Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Check out our Helpful Links page!

by Emily Anderson

We've created a new page with helpful links for caregivers. It includes some links that we frequently use in our posts, as well as other links to support, information, and ideas. The permanent link to this page appears on the right side of your screen under the "Alphabetical List of Articles."

Thank you to our reader, Linda, for suggesting some of these websites! If you know of others that have been useful to you, please let us know!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Snow Angels

by Emily Anderson

So far this year, we've had a distinct lack of "winter wonderland," but there is plenty of time left for blizzards and ice. If someone you care about has difficulty walking, an inch of snow might be enough to keep them trapped at home.

Happily, a program called Snow Angels will help people in Allegheny County dig out! People over age 60 or who have a disability and need help to clear their sidewalks can register to get their sidewalk cleared by volunteers. Snow Angels does their best to match a volunteer to each person in need, but people living in remote areas of the county might have to join a waitlist. Call 412-863-5939 to find out if Snow Angels can help the person you love.

But don't stop there! If you are an able-bodied person, consider volunteering! Snow Angels will match you with someone in your neighborhood who needs a hand, and you just have to commit to clearing their sidewalk within 24 hours of a significant snowfall. Your children can help as well, as long as you are there to supervise. Volunteering your time is a great way to build community and make your area safer for all pedestrians--old, young, mailcarriers, emergency officials, and more.

Call now, so you can be ready when (if?) the snow hits!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How-Are-You-Really-Doing Holidays

By Emily Anderson

“Happy Holidays! How are you doing?” asks Aunt Betty, who you see once a year around this time. “Great! Really great!” you respond automatically as you juggle your coat, a tray of cheese slices and three bags of gifts. Is that your final answer? It’s easy to give the usual response, but how you’re really feeling is probably much more complicated.

The holidays are an active season of joy, music and parties. In between shopping, lighting the menorah or pulling out the secret family recipe for fantastic cookies, it can be an excellent season for reflection as well.

Socrates claimed that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wouldn’t go that far, but many of us do get caught up in the day-to-day stress and errands and forget to take time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Periodically stepping back to assess how life is going can help us appreciate big advances we’ve made—or alert us to a much-needed course correction before it’s too late.

Carve out a little time, find a quiet place to sit with a notebook or a computer. Here are some questions to reflect on to get you started:

  1. When did you realize that you were a caregiver for your loved one?
  2. Think back to last winter. What was different about your relationship with your loved one then? Do you different tasks for or with them? Do you talk about different things? Do you feel different?
  3. What is the hardest thing about helping your loved one? Is it physically difficult or emotionally difficult?
  4. What do you like about being a caregiver? What are the moments you treasure and appreciate?
  5. Check in with yourself. How do you feel since you’ve been a caregiver? How is your body feeling? Your mind? Your spirit?
  6. How is the rest of your life faring—your hobbies and interests, your other family, your work?
  7. What would you like to see be different in the next couple months? How do you want to feel this time next year? What would you need to get there?

Then ask yourself one more question: How do I feel now that I’ve examined my life? If you are not happy with where things are headed, it might be time to get some help. Contact us or your local Department of Aging to see what you might be able to change. If you decide that overall, life is going alright or even going well, then congratulations! Enjoy that feeling.

If you feel inspired, you can share your thoughts and stories with us by emailing them to Please specify if you’re OK with us sharing your story with other people or on this blog (we won’t use your name). Check out stories from other caregivers and their experiences.

Whether you share with us or not, put your reflections somewhere you can find them next year—you may be surprised how much has changed!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Holiday Gift-giving Guide

by Emily Anderson

Happy Holidays! This time of year is always a mix of joy, nostalgia, and tension. Some of that tension arises from trying to find gifts for the people in your life that demonstrate how much they mean to you. To ease some of that burden, here are a few suggestions from us for gifts for the caregivers and older loved ones in your life.

For a caregiver in your life

The greatest gift is often not an item at all, but the gift of time and energy. As one caregiver told me, "I don't need another knick-knack to stick in some corner, but being able to go out to lunch with my friends would be fantastic!"

If you know someone who is a caregiver, consider forgoing the gift card or fruitcake and offer them some free time. Pick an afternoon, a day, or a weekend to be available so they can go out and do something enjoyable. Make sure you get important information before they leave, such as a contact phone number, a list of medications, and important moments in the daily routine.

If you are the caregiver and you want the gift of free time, suggest that to your family! It is not rude to help your family give a gift you will really enjoy. They may not even know that you will appreciate a weekend off more than ties and socks they planned to give you.

For an older loved one

Just like caregivers, older adults in your life might appreciate a gift of some precious time with you. With their input, plan a relaxing outing or an afternoon at home spending quality time. Bird watching, puzzles and simple word games like Boggle are good options. Another good gift is reminders of special memories, like photo albums, written stories, or mementos.

For a loved one with dementia

If you have a loved one with advanced dementia, it might be particularly hard to know how to share the holiday spirit with them. If your loved one has difficulty communicating, gets confused easily, or is stuck in repetitive motions, there are still some gifts they might enjoy. In general, people with advanced dementia will appreciate gifts that stimulate their senses. Some examples include:

These items are simple, colorful, and mesmerizing. Don't be surprised if you get an item for your loved one, but find yourself absentmindedly using it! Remember, if you get a toy that makes some kind of noise, make sure it is a noise you can tolerate hearing repeatedly.

People with dementia can still appreciate non-material gifts as well. They might enjoy the gift of hearing you sing a favorite tune, looking at pictures, or a gentle hand massage that communicates your love and caring.

When you've decided what to give your loved one this season, take a moment to consider the gifts that they bring into your life--the moments you treasure that make being a caregiver worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

'Tis the Season to Manage Your Stress!

Contributed by: Emily Anderson and Deanna Leyh

National Caregivers Month may be over, but rest assured we haven't forgotten about you! Taking care of a loved one is a lot to handle anytime, but that is especially true when you are trying fit your caregiving duties in around other activities--like holiday parties. This season, give yourself the gift of some stress management. You might think you don't have enough time to start managing your stress now, but that's exactly why you need it! Your body, your mind, and the people around you will all benefit if you take a little time each day to feel rejuvenated.

Here are some quick ideas to get you started this month.

1. "Me" time

Take time for yourself to do activities that you find enjoyable and that give you pleasure. Maybe you enjoy getting your hair done or grilling a steak to perfection. Whatever it is that gives you a moment of joy, do it!

2. Sleep

You know how tired children get cranky? It turns out we never really grow out of that, we just get better at hiding it. Turn off the TV, put down your work emails, set aside your to-do list, and try to get enough sleep so that you feel well rested and ready to face whatever challenges arise.

3. Have a healthy snack

Cookies, chocolates, and candy canes, oh my! Remember to give you body some healthy, well-balanced foods.

4. Think positive thoughts

Negative thoughts lead to more worrying and stress. Try writing yourself an encouraging note like you might write to a friend, and keep it close at hand for if you catch yourself getting caught up in negative thoughts.


5. Try a relaxation exercise

Engage in relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, mindful meditation, and visualization. Check out this website for some short guided exercises.

6. Ask for help!

Some caregivers find it difficult to ask others for help or think that they should be able to do everything on their own. However, when others offer help, take them up on it!

It's never too soon and never too late to start managing your stress. These aren't miracle cures, so don't expect one pedicure or one deep breath to change everything. Doing a lot of little things to manage your stress, though, makes a big difference over time.