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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The Casualties Of Agent Orange

I’m a Baby-boomer. Born in 1960, I grew-up during the Vietnam conflict. Members of my family served in that undeclared war. I remember the tears shed for those who were leaving … and for those who were lost. And I remember the tension … the protests … the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. I would use the term “turmoil”, but the era was more than that. It was also a time of rude awakening. One of the worst being the true impact of Agent Orange.

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For those who aren’t certain what Agent Orange actually is, I’ll add a little background on the subject. Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by the United States military, in Vietnam. It contained significant amounts of a dioxin known as TCDD. We now know that it was the most dangerous of all dioxins used at the time. Approximately 20M gallons were sprayed over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a decade (1961-1971). Many of those who came in contact with it suffered severe consequences, i.e. various forms of cancer, birth defects, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, damaged immune systems, neurological problems, etc. It became a health issue not only for veterans, but their children and even their grandchildren. Consider this fact: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of over 58,000 U.S. servicemen and women who died in that war. What it doesn’t mention is the 2.8M veterans who served and later died from exposure to Agent Orange. They too are casualties.

There were no tests to confirm if a patient had been exposed to Agent Orange. So the Veterans Administration looked at where he or she served and when they served, to determine if the patient’s condition was the result of exposure. While the method may sound unconventional, it is the norm when dealing with a “presumptive disease”.

Since 1978, the Agent Orange Registry has been an ongoing program administered by the VA for veterans who qualify and are willing to participate. These veterans receive a free medical exam, lab tests and referrals if necessary. Disability compensation is also available to veterans with some types of cancer. To learn more about these benefits, you can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs by phone at 1-800-749-8387, or online at    https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/.

To borrow a line from a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “… All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” And some are still paying the price, over four decades after they served this nation. May God bless them.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/dioxins/index.cfm

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange-1

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/agent-orange-and-cancer.html

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2018/05/28/the-shocking-health-effects-of-agent-orange-now-a-legacy-of-military-death/#7652311c21c6

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/agent-orange-american.html

https://www.google.com/search?q=lyrics+some+gave+all&rlz=1CAZBMY_enUS683US685&oq=lyrics+some+gave+all&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.6971j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

Consider The Caterpillar …

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with a Chronic illness, you probably aren’t thinking about gardens … or flowers … or caterpillars. You may be too overwhelmed to focus on much of anything, except your disease. And that’s understandable.

Often times, the diagnosis falls on a patient like a ton of bricks. You may be angry. Perhaps, you feel inadequate? Scared? Changes to your body, your lifestyle, your abilities, even your mobility, hit with little warning. Pain can be a battle all its own. You weren’t prepared for it. You may even be angry.  And you aren’t alone. 

Approximately, 157M people will be living with a Chronic illness in America by 2020. Millions more, globally. In fact, these illnesses are projected to account for 75% of all deaths worldwide. Chronic illness, or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are now the biggest health issue that we face. So, proper diagnosis … treatment … and management are vital. And your mindset is equally important. 

 

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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” — Chuang Tzu

 

Many patients develop additional health issues, i.e. anxiety, depression, etc., as their lives become more complicated. Some may even feel as if their life is over — defeated by a condition that they neither wanted or asked for.  If this describes you, please, try to keep your perspective.

Build a Support System that includes your doctor/s, family and friends. Discuss your concerns, openly. Make the necessary changes. Be patient with yourself and your illness. Maintain an optimistic outlook. It does make a difference. And on the tough days … even weeks … remember the fate of the caterpillar. You too can fly, again — even soar — despite your Chronic illness. Change isn’t always a bad thing thing. Often times, it can bring out the very best in each of us!

 

Reference Links:

http://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/NHC_Files/Pdf_Files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/12/healthcare-future-multiple-chronic-disease-ncd/

https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/2_background/en/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/chronic-illness

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

Living Heart-Healthy

It’s February, my friends! Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. And retailers are stocked with an array of gifts. Couples are making plans for a special evening. Or, maybe, an indulging get-away? Singles are contemplating their next move. And florists, God bless them, are getting ready to work over-time. Romance is definitely in the air — melting this polar vortex. Some enjoy this time of year. Others loathe it. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Amid the excitement, many of us seem to forget that the heart is more than emotions. It’s about sustaining life. So, for a moment, put down that fancy box of truffles and think. Are you and your loved one living “Heart-Healthy”

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No matter your age, diet and exercise are two key components of living Heart-Healthy. If you (or your loved one) need to lose some weight, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a great way to start! Watching your salt intake is also important. If you are already living with heart disease, then you probably know how crucial these things are to your health and well-being. It’s vital to make changes that will strengthen your heart. 

This isn’t difficult. Start with a commonsense approach. When you eat, at home or in a restaurant, use portion control. An average serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2-3 ounces.  So, skip that 16-ounce T-bone on the menu and order the 6-ounce filet instead. It’s a little more than average, but not excessive. Eat more fruit and vegetables. Try whole-grains like oats, corn, barley, cracked wheat or quinoa. I highly recommend the latter — WOW! Limit your fats. And, occasionally, treat yourself to something special, i.e. a candy bar, a slice of cheesecake, ice cream, etc. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, with your results!

Exercise, like eating, can be done with a simple commonsense approach. Walking is an easy way to get started. It doesn’t require equipment, or a gym membership — just a comfortable pair of shoes. It also provides couples with an activity that they can share as well. A 30-minute walk takes little time, or effort. But the benefits, physically and emotionally, are endless. If you would prefer something else, talk to your doctor. He or she can discuss exercise options that are safe and effective. Reducing sedentary living is your goal. You can do this!

Let’s be honest. We all have bad habits, in some form. But there are simple ways to overcome these behaviors:

  • Identify Cues. What triggers your bad habit?
  • Disrupt. Once you recognize these cues, you can help throw them off-track!
  • Replace with a good behavior. The new behavior, i.e. a piece of fruit instead of cookies, will prevent your brain from going into auto-pilot.
  • Keep it simple. It will be easier to make the change/s.
  • Think long-term. Remember why you are doing this — a healthier you!
  • Be persistent. Soon your changes will feel like the norm.

Whether Cupid has taken aim at you or not, feel the love this month. Think beyond Valentine’s — beyond February. Love yourself. Think of ways to take care of your health. Make the changes. Positive behaviors will lead to a happier you. A healthier you. And if your loved one will join in … well, that’s the real heart of the matter. So, talk about it. Invest in your future. Take the Heart-Healthy journey, together. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/definition-whole-grain

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-healthy-lifestyle-changes

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/how-to-break-bad-habits-and-change-behaviors

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/smoking

*Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash