Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Get Smart--March

by Emily Anderson

There are tons of events going on this spring for older adults and their caregivers! Check out these classes and trainings below to learn, grow, and connect to other caregivers.

Medicare Basics: Understanding the Medicare System

April 14th, Noon-3:00pm
Human Services Building, Downtown Pittsburgh
Hosted by APPRISE, this "Intro to Medicare" covers all the basics--eligibility, enrollment, understanding the elements of a Medicare plan, and evaluating and choosing a provider. There is always plenty of time for questions, so if you're new to Medicare and looking to get a grasp on it, call Bill McKendree at (412) 661-1670 to sign up for this free session.

Mental Health First Aid

April 15th, 8:30am-4:30pm
Chartiers Center, Bridgeville, PA
Many of the people we care for also suffer from mental illness, and in fact, one in four of us will be affected by a mental illness during our lifetime. Designed for family, friends, and coworkers of people with mental illness or addictions who want to be supportive but aren't sure how, the Mental Health First Aid class can fill in the gaps. It's a long day, but the steps to assist a friend or family member in crisis could one day be critical for someone you love. Contact Mary Kay Bonn at (412) 221-3302 by April 11th to register for this free program.

Healthy Aging Series

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh--Various locations and times
The University of Pittsburgh and the UPMC Aging Institute will be presenting on such topics as "De-clutter and Re-organize," "Insights for the Caregiver," and "I'm Having a Senior Moment" at locations throughout the Carnegie library system this spring. Visit the Library Website to see these programs and more at a location near you!

American Red Cross Family Caregivering Program

May 4, 11, 18, and 25th at 12:30pm
Area Agency on Aging, South Side, Pittsburgh
Taking care of a loved one often requires skills that no one ever taught us, but the American Red Cross Family Caregiving series can help fill in that knowledge. The free 4-week series covers everything from home safety and personal care to legal and financial issues. Call Brenda Slagle at (412) 350-4996 to register, as spaces are limited!

Building Better Caregivers

This online six-week course is offered through the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, and it's a national program developed by Stanford University to help people who are looking after a loved one with a cognitive impairment or memory loss. You can work through the classes at your own pace in your own time. The online course is free and has rolling start dates throughout the year. Call Sharon Fienman at 412-697-3533 or email her at for more information and to sign up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We're Away, Growing and Learning!

by Emily Anderson

Hi folks! We're away at a conference, learning important information to share with you, so no new information this week.

If you have a few minutes, though, you can watch this interview we did with eCare Diary about the Caregivers First Initiative, the in-person support program we run in the Pittsburgh area. The starting picture features me frozen with a really odd expression, so enjoy that...

Or, you know, you could watch some videos of funny cats, if that's what you need today. We'll be back next week to share more resources, tips and ideas with you!

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Music and Memory

by Emily Anderson

Have you ever been listening absentmindedly to the radio when an old song comes on and you are suddenly transported back to some distant memory? Maybe it's the first summer after high school that you spent lazing around listening to records with your friends, or a song you heard a million times during a family road trip. Or maybe the song you danced to at your wedding comes on and you meet your spouse's eyes and smile. If so, then you have witnessed firsthand the unique hold music has on our memories.

It turns out that our brains have a special way of remembering music, and that music is often linked with personal memories. For some people who are experiencing memory declines, music can help them reconnect to those memories.

Watch this clip from the documentary Alive Inside, for example. It depicts Henry, an older man with severe cognitive problems, "coming alive" as he listens to music he knows and loves.

For Henry, music restored his ability to communicate fluidly and express interest and passion. Most people won't have quite so impressive a reaction, but many will tap their hands or hum a few bars and smile. A few people, especially those with hearing problems, might find the music garbled and irritating.

As a caregiver, you can use music to help your loved one feel calm, reconnect to old memories, or just to share the brief pleasure good music can bring. The nonprofit group Music and Memory has some suggestions for building a digital playlist that your loved one might enjoy. Consider asking your loved one these questions:

  • What music did you listen to when you were young? 
  • Did you sing at religious services? 
  • What were your favorite hymns or other religious music? 
  • Do you still have any records or tapes that were favorites? What are they?
  • Who was your favorite performer, group, band or orchestra?
  • Who was your favorite classical composer?
  • What songs did you dance to at your wedding? High school prom? 

If your loved one can't answer some of these questions, try asking someone who knew them in the "old days." Music and Memory suggests that you aim to find about sixty songs that your loved one might enjoy. Listen to their feedback on the songs you pick and you can adjust the playlist even further.

And remember, music isn't just for your loved one! Listening to music is a great stress management idea for you as a caregiver as well. Consider pulling together songs that you like and sitting down to let them melt the world away--even if it is for just two and a half minutes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Review

Contributed by Emily Anderson

The 36-Hour Day, by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins

If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer's Disease or another type of dementia and want to know what to expect, this is the book for you. The 36-Hour Day is one of the most-recommended books for family members of people with dementia, and for good reason. It is comprehensive in its explanation of the disease of dementia and how it affects people.

The vast majority of the book is taken up by a detailed look at the behavioral, daily life, medical, and mood symptoms of dementia. The authors offer some suggestions for managing symptoms of dementia from its early stages through death. Throughout, they also touch on self-care, financial and legal issues, getting help, impact on the family, and assisted living arrangements.

As you can see, The 36-Hour Day covers a lot of ground, and some people refer to it as the "manual" for caring for a loved one with dementia. Unfortunately, it's about as interesting to read as a manual--the writing is dry and densely packed with information. My suggestion: Get The 36-Hour Day from your library or local book store and skim the table of contents for the information that seems most relevant to your situation. It's not great bedtime reading, but the information it contains is unparalleled in depth and quality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Using Online Tools to Assist with Caregiving

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Caregivers have a lot on their plates—taking loved ones to doctor appointments, distributing medications, assisting with bathing and dressing, planning for the future, grocery shopping, etc. It can be difficult for caregivers to keep track of these tasks and coordinate with other family or professional caregivers. 

The good news: In the past few years, online care management programs and websites have been popping up as a new tool for caregivers! These websites help caregivers keep track of their loved ones’ appointments and medications, coordinate and communicate with other family members, and stay organized with caregiving tasks. 

Nowadays, a lot of health systems offer their own online health tracking systems for their users, which allow individuals to access their medical records online, keep track of medications, schedule and view doctor appointments, and view lab results. For instance, in our area, UPMC offers MyUPMC, which is a free online patient health care website, and Highmark offers myCare Navigator, which also provides free online heath tracking for consumers. 

Some of these websites also allow caregivers and other family members to view their loved one’s personal profiles (with the consent of the individual). There are also other online health tools that can help individuals keep track of their medical and health information, such as WebMD Health Manager and Microsoft Health Vault. Below, we provide some information on such assistive online programs and websites—be sure to check them out!

The following online tools and apps offer care coordination and management for family and professional caregivers and friends while taking care of their loved one:

1. eCareDiary 
eCareDiary is a centralized website with tools, expert content, and resources for managing caregiving. This website allows caregivers to:
  • keep track of their loved one’s medications
  • connect with other family members and caregivers to share information online and keep each other updated on the loved one’s current condition (which is GREAT for long-distance caregivers and family members)
  • store legal documents
  • find blogs, videos, and other helpful resources
  • manage caregiving tasks and to-do lists
A caregiver can use eCareDiary for free, which allows them to keep track of their loved one’s medications, appointments, etc. themselves. However, for a small monthly fee, a caregiver can allow additional caregivers access to the tool so that other family caregivers can gain access to their loved one’s care and information.

2. Cozi 
This free website helps families and caregivers stay coordinated with each other. Cozi lets family members and friends get onto one free account so that they can all access the same calendar, make shopping lists and to-do lists, and keep a family journal so that everyone can stay updated with what’s going on. The great thing about Cozi is that it is also an app, which means that family members and caregivers can view calendars, set appointments, make to-do lists, and more from their smartphone or tablet. Cozi is also usable with other calendars, meaning people can import or export their calendar and appointments from Google calendar and other internet calendars. 

3. CareZone 
This free website provides online tools, health information, expert advice, and directories of goods and services for caregivers of older adults. CareZone helps family caregivers stay organized with their calendar, communicate and share information with other involved family and friends, and keep track of medications, appointments, and important documents. This website allows you to control what information other users on the account can view and/or edit, and you can share this account with as many people as you want. CareZone also has a free app that allows you and your loved ones access to the account while on the go! 

4. Tyze 
Tyze is another online tool that gives family and professional caregivers, as well as care recipients, a forum to organize their loved one’s care. This website allows people to keep track of appointments and store documents, and it can also send updates to multiple people on the same account at once. Similar to other online tools, Tyze allows people to share photos and news with other family caregivers or friends involved. They also keep a blog that has recent information of research studies, available resources, new programs, etc. The Tyze app is also available on your Android smart phone or tablet so that you can access the tool while you’re on the go. 

5. Lotsa Helping Hands 
Lotsa Helping Hands is a free website that allows family caregivers to keep in touch with other family members, friends, and caregivers. It helps people to send updates on the status of their loved one and alert them to changes. It also allows caregivers to keep track of appointments and meetings, as well as send requests to other family members and friends for help with meal preparation, rides to appointments, and errand-running. This is a great tool to use if you are looking to try to get others involved in helping with the care of your loved one. Additionally, account users can access vital medical records and information like allergies, medications, insurances, etc. 

These are just a few helpful caregiving websites that are out there—there are numerous online tools to assist caregivers with the care management of their loved one and to make caregiving easier. You just have to find the one that works for you!