Help Aging Parents–Post Written, but Vanished–Caregiver Stress?

What a surprise to awaken this morning and find yesterday’s I-thought-published post missing—gone, nowhere to be found. Help! Aging Parents’ goal is to share the best information and some creative ideas to help the elders we care about age as well as possible. With my husband’s recent heart valve surgery, I’ve been more focused on helpful caregiving ideas and yesterday decided to offer some personal reflections. For the first time in the history of this blog, they vanished.

I had written about stress–our cancelled plans to fly this past Tuesday to warm weather and sign the closing papers for the sale of my husband’s mother’s home. Doctors gave the necessary permission two weeks ago, following my husband’s heart valve surgery in February. But all changed at the end of last week when the new mitral valve developed a hole. (That’s my layperson’s term. I’m a counselor, not a medical professional. Medical information is only available by clicking links–usually from highly respected sources like Mayo Clinic and often in Newsworthy.)

My husband was immediately hospitalized. The delicate balance of best available options as we age needed careful thought.  In this case the blood thinner that’s given for 3 months to ensure the new heart valves (he has cow’s valves) won’t get clots–presented a challenge  A procedure to plug the hole took place Wednesday and was successful, but an unintended consequence occurred after the procedure. So the hospital routine and resulting stress continues…!

My mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home was sold. The closing was this past Friday–2,000 miles away.  Since his mother died, the home became my husband’s. We planned to be there for the closing–obviously couldn’t. Thus, I needed to sign the many legal papers and that required an original POA (power of attorney) document which the NY law office held for safe-keeping. (We had copies–not accepted for this sales transaction, That requirement may vary by state). We had also purposely left certain items in the home to be taken out before the closing. Friends and family were invaluable in helping this effort, but I also needed to organize this last minute activity.

A lot of juggling, a lot of time involved, a lot of emotion and stress this week…which I thought was under control until my post–supposedly published last night–disappeared. I’m thinking we probably live with the illusion of control–and that is a good thing.

Will post again as time permits




Aging Parents: Help for Caregiver Stress–The Best Stress-Relief Posts and Information I’ve Found

Stress accompanies caregiving…

Yet caregiver stress differs from ordinary stress, eg. from the work place. Its “ingredients” differ: love, caring, devotion, loyalty, pushing oneself to–and beyond–the limit. Of course satisfaction, frustration, anger, resentment and fatigue are common byproducts–generating stress. Can non-caregivers appreciate this?

Unlike Supreme Court Justice’s Potter Stewart’s famous pornography quote: “I know it when I see it,” I believe we can only know caregiver stress if we’ve experienced it. With so much information about reducing caregiver stress (about 17,700,000 items on Google; 1.990,000 on Yahoo) shouldn’t we have learned to manage it by now? In an effort to try, the beginnings of a select list of stress-relief links concludes this post. Meanwhile, caregivers deal with–

Three apparent roadblocks:

1, One size doesn’t fit all (neither the elders we care for–nor us)
2. Non-caregiving family members often can’t/don’t appreciate the stress, and don’t help.
3. We’re often not very good at asking for–no insisting on–help when we need it. Is giving up “ownership” difficult? (True, they may not do as good a job as we.)

Knowing what happens to us when we’re stressed–cranky, short-tempered, impatient, overwhelmed, (you fill in)–should wave a red flag that we need relief. That’s a first step in solving half the problem. When we know our stress-relief activity, we’re can solve most of the other half.

Finding out what works. There’s something that relaxes each of us and helps us see solutions more clearly and move forward. We just need to discover it.

When counseling, I would suggest stressed counselees think–perhaps while taking a shower–about what they enjoyed doing that relaxed them. I vividly remember one teenager who said she remembered hooking a rug in middle school. She loved doing it; remembered it took her mind off her problems. She still had a lot of the string (rags or whatever) and tried it over the weekend. She excitedly reported it still relaxed her and she realized a few things. Different strokes for different folks.

If I were musical, I’d probably play the piano. It seems like a wonderful stress reliever. That said,  I’ve identified 3 stress-relief activities, often suggested by experts, that work for me and may for you.

1. Walking fast (but not overly-exerting), the same boring walk day after day for 30 minutes. No distractions (alone and no cell phone). I notice the same things again and again: homes, wildlife, flowers, even rocks. Forced to focus on my surroundings, my mind rids itself of problems and order replaces emotional and intellectual chaos. Solutions appear out of nowhere. Plus getting exercise; and doing something for ourselves, no matter how small, makes us feel better.

2. Gardening inside or outdoors, depending on season and where I am. No cell phone; sometimes music. Gardening (planting, pruning, pinching, weeding, deciding right plant for right place) absorbs me. Stress evaporates. Plus I’ve accomplished something.

3. Being with my pets. They say “Dogs have masters; cats have slaves.” No matter. Petting the dog or cat–or just watching them–slows things down, refocuses our thoughts, and–we’re told–lowers our blood pressure (haven’t tested that).

The beginning effort to compile links to caregiver stress-relief posts I like is below. It’s in progress; obviously incomplete. Recommendations welcomed.

Also check out The 2nd annual virtual Caregiving Conference, March 29, 2015. It’s free. Register on the website:

The List  (in progress)

 1.  Avoid Caregiver Burnout–Slideshow: of 14 Ways–WebMD
 2.  This is excellent with text and videos of “The 6 Stages of Caregiving.”
 3.  Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself: Mayo Clinic
From the Heart of a Caregiver  (affirms letting go)
 5.  Managing Stress: Care for the Caregiver–BrightAngel (Alzheimer’s Foundation)
 6.  Relaxing: Why It’s Hard and How Caregivers Can Learn to Unwind
 7. The HelpGuide:
This is long, excellent and very complete.
Tips to Manage Caregiver Stress–WebMD:
 9. What Can I Do to Prevent or Relieve Caregiver Stress? US Dept. Health & Human Services:
10. In 2012 the Family Caregiver Alliance, Nat’l Center on Caregiving, updated statistics on caregivers, with many topics including “Impact of Caregiving on Caregiver’s Health.” (“an estimated 17-35% of family caregivers rate their health poor-fair”)
11.  Kiplinger’s Information about a site providing community volunteers and more:

*           *          *

And 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.

Aging Parents, Caregivers, Heart Health, Heart Risk

Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms and Caregiver Stress

Caregivers help 1.6 million heart failure patients at home–did you know that? Many of us have–or have had–elderly family with heart issues, mine included.

If validation is needed about the importance of heart health and heart risk
–The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call February “Heart Month:
–The National Institutes of Health recognize the month, featuring a February 2015  “tool kit” from the American Heart Assn.
–The American Assn. of Heart Failure Caregivers offers  information especially for caregivers.
–This week, February 7-14, is Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week.
–February 6th was National Wear Red Day 

Are we all getting the message? Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for men and women. Yet many women are still not aware, evidently. In addition, more caregivers are women, and with caregiving comes stress

Women’s symptoms are listed in the American Heart Association’s “Heart Attack Symptoms in Women (updated 12/5/14). Women either aren’t keenly aware of the symptoms or don’t become as alarmed as they should– or are we simply accustomed to enduring more and/or putting our needs behind those of others?

Clearly caregiving requires putting others’ needs before our own–and we get good at it, don’t we! We can easily feel we’re indispensable. We also know if we get very sick we’re of no help to anyone—but somehow the logic escapes us when we push and overextend ourselves.

A 2013 post “Attention Busy Women Caregivers (Is that an oxymoron?)” is partially reposted here. It features a well-done, entertaining short video “Just A Little Heart Attack,” starring and directed by Emmy-nominated actress, Elizabeth Banks. Worth taking about 3 minutes out of a busy life to watch.

Not wanting to exclude men here, I wondered why I couldn’t find a similar dramatically entertaining video featuring men and heart attacks. These excerpts from the AHA/ASA article may explain the reason. In short,

Many women do not recognize the warning signs or symptoms of heart disease, which may be subtler than those exhibited by men. In addition, only 53% of women said the first thing they would do if they thought they were having a heart attack was to call 9-1-1.


Women age 45 and older are less likely than men of that age group − 74% vs. 81% − to survive a year after their first heart attack. In women, heart disease is too often a silent killer – nearly two-thirds of women who died suddenly had no previous symptoms.

Is it a male-thing to be more attuned to recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and quickly acting on them?

“Place the mask over your face and mouth, before helping others…” Remembering fight attendants’ speeches preceding a commercial airplane’s take-off resonates here, especially when our goal is to help parents and the elders we care about age well.

Mayo Clinic: Heart Disease: Women–Symptoms and Risk Factors
   Center for Disease Control: Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet
   American Heart Assn. Recommendation for Physical Activity in
 View:Just A Little Heart Attack 

 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.

Aging Parents: 9 Stress-Relief Tips for Caregivers

Vanquish Stress at Holiday Time

Mayo Clinic’s latest online issue of HouseCall, links to one of its earlier articles, Stress Relief for Caregivers. “How appropriate,” I thought. We’re heading into the holiday season. What caregiver won’t feel stressed! And who doesn’t need relief!

For those of us with dual responsibilities as caregivers to aging parents plus our own families–or triple responsibilities if a job is also part of our life–adding holiday expectations and must-do’s creates a life just waiting for stress. If we let it consume us, can we see our way clear to delegate or think of ways to lighten the load? Don’t we quickly nix delegating responsibilities because it feels like explaining to someone will take as much time as doing the job ourself?

Before overload takes over, in an effort to help everyone reduce stress when time is short and responsibilities mount, I’ve copied tip #8 “Get Musical, Be Creative,” below because it worked well for my counselees and usually isn’t thought of first.

Get musical and be creative

Listening to or playing music is a good stress reliever because it provides a mental distraction, reduces muscle tension and decreases stress hormones. Crank up the volume and let your mind be absorbed by the music. 

If music isn’t your thing, turn your attention to another hobby you enjoy, such as gardening, sewing, sketching — anything that requires you to focus on what you’re doing rather than what you think you should be doing.

I often suggested to my counselees, who complained of stress overload, that they try something that gives them a time out, perhaps a non-rushed shower, warm bath–something they really enjoyed. And I remember one girl came to my office the next day to tell me she took my suggestion and it worked.

She started hooking a rug–something she’d learned to do in middle school. She loved it, had left over materials and wanted to do it again, but never had time. She said it was like waving a magic wand for reducing stress. My suggestion was, of course, general. Hooking a rug would never have entered my mind.

That said, Tip #1, “Get Active,” is no doubt thought of first, when stress-relief comes to mind.

For all of us who are helping aging parents, may these timely tips result in he most stress-free holiday season we’ve had in many years

(Read entire article-clickStress Relief for Caregivers) 

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar)Links to timely articles and research from highly respected universities and professionals–to help parents age well.

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 and Us–as Caregivers: Know Thyself

Caregivers: Know Thyself

We work with 100%. That’s all we have. It’s the most we can give. It can’t be stretched—be it a 24-hour day or our energy.

If we understand what’s required of us and are pretty good at organizing, we can thoughtfully work out and adopt a routine–a balance–that integrates with the other parts of our life.

But what do we do when, as often happens over time, part of the equation changes? If it requires more of us, do we give more? Then do we give less to the remaining part of our life?

Simply put: we learned in high school math, how to balance an equation. Can we make that happen in our life?

Being caregivers for aging parents requires adjustments on our part as their needs change. When our responsibilities mount and more time is required, ideally we make commensurate changes in other parts of our life to consciously balance things.

Yet imbalance can sneak up on us without our realizing it. And the unbalanced equation, if ignored, leads to burn out, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed because we’re trying to handle everything as before. Once we realize our problem and its cause, we can act to de-stress and rebalance our life.

The first key is to recognize the problem. The second is to think about how we best de-stress ourselves. The third key is to carve out time and discipline ourselves to include de-stress time in our over-busy life.

Additional de-stressors include getting help and support from others. (See “Related” below.)

On a personal level, for a while I am going to post on Saturdays only. Being away from NY for a long period of time has changed the equation for me and I need to carve out more time for new responsibilities.  I also realize I need to follow my own advice. While this is the last Tuesday post for a while, I and my Sr. Advisors will be back every Saturday night. See you then.


Changing often: “Of Current Interest.” Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.