Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

Meet the SeniorHomes Scholarship Winners!

The 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.



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.


How to Cope When Caring for a Difficult Loved One


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.

Caregivers: Looking Forward to a Longer Life Expectancy

A new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Department of Health and Human Services finds that caregivers may actually benefit from a longer life expectancy compared to their non-caregiving counterparts. The findings indicate that on average, family caregivers live about nine months longer than those who don’t serve as primary caregivers to an aging loved one. Health benefits of caregiving

Caregiver stress typically linked to increased health risk

These findings are surprising in light of the many articles and other studies that have shown that caregivers have higher levels of stress and are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety — which can make them  more susceptible to other chronic diseases and more likely to neglect their own health and wellness needs. Rational thinking would lead you to believe that caregivers would have a shorter lifespan than those not subjected to the many stresses and challenges of caregiving.

Dr. David L. Roth, lead author of the study and director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, says the findings are in direct contradiction with previous research that links caregiving to higher mortality rates. The Johns Hopkins study evaluated 3,500 family caregivers as well as an equal number of non-caregivers. Data was obtained from a pool of more than 30,000 participants in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, and all participants were 45 years of age or older.

Johns Hopkins researchers found that participants in the family caregiver group actually did not experience an increase in health risks — and in fact, they had an 18 percent lower risk of death throughout the six-year study duration.

Caregiving actually has some health benefits

Even more interesting is the fact that evaluating specific sub-groups of the study did not reveal any particular group that showed a higher risk of mortality — even those caregivers who reported at least some caregiving strain (the stress we typically associate with an increased risk of chronic disease and attribute to the previously-believed shorter lifespan).

One finding has emerged from this research that we already know to be true: Many caregivers in the study report feelings of self-worth, greater self-esteem and the joys of receiving gratitude and recognition from the loved ones they care for. In a summary of the findings published at Medical News Today, Dr. Roth says, “Thus, when caregiving is done willingly, at manageable levels, and with individuals who are capable of expressing gratitude, it is reasonable to expect that health benefits might accrue in those situations.”

More research needed to evaluate high-stress caregiving situations

It’s important to note that this research does not take into account the specific caregiving duties requires of the family caregivers evaluated, or even the level of care the care recipients required. Researchers do point out that future studies delving into these specific sub-sets of the caregiving population more closely could in fact reveal a higher risk of mortality in particularly high-stress and demanding caregiving situations.

That said, if family caregiving can be arranged in such a way as to minimize stress on the caregiver — such as by splitting up caregiving duties among siblings — there could actually be health benefits obtainable by providing care for an aging family member or other loved one.

Image via Flickr by English Heritage

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Caregiver Resources:

Have you ever had a family member fall ill? Or has someone in your community faced a tragic health diagnosis?  If either of these scenarios have happened to you then you understand the huge need families have for support during this time, but also their lack of energy to reach out to each individual.  Caring bridge offers families a way to reach out to friends for help, support, and simply to keep them updated without having to face the daunting task of contacting each person.  Furthermore,  friends are able to find out how their beloved friend is doing, and what they can do to help the family through their personal website.   Overall, provides an essential resource that we hope to never have to use, but if the situation arises we will be happy we have it.

The Power of Connection During a Health Crisis

CaringBridge was created to help these families stay in touch and provide information, while increasing time available for the patient and their caregiver. CaringBridge websites can be used for cancer supportafter a premature birthduring recovery for a serious injury, or for any health crisis that requires support from family and friends.

Simplify Communication

CaringBridge provides free personal and private websites that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends, making each health journey easier. The site provides a place for users to post journal entries and photos, as well as receive messages of hope and encouragement in a guestbook.

Using CaringBridge to centralize communication during a health journey makes it easier to share news, saving time and emotional energy. Everyone can stay in touch, regardless of time zones and area codes.

How to Create a CaringBridge Website

A CaringBridge website can be created at By following a few simple steps, a personalized website complete with privacy options can be started in just minutes. Authors can forward their unique and private CaringBridge website name and address to family and friends.

CaringBridge can be used by patients and families in all types of medical situations including cancer, premature birth, organ transplant, hospice care, serious injury, stroke, rehabilitation and more.

The Power of Connection

When faced with a significant health challenge, connecting with family and friends can help reduce isolation and stress. In a survey of CaringBridge users, 91% of patients agreed that using CaringBridge helped make their health journey easier and 88% of patients agreed that having a CaringBridge website positively impacted their healing process.

This information was provided by, as was their logo.   The image was from Ravenwood at Stock.xchng

Tackling Decision-Making Among Older Adults

The New York Times recently reported on a familiar phenomenon: A decreased ability to make snap decisions as we age. If you’re providing care for elderly parents, you’ve likely experienced frustration if you’ve been short on time and had to wait for mom or dad to decide on what they want for lunch, what they’d like to wear or what they’d like to do that day. A few minutes can seem like an eternity for busy members of the sandwich generation, who are often tending to the needs of aging parents in between running children to soccer practice or playdates. Older adults take a different approach to decision-making

It turns out there’s a scientific basis for our diminished decision-making capability as we age. Gregory Samanez-Larkin, a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging, studied decision-making for his doctoral dissertation research at Stanford University. Dr. Samanez-Larkin asked subjects ranging in age from 20 to 85 to consider a set of investment options as he monitored their brain activity. He says the brain systems involved in this type of activity are at the core of decision-making.

Dr. Samanez-Larkin says that the way we make decisions changes physiologically as we age, as the brain takes a different approach to tasks. In a more recent study, to be published this month, he compared two groups: subjects in their 20s and 30s to subjects 60 and older, to determine what types of information subjects found useful in decision-making. In this study, Samanez-Larkin found that older adults tend to take a different approach to making decisions when presented with a difficult choice. When there’s no clear answer, the aging brain can perceive tough decisions as overwhelming. This leads many to opt-out completely, which can be detrimental in real-world situations.

Consider the millions of seniors faced with choosing a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. The many options available and complexity of the programs in general left many seniors feeling helpless. In this case, a total opt-out led to penalties and coverage gaps that could have been avoided.

This doesn’t mean caregivers should make decisions for their aging loved ones, however. Providing ample information to gently nudge the person in the right direction is preferable to giving directives, says Samarez-Larkin.

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Home Care Alleviates Caregiver Stress, Reduces Medical Costs

Home Instead Senior Care, a national network of locally-owned, in-home, non-medical care providers, recently commissioned a study gauging the role home care services play in the overall continuum of long-term senior care. The study, entitled “The Value of Caregiving at Home,” enlisted a panel of unbiased advisors, including medical professionals, members of academia, researchers and senior care experts to ensure the integrity of the research and methodology.  Home care services help reduce medical costs

The research finds that those receiving home senior care report less frequent physician visits, home care recipients average more than twice as many hours of care per week than those not paying for care, and caregivers provide higher ratings for the quality of care received when paid in-home care services are part of a loved one’s care.

Prior research shows that non-medical home care reduces medical costs by about $25 billion in the U.S. each year, primarily by reducing the number of hospital visits. It’s not clear whether that figure calculates the medical costs saved by caregivers, but Home Instead’s study indicates that caregivers report better health when a loved one is receiving paid home care, likely due to decreased responsibilities and stress, allowing caregivers to pay more attention to their own health needs.

Specifically, caregivers of loved ones with dementia report fewer hospital visits when paid home care is involved–18 percent report visiting the hospital as an outpatient wtihin the last year among those whose loved ones were receiving home care, compared to 40 percent when home care services were not involved. reports that 83 percent of caregivers say the task is “very demanding,” and 77 percent describe their loved one’s care needs as “overwhelming.” Home care services support not only the patient, but family caregivers as well by alleviating some of the pressure and providing an additional support system, and it’s an alternative for families who aren’t yet ready to place their loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes.

Home care can also enable family caregivers to continue working, something that many give up (either by choice or lack of choice) to care for their loved ones. This is often the case when adult children are providing care for elderly parents and must continue to work to provide for their own families. Seventy-one percent of family caregivers utilizing home care services are employed, and 51 percent maintain part-time employment.

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