Supportive Care Bulletin
Helpful tips for family caregivers
What can you do to be proactive as a family caregiver? This month we look to the science of positive psychology to launch our new series: Signature Strengths. By learning more about what works well, you can emphasize the positives in your temperament and draw upon your strengths to address caregiving challenges. Continuing in the proactive vein, we also offer insights so you can help your loved one prepare for joint surgery. A little preplanning makes a surprising difference on the recovery end. And last, we look at the uncomfortable truth that unhealthy alcohol use is on the rise in seniors. Unfortunately, the signs are not obvious. Might this be an issue in your family?
Signature Strength: Wisdom
Each of us has strengths . . . and, well, areas that could use improvement.
As a family caregiver, you may often feel inadequate. Or guilty. Or think that you aren’t doing enough.
Such negative self-assessments are common.
A more balanced assessment would acknowledge that you also have qualities that shine.
Most of us believe that to be better people, we need to focus on our trouble spots. Over the next months, we will be drawing on the science of “positive psychology,” which shows that cultivating what works is just as productive as scrutinizing the things that aren’t working well. For example, each of us has characteristic “signature strengths.” Wisdom may be one of yours.
Wisdom and knowledge
Are you the type of person others turn to when they need advice? If so, you probably have the strength of wisdom and knowledge:
- Curiosity and a love of learning
- Willingness to look at all sides
- Ability to change your mind
- A tendency to take time to reflect, look inward
- An understanding of social dynamics
Wisdom is more than being smart. It’s a special kind of intelligence that blends the heart and the brain. The more life experiences you have had—including losses—the more opportunities you have had to develop a wider perspective. The wise individual is able to listen to the heart but not be overcome by emotional extremes.
Using both sides of the brain. Wisdom is commonly associated with age. Brain studies reveal that older adults use both sides of their brain—the analytical side plus the more intuitive side—more equally than do younger adults. As one scientist put it, “they are in all-wheel drive.”
Cultivate your wisdom. Learning from the habits of wise individuals can help you foster this strength. Explore something unfamiliar. Try a new perspective. Pause and reflect. Strive to interpret the actions of others with kindness and compassion.Return to top
Preparing for joint replacement
If your loved one is slated for joint surgery, don’t underestimate the impact. Expect that he or she will have reduced energy and greater needs.
Limited mobility will create surprising challenges. Things you take for granted will need extra care and attention.
Plus, the body simply needs time and energy to rebuild bone, muscle, and nerve connections.
There is much you can do ahead of time to help prepare a smooth path for recovery.
Support physical preparation for success
- Opt for an outpatient procedure if possible. It’s less invasive. Plus, recovery at home reduces the risk of complications.
- Consult a physical therapist. There may be exercises your loved one can do now to tone key muscles that will be needed after surgery.
- Support your relative in trimming excess weight and cutting down on alcohol and tobacco. All three impede healing.
Make practical arrangements
- Plan to provide daily help the first two weeks. The grogginess of pain meds and the difficulties of bathing, dressing, and walking make it unwise for your parent to go solo.
- No driving! A “chauffer” is needed for 3 to 6 weeks for errands and medical appointments.
- Stock up on easy-to-reheat meals. High-protein and high-fiber foods are wise—to promote healing and reduce any constipation from pain medicine.
- Plan to have a trusted friend or family member at the hospital, especially if there are mood or memory problems.
Rearrange the house
- Create a center of activities on the first floor. Ensure phone, remote, computer, books, meds, and water are all within easy reach.
- Devise a downstairs bed that is low (feet can touch the floor when sitting on it) and firm.
- Place a commode at bedside for the first week or so. Really. It makes life MUCH easier!
- Remove throw rugs—a serious trip hazard—and create wide thoroughfares. Your relative may be clumsy when using crutches or a walker.
Does Mom have a drinking problem?
Alcohol use is on the rise among older adults. And it’s not easy to spot.
Many of the signs resemble common problems of aging.
And who wants to think that when Mom stumbles, for instance, it might be because of drink?!
There’s a lot of shame associated with drinking, so older adults—especially older women—often hide the activity.
Chronic drinking. About two-thirds of older adults with drinking problems have been drinking much of their lives. They’ve been “getting away with it.” Or they may have stopped when younger, and then relapse in late life.
Late-life triggers. The remaining one-third of older adult drinkers with a problem are people who may even have been teetotalers in their youth. Keep your eyes open! Even if Dad never seemed interested before, alcohol could be his “comfort” now. Loss makes elders particularly susceptible, for instance after the death of a spouse or a move to a new living situation. Pain or failing health are other common triggers. Even something as happy as retirement can pull the rug out, removing friendships, identity, and daily routines. With so much idle time, it’s easy to fall into a drinking habit without realizing it. When one drink becomes two or three, it can lead to dependence.
Loss of meaning and purpose are huge culprits. Loneliness and isolation lead to depression and anxiety. Without social contacts, it’s just too easy to “self-medicate” the emotional pain with alcohol. Older women generally, and men who have lost their partners, are especially at risk for drinking in later life.
Signs of a drinking problem
- Unexplained falls and bruises
- Moodiness, irritability
- Poor sleep
- Weight loss
- Changes in appearance and hygiene
- Increased secrecy, hiding bottles