Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Helping to Make Each Other Better

I’m a grandmother embarking on my third career – becoming a professional caregiver. Before I decided to try my hand at caregiving, I taught English overseas and helped Native American adult students prepare for their high school equivalency exams.  After that, I drove big rigs cross-country for a number of years. I like stepping into a completely different occupational world every few years.  It keeps me on my toes.

My very first regular client, whom I’ll call Ralph (though that’s not his real name), is a talented teacher, juggler and cyclist who is now confined to a wheelchair at age 82 with Parkinson’s Disease.  Before I met Ralph, my knowledge of Parkinson’s was minimal. For me, as for many Arizonans, it was “the thing that Mo Udall had.” Spending several days every week helping Ralph with his daily activities has taught me a lot.

I often think of one of my favorite poems by English writer Thomas Hardy, author of  Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which conveys the vital force within each of us that refuses to surrender to the physical disability that inevitably comes with age or disease.

We all have donned disguises for a few hours, for fun. At a party, we can take on the identity of a devil, an angel or a giant squid, then lightly cast it off again.  Parkinson’s is a disguise that a person does not choose and cannot cast off. It hides a graceful, capable person behind a mask of tremors, painfully slow movement and halting speech.

The first time I met Ralph, it was immediately obvious to me that he wanted to be recognized for who he is behind the mask of his disability.

Along with his two other new caregivers, I was ushered into the small apartment where Ralph sat in the reclining chair where he spends much of his time. The chair faces a large screen T.V. set and a window with a lovely view of the desert landscape. The first thing Ralph did was open up a scrapbook he was holding.  We leafed through maps of parts of Canada, of Civil War battle sites in the Southern United States.  It turned out he’d not merely visited these places on vacations; he had pedaled through them perched on the seat of a bicycle.

That one scrapbook was just the tip of the iceberg. Each day — sandwiched in between the mundane routine of meals, meds, and personal hygiene — there are new revelations about Ralph’s amazing talents and experiences. He’s fond of thrusting sheets of paper into my hands with a twinkle in his eye and the gruff command “Read that!”.

Once it was a long list of very exotic faraway countries.  Yup, he’d cycled through all of them, thousands of miles.  He asked for help organizing five or six white banker’s boxes of tattered manila folders.  I couldn’t believe the scope of the man’s interests. One folder’s tab said “Diving.”  Had he done it himself? Of course.  A handful of black and white snapshots showed a young Ralph poised in perfect form above a diving board.  What about scuba diving?  Yeah, that too. He’s also been a baseball player and a master juggler who has attended juggling conferences all over the world.  He taught middle school social studies for many years.

And then out of the blue, Ralph will ask, “What day is it?  Did we already go down to lunch?”. Short-term memory loss is an effect of Parkinson’s.  I am struck by the grand irony of this question, coming from someone like Ralph.

As a caregiver, I often wonder how I would react if I had led an extraordinary life of high adventure and achievement like Ralph, and then found myself needing support with daily tasks of living. Would I be able to explain patiently to a stranger, as Ralph has done for me, how I wanted my teeth brushed, how I wanted to be assisted with ambulation so I’d feel unafraid of falling, which objects I needed near me and how to place them so I could pick them up easily?

Ralph — who speaks lucidly, though softly and with great effort — is a great teacher.

Like all great teachers, his first concern is always for others.  He hates to bother people and is never rude. Ralph tires easily and is often overtaken by the shaking that comes with Parkinson’s.  He once told me that he probably wouldn’t sit at the dinner table so long, but he makes the effort so that his tablemate, Ernie, will have somebody to talk to. I don’t know too many younger, more able-bodied people who would be willing to make that kind of effort for the sake of another person’s comfort.

The poet Gil Scott-Heron, who died this month at the young age of 62, said that here on earth “we’re just going to meet other humans and help to make each other better.”  Ralph, while living with Parkinson’s Disease, is also living those words.

Kim Mathews grew up in Michigan but has been a resident of Tucson, Arizona for most of the past 33 years. Her recent professional life includes teaching GED classes for the Tohono O’odham Nation west of Tucson for 11 years and long-haul truck driving for nine years. She is eagerly exploring the mysterious universe of caregiving. She shares her life with her two daughters, grandaughter, 91-year-old mother, cat, dog, three horses and many friends. She has been writing all her life.

More About Homewatch CareGivers

Homewatch CareGivers is a premier caregiver agency, providing home care for all ages. We invite you to visit www.homewatchcaregivers.com, where you can read articles related to home health, Dementia Care Tips and home care news; or download PDF home care resources. From health care coordination and hospital discharge planning to home care transportation and daily living assistance, let our family of caregivers care for yours.

Difficult Decisions: Guilt and Caring for Alzheimer’s

Recently, my friend Sarah had to put her mother in a nursing home. I use the word “put” because Sarah’s mother did not want to go. It was heart-breaking for everyone. Sarah overcome with guilt. Her mother, not having any insight about the Alzheimer’s disease that caused this situation, wrote a very nasty letter disowning Sarah.

Although Sarah’s mother suffers from memory deficits that have literally resulted in near-death events, she has not forgotten that her daughter put her in that nursing home! It is very strange and sad how our loved-ones seem to remember things we wish they would forget, yet they forget very important pieces of information that are critical for their own safety. Sarah’s mother sometimes even forgets who Sarah is, but oddly she still remembers the emotions of betrayal and anger during those distressing visits.

The decision to get legal guardianship and then move her mother into an assisted living facility was a long process. Over a year earlier, Dixie (Sarah’s mother) had nearly killed a bicyclist when she was driving against her doctor’s orders. A few months after that, she left the stove on and the kitchen was badly damaged. Dixie would have probably been injured herself in that fire if she had not strolled outside and walked to a nearby café for lunch. Luckily a neighbor saw the smoke and called 911. Difficulty remembering very crucial medication overlapped with the lack of insight about the need to take those meds (and also, I suspect, with some paranoia about the doctors).

There were many other close calls leading up to the eventual edict to move Sarah’s mother into that nursing home. This year of deliberation took its toll on my friend. She had a breakdown a few weeks after her mother relocated. It was a few days after she received a letter from Dixie stating that this transgression was unforgivable and that the betrayal would never be forgotten. As far as Dixie was concerned, Sarah “was dead to [her mother].”

Why had this impacted Sarah so devastatingly? Hadn’t she made the only logical choices? Dixie would surely have come to some terrible harm if Sarah had not intervened. But my friend still was overcome by guilt and remorse. Had Sarah really done anything wrong? I’ve seen similar {though not nearly as devastating} scenarios in the dynamics of many of my clients’ and their families. It seems that the adult children go through an almost predictable pattern of emotional turmoil when their parent develops dementia.

I think it may be the reversal of the roles of authority at the foundation of this phenomenon. After a lifetime of being subordinate (to some degree) to our parents, Alzheimer’s or some other neurologic disease robs them of critical abilities and leaves them in a vulnerable condition. Then, as their loving and caring family member(s), we step in to protect them. Sadly, they seldom see it that way.

But it is a neurologic disease that causes them to change. Why is it so difficult not to take their hurtful words personally? Perhaps it is because after a lifetime, we all have stockpiled psychological baggage and issues that have never fully been resolved. My friend has struggled to get past the fear that her mother always had hidden contempt for Sarah. Perhaps some of us feel fear that we are “punishing” that parent who was abusive somewhere along the way. I almost always hear something along the lines of “I don’t know, I just don’t think Dad [or Mom] needs to be ‘put away’ yet.” I have not yet witnessed a family “put away” a loved-one too early. In fact, it is usually when it was too late—after someone actually gets hurt (broken hip, auto accident, fire, medication overdose, etc.).

Watching Sarah go through this with her mother has made me wonder if the next generation will go through this pathologic guilt. I wonder if we adult children will remember how difficult these decisions were. As our life expectancy continues to climb, we are facing new social challenges like Sarah’s. It’s almost certain that we will have to deal with this dilemma today—over half of people at age 85 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe this aspect of being an adult child will influence our relationships with our own children in a way that helps them go through this kind of transition more easily in the future.

Dr. Roderick Shields O’Brien is from Wisconsin. He attended undergrad at Notre Dame and med school at Indiana University, so he also considers himself part “Hoosier.” He completed two residencies, also at IU, in Psychiatry and Neurology and then served in the US Air Force.  His combination of Neurology and Psychiatry backgrounds was a natural path to his current passion for dementia care. As the Director of Care for the Colorado Springs branch of Homewatch CareGivers, Rod enjoys the change of perspective that his current responsibilities offer. When practicing Neurology in the military, time was short and there was a culture of medicating problems as a “Band-Aid” solution. He now spends his spare time teaching, writing, and volunteering. He frequently gives lectures for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado Springs and is dedicated to raising awareness of the growing epidemic of dementia and other elder care needs.

More About Homewatch CareGivers

Homewatch CareGivers is a premier caregiver agency, providing home care for all ages. We invite you to visit www.homewatchcaregivers.com, where you can read articles related to home health, Dementia Care Tips and home care news; or download PDF home care resources. From health care coordination and hospital discharge planning to home care transportation and daily living assistance, let our family of caregivers care for yours.

How Grandma Got Her Groove Back

This week we are thrilled to feature Sue Chen, founder of Nova Medical Products as she discusses the importance of considering aesthetics when selecting mobility equipment for your aging loved one. 

Carson, CA – While going around the country giving mobility makeovers, I noticed a pattern – someone would put their hands on a new, colorful walker, decked out with stylish accessories and they would make a little wiggle motion with their hips. Though not as showy as a football player in the end zone, it reflected the same celebratory sense. A person would touch their new wheels and spontaneously start to groove.

All of us want to look good — and feel good — no matter our age or circumstance, and nothing is more important to one’s sense of dignity and independence than personal mobility. When selecting mobility equipment — whether it be a walker, wheelchair or cane — I encourage family care givers to consider the aesthetic as carefully as they consider functionality and comfort. Let’s face it: grey metal is not particularly life affirming. Nor does it reflect the vibrant spirits of the people who might need a little extra help getting around.

Without a little flair, mobility devices can be depressing, and make the people using them seem depressing, which makes other people not want to look at or acknowledge them for fear that they one day might BE them. It leads us, as a culture, to basically ignore and sometimes shun the members of our society that have the most to teach us about life. Our seniors and survivors deserve to be treated with greater dignity.

We carefully select designer shoes, ties and dresses — why not designer canes, colorful walkers and stylish accessories? When people like their equipment, they use it more, allowing them to regain independence, excitement about life and the desire to participate in the world. They are also more full of joy, adventure and, yes, even sex appeal. We have heard some amazing stories — from an ALS client that was able to photograph penguins in Antarctica to clients who use their fire-engine red walkers to meet for a late night tryst at the hot tub or electric blue to traipse around Paris.

This summer, I invite you to learn more about our amazing customers and their incredible life journeys – which we know are still going on. Visit www.zoomgroovecruise.com to learn how you can win up to $6,000 and visit a forum for everyone to see what we see: a world in which those facing mobility challenges are people with full, exciting lives.

NOVA specializes in brightly colored and patterned walkers, canes and wheelchairs along with all the accessories needed to lead an active life. By designing equipment that is both stylish and functional, NOVA is changing the way people face mobility challenges every day.

Sue Chen founded Nova Medical Products in 1993 when she was just 23 years old. Today, Nova has grown to become an industry leader in Mobility and Bathroom Safety products providing greater independence and personal well being to people at all stages of life. Sue and Nova are changing the look and perception of medical equipment and improving the lives of millions of Americans reliant on assistive devices by incorporating style, fashion, and function to products such as designer canes and colorful walkers. Nova’s mission is strong and simple: take care of our people, take care of our customers, and take care of our community. Sue and her team at Nova are working to educate people about the hope and possibilities of life – regardless of physical challenges – and to empower their customers to live life fully. Through her trademark “Mobility Makeover”, Sue works with individual customers to help them assert their style and pursue an active lifestyle with the help of their mobility equipment.

Schmid Family Caregiver Profile

Statistics tell us that the “typical caregiver” is a woman in her late 40s caring for her mother who is in her 60s and not living with her daughter. But who is she? Or he? Or they? Whatever the age of the caregiver or their loved, or their illness or specific financial or communication challenges, there are many similarities between all caregivers.

Kathy Munson is one such typical caregiver and this profile of her family is sure to resonate with other caregivers out there, regardless of their age, gender, geographical proximity to their loved one, or professional background.

Mrs. Munson is a 55-year old business owner who lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona—a long way from her parents in Dubuque, Iowa. “We are blessed to have both of our parents living well into their 80’s, but the last year both have had medical challenges non-stop,” she said.

Jack Schmid, Mrs. Munson’s brother, does the bulk of the caregiving and had their parents moved to his town in Iowa to ease the caregiving burden of driving back and forth. “Having my parents close by, I believe they are getting a better quality of life,” he said. However, that 70-mile move meant uprooting the couple from surroundings and friends they had known for decades.

“My parents do appreciate the enormous time and effort it takes from my brother and sister-in-law who are in contact with them every single day now,” Mrs. Munson said.

In addition to Jack Schmid, his wife Mantea in Davenport, and Mrs. Munson in Arizona, two other siblings in New York and Minnesota also contribute to the caregiving of their parents, John and Bette Schmid.

Mrs. Munson said that the most frustrating elements of caring for her parents is researching the best facilities without knowing exactly what her parents needs are or will be. For example, her father quickly losing the ability to use his legs drastically changed his care needs. “We did not anticipate it happening and the amount of extra work entailed in getting him to appointments,” she said. “It takes more time and patience on both our part and our parents.”

For a time, her parents were in two different facilities and the family struggled to research all the options. “Companies that came to the home and did in-depth questioning and assessments helped us very much,” she said. Both Mrs. Munson and her brother Jack said that they also have had to learn a great deal about Medicare rules and regulations.

Yet in the midst of all of the caregiving, Mrs. Munson is able to enjoy moments where they are just a family again. She recalls a get together for her father’s 89th birthday on a Super Bowl Sunday, with lots of family, decorations and a festive mood. “It amazed me that just a little simple planning made such a difference in his mood and to his recovery overall,” she said.

More About Homewatch CareGivers

Homewatch CareGivers is a premier caregiver agency, providing home care for all ages.  We invite you to visit www.homewatchcaregivers.com, where you can read articles related to home health, Dementia Care Tips and home care news; or download PDF home care resources. From health care coordination and hospital discharge planning to home care transportation and daily living assistance, let our family of caregivers care for yours.

Caregivers to the Rescue: Recovering From a Serious Fall

This week, Jon Hersch, Owner of Homewatch Caregivers of Columbus Ohio, shares his personal story — reflecting on his unexpected injury and how his own company came to the rescue.

It is now being called “The Ice Storm Of The Decade.”  In Columbus, Ohio, there had been freezing rain all day, and nearly an inch of this stuff had accumulated by five ‘o clock rush hour.  Nearly half of the county was without power and — with temperatures below freezing — the sidewalks, parking lots, roads, and driveways were solid sheets of ice.

I had made it to my girlfriend’s house after work without incident and was getting ready to go inside and warm up.  I parked on the street but then realized that if I left my car on the street, the windows would be a frozen mess in a matter of minutes, so I decided to make room in the garage and pull the car in there.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

On my way to the garage, I lost my footing and fell.  As I fell, I heard a couple “pops,” and realized right away I had broken a bone.  I was able to crawl into my girlfriend’s car, and she rushed me to the Urgent Care.  After a few X-rays, the doctor came out and told me I had broken two bones in my foot—my fibula and my tibia.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, and the next thing I remember is heading to the Orthopaedic Surgeon’s office the next morning.  The doctor did some more X-rays and put a heavier, more durable cast on my foot, then informed me I would have to have surgery the following Tuesday.

So what did all this mean?  Well first, I would be in a cast for at least 6 weeks.  Then if all healed properly, I would graduate from a cast to a cane, have some physical therapy, then hopefully be back to normal.  But as long as I was wearing this cast, I had to get around using crutches, I could not put any weight on my right foot, and I absolutely couldn’t drive.  This is not exactly how I had my next two months planned.

Once this reality started to sink-in, I began to worry.  How would I get around?  How could I go to the store?  How could I go to work?  I couldn’t even get to the pharmacy to pick up my pain medication!  I had family and friends that could help, but I didn’t want to be a “burden”.

What happened to me happens to thousands of people every day.  Many people end up in a similar situation after an accident or a sickness prevents them from living their life.  But what makes my story different is the fact that I own a company called “Homewatch CareGivers.”

Homewatch CareGivers is a company that helps people in their own homes.  Most of our clients are elderly or disabled, and all of them need some form of assistance living independently.  Whether it’s help with bathing, getting to the store, or giving medication, our Caregivers go into peoples’ homes and assist them in remaining independent.

As you can see, my worlds are now beginning to converge.  For 8 years, I have been running a company that cares for others, and this time, I am on the outside looking in.  I am requiring help from my own company! But despite this connection, I’m still nervous. I’m 40 years old and perfectly healthy.  Do I really want someone coming into my home and helping me?  How would my Caregivers react to helping the owner of the company?  Would this be as awkward for them as it would be for me?

I went to Mount Carmel West Hospital for my surgery, where the surgeon put a few screws in my foot.  After a couple nights in the hospital, I was released at 9 AM on Thursday.  I called the office, and they sent Betina to pick me up within 20 minutes.  She drove me home in the company car.  Walking on crutches was still new to me, plus the after-effects of the anesthesia still hadn’t worn off, so I really needed that extra assistance in getting from the hospital to my home.

Once I got home, Betina went to Walgreen’s and picked up the medication the doctor prescribed for me.  She helped straighten things around the house, made sure I was comfortable and safe, then reassured me that I could call the “on-call” cell phone if I needed anything at all.

Never before had I felt so helpless.  Here I was sitting in my own house unable to do most anything other than sit and lie down.  Yet in the back of my mind, I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort.  I knew that if I needed anything, I could call Homewatch.  I also knew that Homewatch would be sending another Caregiver to my house soon to help clean, do laundry, and go grocery shopping.

The next week was truly enlightening.  For 8 years, I had been running a business that helps others without ever fully understanding the impact we have on peoples’ lives. Words like “caring,” “compassion,” and “piece of mind” are thrown around a lot, and we use them quite often when describing our services.  But until my accident, I never fully grasped the meaning of these words, nor was I able to appreciate the good we can do and how we can change peoples’ lives for the better.

My experience has taught me that we are not “just another homecare agency.”  Helping people with activities of daily living is a means to an end.  By providing the services we do, we make people feel more secure and at ease in their own home.  Knowing someone is out there and really cares makes all the difference in the world.

About the Author

Jon Hersch is Owner of Homewatch Caregivers of Columbus Ohio. Homewatch CareGivers is a premier caregiver agency, providing home care for all ages. We invite you to visit www.homewatchcaregivers.com, where you can read articles related to home health, Dementia Care Tips and home care news; or download PDF home care resources. From health care coordination and hospital discharge planning to home care transportation and daily living assistance, let our family of caregivers care for yours.