Smile = Good Feelings

Palm Beach County South Florida Caregivers

I had just learned a card trick that would make it seem as if I pulled a single card from the air when I visited an elderly man at an assisted living facility in Palm Beach County, Florida. He had been a "serious man" all his life so when I asked his son if his dad ever liked magic, his fiercely shook his head and said, no. I asked the son only to show him that when seniors have far progressed with Alzheimer's disease, they become entertained again by the small things we take for granted as adults. So I placed a blank palm before the elderly man's eyes for a few seconds... and then I pulled the card from "thin air" and the man's mouth immediately widened into a toothless grin. I did this five separate times within the hour and he smiled each time, holding that expression for a few seconds each. That was five more times he smiled that day than if I hadn't done the card trick.

Home Health Services vs. Institutions

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It's not uncommon for the younger generation to say, "I'd rather die than end up in a nursing home." In some cases, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference when you see the elderly in a vegetative, medicated state, far away from their families, pleasure completely devoid from their faces. 

But what if you knew that as you got older, you could live in your home with a professional caregiver? Caregivers are a fraction of the cost of assisted living facilities and you'd be kept warm and be attended to at all hours of the day when needed. Instead of being put into your room because the institution you are enrolled into has limited staff members, you could have a caregiver friend making sure you are okay. 

Seniors may opt to live in nursing homes in order to avoid becoming "burdens." But having a caregiver assist you inside your home is a way for families to not become overstressed and to be able to keep a loved family member nearby. I visited my friend's grandfather named Eddy in Palm Beach County who home health care services after his family pulled him out of a posh retirement home, having noticed that the staff were too busy to notice that his dentures went missing for weeks. As a result, the fed him mushed food for those two weeks, not remembering that he usually ate solid foods. Also, when his family requested for simple things such as playing a CD with his favorite music, they disregarded the request. Now Eddy has his old room in the family house and a home health aide living in Hollywood, Florida visits him daily and sleeps over on the weekends. Eddy smiles more and spends a lot of his day listening to his favorite tunes, something that even people with severe stages of Alzheimer's can still enjoy. 

Good Caregivers Are Like Good Friends

Lucy, a good caregiver in Boca Raton, Florida shared with me her experiences working with Mary, an 85-year-old lady with late stages Alzheimer's disease. Mary used to suffer from depression and took her medications as prescribed for. She lived alone except with a caregiver for almost ten years after her husband passed away and developed Alzheimer's disease in six of those years. Her family said as a result of the onset of her disease, Mary seemed to remain in limbo with her grief. Caregivers came and went but when Lucy started, the family noticed a remarkable difference in Mary's temperament. Mary just seemed less agitated and stopped wanting to sleep throughout the day. She finally seemed to enjoy their outdoor activities together and smiled more often. 

Mary couldn't call Lucy by name nor could she locate Lucy in a photograph even if Lucy was standing next to people that were of drastically different ages. But when Mary was with Lucy, Mary behaved as if she expected Lucy to be with her, and even introduced her as a "friend," something she never did before as her family also noted that Mary was resistant to the other caregivers around her, saying that she felt "mothered."

I asked Lucy what she did every day to help ease Mary's sadness. Lucy said that she did for Mary what she'd do for any friend: "I was just a good friend. I listened to her speak, I told her stories to amuse her, and when she was sad, I was there for her to let her be sad until she was ready for us to have fun again." 

Caregivers are the Patient's Eyes and Ears

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One summer while I was a caregiver for a woman with severe Alzheimer's disease, she started telling me that her back hurt almost every day during our walks. Only, she couldn't describe what sort of pain it was.  I told her physician what had happened but he said that he tapped her back and she didn't feel pain to any of it. I wasn't entirely convinced that her mattress was poor enough to cause the problem but the only other place she spent a lot of time on was the dining room chair. I bought a new chair for her and shortly after that day, her back problems went away.

Victims of Alzheimer's disease cannot say when they are hurt. The best caregivers are aware that pain is present and do what it takes to heal.

Good Caregivers Like to Laugh

Keet and I always have a great time with Lo in NYC. Lo is an 80-year-old woman with late-stages Alzheimer's disease although you wouldn't know it unless you tried carrying a conversation with her for over a minute. In very short spurts, she appears sharp with her engaging smile and strong eye contact. Keet is Lo's new caregiver and together they make an awesome and comical team.

During my last visit to NYC, Keet tried to get Lo to take a photograph of us with her iPhone. Keet explained how to hold the phone and press the camera icon to take a photograph. Of course, Lo didn't remember any of the instructions. She pressed all sorts of places on the screen and then said as she stared at the display, "Okay... someone is wearing a blue shirt..." Keet and I suddenly looked at each other and cracked up giggling. Lo was wearing a blue shirt and had accidentally pressed the flip mode on the camera and didn't realize that she was staring at herself. Still, she proceeded to make sense of what she was staring at by finding the next thing close to the color blue before her.

"There," she pointed to my purple duffel bag. We laughed louder. Lo began to laugh, too, although she admitted, "I have no idea why you two are laughing." We teased her as we explained why we were laughing and she laughed again with us.  The good caregiver with a sense of humor can do a lot to help the client laugh and feel happy throughout the day. Clients with dementia become more easy to amuse as the disease progresses so it's fair to take advantage of the situation by making them easily laugh, the way we all did as children to simple jokes, funny gestures, and sometimes, just by watching others have a good time.

Is Alzheimer's Disease Such a Horrible Way to Die?

I hear it often: "Alzheimer's disease is such a horrible way to die."

I don't entirely agree. It is hard to watch a loved one lose their memory- I agree to that. There was a time in my life when I angrily tried to convince my elderly father with late-stages of dementia that he knew me. "I'm your daughter! This is your house!" He only stared at me with wide-eyed confusion. I can only be thankful today that he got over my reaction the instant I turned away. It was hard for me to watch his mind go, but my mother took great care of him. Thinking back more than ten years ago, he didn't suffer and die alone. She was there, feeding him and keeping him warm and clean every day. He died when it was ready for his body to let go.

If I had known then what I know now, I could have managed better to co-exist with him. We all pass on from this world. What matters is that there is someone to take care of you as you go. That could be a spouse, another family member, a friend, or a stranger who cares. It's not Alzheimer's disease that is a horrible way to die. It's loneliness, neglect, and abuse due to the lack of a caring guardian that is a scary way to go, especially as your mind begins to narrow of all things you've once known.

-A Caregiver in Boca Raton, Florida

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Happy Mother's Day!

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Proper Caregiving Also Depends on Home Modifications

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Home modification ensures a senior's safety in the home. The safety changes you make to your elderly parents or senior relatives home should reflect their capabilities. If for example, old age has set with diminished eyesight, installation of optimum lights should be considered. If they have mobility issues, consider installing a ramp on steep paths and staircases. Start by paying particular attention to hazard-prone areas such as the kitchen, stairways and bathrooms. Finally, clearly communicate with the caregiver as to what sort of home modifications could help his or her job when assisting your loved one.