The SeniorHomes.com Student Caregiver Scholarship award provides two university students in the United States with a $1,000 grant for tuition and/or books, based on each applicant’s essay or video story submission. For this first-ever scholarship giveaway, we received more than 100 applications from student caregivers throughout the country. After reviewing all of the applications, our judges deemed the following two students the most worthy of this year’s prize.

 

KathrynScholar3

Kathryn Eckhardt is a student at Arizona State University. She’s caring for her sister and grandparents while attending school. This is Kathryn’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

Who I am a caregiver for is very near and dear to my heart. I care for my sister who has spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord. When she was developing in the womb, her spinal cord did not develop all the way and therefore her spinal cord did not attach completely. She has no feeling in the lower half of her body and because of this, she is wheelchair-bound. She was born on July 20, 1998. She was instantly a light in all of our lives, as she inspired us while she went through surgery after surgery and continued to be a strong and loving baby.

During the first hour of her life, she had three surgeries. When she grew old enough she showed us just how strong she really is, when with the help of a walker, she walked for the very first time. Doctors had told us she would never be able to walk, talk, or live a normal life, and yet again, she proved them all wrong. I’ve been caregiving for her really for her whole life as I have always felt this very strong need to protect and keep her safe, even though she is very capable of doing things for herself.

When I turned 18, I became her official caregiver. I signed up through an agency and took over all of her needs. I provide respite care, when my parents need it, I clean her bathroom, as well as her bedroom for her. I take her to appointments and help her run errands. She is very excited because she is going to be getting her driver’s license soon and a car that she can use hand controls for. We are very excited for her, as this is another step to her being independent.

However, my sister isn’t the only person I care for. I also care for my grandparents. My grandfather got sick in the summer of 2013, and has had nothing but health problems since then. He’s had two heart attacks, and has been in the hospital a number of times for pain he is having. My grandmother found that she could not do the day-to-day tasks of keeping a house running as well as take care of my grandfather. I then came in and took over some of the things that I can do to help. I go grocery shopping for them weekly, getting the things that they need for the week, making sure that he is eating things that will help his health.

I also sort my grandfather’s pills into daily doses, so that he does not miss a does or forgets to take a pill. I sort his vitamins for him, since with all of the pills he takes he needs them to help restore the things he has lost. I also help my grandmother with errands that she needs to run, as she doesn’t know how to drive and is very dependent upon Grandfather, but when he got sick he was too weak to drive.

I took over the driving, and although he has gotten his strength back, he can only drive short distances. My grandmother loves her yard and the stress of taking care of my grandfather has aged her some as well, so I help her with the yard. Helping her decorate with each holiday, from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day, my grandmother has something for every holiday. It brings her joy and in that, it gives me joy to see her smile. Helping them is different from helping my sister because they are growing older while my sister is growing as well. Each time I help my grandparents, I value life more and more and realize just how quickly it all goes. Life truly is short.

2. How has caring for these individuals affected your path in life or your career choice?

My role as a caregiver has helped me with my career choice in many ways. For one, I thought I was cut out for the medical field, but as it turns out I am not. It takes a person who is very comfortable with human waste and blood, and I have learned that I am not. Caregiving has shown me the patience I do possess, and the fact that I need to grow some more. I chose teaching because of my love for it.

I saw how my sister struggled through school, and all the amazing teachers that she had and how it pushed her to be better every time. How time and time again they continued to stop and help her when she didn’t understand. How amazing they were to promote that, yes she was different, but that it is something to be valued and not to be made fun of, or looked down upon. I watched as they would go out of their way to make sure that she was doing well. Many of her old teachers showed up to her graduation and it truly touched her and me as well. I want to be like that, and I strive to be like those teachers, to be able to touch lives. I also feel that teaching was what I was meant to do in life.

Another way caregiving has helped me with my career choice is by leading me to the path of studying English. How, you might ask? Well, my sister struggled in school, and one of the things that she struggled with the most is English. She struggles with reading and writing altogether. She didn’t learn to read until she was in the fifth grade. This opened my eyes to how many students struggle with this very thing. Not only that, but there are many students who are coming into this country who do not know English. They are struggling just like my sister, but it’s different.

Arizona, has a law requiring that teachers speak to students only in English, and students for whom English is not the first language are discouraged from speaking their native language in the classroom. This makes it very hard on the students, and teaching them takes compassion, something that caregiving has taught me. It’s taught me that you need to be compassionate toward all kinds of people, because you never know what someone might be going through in their personal lives. Everyone is going through a struggle that none of us know anything about.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

This scholarship would help me immensely. My family can help me some, but not as much as they would like to. Therefore I am going through school, funding myself. It is not an easy feat, and this would be another tool that would help me through my journey. I know that there are many other caregivers out there who are more worthy, but I know that I will put the money to good use and it will help me fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher.

———
Arianna Beverly is a student at Arizona State University. She is balancing caring for her brother while attending school. This is Arianna’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

On November 14, 2010 my brother attempted suicide. It was by far the worst birthday of my entire life. He was found on the side of the road, on the way to high school at the time, and the first responder had no choice but to medivac him to a nearby hospital for emergency brain trauma surgery. On the way to the hospital with my mother and older sister, I realized that we were all in shock. We could not fathom the situation presented to us by the investigators and surgeons at the hospital. When we arrived and the doctors guided us through my brother’s situation, I understood that this was no time to be overcome with emotions, I had to take action; so I was forced to give decisions about the brain surgery on my mother’s behalf.

My brother underwent two major surgeries that night, and during this time the police and hospital psychologist interviewed my mother, sister and I to learn about my brother’s mental health. For the next week, the doctors regularly informed us of my brother’s condition and we were finally allowed to visit him in the Intensive Care Unit. It was then that the surgeon informed my family and I that although my brother would survive, he would be paralyzed on the left side of his body. Unfortunately, when my brother awoke from his coma he was not aware of his paralysis and was quite shocked by his new situation. We explained to him that his entire left side was paralyzed, that he would not be to move anything of his left side, including the left side of his lips, his left arm, his left leg and his sight on his left side was also compromised.

During the next four months, we stayed with him as long as we could whenever we could. We slept at the hospital, ate there, did our homework there and even celebrated my sister’s birthday in my brother’s hospital room. During those tough few months, my mother was able to get time off work, but our financial situation took an even bigger hit than before and I could tell it was more than my mother could handle. After four long and grueling months the doctors gave my mother permission to take my brother home, and I think it was the best birthday present my brother could have received.

After my brother’s release my mother was supposed to go right back to work but my brother couldn’t be home by himself. At the time she was considering quitting her job to care for him 24 hours a day, but I didn’t want her to set back her career. This led me to convince my mother that I could take care of my brother and in order to do this, I would sacrifice my after-school activities, including sports and student council, in order to alternate caring for him. So while I attended school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., my mother would be my brother’s caretaker..She would feed, bathe and change him, and take him to physical therapy appointments.

From late afternoon into the evening, I would make my brother dinner and feed it to him, change him, do a few exercises with him, then put him into bed. I would attend all the doctors’ appointments I could to get information on his condition and insight into the work his doctors did to help with his neurological development. This is what ignited my interest in neuroscience and psychological illnesses. Due to my brother’s traumatic brain injury, I was able to get an in-depth look into the brain and what happens when it’s damaged, which helped me discover what would eventually dominate my interest in college.

  1. How has caring for this individual affected your path in life or your career choice?

I believe this situation changed my career path because I was set on becoming a surgeon and focusing my studies on the path to medical school once I was accepted into college. I thought I wanted to be the person to fix an illness that occurs physically, but after seeing how this situation changed everyone in my family mentally, my mother’s and sister’s depression and my anxiety, including how when my brother’s nerves were damaged it was only his left side that was paralyzed; this was when I discovered that I’d rather be the person to fix the illnesses that take place inside the mind — problems that are commonly ignored.

I began to see from a different point of view. Although my brother was broken physically, his spirit and his mind never wavered. And even though my mother was strong on the outside, I could see her withdraw mentally due to her depression. All of this inspired me to major in Psychology once I was enrolled at Arizona State University, with the goal of helping those with injuries you cannot see.

My brother attempted suicide on my birthday, throughout the last six years I’ve been caring for him and he has given me the strength to pursue my dreams. I am attending college to help other people with mental illnesses and to hopefully prevent a family from feeling the pain my family felt when we received a call from the hospital.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

To this day I still have to help him both mentally with his memory and appropriate social interactions, and physically, helping move him from place to place. Although this process has been slow, my family and I are not worried about his recovery, nor are we giving up hope for a full recovery. We can see that he is steadily moving forward towards a full recovery and I will always be at his side to see the progress, no matter how long it takes.

With this scholarship I would be able to schedule fewer shifts at work, which would leave me with more time to help my brother and in return, take a load off my mother’s shoulders. If I were to receive this scholarship my worrying about finances and loans would be lifted, giving me peace of mind and allowing me to focus more during my classes. I would love for the first time in my life to not be worrying about finances while in class and work toward being a better student so I can keep on track with my goal of attending graduate school after finishing my undergraduate studies

A note to readers: The applicants’ words have been lightly edited to provide more clarity and to remove repetitive or unclear phrasing.

 

Gardening

As a longtime gardener, I just love the smell of potting soil in the warm sun. Add the scent of herbs, flowers and the taste of a fresh cherry tomato, and I’m in my happy place. It’s certainly something I don’t ever want to give up.

If you know a senior who’s loved to garden for decades, like I do, then I bet they’d be delighted to learn they don’t need to give it up as they age. They might not want to weed huge beds or handle heavy pots, but they can still get their hands in the dirt and grow fresh herbs, vegetables, flowers and other plants.

With an elevated flowerbed, it’s easier for older adults with back problems and other age-related ailments to do small space gardening. With an elevated bed, those who need to work either standing or seated can still plant, water and enjoy their garden.

Elevated garden beds provide a container deep enough for the soil to stay moist and allow for root growth. Many are on four legs so they’re at waist height. This allows those with hip, knee, back or balance problems to still dig in the dirt. The following are some tips on senior-friendly gardening.

Where to Place Your Bed

You don’t need a lot of room for raised flowerbed. If you have a small balcony or patio, you should be able to fit one in a space around four feet by two feet.

If you have eight or more hours of sunshine, you can grow herbs, veggies and flowers that enjoy the hot sun. If where you live gets less sunshine, stick to shade-loving flowers or even low-light houseplants.

Getting Started

Start with the basics: an elevated bed, good quality potting soil, time-release fertilizer, a watering can, a hand trowel and garden clippers for pruning. Choose small bags of soil so they’re easier to handle. Using a scoop or a big measuring cup for dipping and pouring soil into the container also helps.

Make sure the bed’s drain holes are open so excess water can drain. You can cover the holes with a small stone so the water can drain but the soil won’t clog the hole. Then fill the container with soil to within one or two inches from the top of the container. This allows room for water.

Choosing Plants

A garden doesn’t have to accommodate one type of plant or another. It can be delightful to mix flowers with vegetables and grow a few favorites of each. Here are some easy plants that do well in a small space:

  • Sunny Flowers: Zinnias, periwinkles, petunias and daylilies all love the sun, grow upright and are easy to care for. For plants that cascade over the side, try lantana, verbena or Million Bells petunias.
  • Shade-Loving Flowers: As long as your garden gets four or so hours of sun, you can still enjoy the bright blooms of shade-loving flowers. Heart-shaped caladiums, bright impatiens and begonias are good shade choices. For a cascading effect, plant ivy, vinca vine or lobelia.
  • Vegetables: Lettuce is an easy crop for a small space. It performs best in the spring or fall rather than under the summer heat. During the summer, lettuce can be replaced with a different plant. Cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes grow in a container. You can also grow hot peppers, basil, green onions and pole beans, which will need a small trellis to climb on.
  • Herbs: Herbs love the sun so you’ll need around eight or more hours of it. They also love to grow in containers. Easy-to-grow herbs include chives, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
  • American Home Shield’s guide to a low-maintenance vegetable garden is helpful for the laid-back gardener who wants to enjoy fresh produce without spending too much time outdoors.

Plant Care

  • The best way to track plant watering is to monitor rainfall and check the dirt for moisture. Then you can water as needed.
  • Feed the plants following the directions on the back of your time-release fertilizer.

Small space gardening gives added motivation to get outdoors in the fresh air and can be enjoyed by seniors with varying ability levels. Some older adults prefer to choose the plants, get their hands in the dirt and enjoy the planting process. There are others who are content to just water their garden and watch it grow. Either way, gardening can bring hours of enjoyment, quiet contemplation and a subject of conversation.


Lea Schneider has been a gardener for many years, and has also worked at a professional flower growing company. Lea writes about her gardening knowledge for Home Depot. For more small-space gardening ideas, including raised garden beds, you can visit Home Depot’s website here.

 

Mother and daughter sitting by garden shed

 

If your house isn’t big enough to accommodate your aging parent or if a senior living community is out of the question, an alternative known as a “granny pod” – a tiny house in your backyard — may be a solution worth considering.

“Most people try to fit a living space for an aging person in their home, but the issue that always comes up is how to make the living quarters from the rest of the family separate, since most adult children doing the caregiving also have children of their own,” says home accessibility consultant and architectural designer Michael Saunders, who works with Toronto-based families to adapt their homes for multi-generational living.

“What ends up happening a lot is that the space ends up being a basement apartment, which isn’t ideal,” Saunders adds.

Saunders says granny pods, also known as MEDCottages or guesthouses, are a useful and relatively low-cost solution that gives aging parents their own space while allowing adult children to easily provide necessary assistance.

Designed by a Blacksburg, Virginia-based company along with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the pre-fabricated, portable homes are typically installed in the caregiver’s backyard.

While the homes range in size, a typical granny pod is about 12 by 24 feet and includes a living space, kitchen and bathroom. Costing anywhere from $85,000 to $125,000, these homes tend to resemble a miniature bungalow from the outside with vinyl siding and double French doors that allow access for hospital beds and other necessary equipment. They also come stocked with medical supplies and safety features designed with aging adults in mind, such as the following.

  • Hand railings
  • Lighted floorboards
  • Soft floors
  • Defibrillators
  • First aid supplies
  • Video devices that inform caregivers and doctors about vital signs, among other important information.

To get all the necessary utilities, granny pods are hooked up to the main home’s existing sewer, water and power lines.

“The most common difficulty I find with granny pods is complying with a municipality’s zoning by-laws. As these are a relatively new phenomenon, they aren’t explicitly covered in most by-laws, and are thus more likely to fall under ‘accessory structures,’ which may or may not be permitted, and may or may not include habitable space,” Saunders notes.

Still, he says, it’s best to approach your city officials and let them know what your intentions are for the home. “Some people are afraid to go to their municipality, but if you explain that it’s for an aging parent and that you’re not putting a house on the property to rent it out, they’ll be willing to work with you,” he says.

Before making the purchase, Saunders advises considering whether your yard has enough space and if it’s flat enough to hold the structure. Climate also plays a role. “If it snows a lot, you’ll have to build a path to get the person out,” says Saunders.

Better Options?

Even with all that granny pods have to offer, some believe the cons outweigh the pros.

“Depending on the granny in question, a person’s needs can change profoundly very quickly. So while you might think ‘I’ll deck out this little cool prefab room and my parent could be happy here for years’ if you’re really lucky that could be the case. But if you’re like most of us as we age, a person’s condition doesn’t stay stable for any period of time and the likelihood that they’d outgrow the environment that you’ve created for them is high,” says Tracey Lawrence, founder of Grand Family Planning which helps families find solutions for aging parents.

Lawrence adds that tiny homes only provide the “where.” You’ll still need to consider access to caregivers, doctors, and medications for your loved one. And if you’re comparing the cost of a tiny home to typical assisted living or nursing home costs, she says the price of care encompasses much more than where you live.

“It’s about all the resources, such as meals, people who evaluate your loved one, physical therapists, activities that help to enhance the person’s quality of life,” she says. “You’ll have to have somebody who is going to come in and care for your loved one if it’s not you, and if it is you, how realistic is that?”

Lawrence draws on her personal experience of losing both her parents to dementia. Her father passed away within a year of being diagnosed, but her mother lived for several years, living on her own at first, then in assisted living, then with Lawrence and her husband.

“That worked out for a while until she had a psychotic break and we had to hire caregivers to come into my home and help manager her care. In time, living in my home was no longer practical because she was falling and I needed her to be watched more carefully 24/7… I finally settled in a group home which was a small setting that was equipped to handle her behaviors,” says Lawrence.

It’s important to remember that if at some point your loved one can no longer live in the granny pod or once he or she passes away, you’re left with the home, she notes.

“It’s an impractical use because I would imagine the value would go down significantly and for the next user it’d have to be reconfigured completely,” says Lawrence. “The only time I can see something like these having value is if you could lease the home and when your loved one no longer needs it, the granny pod is returned.”

 

ALquestions

There are lots of important factors to consider when choosing an assisted living community for yourself or your loved one. You’re looking for a place that’s an ideal fit, and that means researching everything about the community, from cleanliness and ambiance to management activities and costs.

But it doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as it might seem. Knowing what to look for – and which questions to ask – will help you make the best choice. Read on for some key questions to ask during your search.

  1. Where is the community located?

It’s convenient if the facility is a short drive from your home, of course, but experts advise against choosing a community based on convenience alone. Nonetheless, a community’s location is important for a variety of reasons, and some things you should consider include:

  • Is the neighborhood considered safe?
  • Is it close to doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other important places?
  • If the community isn’t near your home and doesn’t allow overnight guests, are there hotels nearby for when you visit your loved one?
  • Is it conveniently located for other family and friends to visit?
  1. Have you visited?

The importance of visiting the prospective assisted living community cannot be overstated. Likewise, it’s a good idea to visit at different times of the day, particularly during mealtimes. While there, take the time to talk to residents and staff to get a firsthand sense of the community’s features and atmosphere. Here are other key questions to consider:

  • Are hallways well lit and easy to navigate?
  • Are the common spaces clean, pleasant and appealing? Can you imagine your loved one using these common spaces?
  • Do most residents have a private or shared room?
  • Does each room have its own private (and handicap-equipped) bathroom, or is there one shared bathroom?
  • Is there enough closet and storage space?
  • Is the lighting good?
  1. How much will it cost?

The cost of assisted living can seem prohibitive since Medicare does not cover it for many seniors. That said, do your research to find the true costs, since fees can vary depending on your loved one’s needs. Also ask:

  • Are there move-in fees, or fees for services (such as laundry)?
  • How is the community funded? Is it non-profit or for-profit?
  • Is there a charge for transportation to and from doctor’s offices?
  • Will the costs go up in the future and why?
  • What payment options are available?
  1. What services are provided?

Be sure to ask what services the assisted living community provides, and whether those services are included in the overall price or will mean additional costs.

  • Is housekeeping provided and included in the price?
  • Are there religious services at the facility, or nearby?
  • Are barber and beauty services provided and are they included in the price?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are there visiting hours, or are guests allowed to visit residents at any time?

5. Is there a written care plan?

Knowing the specifics about your loved one’s care and having those details listed in a customized written care plan is important.

  • Who’s involved in developing the care plan?
  • What types of specific care are available?
  • Who handles medication management?
  • Is the facility associated with a hospital or nursing home if additional care is required?
  1. Is the staff well-trained, friendly and stable?

The staff’s attitude and approach toward residents is of utmost importance; after all, they’ll be taking care of your loved one on a daily basis. Observe several staff members and how they interact with residents.

  • Do they listen and make eye contact with residents?
  • Is there a nurse or licensed practical nurse on staff?
  • How many people are actually involved in your loved one’s care?
  • Are they friendly and patient while taking care of residents?
  • How much training do staff members receive?
  • Have staff members undergone background checks?
  • What’s the staff turnover rate?
  1. What’s in the admissions agreement?

Take your time to read the admissions agreement carefully. In particular, make sure you understand the move-out criteria – in many cases there’s language that requires a 30-day notice to stop billing for services even if the resident has died.

  • Is there a negotiated risk agreement?
  • Is there a liability waiver?

Experts suggest that liability waivers may indicate that the facility may not have the resources or ability to meet your loved one’s needs.

 

Senior Doing Needlepoint With Younger Woman

Visiting an elderly loved one in a senior living facility can sometimes feel awkward or stressful. Many people make only brief visits, or avoid visiting altogether because of the challenges these visits present, but it’s important to remember that loneliness and lack of contact with loved ones can lead to major health issues for the elderly.

Here are some tips to make the most of visits with your elderly loved ones:

  1. Consult with the Staff

Your loved one may have certain dietary restrictions either due to their own health issues or facility guidelines, so it’s important to check with staff before the visit if you’re planning to surprise them with food.

  1. Set the Right Tone

Put yourself in the place of the person you’re visiting and think of how you would want to be greeted. Maintain eye contact, give a warm hug or handshake, and don’t stand stiffly in front of them but sit down so you’re at their level.

  1. Respect Their Privacy

Always knock first before you enter your loved one’s room, and step out into the hallway when they’re being given personal care by a staff member such as toileting, dressing or bathing. This way, they won’t get the feeling that you’re treating them as a child. Showing that you respect your older loved one’s privacy helps them retain their dignity and pride.

  1. Time Your Visit

The best time to visit depends on when your loved one’s energy and alertness are at their highest. For many seniors, this tends to be in the morning or after a midday meal. It may even be best to plan to share a meal with them.

  1. Keep Things Positive

It can be tough to keep up a cheerful attitude when a senior is being argumentative, depressed, or is in pain. Nonetheless, make it your goal to keep a positive, upbeat attitude throughout the visit. Avoid arguing with them and always talk to them with respect.

  1. Keep it About Them

Visits with elderly loved ones can sometimes bring feelings of sadness and grief, but it’s important to set your own feelings aside. Focus on the positives of their day; remember, they may feel sad or awkward, too. Additionally, focus on the “real” person inside of then, not the person whose outer appearance and health may have changed considerably.

  1. Keep Visits Intimate

You may be tempted to coordinate your visit with other family members or friends, but this isn’t always a good idea. A large number of people may be overwhelming for your loved one, and it’s always best to ask first if you can invite other people to visit with you. And if you bring children, make sure they’re well behaved and understand the rules of the facility.

  1. Change of Scenery

Visiting your loved one in a place other than their room can be a mood-booster for both of you. There may be a courtyard or garden at the senior living community, or you might consider leave the premises and taking a drive to check out some local scenery together.

  1. Bring Props

You can take some of the pressure off of yourself – and your loved one – as well as liven up the visit by bringing along meaningful objects such as a family photo album, some of your loved one’s favorite music, collectibles, etc.

  1. Shorter Visits Are Often Better

The length of your visit will often be determined by your loved one’s health and energy level, as well as how the visit is progressing. But, oftentimes, shorter visits are better. A half-hour of warm connection will be treasured more than a couple hours of silence and awkwardness.

  1. Communicate Clearly

Nearly half of people aged 75 and older have hearing problems, making it crucial for you to communicate clearly. You may have to raise your voice – but not shout – and it’s helpful to turn off the radio or other background noise while you’re talking with your loved one.

Also, keep your faces at the same level and be aware of your non-verbal communication, such as checking your phone every few minutes – which your loved one may interpret as a sign that you’d rather be someplace else.

  1. Promise to Visit Again Soon

Letting your loved one know that you’ll visit again soon will boost their spirits and help keep them from feeling lonely or down when you have to leave. Like most people, you probably lead a busy life, but a good rule of thumb is to visit your loved one at least once a month.

DifficultDad

There’s no question that being a caregiver for a difficult loved one can have its stressful moments. When that person is a parent or another person close to use, your stress levels can easily rise as you deal with emotionally fraught situations you may never have anticipated. Plus, old age and poor health or disability aren’t likely to improve your loved one’s disposition.

The good news? There are many strategies to deal with a difficult aging loved one that can ease your stress while helping to guide them more smoothly through the activities of daily living. What follows are some practical tips to help you cope.

1. Put yourself first.
It seems counter-intuitive that putting your own needs first would be helpful in dealing with a difficult loved one. But it’s crucial that you don’t sacrifice your own sanity to provide care. Putting yourself first means delegating as many responsibilities as you can to others. Nurture your own relationships and friendships to maintain your own well being. The healthier you are, the better care you’ll be able to give your loved one.

2. Know your limitations.
This tip also relates to delegating responsibility, because caring for a difficult aging loved one can be extremely time-consuming. Trying to do everything by yourself is admirable, but certainly not practical. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” when you need to. Knowing what you can and cannot handle effectively is important for your own health and your loved one’s health.

3. Don’t expect praise.
This is particularly important if you’re caring for someone with dementia. The cognitive impairment your loved one is experiencing may mean that he or she is no longer capable of appreciating your efforts. Instead, their behaviors may include hostility, accusations and suspicion – behaviors that they never exhibited before. It’s important to accept doing a good job for your own sake and because it’s the right thing to do, and not for your parent or loved one’s approval.

4. Try something different.
Take a closer look at the interactions that are consistently negative and decide if there are less stressful ways to spend time with your loved one. Find other activities, like reading a book together, asking him or her to talk about their past, or even creating a photo album together. If sitting together often results in an argument, then volunteer to do a cleaning project, or to cook a special meal.

5. Take breaks.
It’s easy to get so absorbed in caregiving, jobs and family obligations, and the stress of daily life, that you can forget how much time you’re putting in for others. Take time to nurture your spirit and soul in ways that ease your burden. You can take a peaceful walk by yourself, listen to soothing music, meditate, enjoy a hobby, or anything that helps you re-focus mentally.

6. Be proud of your efforts.
Sometimes your efforts will fail no matter what – and how hard – you try. Self-doubt can creep in, and it’s easy to feel guilty or get angry at the loved one who is being so difficult. But take pride in the knowledge that you continue to do what’s best for your loved one’s quality of life and that you’re doing it with a sincere heart. Admire your own bravery and persistence.

7. Bring in experts.
There are situations where bringing in a professional, such as a geriatric care manager, is necessary. You may not have family support, or the relationship has become too explosive and complicated. Whatever the case, a professional can provide support and advice, as well as coordinate care if you live far from your loved one.

8. Set boundaries.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is important for anyone in a caregiving role, and especially important if you’re dealing with a difficult loved one. Be clear about how much you can do (and are willing to do) and this will leave you less vulnerable to manipulative behavior and guilt trips. It’s not a bad idea to set boundaries about how much abusive behavior you’ll put up with, as well.

9. Communicate.
It’s important to discuss situations as soon they arise, when possible. Talking things through with your parent or loved one without getting defensive can make a world of difference. Try using “I” statements instead of accusations or “you” statements.

10. Understand their point of view.
A parent or loved one may feel frustrated with the role reversal in your relationship now that you’re taking care of them. This may make them uncomfortable and feel less like a parent and more like a helpless child. Change the dynamic to “How can I help?” which helps put the responsibility and decisions back on them.

If you think getting older means an automatic end to dreams of athletic glory, think again. In the world of professional sports, athletes are considered “old” as early as 30. But throughout the history of the Olympic Games, there have been a number of amazing athletes who were far older than that when they set records and won medals. The competitors on this list remind us that there’s no age limit to being an Olympian and pursuing your dreams.

 

1. OSCAR SWAHN

  • Age: 72
  • Country: Sweden
  • Sport: Shooting

This sharp-shooting, bearded Swede was the oldest-ever male Olympic medalist when he won the silver medal at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium (this was after taking home gold and bronze medals in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games). He qualified for the 1924 games but withdrew beforehand due to illness.

 

2. ARTHUR VON PONGRACZ

    • Age: 72
    • Country: Austria
    • Sport: Equestrian Riding

Arthur Von Pongracz was one of the most celebrated equestrians of his time, and went on to compete in Dressage in the 1924, 1928 and 1936 Olympic Games. Born on June 25, 1864, the Austrian athlete was 72 years old when he competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Several months older than Oscar Swahn, he is the second-oldest athlete to have competed in the Olympics.

 

3. IAN MILLAR

Image by Grandslamjumping under the Creative Commons attribution license

    • Age: 65
    • Country: Canada
    • Sport: Equestrian

Nicknamed “Captain Canada,” the 69-year-old Canadian equestrian has competed in more Olympic Games than any Canadian in history, in any sport. He took home his first Olympic medal — a silver medal in Team Jumping — at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing at the age of 61. He plans to compete again in this summer’s games in Rio.

 

4. LORNA JOHNSTONE

    • Age: 69
    • Country: Great Britain
    • Sport: Equestrian

Lorna Johnstone is the oldest woman and the oldest-ever British competitor to have competed in the Olympics to date. The British equestrian competed in the 1956, and 1968 Olympics and was 69 years old when she competed in the 1972 Olympic Games.

 

5. GALEN SPENCER

    • Age: 64
    • Country: United States
    • Sport: Archery

This American archer brought home the gold medal at the 1904 Summer Olympics, competing on his 64th birthday! He was born September 19, 1840, and competed on September 19, 1904. He died exactly one month later.

 

6. LIDA “ELIZA” POLLOCK

    • Age: 63
    • Country: United States
    • Sport: Archery

Lida Pollock is the second oldest woman to have competed in the Olympics. The Ohio native won two bronze medals in Archery at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, just a couple months shy of her 64th birthday.

 

7. CARL AUGUST KRONLUND

  • Age: 58
  • Country: Sweden
  • Sport: Curling

At 58 years old, Swedish curler Carl Kronlund was the oldest male medalist and competitor in the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France. He took home the silver medal in curling.

 

Senior friends enjoying meal in kitchen

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult for seniors who are looking for trustworthy information about nutrition. The fact is, most conventional dietary advice is geared toward middle-aged folks. But recent research has dug deeply into the nutritional needs of seniors and the findings have dispelled many common myths about nutrition and aging.

Here’s a look at some of the more common senior nutrition myths:

  1. Older People Lose Their Appetite

Metabolic changes coupled with decreased energy output mean seniors generally need less food than younger adults. However, that doesn’t mean seniors have less of an appetite; in fact, a loss of appetite could signal some serious health problems. There are other reasons why it may appear that a senior has lost his or her appetite – such as a decreased sense of taste or dental issues. That’s why it’s important for seniors to weigh themselves on a regular basis and monitor any sudden weight loss.

  1. Seniors Need Fewer Nutrients Because Their Metabolism Slows Down

It’s true that seniors generally need fewer calories than younger people. At the same time, older adults need more of certain nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and B12. As people age, their ability to absorb these vitamins and minerals decreases, so they need to take in more from food.

  1. By 65, it’s Too Late to Follow a Healthy Lifestyle

There’s never an age when it’s too late to make healthy changes to your diet or lifestyle. For example, you can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and by becoming more physically active. Studies have even shown that a person who makes lifestyle changes after suffering a heart attack are at less risk of suffering another attack. Indeed, one of the more dangerous senior nutrition myths is the notion that there’s no benefit to changing your lifestyle past a certain age.

  1. If You’re Not Overweight You Can Eat What You Want

Being overweight clearly increases the risks of chronic illnesses, but a poor diet can increase your risk of these illnesses even if you’re at a healthy weight. Following a healthy nutritional plan is important regardless of your weight. Even seniors who are trying to gain weight should do so through a balanced diet, rather than filling themselves with foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt, and low in nutrients.

  1. Eating Something Is Better Than Nothing

Another common misconception about senior nutrition is the notion that it’s better to give an older person only the foods they enjoy to encourage eating. But that could mean overindulging in fast food, easy-to-prepare frozen dinners and processed snacks that are loaded with sodium and unhealthy fats. Eating too much of these foods can lead to serious health issues, vitamin deficiencies, as well as excessive weight gain or loss.

  1. It’s OK to Skip a Meal if You’re Not Hungry

There are several reasons why it’s a bad idea to skip meals. First, skipping meals may lead to excessive consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor snacks between meals. Forgoing meals can also lead to unhealthy fluctuations in blood sugar levels – which can fall too low when you don’t eat, and then spike to hazardous levels when you eat a big meal. Moreover, skipping meals can suppress appetite, leading to unhealthy weight loss and other health issues. Nutritional experts advise eating a big breakfast while making sure to eat something at every other mealtime.

  1. Senior Communities Have Bad Food

One of the common senior nutrition myths is the stereotype that senior living communities There may have been some truth to it in the days before assisted living communities weren’t available and nursing homes were highly institutionalized. Today, it’s not uncommon for assisted living communities to serve meals that could actually fall under the category of luxury dining and that provide all of the necessary nutritional benefits. If you’re in the process of selecting a senior community for yourself or a loved one, it’s a good idea to try out at least one meal at each community you tour.

  1. Dividing Meals In Half is a Smart Move

Leftovers can make cooking easier and help keep costs down, especially if you’re on a tight budget, but there are potential dangers to relying on leftovers, too. For example, meals delivered to an older person’s home are usually prepared to provide balanced nutrition. Dividing a meal in half can mean you’ll fall short on important nutrients. Moreover, storing leftovers for more than a day increases the risk of the food going bad. For an older person whose sense of smell has declined as they’ve aged, it can become harder to tell when food has spoiled, which raises the likelihood of food poisoning.

 

 

Domestic violence

At some point, most of us have worried about an elderly person we know – whether it’s a parent, family member, or acquaintance. And that concern may not just be for their overall health; it may also be about the type of care they’re receiving.

The fact is, elder abuse is far more common than people may think. Studies done by the Senate Special Committee on Aging show that there are as many as 5 millions victims of elder abuse each year. To put it in perspective, up to 5 percent of the elderly population in the U.S. has suffered abuse. Recognizing the different kinds of abuse, and the related signs, is of vital importance in addressing the problem..

All of the following are warning signs that a loved one or another elderly person you know may be suffering from some type of abuse.

  1. Physical Abuse

Bruises, broken bones, burns and abrasions are all indications of possible physical abuse or mistreatment. These signs can also indicate rough handling by caregivers during transfers or re-positioning, and could even indicate force-feeding.

Another common indicator that physical abuse may be occurring is when an elderly person’s caregiver offers odd explanations for the injuries. The elder may be reluctant to discuss the physical abuse, so it’s a good idea to take them aside and have them talk specifically about the injuries and how they got them.

  1. Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal abuse, so any type of verbal put-downs or aggression could be red flags. Other signs of emotional abuse include the person behind fearful or intimidated of the caregiver, or exhibiting unusual behavior such as rocking or biting. Also be aware of forced isolation imposed by the caregiver or family member, as well as any other threatening or controlling behavior.

  1. Sexual Abuse

Even discussing this issue is uncomfortable, but sexual abusers often target vulnerable people to victimize – and older adults can be perceived as easy to overpower. Signs of sexual abuse may include bruising around the breast and genital areas, vaginal or rectal bleeding, evidence of venereal disease, depressed or withdrawn behavior, and difficulty walking or standing.

  1. Neglect

Signs of neglect may be easier to detect than signs of abuse, but they are certainly no less serious. Is your elderly loved one experiencing unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration? All could be signs of neglect. But there many other potential signs, including:

  • Untreated medical problems
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Soiled bedding and clothes
  • A senior who is left dirty or unbathed
  • Clothing that’s unsuitable for the weather
  • Unsafe living conditions, such as no heat or running water, or glaring fire hazards
  1. Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is another common form of elder abuse. As the population ages and financial scammers can increasingly find their personal information online, it’s a crime that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Those signs include significant withdrawals from the elder’s bank accounts and investments, missing items or cash, suspicious changes in wills, policies, power of attorney designation or titles, unpaid medical bills, and unusual activity such as a withdrawal from an ATM when the account holder is confined to a home or facility, or bedridden.

  1. Healthcare Fraud

Healthcare fraud and abuse is often closely related to financial exploitation and typically comes with it own warning signs. A prime example is duplicate billing for the same medical service and device, as well as evidence of either under-medication, over-medication, or both.

Another warning sign is any evidence of inadequate care, despite medical bills having been paid in full. Red flags at senior care facilities include insufficient and/or poorly trained staff or inadequate answers to questions about care.

  1. Self-neglect

Warning signs of an elderly person who is engaging in self-neglect are often similar to those of overall neglect. These include insufficient hygiene, unsuitable clothing, soiled bedding and clothing, a lack of interest in people and activities, apathy, or living in unsanitary conditions.

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The dynamics of elder abuse are similar to domestic violence in that the victim may be afraid to talk about it for fear of reprisal or further neglect. Or, in some cases, the victim may be unable to reach out for help due to physical or cognitive limitations or other reasons. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the signs of mistreatment and carefully monitor your loved one’s care to ensure they don’t fall victim to this heinous crime.

 

 HomeSafety

As many seniors opt to age in place and live their golden years in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes, it’s natural for loved ones to want to ensure their safety when they can’t be around or when hiring a caregiver isn’t an option. The current slate of home automation devices in stores today offer practical solutions for keeping a helpful eye on seniors without feeling like an intrusion on their privacy. And since the gadgets available are so user-friendly, the high barrier to entry that once existed with products like Wi-Fi-enabled video cameras and smart home hubs no longer exists.

Today’s technological solutions are designed to be used right out of the box, meaning little installation is required. The days of dozens of cords and a novel-sized product manual are behind us. The seven home automation gadgets we’ve highlighted here not only provide ease of use, but peace of mind for seniors and their loved ones.

  1. Wi-Fi Video Camera

A Wi-Fi smart home camera allows seniors to verify that their homes and pets are safe while they’re away. For older adults living on their own, installing these cameras in a hallway, living room or any other space in the home will help family members keep a respectful eye on their aging loved one. The password-protected live stream of an Internet-connected video camera can be accessed on the camera’s website or a specially designed app. These cameras are particularly useful as an automatic communications device; many models have two-way audio to allow both the person in the room and the one watching remotely to speak to one another.

  1. Remote-Controlled Lighting

Thankfully, the era of the Clapper being the hottest thing in home lighting solutions is behind us. Now lights can be controlled via remote control, smartphone or even a smartwatch. Systems like the Lutron Caseta Lighting Kit let residents create schedules that adjust lights at specific times. The lights are also equipped to sense when a resident is approaching and illuminate at that moment, so there’s no need to shuffle around in the dark and potentially cause an accident.

  1. Smart Home Hub

Visions of yelling into a machine often pass through people’s minds when voice recognition products are mentioned. Yet, the technology has gotten so advanced that controlling any sort of voice-activated gadget is now more like speaking to someone sitting next to you, which is why home automation hubs like the Amazon Echo can be so effective for seniors at home. The device acts as the catch-all for activating things like streaming radio, audiobooks, getting the day’s weather report and even controlling other smart gadgets around the home.

  1. Automated Door Lock

Caregivers and extended family members may want to opt for a high-tech front door, as it allows them to control entry into the home without the old-school safety issues of leaving a key under the mat. Automated locks offer the ability to create unique digital codes for multiple users who need access, such as caregivers or other family members. The codes can also be changed at any time, which is a much easier solution than changing locks due to lost keys.

  1. Robot Vacuum

Lifting couches and crouching under beds to clean hard-to-reach places is a challenge that’s insurmountable for many elderly adults. Robotic cleaning gadgets eliminate the need for this.. Users can create schedules that signal when the vacuum should remove itself from its dock and start cleaning the floors. Most models automatically adjust as they move from carpet to hardwood to tile, so that every square inch of the floor is cleaned.

  1. Smart Smoke Detector

A smoke and carbon monoxide detector that requires little upkeep can be a dream come true for anyone who’s been woken by a detector that won’t stop chirping or who’s struggled to change a dead battery. A smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector like the Nest Protect lasts for up to a decade. It also helps cut down on false alarms while saving peace of mind by sending smartphone alerts should anything ever be amiss.

  1. Smart Sensors

Multi-purpose sensors can be used in all sorts of useful scenarios like detecting the buzz that signals the end of a washing machine cycle or a knock on the door. Elder caregivers and other family members will find it most useful for alerting when any doors or windows open, so that they can monitor who is coming into a house and, most importantly, when their loved one exits the house and returns safely home.

With smart technology now more user-friendly than ever, even seniors with little tech experience should find that home automation helps them age in place safely.

Kelly Schwarze writes about smart home technology, including how new products can improve the lives of seniors. Kelly provides her insight online for Home Depot. To research a large variety of smart home tech products, you can visit Home Depot’s website.