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.

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.


Aging Parents: Lifting and Energizing Spirits With Gifts Appealing to the Eye


Enjoying the View in Central Park

Being able to see–and watch. What pleasure! Accompanied by hearing, touch, smell, and taste, vision completes the 5 senses.

Uplifting, energizing things to look at take many forms for different people. The woman above is 74, a visitor to the US I learned, and came early to sit in Central Park before meeting a friend for breakfast. In front of her was a passing parade: the “Race for the Cure,” energetic children, every breed of dog with masters attached, and sun streaming through the trees. She said she loved watching and was happy to have me take her picture.

The first step is to know what constitutes “visual delights” for aging parents, whether they are healthy and independent and able to come and go at will or are among the frail and isolated elderly, many of whom look mostly at TV and “the four walls.” Then think about–

Gift Ideas

Portland, OR Zoo: Old and Young

1. Nature (animal, views of……., birds, flowers, parks) From outings (zoos are great– handicap accessible, often equipped with wheelchairs [see San Diego Zoo post]) to a bird feeder strategically placed outside a window (and refilled by someone other than the older person when necessary)— to taking gifts of plants or seasonal flowers (daffodils in spring)–possibilities are available “right in your own backyard,” as they say.
2. Spectator activities (sports, people-watching, concerts, movies) Possibilities range from gifting activities and providing transportation (grandchildren’s concerts and athletic endeavors, grown-up venues–the latest play coming to town, county fair, and maybe even a drive-in movie) to providing the best technology for those confined to watching TV. The latter, for the legally blind like a friend’s mother, included a comfortable chair situated right next to the easily-operated TV set where she could listen and sort of watch her favorite programs.
3. Family Anything involving grandchildren gets a ***** rating from most older people…so even a photo is precious. That said, the reunion lunch planned by their daughters for two very elderly sisters who lived hours apart and hadn’t seen each other in years (one mobility-impaired, the other with dementia) was an ambitious gift that was 100% worth it. Read reunion post: A Special Summer Outing
4. Food has taken on a life of its own in the gift category. Taking a friend’s old mother (who died at 104) a beautifully decorated cupcake became a tradition that continued for at least a decade. She said it was too pretty to eat, though eat she did. And the young friend that brought Sr. Advisor R a bakery-decorated Halloween cookie (topping a batch of cookies she made) while R was in rehab for her broken hip two years ago, has never been forgotten.

A gift that requires vision to appreciate needn’t be expensive.

My father, who had independence until almost the very end surprised me after Mother died when he said one day “I want to live as long as I can watch the sun rise each day.” He died in a bedroom with a window facing east.

Nat’l Institutes of Health Resource: