Your rights as a working caregiver

11088039_sBeing a caregiver is not an easy responsibility for anyone. When you mix in other important life responsibilities like your job, caring for an elderly parent or family member becomes a tricky balancing act—it might be difficult to meet tight weekly deadlines when you have to drive Dad to regular doctor’s appointments. You do have rights you’re entitled to as a working caregiver, but only a few, and not as many as you might think.

The most important thing to remember as caregiver is communication. Communicate to your boss or the Human Resources department at your workplace and let them know what your situation is, what your needs are and when you’re struggling. People are more likely to be flexible  if you are upfront and honest about your concerns from the start.

In conversation with your boss or HR representative, you will likely hear about two options available to you. The first option is the Family Medical Leave Act, or the FMLA. If you qualify, the FMLA will provide you with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for you to take care of a family member. This time does not have to be taken all at once, and can be split between separate doctors appointments, surgeries and hospital stays. However, this act only applies to places of work with 50 or more employees, and you must have worked at the company for at least 12 months. After you’ve used the 12 weeks of leave, you must return to work to secure your job.

The second law that applies to you as a working caregiver is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you’re caring for someone with a disability covered by the act, your employer cannot treat you any differently than a person they might allow to go take care of their children. The act protects you from workplace harassment and secures your job. It is also important to note that discrimination of the application of this law between men and women is against federal law.

In the event that neither of these laws apply to your situation, offer up solutions or ideas to make your work-life balance easier. You can include this in the conversation with your boss or HR, and they will likely have a few ideas to offer as well. One good idea is to try to schedule medical appointments at either the beginning or end of the day, or to choose slower days with a less-packed work calendar. You may also offer to telecommute from home or from waiting rooms.

Managers want to keep productivity high, and the most important way to show them you are capable of balancing caregiving and work is to not let your performance slip. Aim to complete the same amount of work you did before you became a caregiver, but be realistic about when and where you can do the work. Above all, be sure to communicate and compromise.

The Benefits of Garden Therapy

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When you hear the word “therapy,” you might think of a patient on a couch, talking out his or her problems to a doctor with a notepad. But there are ways to reduce stress and boost mood other than traditional talk therapy. Horticultural or garden therapy is another effective way for seniors to fight depression and relieve anxiety.

What is Garden Therapy?

Garden therapy employs all the work of starting and maintaining a garden, including planting, digging, watering and pruning. Less physically intense forms of garden therapy may simply involve meditating in a controlled natural environment.

Therapy gardens are commonly used in hospitals, cancer centers, skilled nursing facilities and private homes. The goal of therapy gardens is to get patients to work together and contribute to the garden’s success.

Benefits of a Therapy Garden

Our levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, soar when we experience major life events such as a crippling illness or the adjustment that comes with a new living situation. It can even affect the metabolism, digestion and the immune system. The positive benefits of gardening and interacting with nature interrupt the vicious cycle of stress-induced health issues.

Preliminary studies have shown that elderly patients who participated in gardening activities or simply walked around in a natural environment showed reduced pain, lessened stress, modulated agitation, a lessening of needed medication and reduction of falls.

In one Norwegian study, clinically depressed patients who participated in therapeutic gardening were able to build a strong team and demonstrate improved overall mental health, with 40 percent of the participants showing increased social interaction. These results persisted three months after the gardening program ended.

Though a personal backyard therapy garden may not be possible for you or your loved one, patients can still reap the benefits of horticultural therapy at a community garden, a public park or a picturesque natural space such as the Dallas Arboretum.

Best Ways For Seniors To Spend Hot Summer Days Indoors

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Summer months bring sunshine and many opportunities to spend some time outside, but eventually it simply becomes too hot for senior parents to safely spend much time outside. But just because your parents retire indoors to wait out the heat of the day doesn’t mean the fun activities have to stop. Sure, a nap or a restful day of T.V. are options on occasion, but it is important not to make a habit out of lazy summer afternoons.

Here are a few stimulating ways for your senior parents to spend time indoors away from the heat this summer:

Board Games

Playing a board game is a great way to pass the hours and keep the mind active. A simple board game facilitates strategy and socialization, and both have proven to help stave off the effects of aging on the brain. It is important to not become overly competitive when playing the game. It should be a fun, light game that allows your parents to converse with one another and you.

Make a Family Recipe

Some of the best family recipes worth keeping aren’t written down on paper. Spend the afternoon in the kitchen with your parents learning their best secret recipes and learning the stories of how the recipes were discovered and repurposed by your family, especially if they’ve been passed down through generations. At the end of the afternoon, you’ll be left with a new recipe and some stories to pass down yourself.

Read a Book

Reading a book is a great way to stimulate different portions of the brain, including those associated with cognition and creativity. Seniors might also read a book by taking turns reading pages aloud to a spouse, child or friend. Reading books aloud are also a great way to get to get young grandchildren involved.

Do a Puzzle

The great thing about puzzles is that they come with a built-in goal—to complete the puzzle. To see the picture completed is some added motivation to finish the puzzle, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon inside. This is another opportunity to interact with a child or grandchild and sharpen everyone’s problem-solving skills.

Stretch

Stretching is an essential part of preventing injury that is often overlooked in older people. However, flexibility is a proven way to increase dexterity, agility and strength, which reduces the risk of falls. On average, one in every three seniors fall every year. While only 12 percent of falls are fatal, according to the CDC, it’s a good idea for seniors to use a portion of their afternoons stretching to reduce the odds of a devastating fall.

How Seniors Should Prepare Their Homes For Summer

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The searing heat of summer can be dangerous to people of all ages, but it can be especially perilous for seniors. Every year, there are stories of seniors who face life-threatening illnesses or even death from the exceedingly high temperatures summer brings. That’s why it’s essential for seniors to effectively prepare their homes for the summer season.

Obviously you will adjust your thermostat to keep your living space cool this summer, but did you know that that step is essential for your brain health? For seniors, neurologists recommend keeping the home at least in the middle seventies, as too-warm temperatures can prevent their brains from receiving adequate oxygen. While the symptoms may be more apparent in seniors, less oxygen for people of all ages means their brains need to work harder than usual.

If you live in your own home and have access to the actual air conditioning unit, you can make sure that it is prepared for higher temperatures, as well. Be sure to change or wash your filters on a regular basis, depending on what type of filters you use. It is likely your air filter has trapped lots of those pesky spring allergens, and as the filter gets full, those allergens will escape into your air conditioning system. If you live in a warmer state, your air system will also cycle on and off more than it did in the winter, and heavier usage results in a dirtier filter. Check and change your filter often.

Did you know you’re actually supposed to clean the condensing unit itself? Most people do not realize that your air conditioner will run more efficiently if its coils are rinsed regularly. This is often a part of service packages offered by air conditioning companies. Cleaning the unit regularly allows it to pull in more air through the coils, which is what cools the air inside of the house.

Fans are excellent tools to keep cool in the summer, as well. Use a tabletop or standing floor fan, or even have a ceiling fan installed in your main living space to keep away stale, warm summer air.

Heat isn’t the only dangerous part of summer weather—for many Americans, hurricanes and summer storms are annual threats, as well. Be sure to keep your pantry stocked with non-perishables and distilled drinking water, and stock up on extra batteries and flashlights in case the power goes out. You should even go so far as to pack an emergency bag of essentials (including clothing and extra medications) in case an evacuation is in order.

Though summer can be a wonderful time of year, it can also put a strain on your home and your body. These simple tips will keep you and your home healthy and ready for whatever summer brings this year.

Four Ways To Keep Your Mind Agile

07.16.2014CHRISTUSMaintaining an active, healthy mind is an essential component of aging well. Research has demonstrated the connection between late-life cognitive activity and mental acuity time and again. That means that keeping your mind active may help keep you sharp well into old age. Here are four ways seniors can keep their minds agile:

Play Games

Regularly playing challenging games is a great way to stimulate your mind. Strategic games of all kinds force you to recall rules and use logic to beat your opponent, be it computerized or human. Games like chess, dominoes or bridge also create opportunities to socialize and build relationships with others.

Puzzles

Puzzles and riddlers are a great mental workout. Many doctors and geriatricians recommend their patients complete a puzzle on a daily basis. Luckily, many puzzles are available for free, the most obvious of which are those found in the newspaper. Challenge yourself to complete a puzzle each day and see if you notice an improvement in your mental capacity and quickness over a period of time.

Video Games

Video games can entail simply sitting and pushing some buttons on a controller, or they can actually involve standing and physical movement. Many senior living facilities, senior centers, rehab centers and even some skilled nursing facilities use the physically interactive Nintendo Wii as therapy. The games require seniors to call upon their logic, coordination, agility and social skills to play. All of these attributes are essential to not only keeping your mind sharp, but to your body’s health and balance, too. For those who are less physically capable, handheld games can still improve mental skills. For example, the classic video game Tetris requires players to exercise coordination and accurate depth perception to place the objects in an interlocking pattern.

Get Moving

Beverly Sanborn, a nationally recognized gerontologist, says that exercise is an essential tenant of overall brain health. Conditions like high blood pressure, blood sugar and stress all play a major role in brain function, and regular exercise can combat all of those and more. Your workout should make you work up a sweat. That doesn’t mean seniors should start training for a marathon—if sitting in your chair and lifting your legs parallel to the ground is challenging for you, that level of activity may be the place to start.

Low-Maintenance Indoor Plants for Seniors

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Indoor plants are a great way to add a little color and life to the inside of your home, and they’re great for your health. Researchers at Kansas State University found that adding plants to hospital rooms actually accelerated patients’ recovery compared to the patients without plants. Plants help to purify the air by removing toxins and carbon dioxide, and they release 97 percent of the water they take in back into the air, which actually helps with dry skin, sore throats, colds and coughs.

Obviously keeping plants indoors has many benefits, but they don’t have to be high-maintenance. Here are a few excellent easy-to-care-for indoor plants to brighten your home, whether or not you have a green thumb:

Snake Plant

Don’t worry—the snake plant does not look anything like a slithery reptile. Sometimes also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, snake plant’s real name is Sansevieira Trifiasciatia. When shopping for the plant at the nursery, expect it to be listed under one of the three names. Snake plant has been shown to improve the air quality in the home. It can grow up to three to four feet high and prefers lots of sunlight, but it doesn’t require a lot of water. In the winter months, it only needs to be watered once a month.

Zee Zee Plant

A zee zee plant is a very low-maintenance plant that looks a lot like a fern. The plant can spruce up darker, low-light spaces and survive because it does not require a lot of light. Many people claim the zee zee plant is impossible to kill because it is so resilient and requires little to no effort. The bigger risk is overwatering the plant. Use caution around small children or pets, because the zee zee plant is considered toxic.

Aloe Plant

A member of the Lily family, aloe plants are not only low-maintenance, but they possess medicinal properties, as well. The sap inside its leaves can be used to soothe minor burns and cuts. Though aloe plants like the sun, they can turn brown when placed under harsh light. Aloe also doesn’t need much water. Choose a pot and soil that drain well, and water your aloe plant sparingly (about once a week or so).

Basic Plant Care

It’s important that you choose a plant that fits your expectations about the level of effort you’re willing to put in. If you want a low-maintenance plant, you probably shouldn’t choose a bonsai tree that needs constant pruning and care. Unless you want a dead plant, choose the right plant.

When picking out indoor plants, ask questions of the staff working in the home and garden section or the nursery.They know what kind of care each plant needs and how to keep your indoor plants flourishing. When in doubt, look at the tag that comes with the plant, which will detail the amount of sun and water the plant requires.

Honoring Your Loved Ones As They Age

9911218_sYou probably missed the memo that this month is Older Americans Month, which is a fantastic opportunity to honor those that you love for their contributions. From honoring a person for the personal contributions they’ve made to your life to achievements or civic service, there is never a shortage to find a way to express your gratitude.

Honoring the Greatest Generation

These are the folks who were in WWII and lived to tell about it. They accomplished so much in their lifetime and set a tone for the generations to come. They inspired American pride and an onslaught of movies. The women broke out of traditional roles to work in factories and machine shops. These people not only survived the Great Depression, but brought it to an end. In other words, the people of the Greatest Generation are kind of a big deal. However, you likely call them grandma or grandpa. They’re mostly in their 80s and 90s at this point and sadly becoming a rarity.

The best way to honor them is to spend time with them. Listen to their stories, even if you have heard them more times than you can count in your lifetime. Take the stories and turn them into a book or a recording for the future generations. Also, get grandchildren or great grandchildren to spend time with them. Get your loved one to teach them to do something. It can be a magic trick, a skill or even a song, but the fact is they’re handing something down. You honor this generation by letting them know losing them will be a huge loss.

Honoring a Baby Boomer

You can honor a baby boomer, but it is probably best you don’t tell them it is Older Americans Month. They may get a little mad at you for calling them old. The baby boomer generation still views themselves as movers and shakers, and for the most part they are. This generation is coming to enjoy grandparenthood and all the joys of spoiling grandchildren and sending them home. Honoring the baby boomer generation is simple, just tell them thank you.

This generation tends to downplay their contributions on all fronts. Often times Vietnam Veterans will likely avoid the topic of the war all-together. It’s important still to reinforce that you are appreciative of their service and sacrifices they made to go to war.

The baby boomer generation also lived during the civil rights movement, a huge turning point in America. While things have taken a while to become truly equal, this generation was the largest proponent for equality. Get your loved one to share about their lives during desegregation or the marches.

If you’re honoring a woman of this generation, thank them for their efforts and determination for brining gender equality to the workplace. While women in the generation before had been in the workplace, it wasn’t until the next generation that women began to become doctors instead of nurses and executives over secretaries. The women of this generation created a cultural shift, pioneering a new road for the women of today.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged for what they’ve done and to know they’re appreciated. You can give a material gift, but the biggest honor is showing them you recognize what they’ve done in their life and just simply say thank you.

Tips for Traveling with Seniors

10220515_sPerhaps American journalist and gossip columnist Earl Wilson summed up vacation best when he said “Vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” Everyone needs a vacation at some point, because we all have something we “take” on a regular basis, even retired seniors. Their lives aren’t empty of stress factors. Sure they don’t have a boss breathing down their neck, kids to raise or parents to care for, but they’ve already lived those years. Now there lives are more susceptible to becoming monotonous as they likely do the same thing everyday. A vacation breaks the cycle.

If you live in a costal state, a cruise is a great option for seniors to take a vacation. The drive hopefully will not be too long for them. After they’re on the boat they’re safe and an attentive staff will easily meet most of their needs. From lounging on the lido deck or sunning by the pool to dinner and shows there are a variety of climates and activities for your loved one to choose from. Unlike traveling to islands or cities, with a cruise you’re never too far away from your quarters to take a rest break.

Traveling with an older senior can be especially challenging, as it is difficult for them to sit still on flights or road trips. The longer they sit, the more stiff they become. When choosing a destination or flight make sure the travel time isn’t too long, or that stretch breaks and rest stops can be conveniently made.  Deep vein thrombosis is a higher risk to seniors and riding shotgun or in first class will allow them to spread out and move their legs. Resting throughout the vacation especially during travel is essential to enjoying the vacation. If your loved one is worn out before they even get to the destination, what is the point?

Flying can be especially challenging as you will likely need to help them through airport security and will have quite a walk to get to the gate.  Have them wear shoes they can slip on and off easily and tell them to pack their jewelry instead of wearing it. According to the FFA prescriptions can only be transported in their original bottles. Place these in a plastic baggie in the top of your carry on or checked bag. This will allow security to easily see, while also ensuring nothing comes up missing. If your loved one is open to the suggestion, riding in a wheelchair may be easier for them while trekking through larger airports.

Cruising, flying or driving one thing is certain, take them on a vacation. Even if it’s just to visit a relative a few hours away, a vacation will leave them mentally feeling refreshed and alive. The smile on their face will say it all.

Keeping Active As You Age

6451978_sThe benefits of staying active as you age range from aging gracefully to staving off the less attractive parts of aging. When most people hear the term “staying active,” they immediately associate it with exercise. However, staying active goes beyond exercise. It extends into engaging your mind through work and social interaction, too.

Exercise

Everyone knows that exercise is essential to staying healthy. But though you can stay healthy with proper diet and exercise, no amount of exercise can stop a person from aging. What exercise can do for an aging person, however, is improve their strength and keep their heart and major arteries clear. Strength training has proven to prevent falls in seniors. One in three seniors fall each year, resulting in injuries and even fatalities.

The nature of your workouts will change as your body changes. The workout appropriate for a 40-year-old male will likely no longer be appropriate for him by the time he turns 50. Before you begin any fitness routine, consult with your physician in order to prevent injury.

Social Activity

In addition to staying physically active, stay socially active by joining groups or clubs, volunteering or planning regular outings with friends on a regular basis. From wine tastings to building houses, staying social can take as much or as little effort as you like.

The benefit? Researchers have proved that social activity not only helps stave off dementia and other cognitive impairments, but it also can slow the progression of some cognitive impairment and even aid in its reversal. It’s never too late to become a social butterfly.

Mental Stimulation

You mind is too precious to waste. You’ve spent years storing up skills and trivia, and retirement is all too often associated with putting your brain on the shelf. A French study shows that individuals who retire later in life were less likely to develop any kind of cognitive impairment. If you’re retired, find a place to volunteer your skills, or perhaps go into business for yourself as a consultant. If continuing to work or volunteer is not an option for you, consider doing puzzles, playing mind teasers or even learning a new language to keep your mind sharp.

Aging is not a valid excuse to become a couch potato. Aging is an opportunity to explore new paths that you’ve never explored before. Don’t let aging keep you from living a full, vivacious life.

Older Americans Month – Famous Elders

14300492_sThis month is dedicated to honoring older Americans for their contributions in shaping our country’s culture, policies and even just providing heroes to look up to. These individuals have made names for themselves and although their hay day may have been decades ago they’ve still made a place in the hearts of younger generations. We will honor an entertainer, a former president and a boxing legend.

Betty White

Long before Betty went off her rocker, she was lighting up the T.V. and movie screen and catapulted her name and face into fame forever. Betty’s flair for sitcoms and comedic timing would land her on shows like the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family” and “The Golden Girls.” Each of these shows has earned a place in the list of T.V.’s greatest shows, and they all had one thing in common, Betty.

In the late 2000’s Betty would come off the sidelines to yet again appear in another sitcom, “Hot In Cleveland.” No one knew how well the show would do or how well Betty, at the tender age of 91, could perform. Betty wowed the critics, and she still clearly had the same sparkle and comedic timing. Shortly after the show began another movement began. A campaign on social media to have Betty host “Saturday Night Live.” She answered her fan base and hosted Saturday Night Live, flawlessly. Betty is still working on “Hot In Cleveland” today with a fan base spanning over half a century.

Jimmy Carter

James Early “Jimmy” Carter was the 38th President of the United States. Carter began as a peanut farmer and would later rise to be the governor of Georgia. He was elected President of the United States at a time of high stagnation and inflation and would only serve one term. During his presidency established the Department of energy and the Department of Education. Also taking place would be a hostage crisis in Iran and a boycott of the Olympics, the only boycott in Olympic history.

Perhaps even greater than his presidency are the accomplishments after. Care would go on to create Habitat for Humanity and charity placing hard-working, deserving families in need into houses that were already paid for. The charity continues to provide housing to thousands of people each year.

Muhammad Ali

The three time World Heavy Weight Champion would fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee his way into the hearts of Americans. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. he would go on to fight the then world heavy weight title holder, Sonny Liston and win in a huge and well-remembered upset in 1964. Shortly following this victory Clay would convert to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Ali would later lose his boxing title after refusing to go the Vietnam war citing religious conflict. Ali maintained he would not give up based on the principle that he had the right to religious freedom and that he would not fight unless Allah instructed him to do so. This legal battle went on for many years until it reached the Supreme Court where it was overturned. Ali would go on to fight well-known opponent Joe Frazer three times and George Foreman. Ali won his title back three times holding the record for the most heavy weight titles to this day, also earning him the nickname, “The Greatest.”

These three icons capture the essence of America. Their quest for fairness, freedom and tenacious fun are embedded within the very core of modern America and this month we salute them and the many more like