Working caregivers and parents know the difficulty of juggling a job and the responsibility of caring for others. Schedules overlap, appointments need to be made during the work day, and employers are not always understanding when you need to be away from work. It can be difficult to approach the boss about flexibility for fear of retaliation or losing your job altogether. The balance between work and caregiving is one of the major stresses that make tending to others such a difficult task. But it just got a little easier for some.
New legislation in San Francisco gives employees the right to request flexibility in the office to attend to caregiving needs. If a caregiver needs time off, a change in hours, the ability to work from home, or a predictable schedule each week, the law allows them to make such a request without fear of retaliation. This does not mean the employer must grant the request, but they are required to give it serious consideration and provide a written response. Employees now have the protection to ask for what they need and be taken seriously rather than having to worry about being fired or ignored by employers.
This open attitude towards flexible work environments should benefit employers as well. Employees that are happy and feel valued are more productive. Prospective employees would be more enticed to work in a place where they know their needs will be considered. And employers can spend less time on recruitment and training of new employees when flexibility allows them to keep quality workers who otherwise would need to leave for more accommodating employers.
In San Francisco, the impetus behind the bill was largely to entice more families to stay in the area; currently, they have the lowest percentage of children in their population across the nation. However, San Francisco is not the only place where such legislation is in effect and children are not the only motivation. The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand all have similar laws and the idea has proven positive for both employees and businesses. Vermont also recently passed Right to Request legislation statewide as part of a larger bill to protect workers’ rights.
The bill has its detractors, as well. One point is that there are a lot of reasons not to live in a city like San Francisco (cost of living, quality of schools, etc.) and this is too small of a step to make a big difference. San Francisco caregivers may disagree, but what about business owners who might consider moving to the area? This complicates their responsibilities towards employees and they may prefer to choose somewhere simpler to set up shop.
Another argument is that non-caregiving workers have to pick up the slack for those who are off attending to their personal duties. They say being single and childless shouldn’t mean a more rigid schedule and more hours to cover for someone else. These people feel discriminated against for not having someone to care for and feel ostracized if they want to take time off for themselves. Their point is that flexible options should be available for everyone, not just those who are caregivers. They believe the reason for requesting flexibility shouldn’t matter: if a business can operate effectively and still offer employees options for how, when, and where to get their job done, why not do it?
What’s your take on the issue? Tell us in the comments how states should balance support for caregivers with the needs of the whole community.
Many people, especially senior citizens, have difficulty sleeping. Sleep needs differ at different stages in life, but it is not normal to need less sleep as we age. It is normal to have more difficulty sleeping soundly, but the same amount is generally needed throughout adulthood. While teenagers are blessed with the best, deepest sleep, seniors often have a variety of aches and illnesses that make a solid night of sleep hard to come by. Many supplement their rest with naps during the day, which is a good idea to maintain brain health. Those of us who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis know the misery of being tired. It isn’t just a desire for sleep; it is a physical need that gets worse if we don’t catch up.
Brain & Body
To get a glimpse into the effects of such a buildup, think about the last time you lost a significant amount of sleep, especially a few nights in a row. You forget things, become confused more easily, and can’t problem solve as well as your rested self. You probably feel fuzzy and slow. Does this sound familiar? These problems are actually some of the hallmarks of dementia. That’s not to say lack of sleep causes dementia, but the symptoms and physical effects are remarkably similar. Read More
The time is rapidly approaching when our country’s caregiving system will be spread so thin it may well break down. Actually, the term “system” is a bit of a stretch. In the US most people employ one of two methods to prepare for future disability: save or hope. Unfortunately, savings are often inadequate to meet care needs when something unexpected happens. A stay in an assisted living community costs around $53,000 a year. If you need medical care as well, a nursing home will run $74,000 annually. Long term care insurance is a solution, but most people don’t have it. The other option is to hope. Hope that you will not end up with a disability (though 70% of American over eighty do) or hope that someone you love will take care of you when the need arises. It makes perfect sense for adult children to care for their parents in these situations, after all that is what family does. But not everyone has family with the willingness or the resources to help.
The numbers should scare you. Here are some projections for the year 2050 (that’s only 37 years away):
- The number of people over eighty will triple
- About 27 million people will need some form of long term care.
- 11 – 16 million people will have Alzheimer’s Disease (right now it’s 5.2 million)
- About 21% of frail seniors will be childless.
- There will be 2.6 potential caregivers for each person over 80 (currently there are 7.2)
With a larger population of seniors, more instances of illnesses requiring significant care, and fewer children in families to provide aid there will be many people left with nowhere to turn but federal programs. Right now, that means Medicaid. The recent Affordable Care Act originally included the CLASS Act, an option to buy long term care insurance through a government program, but it was determined the program could not be solvent as written. Instead, a commission was formed to analyze the problem and find feasible solutions. Short on time and funding, the best they could do was make suggestions for further exploration.
Their suggestions included ways to bolster long term care in the country with ideas like standardizing quality assessments, improving the availability of services, and focusing on home/community based care. While good ideas, the looming crisis is largely about how to pay for all of these services and committee members were indecisive on that issue. In fact, their final report was delivered with a 9-6 vote – not a conclusive or cohesive recommendation. Some of the committee members even published their own alternative report with dissenting views.
The committee chair, Dr. Bruce Chernof, aptly calls this America’s “Chicken Little Moment.” Analysts have been running around warning that the sky is falling and that long term care will break us. We are at a point now where an immediate solution is needed, or the problem becomes one of cleaning up after a disaster rather than finding a proactive resolution. Unfortunately, this leaves Americans hanging, wondering and worrying about what their silver years will look like. Do you have a contingency plan in case of disease or debilitation in retirement?
The explosion of smartphones, tablets, and all their associated apps has been spilling into the senior market in some interesting ways. Even though only eighteen percent of people over fifty currently have a smartphone, many valuable apps cater to a senior clientele. While I don’t endorse or recommend any particular app, there are quite a few that could make your day a little easier. Remember to be cautious with your personal information and make sure you trust the source of anything you download onto your device.
Organizers and Reminders
- Allayo is essentially a personal health assistant. It sends you reminders, refills meds, arranges deliveries, and performs other tasks related to your health needs.
- A variety of medication trackers will remind you to take your meds and more advanced versions warn of dangerous interactions.
- List and document sharing helps people team up to accomplish tasks.
- FluView lets you access information about the flu, including outbreaks near you.
- AllergyCast checks the pollen forecast in your area.
- LabDoor rates products found at the drug store with a quick scan of the UPC code.
- Pokitdok (sounds like “pocket doc”) has quality ratings and cost info on health providers which allows patients to shop for the provider that matches their exact needs.
- WebMD has a mobile app for on the go medical information.
- Propeller is a device that attaches to your asthma inhaler and sends data about usage to your phone app. It helps you to know how often you medicate and to share the info with your doctor at appointments.
- LoveMySkin Mole Map helps you track moles and lesions.
- Glucose Buddy is a place to log your diabetes care information and track your numbers for analysis.
- Urgent Care puts you a button touch away from a registered nurse who can give medical advice. It also has a symptom checker and medical dictionary.
- 5Star Urgent Response acts as a mobile personal emergency response device. You can call for help and they will send services to your location.
- Caremerge helps senior communities maintain contact with residents’ families.
- Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias Daily is a support network for caregivers of dementia patients. It integrates expert advice and members’ personal experiences.
Just Plain Handy
- With a wireless ear piece, your smartphone can function as a hearing aid. The set-up is much cheaper than a traditional hearing aid.
- Magnify anything using your phone’s camera.
- Dictation apps help write notes and emails.
- Find My iPad helps you locate a misplaced device.
- Big calculator…enough said.
There are many, many other apps out there that could fill a need you didn’t even know you had. If you find yourself thinking, “wouldn’t it be convenient if…” look it up – there may be an app for that!
When you think of life in an assisted living community, what comes to mind? Is it something akin to an all-day Bingo session full of people who are too physically or mentally restricted to go out and have some real fun? Or is it people sitting in front of a television screen, living in a haze? These are some common misconceptions about senior living centers, and such images often keep potential residents away because of the depressing notion of missing out on life’s fun side.
Of course, the primary reason to live in an assisted living community is a medical need for help and therefore there will be people with mobility restrictions. However, good communities work hard to keep the atmosphere lively and engaging, and avoid the depressing tone many people associate with their services. They also make sure everyone can participate, so those with mobility restrictions can join whichever activities they like. Read More
Recent studies have found that brain health begins to deteriorate much earlier than we used to think. One such study found that cognitive decline was already present in participants by middle age (around 45 years old). The loss can increases with certain physical illnesses like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and head injury. Even smoking increases the threat. However, being in good physical health does not prevent the loss of brain function as we age. So how do we keep our mind working as well as it is right now?
We know how to keep our bodies healthy: eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and visit the doctor for regular screenings. Good health is why our parents made us eat our vegetables (anyone here sit staring at a pile of spinach for hours because you couldn’t leave the table until you finished?) and it’s the impetus behind countless fitness programs, workout videos, and personal training sessions. But did you know you were also protecting your brain health all that time? Certain habits are more beneficial to your brain then others, but staying in good physical shape actually keeps your brain in better shape, too.
One potential hazard to avoid is a silent stroke. This is a type of stroke which generally shows no outward symptoms, but causes damage to brain cells and reduces cognitive function. It also places victims at higher risk for having a major stroke later in life. Foods like veggies, fruit, whole grains, fish, nuts, and even a little wine all help to maintain healthy blood flow in the brain and protect against stroke. Eat monounsaturated fats rather than saturated, and be sure to get a few servings of omega-3 fatty acids each week.
These food choices will naturally lead to better physical and mental health, but exercise is also essential to keeping brain cells firing. Working the body will help, but be sure to flex your thinking muscles, too! While the brain is not actually a muscle, it does need to be used to stay sharp. Puzzles, word games, reading, conversation, creative endeavors, learning new things – anything that makes you think in new ways will keep you thinking clearly longer.
Congratulations on reading something new – you have improved your cognitive function! I found this memory game more challenging than I expected, tell us in the comments what gets your brain cells firing.
Can you imagine spending a lifetime planning, sacrificing, and saving for retirement only to have the money taken away when you are ready to use it? Unfortunately, that is happening to many retired Americans. Predators know that seniors have savings for retirement, a pile of money sitting in an account ripe for the picking. Even those just scraping by are targets – scammers don’t know how much money there is, they just try to get some. The tragedy is that retired citizens often do not have the money to spare and they have little opportunity to recover from the losses. Sadder still, 90% of financial scams directed against senior citizens are perpetrated by family members. Those that aren’t may result in the gullible senior’s info being sold to other scammers who continue to prey upon them.
It is estimated that senior financial abuse costs retired Americans $2.6 billion per year. The crimes are believed to be underreported because people either don’t know or don’t like to admit they’ve been scammed. There are many different types of scams – people can be endlessly creative to get what they want – but there are a few common ones to be aware of and some very basic things you can do to protect yourself or a loved one.
One scheme is to call cold and just say “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” This is quick and easy because no prep or research is necessary. The senior answering the phone often fills in the name of a familiar grandchild and the scammer convinces grandma to wire some money, but begs them not to tell mom and dad. The cash is picked up without ID, and there is very little evidence to track down the thief.
A Worthy Cause
Another common one is to prey on people’s goodwill after a disaster. Pretending to be from a charity, scammers will call and ask for donations. Victims often don’t even know they’ve been scammed so the risk of being caught is low for the caller. Telemarketing schemes are similar, except the promised goods are never delivered and it is difficult to track down the thief.
Insurance scams are not as damaging to the person being deceived, but Medicare ends up paying for bogus, unnecessary charges. Medicare may have large pockets, but not large enough for the number of people who need it. There are several variations of this fraud:
- Health testing – Someone sets up a booth in a public space offering “free” screenings or tests. They are free to the consumer, but Medicare is billed for each fake test.
- Surveys – Callers start out asking seniors to rate a recent medical visit, but during the call elicit personal information and an ID number. Then they bill Medicare for services they claim to have provided.
- Services not rendered – Unscrupulous providers bill insurance for services they did not provide.
- Counterfeit drugs – Legitimate businesses offer lower priced prescription drugs over the internet, but scam artists offer their services, too. They take money and bill insurance, but send fake pills. This is dangerous in two ways: medical treatment is interrupted and unknown substances are unwittingly ingested.
Sweepstakes, lotteries, and prizes are exciting, but winning something out of nowhere ought to raise a big red flag – especially if you have to pay to get the prize. The most insidious of these scams actually send a prize check, which victims can deposit in the bank. A few days later, after they’ve paid for so-called taxes or handling fees, the prize check bounces and the bank reclaims the phony winnings.
Many of these scams are done in a way that makes it very hard to track down the guilty parties and harder still to recoup the lost money. The best way to stop such crimes is for the victims to protect themselves. Awareness of common schemes is important, but it is not possible to know every possible scam that might come your way. However, you can take a few simple precautions to guard yourself against many forms of theft.
- Keep your personal information private. If someone calls asking for it, find the number for their company on your own (don’t use the number the caller gives you), make sure they are reputable, and then call them yourself. Scammers will push to keep you on the phone; legitimate businesses will want you to do your research and feel comfortable.
- Don’t pay to receive prizes, especially if you don’t remember entering a contest.
- Make purchases and donations through organizations you trust. Use the Better Business Bureau to check out companies before buying from them.
- If you are feeling a lot of pressure to sign or pay without being allowed to shop around and think about your choice, walk away.
- Read your insurance statements. Make sure you really did receive the services that were billed and ask questions if you aren’t sure.
It’s cliché, but fitting: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Be wary of deals that offer something for nothing or seem remarkably better than average. Ask yourself why that may be and if you might be the target of a scam.
In a time when shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant showcase children who have adult responsibilities thrust on them through their own poor choices, I think it is important to realize that there are many children choosing to take on the duties of caregiving for very different reasons.
How much responsibility should a child have? Right now over 1.5 million children are weighed down with far more than many adults will ever know. Caregiving is a chore of love, but it causes health problems and depression even for adults with adequate resources and mature coping skills. How do elementary and high school aged caregivers manage? They juggle school and caregiving every day and sometimes also a job to support their families. Some drop out of school because helping family is more important than their education. In fact, 22% of dropouts cite caregiving as the reason for leaving school. Others go to school too tired to focus or even stay awake in class.
Imagine a ten year old home alone caring for a dementia patient. Or a thirteen year old cooking, cleaning, distributing medications, and sometimes bathing his infirm mother, after his father’s death a few years before. Some children manage complex medical equipment and others take care of a parent’s bathroom and bathing needs. Many are afraid that their families will be torn apart if anyone finds out that the adult in the household is infirm. This fear keeps them from seeking help and leaves loving, hardworking children to struggle with the advanced responsibilities of adulthood. We think of childhood as a time of learning and developing into functioning members of society, but caregiving duties are forcing these children to grow up too fast and miss out on the preparation they need to be successful adults.
There are groups beginning to find and support such children, but awareness is limited right now. Getting the word out is one of the goals of groups like the American Association of Caregiving Youth. AACY intervenes in the lives of children in these situations and supports them however they need to both stay in school and continue to provide support for their family members. Sometimes this means finding health aides to alleviate some responsibility, getting tutors to catch up on academics, finding resources to meet health needs, or just providing emotional support and a sense of hope for individuals who can feel very alone and discouraged.
As technology becomes pervasive in all aspects of daily life, more and more seniors are demanding connectivity from their senior living communities. Having a few computers on campus is no longer enough to attract clients to a site. Many seniors and their visitors want to be able to use their wireless devices wherever they are in a community and some new medical equipment requires a connection to work properly. Communities that do not have internet availability are going to find it very difficult to attract residents from upcoming generations. Running extra lines and adding reliable Wi-Fi access around campus is costly and presents logistic challenges that some communities may not be prepared to face. However, if these services are not in place potential residents will look for a site that can deliver.
While some senior living communities struggle to keep up with the changing demands of prospective clients, others are embracing them and offering enticing options to an increasingly technology-centered generation. Wi-Fi is just the beginning; some communities are using the latest health technology to keep residents safer and to stand out from the competition.
One of the hottest new services available in up-to-date communities is personal emergency monitoring. Pendants and call buttons are not new, but they have undergone a makeover that makes them much more appealing. For people at risk for a fall or other emergency medical situations, around the clock monitoring is a major factor in choosing an assisted living community. But 24-hour monitoring is invasive and often impractical – unless it is done by a computer that can alert staff only as needed. Devices can measure vital signs, monitor for a fall, even track sleeping habits and predict potential dangers based on changes in normal patterns. Notifications are sent to staff or family when a problem is detected, otherwise the resident maintains their privacy. The newest of these devices are mobile and as easily carried as a wristwatch so no matter where the resident goes, monitoring is complete. A GPS feature is especially attractive for those at risk for wandering.
Another tool communities are providing to attract new clients is senior friendly computers. These machines are simpler to use, highly customizable, and come stocked with all kinds of options for users with physical and cognitive limitations. Individuals who have never become comfortable with computer usage are now able to browse the internet, play games, and enjoy more social connections with family and friends. These tools are a definite draw for many seniors seeking a new community and will go a long way toward keeping owners competitive in an evolving market.
Let’s face it, assisted living communities aren’t exactly known for their ability to keep their residents excited and engaged at all times. However, there are a few communities out there that are looking to break this stereotype. Here are five activities you’d never expect from an assisted living community.
1. Following Current Trends
Keeping them up to date about internet trends, what’s popular at the movies, or even the latest celebrity news. This is a great way to keep residents informed about the world while also helping them stay connected with younger family members.
What about re-enacting popular music videos? Check out residents remaking a Rascal Flatts video. They lip synced, brought props and dressed their part. The video was posted on YouTube and created excitement throughout the residents as they watched themselves on screen.
Residents have also started to practice and choreograph a flash mob dance to surprise family, friends and other residents.
And let’s not forget about the infamous Harlem Shake viral videos. While this one didn’t go viral, they had a blast doing it.
2. Themed Socials
Themed socials keep the atmosphere fun and exciting while giving the residents something to look forward to. Maybe an Oscar party that allows residents to dress in their gowns and suits for a fancy star-studded night. Throw out a red carpet and maybe even include some floodlights to give the real effect.
Some communities held a 50s Sock Hop where the residents get together to remember their younger days. These sock hops should be complete with soda shop music and maybe even 50s era props to make the event more authentic—think poodle skirts, leather jackets and the like.
3. Community Outreach
When residents do their part to help the community, it does wonders for their self-worth. No matter where the community is, there are several ways to get residents involved in community outreach. They can volunteer at a local homeless shelter or visit elementary schools to have story-time with the younger kids.
4. Special Outings
Getting creative with group outings and not letting age or physical condition hinder the plans can create adventure and excitement in the facility. Ask the residents for things they have always wanted to do. If someone has always wanted to fly a plane, try to arrange for it to happen by checking with smaller airports. Other options include safari rides in a covered wagon where residents can experience wild animals feeding from their hands.
5. Grow a garden
When residents plant a garden, they will be rewarded with responsibilities such as planting, weeding and watering. This will also give them a sense of accomplishment as they see the vegetables and herbs start to grow. Furthermore, using the ingredients in meals gives them further activities to participate in.
By getting creative and ensuring that fun and excitement remain at the center of activity planning, assisted home communities can transform the lives of the residents.
Tara Berardinelli is the activity coordinator at Mulberry Gardens Assisted Living in Munroe Falls, Ohio, and a freelance writer for The Mobility Resource, an online adaptive driving marketplace.