Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Secrets of Resolution Success

by Emily Anderson

Right now, about half the people in the US are making lists of all the things they are going to change in the new year, from "keep a neater house" to "learn a new language." The other half is avoiding new year's resolutions like the plague, or maybe begrudgingly thinking, "Yeah, I could eat healthier, but resolutions never work for me."

Less than 8% of people achieve their resolution each year, so it's not wonder we lose heart. That's partly because change is hard, but mostly because we go about it all wrong.

How to Make Your Resolutions Work

Most of us are good at dreaming up big changes we would like to see in our lives, but not as good at making those changes happen. As a caregiver, you have even less time to spare for ambitious projects and self-improvements. When you choose a goal for your new year, focus on these principles first:

Pick one thing.
You just thought of two things. "Eat healthy and lose weight." "Spend less and save more." Changing your habits is difficult, so choose just one thing to focus all your energy on.  
A little bit every day is better than a lot once in a while. 
One of the biggest challenges with changing a habit is remembering to do the new action. Set your sights on something easy or short enough that you can do it every day. Before long, it will simply be part of your routine. 
Have patience with yourself. 
Every goal has setbacks. When (not if) you face some challenges, remember that one error does not destroy the progress you have already made. Being critical of your mistakes will only create negative energy around your goal. Learn what you can from your mistakes, and then try again. 
Begin NOW. 
Pushing off the start date for your changes will make them easier to forget or avoid. Once you know what you want to do, start with your small steps right away.

Common Resolution Problems

Every goal faces challenges along the way, but there are some difficulties you can avoid by setting up your goal correctly from the start. Watch out for these common pitfalls:

Not specific 
Vague ideas like "Save more" or "Help others" are hard to know how to put into practice. Give your goal a specific action and number, like "Put $20 in my savings account each week" or "Volunteer at the soup kitchen once a month." 
Too big 
Though they can be inspiring, big goals can also be intimidating. As creatures of habit, big changes are also much harder to adapt to. Experts suggest that you pick a goal so small that it would be almost ridiculous to skip it, like "Floss one tooth each night." Of course, you probably won't stop at one tooth, but setting the bar low makes it easier to get the motivation to try.
Not energizing 
Start with a goal that you think you will enjoy along the way. There's always time later to teach yourself to choke down brussel sprouts or slog through your filing cabinet, but you're less likely to succeed with that as your first goal. Set yourself up for success by choosing something you will enjoy incorporating into your life, such as "Read one book per month."

For more ideas on how to make your changes stick, check out the work of these great habit-changing experts!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Handling Holiday Stress

by Emily Anderson

'Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people, the holidays are also a stressful time of year. This is especially true when you are a caregiver and trying to make sure that your loved one can participate in the holidays. Whether it's the general hustle and bustle that wears you down, having to spend time with your in-laws, or the cold gray of the weather, we have some tips to help you make it through!

1. Take a deep…sniff!

Holiday aromas are all around you, from freshly baked treats to pine swag. Citrusy scents are often especially uplifting, so slice up an orange and take a deep whiff. Then eat it, because that’s healthy too!

2. Move your body

Changing routine and eating lots of rich foods all at once is very stressful on the body. Discharge some of that stress by moving your body—dance to some music or bundle up and head out to build snow forts with your family. 

3. Do less

Holidays are a time when we tend to take on more than we can handle. Especially for caregivers, it might be necessary to give up some old customs in order to simplify the holidays. Consider sending fewer cards, baking fewer cookies, or skipping out of a party early. Say no at least once this holiday season and keep your schedule sane.

4. Lighten up

And we don’t just mean laughter or low fat foods, though those are good too! The short, dark days of winter and the cold, gray skies can seriously drain your energy. Get outside when it’s sunny, or at least plan activities near a bright window so you can absorb some rays.

5. Eat a healthy breakfast

Starting the day off right can give you a boost to dig in to the day’s schedule. You’re also more likely to choose healthy options in the morning than you are later in the day when you’re faced with delightful treats like the holiday ham or a table full of cookies.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Five Resources in Allegheny County to Combat the Cold Weather

by Kristen West

The holiday season is just around the corner and winter has come to join the fun. The cold weather can present its own unique challenges to caregiving. Below are some resources available in Allegheny County to help reduce any stress the winter may bring.

Icy sidewalks are hazardous for everyone, so Pittsburgh Snow Angels provides snow removal for adults over the age of 60 and persons with a disability living in Allegheny County. Snow Angels matches a volunteer with residents in need and clears their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snow fall. To register for services or to volunteer, call (412) 863-5939.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low-income families pay a portion of their winter heating bill between November and March. You can qualify even if you are not on public assistance or do not have an overdue heating bill. You can also qualify if your rent or own your home.

LIHEAP offers assistance in the form of a cash grant, sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. To apply, you will need the names, birthdates, social security numbers, and proof of income for all individuals in your household, as well as a recent heating bill.

There are several ways to sign up for LIHEAP: you can apply online here, you can visit your local county assistance office, or you can call the LIHEAP hotline, Monday through Friday, at 1-866-857-7095 for assistance (individuals with hearing impairments may call the TDD number at 1-800-451-5886). For additional information about the LIHEAP Program, click here.

Free Rides for Seniors provides door-to-door shuttle service each weekday from 10AM - 4PM taking seniors to medical appointments, grocery stores, UMPC St. Margaret, banks, pharmacies and many other destinations. Shuttles are available for those living in Blawnox, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, Fox Chapel, and O'Hara along Freeport Road. For more information about Free Rides for Seniors, please contact Kerry at (412) 449-0151. 

For warm clothing and winter outerwear, search Southwest Pennsylvania's 211 web page and a list of agencies providing assistance will be generated based on your area code. 

For meal and food assistance, search the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Pantry for area food banks. The website's Recipe Rainbow App also provides seasonal recipes so you can utilize the groceries you already have in your home when preparing your next meal.

Stay safe, stay warm, and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Five Gifts for the Caregiver in Your Life

by Emily Anderson

Since there are between 30 and 40 million family caregivers in the United States, there's a good chance one of those caregivers is on your gift list this holiday season. We have some ideas for what that caregiver in your life might really appreciate.

For the caregivers reading these ideas--don't be shy about suggesting these as gifts for yourselves! Print out this list, add your own touches, and give it to the people who might be shopping for you. You'll enjoy a gift much more if it's something you really want.

So while you are out searching through the sales, keep these ideas in mind.

1. Time

The most affordable option, yet the most likely to be appreciated, give your caregiver the gift of your time. Mow the lawn, handle some paperwork, clean the house, or take over their duties for a weekend. Whatever you promise, make sure you stick to it!

2. A cooked meal

Preparing a healthy meal becomes a challenge with the constant interruptions that caregivers often face. Mix up a whole meal that can be frozen or reheated easily, and drop it off for your loved one to enjoy during a particularly crazy day.

3. Books

In spite of the presence of the internet, you still can't beat a book for in-depth information. Try some of these books related to caregiving, or pick something you know your loved one will enjoy:

  • The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace
  • The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer's Care by Virginia Bell
  • Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Guide and Source Book by Howard Gruetzner
  • Coach Broyle's Playbook for Alzheimer's Caregivers by Frank Broyles
  • The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers by Barry Jacobs

4. DVR

Being a caregiver means working on another person's schedule--doctors' appointments, meals, bathroom breaks, and entertainment. A DVR lets the caregiver in your life record programs or shows they miss because of their responsibilities. To add a special treat to this gift, offer to come watch a game or a program with them!

5. Relaxation

Put together a "self-care" basket for your loved one with some favorite or comforting items. Consider including music, tea, candles, warm fuzzy slippers, or some essential oils.

If you're shopping for your loved one with Alzheimer's or another dementia, check out our gift ideas from last year or this guide from the Alzheimer's Association.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ways To Save on Your Heating Bill this Winter

by Kristen West 

As the winter months approach, the temperature outside will decrease as the temperature inside increases. The cost of heating can be expensive but with these tricks your house can stay warm without a pricey heating bill.

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and turn it down even more when you're sleeping or away from home.
  • Wear socks, slippers, and sweaters to insulate your body from cold surfaces instead of turning up the heat.
  • Insulate drafty windows with plastic window covers, and check under your doors for cracks that let in cold air.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as recommended.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if unsure about how to perform this task, contact a professional.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing.
  • During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold window
  • Move around! Movement naturally keeps the body warm.

If you have trouble paying your bills:

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low-income families pay a portion of their winter heating bill between November and March. You can qualify even if you are not on public assistance or do not have an overdue heating bill. You can also qualify if your rent or own your home.

LIHEAP offers assistance in the form of a cash grant, sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. To apply, you will need the names, birthdates, social security numbers, and proof of income for all individuals in your household, as well as a recent heating bill.

There are several ways to sign up for LIHEAP: you can apply online here, you can visit your local county assistance office, or you can call the LIHEAP hotline, Monday through Friday, at 1-866-857-7095 for assistance (individuals with hearing impairments may call the TDD number at 1-800-451-5886). For additional information about the LIHEAP Program, click here.

Crisis Grants are available in addition to LIHEAP cash programs if a household is experiencing a heating crisis, such as broken heating equipment, leaking lines, lack of fuel, or danger of being without fuel. Assistance with home heating crisis is available 24-hours a day by you contacting your County Assistance Office.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Focusing on Gratitude When Times are Tough

by Emily Anderson

You spent the week running your dad to doctors' appointments, cleaning up after his incontinence, and desperately trying to keep him from wandering out the front door without a warm coat. In between those tasks you pour over his checkbook, calculating and recalculating how long his savings will cover his new, expensive medication. This morning he appeared in your room at 5am wearing three pairs of pants and a backwards shirt, convinced that he had to go to a meeting. You yelled at him, and you're not proud of that. Three hours ago, you gave him a holiday card to sign and tried to hide your tears when you realized how hard your once bright, proud papa was struggling to sign his own name.

Then you arrive at the family Thanksgiving party and your sister-in-law chirps, "So what are you thankful for this year?" Instead of screaming and throwing your lukewarm mashed potatoes at her, consider giving some serious thought to the question.

Sometimes, caregiving feels like an endless parade of aggravation and grief, with no breaks for you to rest or recover. In light of that struggle, it can be difficult to come up with something you feel honestly grateful for. To pretend that everything is fine would be dishonest, but practicing focusing on gratitude can be important even when you're not feeling it. At worst, going through the motions of gratitude will keep you in practice for when something good does happen. At best, tapping into gratitude can heal depression and turn your struggles into a source of wisdom.

Check for Gratitude Notifications

How many times a day do you check your phone to see if there is a notification? Even if you haven't heard your special ring tone in a while, you might illuminate the screen to take a peek, just in case. You check your phone because you have some hope that there will be something interesting there--a text, a picture, an email. Tapping into gratitude even when you are not feeling it offers this same kind of hope. If you get in a habit of checking for gratitude the way you check your phone, sometimes you will be rewarded with a moment of joy.

The tricky part is breaking through your frustrations to find something you might actually be grateful about. Try thinking about things in the past that you appreciated or the good old days with your loved one. Often the things that are hardest now are difficult because they used to be very good, so take some time to remember and appreciate those good times. Or, check in to the present moment, to your senses and the people around you. Do you smell something nice? Are you warm and comfortable? Is there a person nearby who has been supportive of you?

Sometimes there are good things happening right along with the challenging things, but we are so overwhelmed by the difficulties that we forget to notice. When you're swamped with difficult times, it doesn't hurt to pause and check for gratitude notifications instead of text messages, just in case they are there.

"Every Suffering is a Seed..."

"...because suffering impels us to seek wisdom," quotes the Bodhidarma, a Buddhist monk who lived 1500 years ago. We don't get wiser just by getting older, we get wiser by going through experiences and letting them help us grow. In the midst of a difficult situation, it's hard to imagine that anything good can come from the experience, just exhaustion and frustration. Those same experiences though, have the possibility of opening our hearts to increased knowledge and compassion.

Studies with people who have experienced serious illness show that many people feel an increased sense of compassion, connection with other people in the same situation, and empathy for humanity in general. Many people tell us that their family, their coworkers, their children don't understand how challenging it is to be a caregiver. But you do now, along with hundreds of thousands of people in the US who are in a similar position.

It may be hard to see  right now, but the tough situation you're in may be shaping you for growth and gratitude down the road, if you will let it. For now, give yourself a little self-compassion break and see if you can remain open to the chances to learn and grow around you.

Let Others be Grateful for You!

You're doing a lot for your family and loved ones. Maybe the laundry isn't getting done as quickly, meals are frozen more often than not, and your motorcycle hasn't been out for a joy ride in two years, but you're making it work. If your family can recognize how much you are doing, soak it in! And if not, then at least give yourself a little gratitude for all that you are doing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Alert: Medicare Open Enrollment Ends Dec. 7th!

By Emily Anderson

When you turn 65, you get a special seven-month window to enroll in Medicare, consisting of the three months before your birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months after your birthday. You also get a special chance to enroll in Medicare if you are under 65, but have a disability. Find out more about Medicare and how to enroll here.

Once you’re signed up, though, you only get a two-month window called “open enrollment” to make changes to that plan. Medicare open enrollment is going on now, and closes on December 7th. If you or your loved one has health insurance through Medicare, this is your chance to make changes to your coverage. For example, you might select a more or less expensive plan, enroll in parts C or D, or change your network to make sure you can see the doctors you like.

Help Enrolling in Medicare

It can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what health insurance is best for you, but thankfully, each state has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to help you figure it all out. In Allegheny County our SHIP is called APPRISE, though if you live outside the county you can find your SHIP here. APPRISE is an independent benefits counseling agency, meaning that they have no financial interest in which plans you choose. They exist to help you understand the different options out there and make good choices based on your needs.

APPRISE is active year-round and available to help you or your loved one when you hit that magical 65-year mark, but they are especially busy at this time of year. Check out some more information on APPRISE here, or give them a call at (412) 661-1438 to talk to one of their experts.

In addition, the American HealthCare Group is hosting free, impartial Medicare 101 talks throughout the Pittsburgh region. Check here to find a presentation near you, or call Liz Kanche at (412) 818-2328.

Other Healthcare Options

If you are under 65 and don't qualify for Medicare just yet, it is also time to enroll for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment through goes until January 31st, but don’t wait until the last minute! The sooner you start the more time you’ll have to consider your options.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit for Veterans

by Emily Anderson

Last year for Veterans Day we did an overview of the range of resources available for veterans. This year, we're going to dig deeper into one particular benefit, the Aid and Attendance pension increase. The Aid and Attendance benefit provides some extra income for veterans or their surviving spouses who need a lot of help with daily living. This can offset the cost of hiring home help or moving your loved one to an assisted living setting. Only about 15 percent of veterans qualify for the benefit and the application is long and tricky--but there are resources to help.

How to Qualify

The " 3 Ms" are the factors that determine eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit:
  • Military--Your loved one served 90 days, at least 1 of which was during wartime, and be honorably discharged;
  • Medical--Their medical condition is not the result of service, but is bad enough that they need help with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, or feeding;
  • Money--Aside from a house and car, they have limited income and assets.
If your loved one was rejected for a Veterans Administration pension previously because their income was too high, they might still qualify for this benefit depending on need. Likewise if your loved one has declined recently and needs more intensive help or has moved to a nursing home, they may qualify for the benefit. If you're not sure whether your loved served that one day during a period of wartime, visit the Veterans Home Care website to see the official date ranges that are eligible. Remember that this benefit is available to a surviving spouse as well as the veteran.

How to Apply

Unfortunately, applying for the Aid and Attendance benefit is not always easy. You will need your loved one's discharge papers, proof of income and assets, and a lot of patience. Once you file the application, it can take the VA several months to review it. If you are accepted, they will pay the benefit from the date you filed the application.

To begin, you will need to collect five items from your loved one:

  • Marriage license (if applicable)
  • Death certificate (if you're applying for the surviving spouse
  • DD214 Honorable Discharge papers
  • Proof of income (including Social Security, Pension, and other incomes)
  • Proof of assets (for the last three months, excluding one home and one car)

You can apply for the benefit directly by contacting your local Veterans Benefits Administration, but there are several organizations that will help you put it together for free. Organizations and attorneys cannot charge you for helping put together an application, and your application has a better chance if you rely on experienced advice. Check these places for help filing an application:
The American Legion—Among other programs, the American Legion Service Officers can help your family apply for Aid and Attendance. Visit their website to find a post near you.
VetAssist Program—In addition to helping families apply for the Aid and Attendance benefit, VetAssist can provide interest-free short term loans to cover home care, monitor your home care once you receive benefits, and provide you with community resources for no out-of-pocket costs. Contact (888) 314-6075 or visit their website
Operation Veteran Benefits—An outreach effort by local attorneys, these volunteers work with veterans, spouses, and families to ensure eligibility requirements are fulfilled for the Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact (724) 591-8475 or visit their website
Veterans Care Coordination—Provides care services, medical expense monitoring, and eligibility tracking in addition to assisting veterans and their families in completing the application for the Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact 1-855-380-4400 or visit their website.

If you don't think your loved one will qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit or you're looking for other services, consider contacting your local VA to see what else might be available.

Thank you for your service!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

National Family Caregiver Month Encourages People to "Take Care to Give Care"

by Emily Anderson

By presidential proclamation, November is the official month during which we recognize and appreciate the efforts of the millions of people in the U.S. taking care of a loved one. This year, the Caregiver Action Network reminds us that while caregivers are pouring their love and devotion onto their families, they often forget to take care of themselves. Caregivers are at a higher risk for stress, burnout, depression, chronic illnesses, and even death compared to non-caregivers.

When we remind caregivers to take a break, they often laugh and say, "Easier said than done." We know that between your loved one's care and all the other tasks of life you have little time left, but I assure you it is important! The stress of caregiving puts you at risk for health problems that will cut into your time--and wallet--if you don't take care of yourself now. The Caregiver Action Network recommends three steps:

1. Rest
Set aside a little time to do the things you enjoy, or at least to have some peace and quiet while you take some deep breaths. 
2. Recharge
Feed your body good food that will help you replenish your energy and protect your immune system Tap into the activities that give you more energy. 
3. Respite
Ask a family member, neighbor, or friend to pick up some of your duties for the day, or consider contacting your county's Department of Aging to see what professional help you may be able to get. 

In case you don't feel like you deserve a break, here’s a little reminder of what you and other caregivers do:

  • In the U.S., nearly 44 million older adults need help at home. About 15 million have dementia.
  • The family and friends who help them (that’s you, caregivers!) make up almost a third of our adult population.
  • On average, you all spend twenty hours a week or more on caregiving duties. Half of you do that on top of keeping a regular, full time job.
  • You help you loved ones stay home an average of an extra 4.6 years, but about 1 in 5 of you will help your loved one live happily at home for more than ten years.
  • Collectively, the work that you do for your loved ones is worth more than $600 billion a year in the U.S.

Whether you do a lot or a little, you are a part of something big. Take some time this month to
acknowledge all that you do and give yourself a little reward, whether that’s a deep breath and a cup of coffee, a gold star sticker, or just a pat on the back. Thank you, caregivers, for all that you do!

Want to read more statistics on caregiving in the U.S? Check out the 2015 report from the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

More Companies Offer Benefits to Caregivers

by Emily Anderson

Photo by Dan Chmill
The national consulting firm Deloitte just became the latest company to recognize the needs of the modern workforce by offering its employees sixteen weeks of paid family caregiving leave. Their flexible leave policy covers caregiving for infants, adult children, aging parents, and other family members.

This is a breakthrough because it recognizes that caregiving is an important role that affects most workers at several different points in their lives. Though we haven't found a perfect solution, the issues parents face in balancing work with raising children are at least well known. However, people are still less likely to discuss their experiences with other types of caregiving, such as caring for an adult child with disabilities or an aging parent. Yet about a quarter of us are working this "second shift" now, and by 2030, about a third of us will be. Many caregivers have to cut back their hours or stop working altogether to help their loved ones, while those that continue working suffer from increased stress and decreased productivity.

Deloitte is not alone in recognizing the needs of caregivers. In addition to time off, other major companies have begun to offer employees benefits like flexible works schedules, access to geriatric care counseling, and respite care. When you look at the numbers, it's easy to see why these companies are offering such benefits. A report by the AARP and ReACT found that for every $1 an employer invests in caregiver supports, they get a return of $1.70-$4.45 through higher employee retention and better productivity.

Your company may offer benefits that you aren't taking advantage of yet. If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), check if they offer any resources your loved one could use, like counseling, referrals to respite care, or legal advice. Many companies offer time off to take care of an older loved one, though you may have to negotiate to get it or take the time unpaid. Consider talking to your human resources representative or manager to see what options you have.

Often a company is not sensitive to the needs of caregivers until someone in upper management experiences it themselves. Each person who shares their experience and asks for more flexibility or support helps make the way easier for the next person who becomes a caregiver.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, learn more by visiting the ReACT website or the Family Caregiver Alliance to learn more about work and caregiving.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Assisting with Moving a Person in a Wheelchair

by Kristen West

Many older adults reach a point where they need a wheelchair to navigate around the house or out in the community. At the same time, they may need more assistance sitting up, standing, or moving from place to place. If you are trying to help a loved one who uses a wheelchair, tasks like using the bathroom or getting into a car can feel awkward and intimidating. Like most new skills, transferring someone for the first time can be frightening, but with a little practice you can become confident in your ability help your loved one move to and from a wheelchair.

A few household objects and additions can make moving around the home much simpler for people who need assistance. First, talk to a doctor or physical therapist and consider purchasing a transfer belt, a soft wide strap that goes around your loved one's back and gives you a place to hold onto them without injuring tender skin or joints. Second, make sure there are plenty of sturdy grab bars in commonly used areas such as near the bed, in the bathroom, and in the dining area. Depending on your loved one's needs, other assistance devices like a tall toilet seat or a shower chair might be helpful.

Describing a movement is difficult, so consider watching some videos or asking a health professional to show you how to do these moves before you try them. Read these instructions slowly and picture yourself doing each step, or even try acting it out as you read. Always remember to protect yourself by using good body mechanics--it will not help your loved one if you injure your back or knees trying to move them around!

When moving an older adult from a bed to a wheelchair:

  1. First, explain to the person you are moving what is about to happen.
  2. Move the wheelchair to the bedside, lock the wheels, and move the footrests or any other  obstructions that may interfere with the transfer.
  3. Pull the bed sheet back to the foot of the bed.
  4. If the person is able to sit up, ask them to scoot to the foot of the bed.
  5. If the person is unable to sit up, move the person to the side of the bed closest to the wheel chair. Place one hand behind the knees of the individual and your other hand on their opposite shoulder. Swing the patient's feet to the floor using the hand behind their knees while supporting their torso into an upright position with your hand behind their shoulder.
  6. Ask them to plant both feet on the floor.  
  7. Bend your knees and put one of your legs between their knees. Reach around the person to hold them by the waist or back and straighten your legs to lift them to a standing position. 
  8. Slowly stand up and, if the person is able, ask them to place their hands at their sides and push off the bed.
  9. Pivot towards the wheelchair while moving your feet so your back and hips stay aligned.
  10. As their legs begin to touch the wheelchair, slowly lower the person into the chair and ask them to reach for the armrests. 
For a more detailed guide on moving an adult from a bed to a wheelchair, check here.

When moving an older adult from a wheelchair to a couch or chair:

  1. First, explain to the person you are moving what is about to happen.
  2. Position the wheelchair directly next to the surface, lock the wheels, and move the foot rests and any other obstructions that may interfere with the transfer.
  3. Move the person to the front of the wheelchair and ask them to plant both feet on the floor.  
  4. Position yourself in front of the individual - keeping your knees bent and your back straight-  have the individual lean in toward you.
  5. Grasp them by the waist or back and slowly stand up. If the person is able, ask them to place their hands at their side and push off the arms of the wheelchair.
  6. Pivot towards the chair or couch while moving your feet so your back and hips stay aligned.
  7. As their legs begin to touch the new surface, slowly lower the person and ask them to reach for support.
Check out an illustrated tutorial here on how to move older adults from a wheelchair to couch.

When moving an older adult from a wheelchair to a toilet seat:

  1. First, explain to the person you are moving what is about to happen.
  2. Position the wheelchair directly next to the toilet or as close as possible, lock the wheels, and move the foot rests and any other obstructions that may interfere with the transfer.
  3. Move the person to the front of the wheelchair and ask them to plant both feet on the floor.  
  4. If you have a transfer belt, assist the person in making sure it is secure. 
  5. Position yourself in front of the individual - keeping your knees bent and your back straight - have the individual lean in toward you.
  6. Slowly stand up, and if the person is able, ask them to place their hands at their side and push off the arms of the wheelchair.
  7. Pivot towards the toilet seat while moving your feet so your back and hips stay aligned.
  8. As their legs begin to touch the new surface, slowly lower the person and ask them to reach for support. It will help immensely if you have a raised toilet seat and grab bars. 
  9. Help the person stand again while holding on to a steady support to remove clothing or perform hygiene routines after using the toilet.
For an illustrated tutorial on how to move older adults around the bathroom, click here. 

When moving an older adult from a wheelchair to the car:

  1. First, explain to the person you are moving what is about to happen.
  2. Park the car far enough from curbs or other obstructions that you and your loved one have plenty of room to navigate.
  3. Move the wheelchair beside the car, lock the wheels, and move the foot rests and any other  obstructions that may interfere with the transfer.
  4. Slide the car seat as far back as possible.
  5. Assist the individual in moving to the edge of the wheelchair seat.
  6. Position yourself in front of the individual - keeping your knees bent and your back straight-  have the individual lean in toward you.
  7. Grasp them around the back and slowly stand up. If the person is able, ask them to place their hands at their side and push off the arms of the wheelchair.
  8. Pivot towards the car while moving your feet so your back and hips stay aligned.
  9. As their legs touch the car seat, slowly lower the person into the car and let them know they can use handles in the car for stability. Do not let them hold the car door for stability, as it can swing shut and cause injury. Watch that the person does not hit their head as they sit back.
  10. After the person is stable on the seat, help them swing their legs into the car and fasten the seat belt if necessary.
For a video tutorial on how to move older adults from a wheel chair to a car, click here.

You may notice that the process for each of these is quite similar, with some variations. Once you master the skill of safely moving your loved one, you will be able to figure out the best way to apply it in each situation. With some assistance from you, your loved one will be able to enjoy more varied scenery in and out of the house.

Don't feel confident yet? It's much easier if you see it in action a few times first. For step by step video tutorials, create a free account with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and select "Choose a Course" for a complete list of video resources for caregivers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Easy Steps for Caregivers to Simplify Grooming at Home

by Kristen West

How do I shave my husband's face? How can I help my mother bathe while still maintaining her dignity? What if my father can't hold his tooth brush?
These questions and many more are not uncommon for first-time and veteran caregivers.
Assisting with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, feeding, and meal preparation is called personal care or custodial care. The transition from independent personal care to supported personal care can be challenging and every individual has a different support structure.
When reviewing your options, it is important to look at your own family structure, culture and what expectations you and your family members may have. Perhaps you have decided to keep your family's involvement as minimal as possible, or perhaps you have developed a system of caregiving by which family is your primary support for personal care.
Caregiving can be intimidating at first but there are small steps you can take to make everyday life more manageable. Below are some common topics of personal care which caregivers experience every day and some suggestions on how to ease assistance with personal care.

If your loved one has difficulty bathing:

  • Most people do not need to bathe everyday. When it is time to bathe, have all the supplies ready and allow the person to bathe as much of themselves as possible. Maybe they can only wash their legs and feet or hold a washcloth, but involving them in the process as much as possible can reduce their anxiety.
  • Respect their privacy and keep them covered as much as possible.
  • Keep the room and water temperature comfortably warm.
  • Install handle bars, non-slip mats, and a hand-held shower attachment if possible.
  • If your older adult requires a bed bath, ask your doctor about having a home health aide or trained caregiver instruct you on proper techniques for giving a bed bath.

If your loved one has difficulty dressing:

  • Allow enough time for them to dress as much of themselves as possible.
    For example, maybe your mother can put on her shirt but needs some assistance with the smaller buttons on her blouse. Allow time for her to dress in her shirt independently and then offer assistance when buttoning her blouse.
  • Let them have a choice in their outfit options for the day. If an entire closet of options is overwhelming, lay out two options at the beginning of the day to limit the selection.
  • If the older adult experiences pain when dressing, you can reduce pain by clothing the weak arm or leg first before pulling the shirt or pant over the strong arm or leg first then reverse the process when removing clothing.

If your loved one needs assistance with hair care or facial grooming:

  • Try washing their hair in the kitchen sink if the tub or shower it too difficult.
  • Consider using dry shampoo products found at most drug stores if hair washing is impossible.
  • Use an electric shaver when shaving another person for ease and safety.
  • When shaving a man's facial hair, have him sit in an upright position if possible and put dentures in his mouth before shaving.
  • More information on hair care and facial grooming

If your loved one has difficultly holding a tooth brush:

  • Slide a bicycle grip, foam tube, or tennis ball over the handle of the toothbrush.
  • Buy a toothbrush with a larger handle.
  • Attach the toothbrush handle to their hand with a wide elastic band.
  • More information on dental care
For step by step video tutorials, create a free account with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and select "Choose a Course" for a complete list of video resources for caregivers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Get Smart: October Events and Classes

by Emily Anderson

As it gets chilly outside, head inside to learn about resources and events that can help you and your family care for your older loved ones.

New Developments in Medicare

October 6th, 11:30am-3:00pm
1 Smithfield St, Downtown Pittsburgh
Hosted by the non-profit APPRISE, this "lunch and learn" session will discuss what to expect from health care coverage in the next year. Call Bill at 412-661-1670 Ext 645 to register.

Multiple Sclerosis Presentation

October 13th, 10:00am
Panera Bread, 400 Penn Center Blvd
Meet and listen to Brian Sibenac, Senior Services Specialist from the PA Keystone Chapter of the National MS Society. No RSVP needed.

Councilman Ed Kress Senior Fairs

October 14th, 10:00am-1:00pm, St, Juan Diego Parish Hall, Sharpsburgh
October 19th, 10:00am-1:00pm, Reserve Twp VFD, Reserve Twp
Visit one of these free events to explore resources and supports that are available in your area. No RSVP needed.

Walk to End Alzheimer's

October 15th, 10:00am
Heinz Field
Register for this two-mile walk to raise awareness and funds to support the care, research, and assistance the Alzheimer's Association offers to the millions of families dealing with dementia each year. For more information on the walk and how to register, check their website here.

Table Talk for Seniors and Their Families

October 20th, 10:00am
Jodi B's Restaurant, 2600 Ardmore Blvd, Forest Hills
Join Melissa Allenbaugh from Eastern Area Adult Services to learn how to navigate the different services in home health care, including medical vs non-medical, personal care, nursing care, palliative, and hospice care. Call (412) 829-9250 or email for more information.

Power of Support Caregiver Conference

November 4th, 8:30am-4:00pm
Ace Hotel, 120 S. Whitfield St, Pittsburgh PA
This free conference hosted by the Alzheimer's Association will focus on family dynamics, care choices, and dealing with grief. Family caregivers are encouraged to come learn, rejuvenate, and feel empowered. Contact Suzanne at (412) 261-5040 or to register.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Register to Vote by October 11th!

by Emily Anderson

The last day to register to vote is October 11, 2016. To vote in Pennsylvania, you must be a U.S. citizen, be age eighteen or older, and have lived in Pennsylvania for at least thirty days. There are two ways to register to vote:

  1.  Visit the web page to register to vote online. You do not need a driver's license or state ID card to register online, but you will need one to vote.
  2.  Fill out a paper form and turn it it. You can download the form here or ask for a form at a PennDOT location, a library, or other community center near you. You can also use these forms to change your address. 

Remember to check where your polling place will be on November 8th too! For more questions or help registering to vote, visit the politically neutral web page at VotesPA.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Celebrate World Alzheimer's Day Today

by Emily Anderson

About once a minute, a person in the US is diagnosed with some type of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. Over the next few decades, we expect to see the number of people living with Alzheimer's triple. It's the sixth leading cause of death, more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Family caregivers spend an average of five years and tens of thousands of dollars helping their loved ones continue to live with the disease, yet we are still far from finding an effective treatment or cure.

This year, the Alzheimer's Association is celebrating World Alzheimer's Month by giving $7 million towards new research for the most promising treatments. Alzheimer's Disease International is asking people to get involved by sharing their stories. If you are a person who uses social media like Facebook or Twitter, try sharing your story, some of the statistics above, or a picture of your loved one with the hashtag #RememberMe or #WAM2016.

To share longer experiences and read thoughts from other caregivers, try visiting the Family Caregiver Alliance. If you want to hit the ground and get outside, sign up for a Walk to End Alzheimer's near you. Most of these walks are held in October (Pittsburgh's is coming up on Oct. 15). You can even email us to share your story.

Sharing your story or participating in an event helps raise awareness of the impact this disease has on individuals and our community. Often people feel alone and lost while trying to help a loved one, but facing dementia is actually a common experience for many families and there are many resources out there.

For my part, here's a picture of my amazing grandmother, who just recently entered the ranks of people living with the early stages of dementia.

Take this day to celebrate yourself too, with a pat on the back, a moment of quiet, or setting aside some time to reach out for support.  Remember that our loved ones with Alzheimer's or other dementias couldn't make it without the support of family caregivers--which means you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When and How to Call Hospice

by Emily Anderson

"I'm so glad you convinced me to call hospice," Mary sighed, collapsing into the couch, "They are taking care of everything. I actually have time--and energy--to sit with my mom and just hold her hand."

Mary had been caring for her mother for five years, but had been reluctant to call hospice even once her mother was bed-bound. She wasn't sure when the right time was, and worried that her mother would think she was "giving up." Like most people who make the call to hospice though, Mary was glad she did.

Hospice is a special service that aims to make the transition from life to death as easy as possible for patients and their families. It provides medical care that is focused on maintaining comfort and quality of life, provides medical equipment, in-home aides, respite for the family, counseling, and a variety of other supports. Though many people associate hospice with a facility, it is actually a service that can be delivered anywhere, including your own home.

Many people are nervous about discussing hospice care with their loved one or their family. Death is an uncomfortable subject to discuss, but avoiding hospice can deprive you and your loved one of many comforts in the end of life.

When to call

In general, hospice is for people with any illness that limits their life to about six months or fewer, who want to be as comfortable as possible. Sometimes a doctor will tell you if a diagnosis means your loved one has a short time to live, or if you have run out of treatments that could offer a cure. Often, however, doctors don't bring up hospice because they are uncomfortable talking about it or assume you want to keep trying new treatments.

There are some signs you can look for that are indicators that it is time to call hospice. Your loved one might be ready for hospice if you notice:

  • Increased pain, nausea, or other discomforts
  • Frequent trips to the ER
  • More medical complications, like infections
  • Difficulty "bouncing back" after setbacks
  • Needing more help with basic daily activities, like walking, bathing, or eating
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleeping a lot or being confused
  • Talking about being tired, wanting to be at home, or wanting to stop treatment

For people who are caring for someone with dementia, there are a couple of extra requirements. In addition to advanced dementia, your loved one must be unable to care for themselves and have a complication like a recent infection, bed sores, or significant weight loss.

If you're still not sure whether your loved would be eligible for hospice, try taking this short quiz, and then start a discussion with them about what kind of care they would like as they approach the end of life. 

How to call

Any person can make a referral to hospice, including you. You can call even if you're not sure the time is right, and they will help you figure it out. If you have a good relationship with your doctor, you may want to talk to them first, but be aware that some doctors don't understand hospice or discourage people from pursuing it. If you're not sure what hospice to call, try searching for hospices in your area.

Other benefits

Many hospices offer special supports like spiritual services, massage or art therapy, and support after your loved one passes away. In addition, hospice is fully covered under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurances. If you think your loved one could benefit from hospice, it is worth exploring the option--it could change your loved one's whole experience of the end of life.

Check out the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization for more information and tips on choosing a hospice provider.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Interview: Family Caregivers Need Care Too

by Emily Anderson

Recently we had a chance to talk to mmLearn's blog about the issues facing family caregivers. If you are new to this blog, new to caregiving, or looking for a refresher, check out our discussion below!


Emily Anderson is a Care Coach with Familylinks, where she works with caregivers of older adults to find practical solutions and stress management strategies for day-to-day life. We talked with Emily about the challenges facing today's caregivers - and learned how anyone can help ease their burden.

Tell us a little about Familylinks. What services do you offer?

Familylinks is a non-profit social service agency in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania. We work with families on many issues that occur across the lifespan.

For older adults, Familylinks operates a popular senior center called Vintage. It's one of Allegheny county's providers of Options Care Management services for older adults, and it offers a unique support program for caregivers of older adults called the Caregivers First Initiative. The Caregivers First Initiative is a free, evidence-based method of one-on-one coaching that helps caregivers use community resources, problem-solve common challenges, and learn effective ways of dealing with stress.

What are some of the challenges of aging in today's society that you think aren't very well-known by the general public?

When people picture an older family member getting sick and needing a lot of help, they often picture that person moving to a nursing facility. While that is the case for some people, 90% of the care that older adults receive is provided at home by family members, not by professionals. The work that family members do is worth over $450 billion a year; but unfortunately, family caregivers are getting scarce. Because of the aging baby boomer group, there will only be half as many people available to care for older adults in the next few decades. The result is that we will be relying more and more on family caregivers who will be feeling increasingly overwhelmed and stressed.

When you communicate with people who care for elderly individuals, what are the most common issues that these caregivers are struggling with?

Caregivers of older adults struggle with both practical and emotional issues. For people who are not health or mental health professionals, it can be very overwhelming to be faced with tasks like sorting medications, organizing doctors' appointments, and providing hands-on care. On top of that, caregiving can be a very lonely task where people give up their social life, their hobbies, their privacy, and their free time to care for their loved one. While most people I talk to would never give it up, it's still tiring and frustrating.

The stress of helping another person puts caregivers at an increased risk for chronic health issues, burnout, depression, and even death. Addressing both the practical and emotional issues helps caregivers feel more in control and more balanced.

How common is it for elderly individuals to be suffering from multiple conditions or problems? And how are caregivers affected in these instances?

It is common for older people to be dealing with multiple issues, and it is also common for caregivers to be dealing with problems of their own. As we age, our problems tend to occur in a chain - first your knees go, then because you can't walk you gain weight, the weight causes diabetes, and before you know it you have a wound that won't heal. Caregivers are along for that ride and have more and more to manage as their loved one declines. On top of that, since caregivers are focusing on their loved one, they often forget to take care of themselves, skipping doctors' appointments, meals, and exercise in order to get done what they need to get done.

Based on the latest research, what are some of the approaches, techniques, or technologies that are producing successful outcomes when it comes to senior citizens and the issues they face?

There are many advances for helping seniors, as well as many new technologies that also make being a caregiver easier. Digital tools like shared calendars or remote video monitoring make it easier to coordinate tasks between family members or to check on a person's safety without intruding.

Most of all, though, caregivers long for someone to give them advice and to listen to their experiences. At the Caregivers First Initiative, the methods we use are shown to decrease depression and the sense of burden while helping people feel more confident as caregivers. Personalized support programs like the Caregivers First Initiative allow us to provide advice, support, and coaching that is tailored to each individual person.

Obviously, it's important for caregivers of elderly people to be caring and patient. But what's the one skill that you think each one of these caregivers must possess?

It's important for caregivers to learn to be honest, yet gentle with themselves. How much can you handle? How are you really doing with everything? What kind of help do you need? Each caregiver has different abilities and needs. Looking honestly at where you need support is the best way to keep yourself in one piece - and your loved one in good shape.

For people who are relatives, friends, or work colleagues of caregivers for elderly patients, how can they help or support those caregivers in their day-to-day efforts?

If you want to help a caregiver in your life, offer specific help and follow up on it. For example, instead of saying, "Let me know if you need some help," ask the caregiver, "Do you need someone to mow your lawn? Do you need someone to stay with your mom for a while this week?" Many caregivers are sensitive to the fact that other people are busy and don't want to weigh down other people with their problems. Many people also think people are offering to help out of politeness. If you truly want to help, offer again!

Want to learn more about being a caregiver and ways that you can keep yourself healthy? Try looking at our "Where to Start" page. If you're in Allegheny County, PA, you can even contact us for a meeting. The Family Caregiver Alliance also has many resources, including online support groups for caregivers.