Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Recently I heard of a friend in the Midwest whose parents lived in another state. It wouldn't matter if the parents lived next door. My friend was concerned because on a visit she witnessed her father angrily chasing her mother with his walker. She reported that her mother was experiencing some dementia. She wondered if it was time to move them out of their home into a care facility.

The answer would appear to be obvious, wouldn't it?

But we are not emotionally invested in this particular couple. We are invested in the busyness of our own families, the hope that our parents are doing okay with only slight lapses and minor care needs. We forget that we can all put on a good show for the duration of a visit.

So what is this allure of staying in your own home so long that when you do get moved you suffer confusion and adjusting causes delusions we didn't suffer before? How important is our stuff and do we or our parents need all this stuff? Is the homestead as important to our kids as we like to think? You can add another half dozen thoughts to the list.

When is it time to get help? When you first need to ask the question.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Guest Post from A Boomer's Guide to Eldercare by Alice Kalso
November 30 caps off National Caregiver Month.  All month long,  senior centers nationwide have offered workshops, including one I attended  November 5 at Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, Washington. "Self-Compassion for the Caregiver" explained self-compassion and offered tips to achieve it.  In my view, it's a great subject for us who care for our aging parents.

What is self-compassion?  Workshop leaders Janet Zielasko and Jeannie DeSmet cited the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, author of "Self-Compassion:  Stop Beating Yourself and Leave Insecurity Behind."  According to her, self-compassion involves viewing ourselves kindly, offering the same level of support and understanding we would give a friend.

If you care for your aging parent--either full or part-time--you can't do everything perfectly.  You're human, and you have too many things to do.  But Neff's research suggests that all of us, including caregivers of aging parents--can be healthier, if we accept our weaknesses and give ourselves a break.  Preliminary data seems to indicate that people who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety.  They're happier and more optimistic.

So how do we do it?  Zielasko and DeSmet gave three keys to self-compassion to workshop participants, who were mainly caregivers.

1.  Cultivate self-kindness.  Western culture stresses kindness to others, but not too ourselves.  When you get angry with an aging parent, your first reaction might be, "I should be more patient.  I shouldn't get angry."  But then you get angry with yourself for getting angry.  Self-compassion asks you to remind yourself that you are human and the situation is difficult.  DeSmet suggests actually comforting yourself when you don't measure up to your own standards, and giving yourself tolerance and forgiveness.  "Make a peace offering to yourself of warmth and empathy."

2.  Recognize our common humanity.  When we're in a difficult situation, it helps to be around others who, too, may be struggling in some way.  Support groups, either online or in person, are one way we can find strength to be kinder to ourselves.  So can church groups, going out to coffee with friends, and jogging with a neighbor.  One of the best benefits of being with people, in any setting, is laughing at the situations we find ourselves in.  That's a bonus all in itself.

3.  Be mindful of your situation.  Mindfulness is holding our experience in balance, neither exaggerating it or denying it, says DeSmet.  "When we're mindful there's less need to escape a painful situation.  Our motivation is to 'care,' not to 'cure.'"  Happiness stems from loving ourselves--and our lives--as they are, she adds.  One way to aid in mindfulness is to practice deep breathing, which anchors our minds.  As we do, we can stop, look and listen, observing our emotions and paying attention to them.