What Happens When Your Care Recipient Has a Serious Illness?

By Faith Unger, M.Ed.
CaregiverU Program Director

What happens to the caregiver role when the care recipient has a serious illness? Well, for starters there are a myriad of decisions to make, starting with the decision to take the person to an emergency room at the medical center, and that’s quickly followed up by making the decision on which medical center. Should proximity be the deciding factor or should it be familiarity? Familiarity usually also means where there is an established patient record.  These decisions need to be made quickly under great stress. Then once the person is at a medical facility, there are many testing options and care options.  All will be up to you, the caregiver.

When the care receiver is admitted to the hospital, the caregiver becomes communicator and advocate in chief. The caregiver is the person who knows the care receiver best—the strengths, the weaknesses, and what works best.  I recently experienced this situation, and one of my weaknesses was that I did not know much about the medical community and the processes and procedures therein.  I learned much from my experience and now want to help you learn those things so that perhaps you will have a smaller learning curve when you have the same situation. Continue reading

How Caregivers Can Continue to Learn

By Faith Unger, M.Ed., Program Director of CaregiverU

September is traditionally thought of as the back to school month. Just saying that phrase, “back to school,” evokes a ton of special memories—new clothes, new school supplies, and new things to learn.

What if caregivers could begin a new school year?  Learn something new totally unrelated to caregiving? What a concept! What a soul feeder! The thought intrigues many a caregiver, but that thought is usually followed by another—no time for that luxury.

But wait a minute! There are numerous ways to meet that quest for new learning. Let’s explore a few that could be done during a few hours of regular respite care, during a longer time of carefully planned respite care, or during those special moments in the schedule when the care recipient is otherwise occupied as in sleep time.

Museums. Many museums have free days, so that cuts the cost—and if there is no cost, one feels freer to have a short stay!  And National Museum Day is Sunday, September 23, 2018, when you can enjoy free access to exhibits and activities at Austin-area museums (more info at http://www.austinmuseums.org/museumday/) Continue reading

May Is National Older American’s Month


Every May, the Administration on Aging—part of the Administration for Community Living—leads the nation’s observance of Older American’s Month. For 2018,
the theme will be “Engage at Every Age,” which emphasizes that you are never too old to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental and emotional well-being and celebrates the many ways older adults make a difference in our communities.

Participating in activities that promote mental and physical wellness, offering your wisdom and experience to the next generation, or seeking the mentorship of someone with more life experience than you are just a few examples of being engaged. Volunteering at your favorite non-profit organization also provides meaningful engagement that simultaneously positively impacts the community.

Understanding the Four Categories of Long-Term Care Facilities for Older Adults

By Michael Gill, President of Texas Senior Living Locators

There are four categories of long-term care available to senior adult individuals who no longer are able to live independently in a house or apartment:
– Skilled Nursing Facilities,
– Assisted Living,
– Memory Care, and
– Independent Living.
The appropriate category of long-term care to choose depends primarily on two factors:  finances and care needs.

In Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF), the majority of residents are receiving care paid for by either Medicare or Medicaid. About 20% of an average SNF’s residents are there for a short-term stay—usually three to six weeks—for rehabilitation therapy from physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Medicare residents qualify for this benefit if they have had a hospitalization of at least three nights.  Of long-term SNF residents, more than half are there using Medicaid benefits.

To qualify for Medicaid, a resident must be indigent—have less than $2,100 of monthly income and less than $2,000 of total assets—and must qualify medically. A large majority of Medicaid residents have dementia and cannot safely care for themselves. Continue reading

Holiday Survival for the Caregiver

By Faith Unger, CaregiverU Program Director

Previously, I’ve written a blog about holiday survival, but the focus was on helping the care receiver to survive the holiday chaos. My thoughts now turn to the caregiver who is already overwhelmed and additionally faces the work and activities that come with the holidays.  How can the caregiver make this personally a time of good cheer?

marking-off-calendar-picPlan ahead. Have a visit with the calendar to see what’s ahead. Fill in the dates and times for all of the events ahead—both family time and work time if it applies.  Then, think about all of these activities.  Are they really essential to your holiday bliss, or would there be more bliss if some were moved or eliminated?  Can you really handle everything on that calendar, or is it too much?

Then start setting priorities.  What makes the holiday special for you?  For some of the events that are hostess heavy, could someone else take over or share those tasks? Do right by yourself!

artificial-xmas-tree-branchA few years ago, I eliminated a live Christmas tree, which seemed to me the essence of Christmas.  It was hard, but it was the right decision. We bought a scrappy-looking little artificial tree and no longer had to coordinate with someone to help get the tree home and set up. Now, whoever comes home for Thanksgiving gets the tree down from the attic and sets it up. Together we all decorate.  Decorating the tree has become a nice family activity and that is where we now invest the time and energy.

Continue reading

What Happens When a Caregiver Needs a Caregiver?

By Faith Unger
CaregiverU Program Director
AGE of Central Texas

The short answer to this question is “The caregiver doesn’t get a caregiver, and the care receiver may not receive as much care.”  The longer and more appropriate answer is to the question, “How does a caregiver cope with giving care to an individual when the caregiver is also needing care?”

First, here are some tips to keep the caregiver healthy – so the caregiver does not end up needing a caregiver. These tips are under the broad theme of being proactive, of caring well for oneself, the caregiver. One good first step in being proactive is to listen to the body and to be aware of symptoms. Stop and recognize the pain! It’s wise to pause long enough to analyze the unwell feelings. This means considering the answers to two key questions: “Do I need to take corrective action? Do I need to consult with a doctor or nurse?”

It’s important to not fear needlessly seeing the medical staff. I have often put off going to the doctor because of this fear. Going to the doctor means missed work hours, paying a co-pay, and scheduling care for my spouse.  Thus, I overanalyze whether it’s really necessary, more often erring on the side of not seeking medical help. The result is more cost in terms of time and money. Be okay with seeing the medical staff – and there be nothing wrong! That’s all right.  It would be nice to hear that there is not a problem. Continue reading

Is It Safe to Leave a Person with Dementia Alone?

People with dementia become increasingly unable to take care of themselves as their disease advances. However, the disease progresses differently in every person.  As a caregiver, you face the ongoing challenge of adapting to each change in your loved one’s behavior and functioning.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules on the issue, the National Institutes on Health and the National Institute on Aging both suggest taking into account the behavioral traits of the person with dementia, such as does he/she:

  • Become confused or unpredictable under stress?
  • Recognize a dangerous situation, such as fire?
  • Know how to use the telephone in an emergency?
  • Know how to get help?
  • Stay content within the home?
  • Show signs of agitation, depression, or withdrawal when left alone for any period of time?
  • Attempt to pursue former interests or hobbies that might now warrant supervision, such as cooking, appliance repair, or woodworking?

Continue reading

3 Reasons to Move Your Senior Adult Family Member to a Long-Care Community

By Michael Gill, President of Texas Senior Living Locators

I’ve found there are three reasons why senior adults and their families decide to move from a long-term residence into a senior living community.

The first reason is when the senior adult is a danger to himself or herself at home. Most frequently—but not always—this is a result of dementia. A senior may wander away from home, leave the stove on, be unsafe taking their medications properly, or be a fall risk both day and night when there are no caregivers present.  They may engage in inappropriate behaviors, like trying to use a ladder, or may bother the neighbors or passers-by. The scenarios are endless, but the final result is a risk of a serious injury. When a senior adult is unsafe at home, a move is mandatory. Continue reading

Caregiver Lecture Series Returns in April


To provide additional education and support to family caregivers, AGE of Central Texas will once again host its annual Caregiver Lecture Series, featuring a series of seminars held every-other weekend in April on three Saturdays, April 1st through 29th, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon.

The free seminar series will cover legal, financial, and healthcare issues that caregivers often encounter when caring for an older loved one.  Registration is now open online at www.tinyurl.com/AGEseries2017.

“The most frequent questions that caregivers have when contacting the AGE Caregiver Resource Center consistently center around legal and financial matters,” said Gailyn Trammell, AGE’s Community Education Coordinator.  “This year’s lecture series will again feature local experts who will address those common concerns, along with an opportunity for participants to find answers their most pressing individual concerns.”

Continue reading

Holiday Tips for Caregivers

holiday_blog_pic_dec2016By Faith Unger, M. Ed.
Program Director for CaregiverU

We all carry visions of what the holidays should look like, and often those visions don’t jibe very well with reality.  At this time of year, many of us visualize a Norman Rockwell type of scene – with everybody gathered happily around a perfectly-laid holiday table. Reality is often a bit different! norman_rockwell_xmas

In addition to that image, I also carry around in my head visions of previous holidays, when life was different.   That is, when the kids were younger and my spouse was cognitively able to partner with me in all the holiday preparation.

Today my husband has a cognitive disability, and the children are young adults with spouses and responsibilities of their own.  Part of the holiday experience is traveling to their homes for visits and hosting them in our home, all the while helping my spouse cope and have a good time.  As a caregiver, managing the holidays has come to mean managing many different issues: disruptions in schedule and routine, traveling, adapting to new surroundings, decorating the home, shopping for gifts, and preparing food, to name a few. Continue reading