Wednesday, August 31, 2016

New Writers Are Here!

by Emily Anderson

Welcome to our newest Care Coach, Amanda Cetra and our intern, Kristen West! Check out their bios below, or on the About Us page.

Amanda Cetra, Care Coach

Amanda was born and raised in Pittsburgh and attended Oakland Catholic High School. She went on to Chatham University to pursue both an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Amanda resides in East Pittsburgh with her fiancé Scott, her dog Bailey, and two cats, Zero and Stanley. Amanda previously worked with an adoption and foster care agency, and has helped care for her own grandparents. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys playing with her pets, babysitting her niece and nephew, and watching hockey. Though she loves fashion and helping people look their best, her guilty pleasure is WWE wrestling! Amanda is excited to offer support to the aging community of her hometown.

Kristen West, Social Work Intern

Kristen is originally from New Jersey but moved to Pittsburgh in 2013 to begin school. For the past three years, Kristen has enjoyed studying social work, sociology, psychology, and family law at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is pursuing her BA in Social Work. Previously, she has worked as a Hospitality Assistant with families at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh. Kristen became interested in working with older adults through her experiences volunteering at assisted living facilities and with her own grandparents. In her free time she enjoys playing Bananagrams in coffee shops throughout the city, trying to hit her 8-mile step count for the day, and wandering around the Pittsburgh Public Libraries.

Look forward to hearing from both of these folks through the next few months!

Remember to visit some of our other pages too, like our Helpful Links page to see resources that we frequently send people to or that other caregivers have found helpful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Get Smart: Upcoming Classes and Events

by Emily Anderson

Kids are heading back to school, maybe it's time for you to learn something new too. Check out these classes and events going on this fall:

Aging Your Way

September 2nd, 10:00am-2:00pm
Lifespan Imperial Senior Center, 540 Penn Lincoln Dr., Imperial, PA
Explore ideas to improve your quality of life and the support to make it happen at this local even that offers a free lunch. To register for the free event, contact Jason at 412-445-0009 or

Powerful Tools for Caregivers

This six-week course focuses on helping caregivers develop tools to manage stress, practice good self-care, make difficult decisions, and communicate emotional needs. More than 80,000 caregivers have taken this class across the U.S., and most report that it helps them feel less anxious, more confident, and more in control. 

Two organizations are offering this class series this fall.
--The Area Agency on Aging is offering the class starting September 7th, 10:00am-Noon.
Contact Brenda Slagle at (412) 350-4996 or
--Hope Grows is offering the class starting September 12th, 1:00pm-2:30pm.
Call Hope Grows at (412) 369-HOPE (4673) or visit their website to register.

Caring for Aging Loved Ones Seminar

September 10th, 8:30am-11:30am
Orchard Hill Church, Wexford, PA

This free morning event will feature personal experiences from KDKA News Anchor Jennifer Antkowiak and talks on tools caregivers can use to keep up their important and challenging role. Contact Orchard Hills Church at (724) 935-5555 or visit their website to register.

Coordinating Medicare and Medicaid

September 15th, Noon-3:00pm
1 Smithfield St, Pittsburgh, PA
Hosted by the non-profit APPRISE, this "lunch and learn" session will discuss how to coordinate coverage for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. The discussion will include how these two systems work together and what changes to expect in the next year. Call Bill at 412-661-1670 Ext 645 to register.

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, August 17, 2016

Hard Work Made Harder: Caregivers Juggling Careers Can Get Overwhelmed

by Emily Anderson

You're at work, trudging your way through stacks of papers and emails, when the phone rings for what feels like the millionth time. It's your mother again, and she has forgotten where she put the remote to the TV. Relieved that it isn't an emergency this time, you talk her through the steps of walking into the living room, looking at the coffee table in the middle of the room, picking up the remote, pointing it at the TV, and pressing the large red button at the top of the remote. You see your supervisor glaring at you from across the cubicle space, so you say goodbye, hang up the phone, and sigh. Another fifteen minutes of productive work time lost, you think, "Guess it's lunch at the desk again today."

About one in five working Americans currently provides care to an older adult in their family. A 2015 survey by the AARP found that the majority of working caregivers are forced to rearrange their work schedules, reduce their work hours, or quit work altogether to meet the needs of aging relatives. Those that remain at work experience more stress, lower productivity, and higher absenteeism than non-caregivers.

In addition to the stress of trying to juggle work and family, caregiving takes a toll on financial resources. A recent study by MetLife estimated that the average family caregiver sacrifices over $300,000 in wages and pension due to lost work time--on top of what they pay out for medical and in-home help.

This loss affects employers too. Workers who are caregivers are distracted, suffer more health problems, and miss more work days annually than non-caregivers. In total, those missed days and hours cost the business world an estimated $33 billion each year.

If you are working while trying to take care of an older loved one, here are some steps you can take to minimize the impact on your current and future life:

1. Talk to your work supervisor or HR department
Prepare yourself with some of the statistics listed here, and talk to someone in the human resources department. Make it clear that you are committed to your job and want to remain productive, but need some adjustments. You may be able to negotiate for more flexible work hours, a compressed work week, or telecommuting time.
2. Use your benefits
Check if your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can help you with referrals, dealing with stress, or balancing your time. Also be aware that you qualify for job protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives you 12 weeks of unpaid time to care for a sick or injured loved one. 
3. Resist isolation
Are there more than five people around you right now? At least one probably has experienced caregiving just like you have.  You may feel like you don't have a single minute of free time to spare, but connecting with other caregivers can be both practically and emotionally supportive. Consider finding a support group in your area or online to connect to other people and resources.
4. Plan for the future
Step through a guide like the AARP's Prepare to Care and talk to your loved ones about how much you will be able to support them in the future. Though it can feel overwhelming at first, having a plan can reduce your stress down the road when a crisis hits.  
5. Ask for and accept help
Many caregivers worry about putting too much of a burden on family, friends, or neighbors. If people are offering help though, even for a one-time task, take it! Try getting other family members on board by holding a family meeting. If those resources are not available to you, try contacting your county about professional in-home help.

Want to learn more? Read the AARP's tips for working caregivers or check out the Family Caregiver Alliance for some more detailed steps. If you were shocked by the statistics in this post, read more here or check out the AARP's national report.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Top 10 Home Improvements for Aging in Place

by Emily Anderson

Most people want to stay at home as they age. Where your loved one lives and what the house is like can make that easier or harder. Affordable Adaptive Solutions has some suggestions for home improvements that can make staying at home as your loved one ages more likely.

Check out your loved one's home to see if they are ready to age at home or if their living space need some modifications:

1. Low Maintenance and Energy Efficiency

As people age, maintaining a house becomes more and more difficult. Your once-handy dad may have a hard time crouching down to stick his head under a sink to do a plumbing repair. Older adults are also more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, and need reliable heating and cooling devices. Plan ahead by investing in improvements that will reduce problems  in the years to come.

2. Home Security System

Getting assistance in case of break-in, fire, or other emergency is simplified with the right system. Adding a personal response device for falls also brings help fast and promotes peace of mind for all.

3. Readily Accessible Entry

In Pittsburgh, our old homes built into hillsides always have steps, usually quite a few. Plan to have at least one entry door that has no steps or threshold bumps and is easy to lock, unlock, open, and close. Consider installing a long, gradual ramp or a lift to help with access to and from the house.

4. Single Level Living

Navigating stairs inside the house can become a challenge over time, so consider converting some rooms so your loved one can have the entry, living space, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and laundry all on one floor. If that can't be arranged, a stair lift may be an option. At the very least, make sure your loved one has sturdy handrails on both sides of the stairway that extend into the landing.

5. Accessible Bathroom

Bathrooms are small and slippery. The risks of bathroom use can be significantly reduced by using carefully selected and placed grab bars, higher toilets, roll-under sinks, barrier-free showers, shower chairs, and other alternatives as parts of a well-thought strategy. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, they may also need a larger space for turning and navigation.

6. Accessible Kitchen

Like bathrooms, kitchens are a prime location for accidents, whether falls, cuts, scalds, or burns. Place frequently-used items within easy reach and consider getting a high-quality grabber for the things that are high up. If your loved one has memory problems, adaptations can be made to lock the stove, oven, fridge, and cabinets that contain dangerous substances like cleaning supplies or sharp objects.

7. Floors

Throw rugs can impede walkers and other mobility devices, as can deep pile carpeting. Dense low pile carpeting, slip-resistant ceramic tile, or vinyl flooring are practical flooring choices. Making sure passageways are wide enough and keeping clutter off floors also reduces travel risks.

8. Lighting

Inadequate lighting makes seeing obstacles harfer and increases the risks of falling, taking the wrong medicine, or making other preventable mistakes. Installing ample lighting is good protection, as is using lamps and fixtures with more than one bulb that still give some light when one burns out. Switches should be easy to reach and to use. Having a ready back-up lighting source, even just a series of battery powered lamps, is important preparation for power outages.

9. Standing/Sitting Assists

Getting in and out of bed or a favorite chair requires some strength, agility, range of motion, and balance, so this very ordinary task can get tougher with age. Using support poles, grab bars, or a lifting chair offers enough help to reduce those risks.

10. Smart Appliances

The growing array of programmable and smart appliances can be a real help to older homeowners and their family members. New technologies can help you monitor your loved one using timers or sensors linked to a smartphone, which can help alert you to potential problems, like when a stove is left on. Others help family members stay connected, using extra-loud phones or video chatting to help your loved one continue to lead a meaningful and enriching life.

How to make sure your loved one's home is safe

Safety for Seniors, operated by the non-profit Family Services of Western PA, Offers free home safety walkthroughs in the Pittsburgh area. They can help you check room by room for potential hazards and makeven some suggestions.

You can also try doing a hike safety walk through on your own. For a very detailed home safety checklist, some of these modifications, like picking up a throw rug, you can do on your own while others may need the help of a professional. Try this one from the AARP, or this detailed list with tips for making your home more secure. For more suggestions specific to people with a dementia, try the Alzheimer's Assoication here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Farewell

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

It is with a heavy heart that I write my final blog post, as I will be leaving Familylinks this week. I am moving to another state and sadly have to leave my position with the Caregivers First Initiative. As I reflect upon my time here with the CFI, I have so many positive memories and experiences. It has been such a pleasure to work with the caregivers that I have been blessed to get to know in the last few years.

My clients have taught me so many wonderful life lessons, including to take each day at a time, to look at the silver lining, and that it’s okay to ask others for help. I have been touched by them sharing their life stories with me and allowing me into their lives to be a support for them. I will truly miss this work and the people I have gotten to know along the way. Working at Familylinks and in the Caregivers First Initiative has been a life-changing experience for me and helped me find my niche in counseling. I absolutely love working with older adults, and particularly their caregivers, and I hope to continue in this line of work in my future. 

Thank you to my coworkers and supervisors—it has been so wonderful to work with you and to get to know you in my time with the company. Being a part of this program has changed my life for the better, and for that, I thank you all.

Emily will continue to work with the Caregivers First Initiative and write for the blog. Later in August, some new people will be joining the team, so look forward to some fresh voices here!