Helpful tips for family caregivers
Sometimes it's the little things that turn out to be important. For instance, does your loved one seem to have problems swallowing? If so, he or she may be at risk for choking. And then there are the big things, like the emotions of cancer. This month we help you tackle those issues. We also give you tips for getting "eyes and ears on the ground" when your loved one lives far away. Pass it forward.
Help prevent choking
Swallowing involves the coordination of many muscles in the mouth and throat. The action pushes chewed food down toward the stomach. At the same time, the throat needs to close off the windpipe to the lungs.
Between 15% and 20% of seniors have trouble swallowing. Choking while eating or drinking is the fourth-leading cause of accidental death at home for people over age 65.
People with dentures or dental problems are at risk for choking because they can't chew their food as well. People who have had a stroke or any health problem affecting the nerves and muscles around the neck are also at higher risk.
Signs of a swallowing problem include coughing after a swallow or a change in voice after a swallow. Some people with swallowing problems describe a feeling as if a pill has gotten stuck going down.
If your loved one seems to have swallowing problems, ask the doctor to order an evaluation. Speech therapists commonly do these evaluations and can help with special exercises and dietary suggestions.
Common causes of choking include
- eating too fast;
- taking big bites and not chewing food well;
- walking, talking, or laughing while eating;
- drinking alcohol before or during meals.
If the person you care for tends to choke, changing the habits listed above can certainly reduce the risk. Other techniques that can be helpful include
- sitting up straight during the meal and afterward;
- avoiding thick, sticky foods, such as peanut butter or caramel;
- changing medications that contribute to dry mouth;
- tucking the chin when swallowing.
The emotional side of cancer
Cancer doesn't equal a death sentence these days. But it is a life-changing diagnosis that brings up many emotions for both the patient and the family.
At any point from diagnosis to life posttreatment, your loved one might feel
- sad or hopeless about ever feeling fully whole again or that the best of life is over;
- anxious or overwhelmed, wondering what is to come (pain? future recurrence?) or how to face all the decisions;
- guilty about being a burden and a drain;
- angry that life hasn't been fair.
To support your relative, consider these strategies:
- Provide an outlet. "Mom, I can imagine you have a ton of different feelings. No matter what they are, I'm up for hearing about it. Sometimes it helps to just let your feelings out."
- Respect privacy. Not everyone likes to talk about feelings. Writing in a journal, praying, or other means of expression may be more comfortable. A simple way to stay tuned in is a "scale of 0 to 10" approach. "Seems like it's kind of a tough day. If 10 is really bad, where would you say you are today? A 7? A 9?"
- Learn what you can. Many worries can be resolved with information. Help identify the questions. Work with your relative's care team to get the answers.
- Accentuate the positive. Focus attention on what your loved one can still do.
Encourage visits from friends who bring warmth and humor.
When to get professional help. It is time for help if your loved one is stuck in an extreme pattern, such as endless crying or profound withdrawal from usual activities. Other important signs include trouble sleeping, intense fear, or talk of suicide. Contact the doctor for treatment and guidance.(Return to top)
Tracking needs from a distance
When you live far away, it's hard to know when your relative needs help. You need eyes and ears on the ground.
Assemble your team. Exchange contact information with several of your relative's neighbors and friends. Encourage them to call if they notice changes or have concerns. Ideally, one of them might willingly handle simple things, like changing an overhead light bulb.
Find out about local services. Go to the Elder Care Locator.
Or save time and energy by hiring a care manager. A care manager can alert you to problems and recommend local services.
Keep in mind that help may be needed on multiple fronts.
- Finances: Are bills and other mail piling up? Are there shut-off notices? Perhaps your loved one is running low on funds. If not, consider automatic payments. Or arrange for someone to come write checks once a month.
- Food and meals: Has your relative lost weight unintentionally? If the doctor says there is no medical cause, and there are no dental problems, consider help with grocery shopping or home-delivered meals.
- Personal hygiene: If your loved one is not dressing or grooming as well as before, consider a doctor's evaluation. Help may be needed to address issues of forgetfulness, incontinence, or problems with bathing.
- Household maintenance: It may be time for help with the big chores. If the house is uncharacteristically messy, a regular housekeeper may be in order. Also think about home safety issues, such as grab bars needed in the bathroom.
- Social/emotional isolation. If you cannot call regularly, consider a telephone check-in service or arrange for a friend, neighbor, or helper to drop by often. Support continued involvement in activities outside the home.
- Transportation. Learn about local bus and van services for seniors. Also, volunteer programs that give rides to the doctor. Perhaps the church can coordinate rides to worship?
Senior Solutions was founded over 20 years ago by two sisters who shared backgrounds in healthcare, counseling and business. They saw a real need in the Lehigh Valley for a company who specialized in helping families sort out the many services and resources available to them when they found themselves in the position of caring for an aging loved one. These families often were overwhelmed with information and they started reaching out to Senior Solutions to help them through the complex maze of lifestyle and health care options available. Senior Solutions soon became the place to turn for professional, unbiased assistance when comparing options or making sense out of overwhelming information. We are here to help you come to an informed decision about your options.
Senior Solutions was one of the original care management firms in the Lehigh Valley area to become a member of the National Association of Professional Care Managers (NAPGCM). This organization certifies members as Care Managers through testing and ongoing training. In 2015, the NAPGCM revitalized their name and trademarked the term "Aging Life Care™ Professional" and renamed their organization the Aging Life Care™ Association (ALCA). This name change helps to clearly designate for consumers that they are dealing with experienced healthcare professionals who have been certified, tested and trained by the ALCA.
In addition to providing Certified Care Management services, Senior Solutions started their own non-medical healthcare registry and agency to offer families the support they need to keep their loved ones healthy, safe and at home. We have two offices, one in Allentown and one in Palmer/Easton, to help serve you when you require assistance with day-to-day care such as bathing, dressing, toileting, meal preparation, and other various in-home services.
Working side-by-side with you and your family, Senior Solutions can provide the support system you need to ensure proper care. Let Senior Solutions be your helping hand. You can be confident that our recommendations are unbiased and tailored to your individual circumstances.
For more information, please visit our website at www.senior-solutions.com or call our Allentown Office at 610-435-6677 or our Easton/Palmer Office at 610-258-0700.
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Please Note: Senior Solutions does not specifically endorse the activities of any organizations mentioned here, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.
"I always wondered about that funny little cough after Mom swallows. I'm glad we checked it out."