Surviving Caregiver Stress: Key Thoughts and Advice From an Expert

My “Key Thoughts” list goes back several years.
It can help reduce caregiver stress.
The thoughts are appropriate for many situations.

Many are proactive. Incorporating them now into our efforts to help parents age well makes sense; because the older we are, the more we feel stress from things that didn’t bother us in our younger years. When we do it right in the beginning (#1 on the list) doesn’t it up the odds that we avoid some future problems?


• The Right Start Saves Many Problems
• Will Actions Empower or Diminish?
• Get All Possible Information Before (Be Proactive)
• Does the Quick Fix Harm Later Goals?
• Is it Better for Me or for My Parents?
• Are Life and Limb Threatened?
• If the monkey wants a banana, give him/her a banana
• People Change, Not Much
• Think Airplane Advice–Secure Your Mask First, Then Help Others

Regardless of the illness involved or who’s doing the caregiving, the last key thought keeps us balanced and healthy and–thus–less stressed. So it stands to reason we’re better able to handle whatever comes our way. Everyone seems to be in agreement on this point. Meet Dr. Linda Ercoli, a clinical psychologist, and Director of Geriatric Psychology at UCLA. Her webinar offers help for surviving caregiver stress.

In UCLA’a webinar, “Surviving Caregiver Stress,” Dr, Ercoli–like a good teacher–gives a well-organized presentation that holds our interest with excellent information and practical tips. Indeed she “gets it.”

Watching a webinar when we’re under stress and on over-load may feel like wasting important time.  Not this webinar.  Hitting the “pause” symbol is an option for those with time constraints. It’s not necessary to listen to the whole presentation at one time.

Note that the tweeted questions and Dr. Ercoli’s answers at the end are helpful. Don’t we often learn from other’s questions. If really pressed for time, fast forward to the last 10-15 minutes.

Whether we end up as caregivers through love and caring or because there was little or no choice, we get through the experience reasonably well–or less well. More–or less–stressed. The more we can learn and better we understand the “tricks of the trade,” the more efficient and effective we become.

When our stress level is high and we feel we can’t add another thing to our life, this webinar’s information can guide us. We not only help our parents age as well as possible in spite of the stuff that’s been dealt them, but if we can make it better for them, we no doubt make it better for ourselves. In short, it’s a win-win.

If you’re like me, you learn a lot of practical stuff from the Q&A at the end of a    presentation. Another UCLA webinar, Caregiver Stress and Depression , is presented by Dr. Helen Lavretsky, geriatric psychologist at UCLA. She  pays particular attention to dementia, while addressing the larger caregiver stress issue.

Whether new to caregiving or an “old hand,” Dr. L reminds us that dementia caregiving can go on many, many years.  Even if we’re youngish and healthy now, caregiving gets harder as we age and caregivers die at a greater rate than noncaregivers. Dr. L. easily conveys subject matter and informally but professionally talks about respite, family members, vitamins, prolonging life, how to decide if an antidepressant would help–all this and more when answering the tweets. If caring for someone with dementia is in your future (or present), make the time to watch this webinar–especially the Q & A.



Aging Parents: Alzheimer’s Blogs and Key Thoughts for Caregivers and Adult Children

An Unexpected Honor and the Key Thoughts

The May 24th email announced: “I am happy to inform you that your blog has made Healthline’s list of the Best Alzheimer’s Blogs 2014.  Healthline diligently selected each of the blogs on the list…..”

Neither Alzheimer’s nor dementia is in my husband’s or my family. And I’ve never written specifically about it or any other illness in my posts. The closest I’ve come to mentioning dementia is including links in the sidebar (“Newsworthy“) to articles I’ve reviewed from highly regarded medical school publications.* So Help! Aging Parents takes special pride in the reasoning the led to including our blog in this “Best” list of 23 Alzheimer’s blogs.

Helping Parents Age Well isn’t just about helping our parents.
The information and insight in these pages is useful to anyone
who anticipates living beyond midlife. Key thoughts like “Will
these actions I’m about to undertake empower or diminish?”
and “Does the quick fix harm later goals?” inform all of blogger
Susan’s writing. Her focus on values and long-term solutions makes
for a good life-coaching guide and regular reading.

Since the “Key Thoughts for Adult Children of Aging Parents” list goes back to my early posts, and many may not be aware of their publication, revisiting the list makes sense.

• The Right Start Saves Many Problems
• Will Actions Empower or Diminish?
• Get All Possible Information Before
• Does the Quick Fix Harm Later Goals?
• Is it Better for Me or for My Parents?
• Are Life and Limb Threatened?
• If the monkey wants a banana, give him/her a banana
• People Change, Not Much
• Think Airplane Advice–Secure Your Mask First, Then Help Others

Regardless of who’s doing the caregiving or the illness involved, the last key thought keeps us balanced and healthy and–ideally–better able to handle what comes our way.

For those who are fortunate enough to have fathers to celebrate FATHER’S DAY with, we wish you a day that is special; a day that will provide happy memories for you and for your dad. And if you don’t have a father, you’ll no doubt think of your father as I think of mine.

Perhaps there’s an elderly gentleman who will feel very special if he receives an unexpected phone call with Father’s Day wishes. As I write this I’m thinking about who I will phone. Father’s Day provides us another chance to give elders attention, so important in aging well. That should make them feel good. And doesn’t that make us feel good too?

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

 *Some dementia/Alzheimer’s articles have been “retired” to the “Newsworthy Archives.” Click tab  above.



Caregivers for Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Caring for the Caregivers,is the title of Jane Brody’s column in the Personal Health section of today’s NY Times, Science Times section. (Note: the title changes a bit in the on-line version.) For those who didn’t read the column click link above. It continues the subject of my two previous posts on caregiving. The column”s focus:

1. a husband dealing with his wife’s Alzheimer’s
2. dealing with dementia patients’ physical and verbal abuse (a professor‘s research at Johns Hopkins’s School of Nursing offers successful strategies, without using drugs
3. Dr. Judith L. London’s book, Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes” published in November 2013. “Caregivers are often casualties, the hidden victims of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. London.

Related: Six books That Belong in Every Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Library 

Note: For the time being, I plan to post on Saturdays only. That said,  from time to time, when possible, there will be a mini-post mid-week.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Difficult Discussion Strategies–Memory Loss (with 1/2/15 update)*

“Don’t dramatize small failures,” cautions 92-year old Woman’s Club member Edie. She elaborates: “People have weaknesses, but they also have strengths so don’t zero in on the weakness—like forgetfulness—it’s only one piece.  When it happens in younger people, they say they’re only ‘senior moments.’  They don’t make a big deal about it.”

A senior moment?  A potential time bomb?  Initially we may wonder how to distinguish between the two? Then we wonder how to bring up the subject.

First, a highly regarded professional, Dr. Pasquale Fonzetti, MD,PhD, Chairman of the Institutional Review Board, Associate Director of the Memory Evaluation and Treatment Service (METS) and Staff Neurologist, The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in NY, explains “There’s benign forgetfulness.  We all forget but we keep our checkbook, we go to work, we do our daily activities.”

Then, he says, there’s forgetfulness that can be a sign of dementia and should be a concern “if it’s interfering with everyday activities—if it’s interfering with social or occupational functions or activities of daily living.”  Dr. Fonzetti gives this example: “When older parents start forgetting appointments, forgetting things they have done before like how to balance their checkbook or how to follow a recipe that they’ve prepared many times, an evaluation is called for.” He further tells us, dementia is a slow process.

*Since December 2014 a TV ad has been running, sponsored by the Alzherimer’s Association. It features a wife who has lost her keys….again. The husband finds them in the refrigerator. I’m reminded of another of Dr. Fonzetti’s many examples, when I spoke with him– of a person’s leaving the checkbook in the freezer. At the time I thought it an exaggeration and omitted it from his last quote in the preceding paragraph. Obviously I shouldn’t have.

Dr. Fonzetti stresses that “ify”–my word–memory is a delicate subject. He elaborates, saying that adult children come in with their parents and even well-meaning children don’t always handle it well. “It’s important—very important—to talk very diplomatically and with respect to a parent… Proud parents would hate to lose independence, especially if it’s related to a cognitive misfunction.”

We obviously don’t want to make parents feel unhappy, defensive, or outright angry or scared.  Referring to the discussion strategies in Saturday’s post, we could say something like:

“You know, Mom/Dad, lately I’ve noticed—and maybe you have too—“(this pulls them in as an equal participant) “that you’ve been asking the same questions over and overYou know it could be your medication

(Here you’re  inserting a benign, but legitimate possibility, not worst-case scenario, thus lessening the emotional part of the discussion).

Parental response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t know what I’m talking about.”

(We repeat back and we confirm respect with an accurate account)

“Well, yesterday you asked if I was going to cousin Joe’s party and I answered you—several times. And you just asked me again today twice, if I was going to cousin Joe’s.”

Response:  “Of course, I didn’t hear you.” (Possibly true, possibly pride.)

(Now we reflect back, confirming what was said, and reiterating caring.) 

“Yes, you may not have heard me the three times yesterday and now again today.  You know it could be a hearing problem.”

(We offer another reasonable possibility since there is one; otherwise, we reiterate “medication.”)            

Do you think it makes sense to check it out with Dr. Smith?”

 (Respectful, validates parent participation.)

In some instances, using the 2014 Alzheimer’s Assn. TV ad mentioned earlier as a conversation starter, could help begin a difficult conversation.

If safety is not an issue (there’s no threat to life and limb), seeking a doctor’s help in a timely manner, ideally initiated by (otherwise in cooperation with) parents, is best. If safety is an issue, it’s obviously necessary to act immediately. In both instances jumping to conclusions can be problematical. (An old post “A Sad Story,”  is a true story about jumping to conclusions and how easily one can fall into the trap.)

In addition to the discussion strategies, it’s helpful if we can:
  • Gain information (reading, internet, friends) and check out concerns with our parents’ doctor, before taking actions that could change a life or damage a relationship.
  • Be supportive.  Look for creative or alternative solutions.  If we aren’t creative, it may be helpful to seek out a friend (with an older parent) who is.
  • Beware of role-reversal.
  • Recognize that proving we’re right may be less important than reaching our goal.  (Do we want to be right or do we want our parents to “buy in”?)
  • Say as little as possible–the less said, the better–when having an uncomfortable or difficult conversation.  And stick to the subject. It’s easy to get side-tracked or add a well-intended tid-bit or thoughtless word that makes us vulnerable to an argument.
  • Keep “What’s the Goal” first and foremost in mind. The doctor will ultimately be called in any event (immediately if safety is at stake). Otherwise there’s wiggle room.

isn’t having parent cooperation the best way to help them age well? Getting them to buy into–or at least accept–your suggestions, leads to the smoothest start….even if it takes a lot of patience and some additional time.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Alzheimer’s Association:
The American Academy of Family Physicians:
The Mayo Clinic:  describes itself as “a trusted, nonprofit resource” that offers support and information; “not a substitute for professional advice.”

Help Parents Age Well: Elderly Memory and Music

My cousin, a naturally gifted pianist, is on the board of a foundation that loans fine pianos to promising young students. This past summer she mentioned new research connecting music and memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It was a general conversation that I filed away in my memory.

I just heard–and watched on TV–an impressive segment demonstrating this connection.
1.  Research seems to validate that music is deeply embedded in memory.
2.  Personalizing a dementia suffer’s favorite music, played through an iPod, seems–amazingly– to generate certain memory, joy and on-target communication in people with memory loss.

While NPR featured this music-memory connection on an April 2012 program, thoughts of a gift to help parents with dementia age well just entered my mind. (*Note Mayo Clinic’s definition of dementia.)

Link to this NPR piece Watch the video. A man who has been “out of it” (in a nursing home for 10 years) comes back “into it”–stimulated by the music from an iPod. (He’s a different person from the person on the NY TV segment I watched,  but the result is similar.) How heartening is this!?…especially if a family member or friend suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The text accompanying NPR’s piece includes a box with “how to’s” for introducing music to those with memory loss. Also, the audio “Listen Now” on this NPR piece has excellent, related material.

It would seem personalized music from a simple, relatively inexpensive iPod (shuffle, nano) adds an invaluable ingredient–a priceless gift actually–for those who have been lost to dementia.

These people have not aged well–it’s so sad. And so frustrating to feel we’re helpless. But now it seems we can make a difference. We can–by gifting a small iPod device and a bit of work on our part to download the perfect music–help many with major memory loss age better, if not well.


*Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning…. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia….Memory loss generally occurs in dementia, but memory loss alone doesn’t mean you have dementia.”

Check out: “Newsworthy”–right sidebar.Timely links to research and information from top universities and respected professionals, plus some practical stuff to help parents age well.