Taking Care Of The Caregiver

When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, focus naturally centers on the patient. This is necessary, for proper treatment and disease management. While most patients have a Support System (or should for best results), many will at some point require a caregiver. This individual, whoever he or she may be, is an essential part of that patient’s life and a vital part of their disease management. They are also, often times, neglected. And that’s an unacceptable risk. Which is why it is imperative to take care of the caregiver …

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Make no mistake, there is nothing easy about the task. Care-giving can be very difficult. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. I have answered the call, twice in my life. At age 30, I was my father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer. At 48, I was my mother’s caregiver when she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Primary to the Bone). Both were extremely different experiences, despite the fact that both of my parents had cancer. Never think, for a moment, that previous experience prepares you to be a caregiver. It does not. Each patient is unique. And each will require different levels of care. When I reflect back on both of my care-giving experiences, I am reminded of a quote from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale Of Two Cities“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By that, I mean that there were special moments that I will forever hold dear in memory. But there were also times that were heart-wrenching, scary, overwhelming and physically/mentally exhausting. That is care-giving, in a nutshell. Yet, if I had to make the decision again, I would do so. But that’s just me. The responsibility isn’t for everyone. And there is no sin in admitting that. 

If you are a caregiver, or considering the duty, take a moment to reflect upon the demands of the position. And by all means, take preventative action for your own health. No caregiver, regardless of age, is immune to stress … fatigue … or depression. In fact, I would wager that a caregiver is more vulnerable. Why? Because a caregiver naturally puts his/her needs, on the back-burner. As a caregiver, the priority must be the patient that he/she is caring for. So, caregivers often neglect what their bodies need. But if you allow your own health to decline, who is that really helping?

When caring for my dad, his Hospice nurse gave me some priceless advice, “Do something for yourself, because he needs you.” Nancy was so right. It can be once a day, for 30-60 minutes. Or possibly, it’s just once a week. It doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are a caregiver, do something for you, i.e. a massage, a yoga class, a walk around the block, a Bible study, an art class, etc. Indulging in a little “Me Time” may feel a bit selfish, at first. Yet it is vital to keeping you healthy, relaxed and mentally sharp. So, get out and indulge yourself. Then, you can consider these additional tips:

  1. Get some exercise. Even in regular, small increments, it can boost your energy level. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you maintain a healthy weight, etc.
  2. Eat healthy. This too will give you more energy. Eating healthy can help prevent other health problems, too. Also remember to snack healthy.
  3. Don’t Forget How To Laugh. Laughter is good medicine. Try to find some humor in your day-to-day experience as a caregiver. Share a laugh with the loved one in your care (he/she needs joy too)!
  4. Watch-out for depression. The demands placed on you as a caregiver can be difficult and stressful. Stay vigilant. Talk to your doctor, if you think you are experiencing symptoms, i.e. sad, anxious, anger, feeling helpless, irritable, weight loss or gain, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, etc.
  5. Takin’ Care of Business. Remember that retro phrase? Well, it’s good practice. Balance your checkbook. Pay bills. Work when you need to. Save for a special outing, anniversary, or trip. It’s good for both of you!
  6. Keep Your Dr. appointments. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to do what your loved one needs. So, visit your doctor & dentist regularly. Get your lab-work, or flu shot. Your good health is the fuel that keeps this care-giving engine running!
  7. Optimism is key. Refresh your mind, every day. Yes, you have limitations. We all do. So, let go of that guilt. Acknowledge the job that you’re doing. It’s special and important. Like other things, care-giving has a learning-curve. You will get there.
  8. Stay connected. Use the phone, internet, newspaper, etc. But, by all means, stay connected to the outside world & what is happening around you.

Last, but not least, if you need help … ask for it! Call a family-member or friend and ask for some assistance. Talk to your doctor and your loved one. If the patient’s level of care becomes too extensive, it could be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver. If you need to work, consider utilizing Adult Day-care options in your area. Just remember … you aren’t alone. There are many who are willing to offer ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice. Take care of your loved one — and you!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/caring-loved-one/tips-being-successful-caregiver

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/caregiver-support/top-10-caregiver-tips-for-staying-healthy-and-active

Adult Day Care Services

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2003/04/the-role-of-adult-day-services.html

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1

*Photo by James Hose, Jr., on Unsplash

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Make Mine Tea, Please

Most of us are familiar with the old cliche “You are what you eat”. Well, that also holds true for what you drink. And depending upon your choices, the effects can be good or bad. For centuries, tea has been recognized for its ability to soothe, refresh and heal. Have you tried it?

 

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Personally, I like to drink tea hot or cold. Nothing comforts a sore throat like a warm cup of tea that’s been sweetened with a little honey. Likewise, there are few things that can refresh you like a cold, glass of tea. But the benefits extend far beyond this. Many Chronic illnesses can be positively influenced by this age-old drink.

Studies have shown that specific teas may help with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s, etc. Tea, of any blend, has less caffeine than colas or coffee. Think of it this way: Tea IS a good choice! And brewed is better than bottled. If you want to focus on using a specific tea, the following will help to get you started:

  • Green tea has a high level of an antioxidant known as EGCG. This may hinder the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic and colon cancers. It can also reduce the clogging of arteries, burn fat, reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Stroke.
  • White tea has the most powerful anticancer properties of any processed tea.
  • Oolong tea has antioxidants that will lower bad cholesterol or LDL. It has also been marketed as a weight-loss supplement. However, scientific studies to support the latter are not available. 
  • Black tea, which includes Pu-erh tea, can help with weight loss, reduce cholesterol and lung health. Black tea also contains the highest amount of caffeine.
  • Herbal teas (Chamomile, Ginger, Ginseng, Jasmine, Rosehip, Mint, Hibiscus, Echinacea and Rooibos) have been shown to help a variety of illnesses, from sore throat to hypertension.

Instant teas, while convenient, contain more sugars and artificial sweeteners. So, please, read the label … buy a tea-kettle … and brew. You can brew iced tea by filling a pitcher half-full with hot water. Add your large tea-bag (family-size) and let it do its thing for about 22 minutes. Remove the bag and add your preferred sweetener. Then, add cold water until pitcher is full and refrigerate. No stove or tea-kettle required. This isn’t difficult. Nor does it take a lot of time. It’s also incredibly inexpensive compared to other beverage choices that are on the market.

It should be noted that the FDA has issued warnings about so-called “dieter’s teas”. These tea blends contain plant-derived laxatives. They are more of a marketing scam than a health benefit. The FDA has also issued warnings about taking many supplements, i.e. Comfrey, Willow bark, Germander, Lobelia and Chaparral. Tea, as with other things that we consume (from farm to table), can be tainted or misleading. The more that you know, the wiser you become as a consumer. 

Last, but not least, there are many brands of tea on the market today. For a cup of hot tea, I’m partial to Celestial Seasonings (the Mandarin Orange Spice is my absolute favorite). For iced tea, it’s hard to beat Lipton. If you are interested in trying tea but uncertain of what blend to drink … ask your doctor or a nutritionist. When we consume healthy, we are healthier. That’s just a no-brainer. So, enjoy some tea and reap the rewards!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/the-health-benefits-of-tea

https://www.medicinenet.com/sore_throat_home_remedies_and_treatment/article.htm

https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/tea-types-and-their-health-benefits#2

https://specialtyteaalliance.org/world-of-tea/us-grown-tea/

https://www.aol.com/article/2016/03/24/why-weight-loss-tea-is-the-biggest-scam-on-instagram/21333062/

14 Best Green Tea Brands in 2019

*Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash

Heat, Meds & Chronic Illness … Oh, my!

Being diagnosed with a Chronic illness isn’t the end of the world. But it does change your world rather quickly. Most patients will tell you that finding the right doctor and medication/s were difficult. And adjusting to those medications? Honey, that’s a completely different story. Still, it’s a must-do. So, instead of wallowing in denial, play it safe. Ask questions. Read labels. Use commonsense. And avoid those medical setbacks. You don’t need the hassle.

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In the summer, we can get very hot weather. It’s the nature of the season. Even the flowers in my garden are praying for a little relief! How that heat can negatively effect you is important. Hot weather puts added stress on your body.

If you have a Chronic illness, you’ve probably been instructed to do some form of exercise. And kudos to you, if you are! If your exercise can be done indoors, i.e. Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, etc., heat is not a concern. You are utilizing a climate-controlled environment. Just don’t overdo it. Always respect your body’s limits. For those who are exercising outdoors:

  • Monitor the weather. Exercise in the coolest times of the day & avoid that mid-day sun.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight clothing helps sweat evaporate & keeps you cooler.
  • Wear Sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat-related illnesses.
  • Have a Plan B. When the weather is flirting with triple digits (or the heat index is already there), find an indoor alternative. It will come in handy, in the worst of winter too!

Next, you must respect your medical condition & medications. Many can increase your risk of a heat-related issue, i.e. Heart disease, Obesity, Lupus, Graves disease, Lung disease, Kidney disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, Hypertension, Diabetes, etc. Medications usually have warnings right on the label. So, by all means, read yours. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Yes, you have a Chronic illness. Approximately, 133M Americans do. But you still have a life; remember? Your illness shouldn’t define you. It’s just a part of who you are. So, learn to work with it. Manage it. Enjoy life. Because you still have a lot of living to do. And because it’s summer … glorious, fun-filled summer … with longer days … vacations … explorations … weddings … cook-outs … weekend plans … beautiful, sunny mornings … and romantic starry nights. Don’t miss a thing!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/medical.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325232.php

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/avoid-the-sun-if-you-take-these-drugs/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/heat-exhaustion#2

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-sensitizing-drugs#1

*Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

MS Awareness Month

It’s March! And most people are thinking of hoops, or St. Pat’s celebrations. They’re scribbling on brackets, or attending a parade. All are good, fun, even exhilarating. But, for a moment, let’s think of something much more serious — Multiple Sclerosis or MS. If you or a loved one is living with this disease, you know how important awareness is. So, let’s spread the word!

But what exactly is Multiple Sclerosis? MS is classified as an autoimmune illness.  In other words, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The cause of this disease is unknown. But there are risk factors that can play a role, i.e. age, sex, family history, some infections, race, climate, vitamin D in-deficiency, smoking, etc. It effects over 2M, worldwide.

MS destroys Myelin (the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. Think of it like the coating that protects an electrical wire. As the Myelin is exposed, messages that travel along that nerve are stymied or blocked all together. The nerve itself may become damaged. Complications can and usually do follow, as the disease progresses its way through periods of ebb and flow.

As with any Chronic illness, there is no cure. Its symptoms can get in the way of daily routine. But patients can still enjoy productive lives with the help of treatment as well as lifestyle changes (including setting limits). And that’s important. We all enjoy contributing our knowledge and talents, even those of us who live with a Chronic illness. A condition, no matter what it is, should not solely define a person. It’s just part of who we are.

March is MS Awareness Month. So, please, spread the word — get involved. Order an Awareness Kit. Take part in an upcoming event near you (some are planned beyond March). Volunteer. Donate. You’ll be glad that you did. The more that people know, the better informed we become as a society. Join the MS team and truly make a difference in the lives of others!

 

Reference Links:

https://mymsaa.org/about-msaa/ms-awareness-month-2019/

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

https://www.abovems.com/en_us/home/life/around-home.html?cid=PPC-GOOGLE-AM.DTC.AboveMS_DTC_Unbranded_ConditionManagement_Exact.Exact-NA-28810&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-ZKN-cOB4QIVB56fCh1EbArwEAAYASAAEgJ01fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10255/multiple-sclerosis

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Work-and-Home

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved.aspx

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved/MS-Awareness-Month/NMSEAM-Awareness-Kits

PT & Chronic Illness Management

What would your reaction be, if your physician suggested Physical Therapy? Would your jaw drop with shock? Would you be frustrated? Confused? Maybe, eager? A lot might just depend upon your perception of Physical Therapy. Most people think of Physical Therapy, or PT, as a postoperative step toward recovery. Others may equate it to a few weeks of treatment following a specific health issue like a stroke. But it is also used for the management of many Chronic illnesses, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Diabetes, various forms of Arthritis, Chronic Pain, COPD, Parkinson’s, etc. Since we know that managing any Chronic illness is the key to living better and healthier, perhaps now is the time to look at the big picture? Think outside the box — beyond any preconceived notion. Talk to your doctor. It’s time to consider what PT can do for you!

 

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If some of you are feeling apprehensive about this idea, I get it. I completely understand. Doctors. Tests. Medicines. Symptoms. Family. Work. You are already doing a juggling act. And it isn’t easy. Physical Therapy is like adding another ball to the mix. But if PT allows you to move more freely … juggle the rest more effectively … isn’t it worth trying? Of course, it is! This is your life that we’re talking about. You want to be able to enjoy it and make the most out of every day.

PT isn’t the Boston Marathon. But it is a way, through simple exercises, to live healthier. Some patients are referred to a physical therapist, by their family doctor or specialist. Others make contact on their own. How you do so may depend upon the requirements of your health insurance. Since physical therapists are licensed healthcare professionals, most plans cover physical therapy, i.e. Medicare, private insurers, etc. A quick phone call can let you know how you should proceed.

Let me put it this way, we already know that exercise can help Chronic conditions. We know that it can prevent many of them, too. Think of PT as a “medical gym” and your physical therapist is your personal trainer. He or She isn’t going to push you beyond your limits. Nobody wants that. They are going to teach you exercises specific to helping your Chronic condition. You will do these exercises together and by yourself at home. And you will see as well as feel the results. With time, you may do additional exercises. You may feel like branching out to swimming, yoga, walking, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc. Perhaps, you’d like to travel? Take your grand-kids camping? Or return to that Saturday golf-league that you once enjoyed? Maybe, you just want to feel better and happier? Discuss your goals with your doctor and your physical therapist. They can help you to reach them.

Millions live with Chronic conditions. They do more than exist. They thrive. They do so by effectively managing their illnesses. It’s time to join them. Let this be the year that you start feeling better — regain control. Live! The choice is yours!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160645.php

https://www.moveforwardpt.com/Resources/Insurance/Detail/understanding-payment-physical-therapy-services

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

*Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash