Caring for the Caregiver

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Many baby boomers are learning the true definition of the word caregiver.  As your parents, and in my case grandparents are requiring more than just a quick visit every other day or so.  My grandmother is 96 and lives on her own in the family home I grew up.  That sounds great and trust me it is, but all that is required that goes smoothly can be draining, especially when only a few of many family members help out.  You quickly find yourself stressed, and both mentally and physically drained.

Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves stressors.  Caregivers stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic long-term challenge.  If you do not get the physical and emotional support you need, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, and burnout.  Moreover, when you reach that point, both you and the person you are caring for suffer.

Learning to recognize the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is the first step to dealing with the problem.

Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling tired and rundown
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful
  • Cutting back on leisure activities

Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout:

  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that is going around
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you are too busy or you do not care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You feel helpless and hopeless
  • You are increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you are caring for

Taking on all the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a recipe for burnout.  Never hesitate to ask family and friends for help.  Be sure to schedule regular check-ups for yourself to stay on top of lurking health issues.  Be willing to relinquish some control.

Hospice Has No Age Requirement

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Too many people think that “hospice” services are only for people with cancer or only for older adults.  Hospice services deal with a wide array of conditions and situations dealing with end-of-life issues, all geared towards maintaining the best quality of life while providing the best quality of care.

Hospice care is available regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religious belief, diagnosis or disability.  Hospice at Methodist ElderCare does require that those seeking hospice care services with them be at least 18 years or older.  They can refer you to hospice professionals if you need services for someone needing hospice care who is less than 18 years of age.

Let’s clear up some misunderstandings you may have about hospice:

  • Hospice is not just for the last few days or the last two weeks. Hospice is designed to care for the patient and family during the last months of life.  Hospice is not a “crisis” service.  Patients and families should ask their doctor whether curative treatment will work, and what burden it will place on the patient.  An early hospice admission helps the patient and family get full benefit of hospice services, including emotional support and family services.
  • You may continue to see your own doctors, whether for your terminal illness or other illnesses.
  • Hospice is not just for the elderly or just for Medicare patients. Hospice serves adults of all ages.
  • Hospice does not conflict with the beliefs of any major religion. All faiths recognize the value of spiritual support, pain relief, symptom management and counseling during the final phase of life.
  • You need not be homebound to receive hospice care. Many patients are out-and-about at times, and some make trips while under hospice care.
  • You may leave hospice care at any time. If you would like to return to curative treatment, discuss it with your hospice team. You will be eligible to re-enter hospice at any time without penalty.

To have all your questions and concerns answered about hospice care and who qualifies for services, call Kenya George at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare today at 614-705-0892 or email her at kgeorge@mecsrc.com.  Don’t allow unanswered questions to keep you or a loved one from services that are available through hospice that could help your quality of life.

Hospice is Not a Place. It is High Quality Care

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When you hear the word hospice, what is your first thought? Before my family needed the services hospice offers, I thought it was a service offered in a hospital setting. It was recommended for my mother, and we were given the option to keep her at home, which made her feel more comfortable being in her own surroundings.

Many people have the wrong idea about hospice care. Hospice helps people with a life-limiting illness focus on living as fully as possible for as long as possible.

The hospice philosophy focuses on providing comfort and compassionate care not only to the patient, but also their loved ones by meeting their physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs. Hospice is not a place; it is a service and a philosophy of care recognizing death as the final stage of life.

Here are some hospice myths and realities that may help if you or a loved one is trying to decide whether hospice is the best option for you.

Myth: Hospice means that the patient will soon die.

Reality: Receiving hospice care does not mean giving up hope or that death is imminent. The earlier an individual receives hospice care, the more opportunity there is to stabilize a patient’s medical condition and address other needs.

Myth: Hospice is only for cancer patients.

Reality: A large number of hospice patients have congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, chronic lung disease, or other conditions.

Myth: Patients can only receive hospice care for a limited amount of time.

Reality: The Medicare benefit, Medicaid and most private insurances, pay for hospice care as long as the patient continues to meet the necessary criteria. Patients may come off hospice care, and re-enroll in hospice care, as needed.

Myth: Hospice provides 24-hour care.

Reality: The hospice team (which includes nurses, social workers, home health aides, volunteers, chaplains, and bereavement counselors) visits patients intermittently, and is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week for support and care.

Myth: All hospice programs are the same.

Reality: All licensed hospice programs must provide certain services, but the range of support services and programs may differ. In addition, hospice programs and operating styles may vary from state to state depending on state laws and regulations. Like other medical care providers, business models differ. Some programs are not-for-profit and some hospices are for-profit.

Myth: Hospice is just for the patient.

Reality: Hospice focuses on comfort, dignity, and emotional support. The quality of life for the patient, and also family members and others, who are caregivers, is the highest priority.

Research has shown people receiving hospice care can live longer than similar patients who do not opt for hospice. If this information about hospice surprises you, take the time to find out more by calling one of our hospice specialists at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare at 614-705-0840.

The Benefits of Laughter

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I don’t know about you, but one of the best feelings in the world is a deep-rooted belly laugh. A weight is lifted with even the slightest chuckle. Yet researchers aren’t sure if it’s the actual act of laughing that makes people feel better. A good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and the support of friends and family might also play a role.

Researchers have found that laughter actually boosts the immune system increasing the number of antibody-producing T cells. This makes us less likely to get coughs and colds. It also lowers the levels of at least four hormones that are associated with stress, so after a good giggle you should be far less tense and anxious.

The benefits of a good laugh are wide-ranging and can include protection from emotional issues like depression and improving the health of your heart. Here are a few of the facts experts know about the health benefits of laughter:

  • Relieves Pain – A good chortle has been found to reduce pain. Not only does it distract you from aches, but also it releases feel-good endorphins into your system that are more powerful than the same amount of morphine. These endorphins cause something akin to a natural “high,” leading to pleasant feelings of calm, as well as temporary pain-relief.
  • Reduces Depression – Laughter has long been known to help people who are suffering from SAD or full-blown depression. Laughing reduces tension and stress, and lowers anxiety and irritation, which are all major factors that contribute to the blues.
  • Lowers Blood Pressure – People who lower their blood pressure, even those who start at normal levels, will reduce their risk of strokes and heart attacks, so sit back and enjoy a comedy, or grab the Sunday paper, flip to the comics and enjoy your laughter medicine.
  • Produces a General Sense of Well-Being – Laughter can increase your overall sense of well-being. Doctors have found that people who have a positive outlook on life tend to be significantly less negative. So smile and laugh!

Though the definitive research into the potential health benefit hasn’t been done yet, doesn’t it just feel good to laugh? And in the end, what is adding a little laughter to your day and to those around you going to hurt? Get your joke book out, think of a funny movie to watch, or just think back on a memory that made you laugh in the past and get that belly laugh going.

Patient and Caregiver Stress Relievers

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When a family member or a dear friend is diagnosed with a terminal illness and hospice has been recommended, stress levels tend to rise. Before you allow stress to take over the time you and your loved ones have left together, remember staying positive is not only important for the patient, but can be equally as important for those involved in providing care to a loved one.

Here are some ways to keep things upbeat and positive at a time when finding the positive in life can be difficult. Trust me, leaving the stress at the door is best for everyone and can help in the healing processes for loved ones in the future.

  • Art therapy – Art therapy can help individuals explore their emotions through the use of various art mediums. It provides an outlet for creative, non-verbal expression of their feelings.
  • Aromatherapy can provide many benefits to patients and family members; some essential oils may help alleviate nausea or fatigue, while others may help with anxiety and depression.
  • Guided imagery, meditation, or other relaxation techniques can help patients and family members reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Music therapy – Music can be soothing, relaxing, nurturing, energizing, and comforting. It may provide the following benefits:
    • Promote relaxation
    • Strengthen family bonds
    • Trigger memories or initiate reflection on one’s life
    • Improve alertness
    • Reduce one’s perception of pain or nausea
    • Create joyful experiences

My mother’s hospice nurses advised that as death nears, it is normal for your loved one to experience anxiety. It is helpful to reassure your loved one that you are there in support, and that although you will miss him or her, it is ok to let go. Receiving permission from loved ones can relieve distress for the patient.

Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare has a fantastic hospice team available to help you and your loved ones with questions on alleviating stress and anxiety when you are not sure how to move forward. Kenya George at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare can be reached at 614-705-0892 or email her at kgeorge@mecsrc.com. She will be able to assist you with any questions or concerns you have.

Grief After the Loss of a Loved One

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Losing someone close to you is never easy, whether it is your family member, close friend, or pet. Sometimes you fill yourself with regrets of what you could have said and done with that person. There is no life to live with should have, could have, or would have’s.

The death of someone does not mean you have also died. You must live for yourself and your living family/friends. Continue living for that person, telling their story and sharing the mark they have left on your life.

Do not pack up all of their belongings and force yourself to move on. Losing my father was very tough, but seeing my daughter use his harmonicas and guitar that he left behind has somehow put my heart at ease. It seems as if his legacy lives on, and I get to see a little of him every time I hear them.

Signs that occur when one is grieving include sadness, anger, denial, and depression. Below are a few ways to cope with losing someone dear to you. Try them out with an open mind and light heart.

  1. Write down what you wish you could have said or done with that person. Tie it to a balloon and send it off to them. By doing this, it will make you feel that you have tied up those loose ends. (Also try writing them a letter.)
  2. Share your memories with someone; it is always an amazing feeling to get feedback from others and also a good shoulder to lean on when times get a little tough. You are not the only person who has been through this. Confide in someone.
  3. Find yourself. What is your purpose here on earth?
  4. Try out things you were once fearful of. Live on.
  5. Find a new hobby, such as painting, blogging, baking or even a dance class. This will give you the opportunity to channel your focus and energy on something new.
  6. DANCE! Like no one is watching. Celebrate the life of your lost one.
  7. It is okay, but make sure you end with a smile because you had the opportunity to spend time with that person.
  8. Meditation can help you find peace with your loss. Sitting in a room with a candle lit and smooth meditation music causes calmness around you.

If you remain depressed and down for an extended period of time, it could be helpful to meet with a psychologist — a professional, not just a friend. Professionals will not judge you and are trained to help you handle guilt, fear, and depression associated with the death of someone close.

What is grief? Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions.

Selecting A Quality Hospice

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Hospice is designed to help ease the fears of families with a loved one facing a life-threatening illness.

The focus of hospice is on comfort, not curing, and in most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home. Hospice care can also be provided in freestanding hospice care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Hospice services are available to patients of any age, religion, race, or illness.

Typically, a family member serves as the primary caregiver and, when appropriate, helps make decisions for the terminally ill individual. Members of the hospice staff make regular visits to assess the patient and provide additional care or other services. Hospice staff members are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The hospice team develops a care plan that meets each patient’s individual needs for pain management and symptom control. The team usually consists of the following:

  • The patient receiving the care
  • The patient’s family/caregiver
  • The patient’s hospice physician and attending physician
  • Nurse Case Manager
  • State Tested Nursing Aides
  • Social worker
  • Counselors and Spiritual Caregivers
  • Trained volunteers
  • Other professionals, such as speech, physical and occupational therapists, as needed

There are a number of factors you may want to ask about when deciding on a hospice program:

Accreditation

Find out if the agency is accredited and licensed. A nationally recognized group, such as the Joint Commission, is an independent, not-for-profit organization that evaluates and accredits health care organizations and programs.

Certification

Is the hospice program certified by Medicare? Medicare-certified programs are required to meet at least minimum requirements for patient care and management.

Licensure

If your state requires it, is the program licensed? You can check with your state’s health department to find out, or you can visit www.statelocalgov.net/50states-health.cfm.

Consumer information

Does the agency have written statements outlining services, eligibility rules, cost and payment procedures, employee job descriptions, and malpractice and liability insurance?

References

How many years has the agency been serving your community? Can the agency provide references from professionals – such as a hospital or community social workers – who have used this agency? Agencies should have no problem providing these.

Care plan

Does the agency create a care plan for each new patient? Is the plan carefully and professionally developed with input from you and your family? Is the care plan written out and given to everyone involved? Check to see if it lists specific duties, work hours/days, and the name and number of the person in charge of your care. Will the care plan be updated as your needs change?

Services

How quickly can the hospice start services? Does the hospice offer specialized services such as rehabilitation therapist, pharmacists, dietitians, or family counselors when these could improve your comfort? If needed, does the hospice provide medical equipment or other items that might improve your quality of life?

The staff at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare are available to answers all your questions about services and staff involved in the care of you and your loved ones. Call Kenya George at 614-451-6700 today to learn about hospice services offered at Hospices Services at Methodist ElderCare.

Volunteering for Hospice

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April is National Volunteer Month! When hospice care became a Medicare benefit in August 1982, it was written into a law signed by President Ronald Reagan.  One of the requirements is that community volunteers have to provide a minimum of 5 percent to the total patient care hours.  It is one of the things that makes hospice care unique in healthcare.

Volunteers are an integral part of the hospice team ranging from direct patient care to providing clerical and fundraising support for the organization. Hospice volunteers describe their work as gratifying, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally meaningful. Hospice organizations require a lot from their volunteers and value them greatly.  You become friends with people who have terminal illnesses, as well as those who love them.  You must be able to sit quietly, take a back seat to the events taking place around you, and be a calming presence when needed.

Hospice volunteers need to know that hospice work takes its toll.  All volunteers receive training to ensure they feel comfortable with their tasks.  Training programs vary in length and generally cover the following:

  • Philosophy of hospice care
  • A comprehensive overview of services offered by hospice
  • Physical, emotional, social and spiritual issues that people can encounter at the end of life
  • Individual needs, including emotional support, emergency procedures, universal precautions and procedures to follow after the hospice patient passes
  • An overview of chronic and life-limiting illnesses
  • Effective communication skills when speaking with the patient and family members
  • Information about interpersonal family issues and relationships
  • Boundaries for the hospice volunteer, the patient, and family.
  • Basic information about grief and loss.

As a hospice volunteer, you will be given choices as to how much and what types of things you want to do.  Some examples of typical volunteer duties are:

  • Listening to a patient’s concerns
  • Being a comforting and supportive presence
  • Engaging in the patient’s hobbies; for example, playing a board game or discussing current events
  • Telling other hospice staff the needs of the hospice patient and family
  • Running errands or doing light housekeeping for patient and family
  • Encouraging the patient to tell their life story
  • Transporting patient to physician visits
  • Providing assistance with personal care, such as bathing or transferring from chair to bed, if the volunteer has been properly trained to do so
  • Providing time for the caregiver to take care of her/him self

Volunteer programs offered by Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare include:

  • Sweets and Treats
  • Stitches of Love
  • Companion
  • Bereavement
  • Creative Crafts
  • Massage Therapy
  • Meditation and Yoga
  • Pet Visitation
  • Delivers of Love

Every hospice program has a policy regarding eligibility for becoming a hospice volunteer.  Emotional maturity plays an important role in determining whether or not a person is ready to become a hospice volunteer, as the role of a volunteer can be an intense experience.  For information on volunteer opportunities at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare, please call Becky Huitger at 614-451-6700 or email her at bhuitger@mecsrc.com. Remember, by helping others you can help yourself.

The Benefits of Meditation

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Meditation is something I have always been interested in, but never felt I had enough control to focus long enough to enjoy the benefits. Meditation is the art of silencing the mind. When the mind is silent, concentration is increased, and we experience inner peace in the midst of worldly turmoil. This inner peace is what attracts so many people to meditation and is a quality everyone can benefit from.

Meditation not only promotes a sense of relaxation, but also embodies numerous additional advantages. Benefits include lasting emotional control, cultivating compassion, reducing pain sensitivity, boosting multitasking and more. Meditation is highly misunderstood and often under-rated, yet is perhaps what it takes to be a truly sane person. The mind, heart and body can improve with regular meditation. Most Americans are not raised to sit and say, “Om,” however, meditation has gained millions of converts, helping to ease chronic pain, alleviate stress and anxiety, improve heart health, and boost mood and immunity.   During meditation you expel negativity, and by doing so, you gain inner peace which can be extremely helpful to those facing a terminal illness.

No matter what your current situation or condition may be, your emotional, physical, psychosocial and spiritual being can benefit from meditation. Meditation can have the following effects on your mind, your spirit and your body:

  1. Promotes deep levels of rest
  1. Reduces anxiety
  1. Enhances your immune system
  1. Lowers cholesterol levels
  1. Reduces muscle tension
  1. Regulates breathing
  1. Reduces high blood pressure
  1. Helps heal depression
  1. Increases brain function
  1. Decreases pain
  1. Reduces phobias and fears
  1. Improves your memory
  1. Increases oxytocin levels
  1. Reduces anger and rage
  1. Assists in finding life purpose
  1. Stabilizes emotional fluctuations
  1. Makes you feel less lonely
  1. Improves brain coherence
  1. Promotes inner peace
  1. Helps you live in the present

By observing your mind, you realize you do not have to cater to it. You understand it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy and sad, but that it does not have to control you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: Clear your thoughts and get in touch with yourself, which is essential especially when you or a loved one is facing a terminal illness. Keeping our minds clear can help determine the quality of life we live. It also can provide a nimble platform for releasing old hurts, guilt and resentments by forgiving ourselves and others. People can come to resolutions around conflicted relationships, even when the person is not physically present.

If you have not considered this wonderful tool to assist individuals involved with hospice and palliative care, please do so. They will be very grateful. For information on meditation, call Kenya George at 614-451-6700 or email her at kgeorge@mecsrc.com.

Aromatherapy in Palliative Care

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The use of essential oils can be relaxing and soothing. Essential oils are primarily used in palliative care settings and can be helpful when facing the difficult task of caring for patients with terminal illnesses. Aromatherapy can improve one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Caring for a terminally ill loved one at home or in a facility can sometimes be stressful, particularly if the patient is someone close to you, no matter the age. The care itself is physically demanding: lifting, turning and running around all take their toll on the caregiver’s body. The emotional stress involved with caring for a terminally ill loved one and working with a team of professionals and other caregivers can also be exhausting and difficult.

The use of essential oils to promote well-being and ease discomfort has been used for centuries and has a growing base of research and support in modern healthcare. More and more health care providers and their patients are recognizing the value of aromatherapy, as well as other complimentary therapies as an adjunct to allopathic medicine to treat serious medical conditions. Aromatherapy and the array of benefits it provides to patients, especially those in palliative care, is being recognized and is rapidly growing in use.

Health issues such, as nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression are just a few of the challenges and symptoms people with chronic or life-threatening illnesses may experience in the hands of a skilled professional or a caregiver. Aromatherapy can ease discomfort and improve well-being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for patients and their loved ones. One of the best ways to use essential oils is in a diffuser, preferably a cold air one, and one that operates relatively quietly. Everyone will enjoy the benefits – the patient, staff, support workers and visitors alike.

The extraction of the oils from aromatic plants has been known to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and analgesic effects. Clinical trials on aromatherapy primarily investigated for the treatment of stress and anxiety in patients with a critical illness. The studies have shown a positive influence on the limbic system and thus emotional pathways.

The staff at Hospice at Methodist ElderCare is available to provide information on Aromatherapy and its benefits for your loved one while in palliative care. They can also suggest ways it might help you relax during what is usually a very stressful time for all. Call Kenya George at Hospice at Methodist ElderCare 614-451-6700 or email her at kgeorge@mecsrc.com for more information.