quicker to learn new tricks. Naturally, people began to wonder if MCTs could help older adults be more mentally sharp as well. One natural source of MCTs is coconut oil, so some enthusiastic people started using coconut oil in place of butter, or adding it to their smoothies and coffee.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that coconut oil helps improve brain health, and a lot of evidence that it is bad for your body. First, the fats used in the study were a pure, lab-synthesized supplement with 100% MCTs. Natural coconut oil, in contrast, is only 13% MCTs. Even at this reduced potency, MCTs have only been shown to support function in a still-healthy brain. People with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias have already lost much of their brain matter. It's hard for MCTs work if the neurons they are supposed to support have already died.

Eating coconut oil is more likely to harm your brain and heart health. Though it is low in MCTs, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Coconut oil is 82% saturated fat--far more than butter or even lard. In seven out of seven studies, coconut oil increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, prompting the American Heart Association to issue an advisory cautioning against the use of coconut oil. High cholesterol is associated with hardening arteries, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. These circulatory problems are also high risk factors for developing dementia. A good rule of thumb is to remember:

"What's good for the heart is good for the brain!"


If you're looking for a heart and brain-healthy oil to include in your diet, consider using olive oil! Studies show that olive oil, especially as part of a "Mediterranean diet," helps stave off Alzheimer's without the negative effect loads of saturated fat can have.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Free Dental Clinic in July

By Emily Anderson

Teeth are so important to our comfort and quality of life. Pain in your teeth and be a constant, jarring irritant. Missing or broken teeth make it difficult to enjoy your favorite foods. Worst of all, infected teeth can lead to serious infections in other areas of the body, including the heart.

If you or your loved one is having trouble with your teeth but can't afford regular dental treatment, check out the free dental clinic on July 28th and 29th from 7am-4pm at the AJ Palumbo Center. The Mission of Mercy event provides free cleanings, extractions, and fillings. Appointments are first come first serve, but there are no eligibility or income requirements. Learn more at www.mompgh.org!

Take care of the little problems before they become big problems by getting regular checkups. If you're not sure what you need, check out this schedule of recommended screenings.