Date Day

Today my husband and I had a day out together.  Life gets to be so busy sometimes, and it seems like the first thing to suffer when it’s busy is alone time with each other.  We have been married for nearly 24 years.  (That in and of itself is an amazing fact to me!)  In that time period we have been through some pretty good stuff…but  we have also been through some pretty yucky stuff.  One thing I have learned in all of it is this….The most important thing that my husband and I can do is have alone time, have time going out for the day, or time going out for a glass of wine or cup of coffee together.  Time to connect, to laugh, to learn more about each other (it amazes me how much there still is to learn after so many years together) and to dream together.  All things that we did when we were dating, but  all so very important to keeping a marriage healthy and growing.  I can look back on the yucky times in our marriage, and I know that they all stemmed from us not connecting, not dreaming, not making our relationship a priority.  We had to learn the hard way that relationships not only take work, they take a commitment to togetherness and days out.  Today we went to a museum in the mansion of a local family and did a tour and had lunch together.  We talked and laughed and amazingly, we did not talk about work or the kids!  We just enjoyed each other!

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You Need To Be Present, Not Perfect: 3 Tips for Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia

By Jennifer Olson Crane, M.S.

In my work and in my personal life I have had the privilege to speak with people who are confronted by the reality of caregiving for a family member who is dealing with the debilitating symptoms of dementia.  One concern that caregivers consistently communicate to me is that they are “screwing it all up!” They tell me they don’t feel up to the task.  They express worry that they can’t be good enough or perfect when interacting with their loved ones.  Some of these caregivers might even be at the point of exhaustion or breakdown.

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There are several tips that I urge these individuals to bear in mind each day.

  1. You are only human; be sure to take care of yourself.

None of us is super human.  It is ok to be frustrated, overwhelmed, tired or even to lose your composure with your loved one.  Caregiving is a 24/7 job and it is affected by so many outside things that are not controllable that it is inevitable that frustration and fatigue will take over sometimes.

It is ok to need a break, to periodically take time for yourself.  In fact, it is not just ok, it is a necessary part of being able to be a caregiver for the long-haul.  Take advantage of family members, friends, church members, or other people’s offer to do something to help.  Ask them to come sit with your loved one, so you can take a nap, go to lunch with a friend or your spouse, or do a favorite activity.

If friends/family are not around, please consider looking into day programs or the local senior center for programs that provide respite.  One program that I am aware of charges just $10 an hour and includes lunch so that a caregiver can schedule time off.  Taking care of oneself refreshes and enables a caregiver to be much more able to take care of their loved one with dementia for the long haul.

  1. When you lose your cool, apologize and move on.

Don’t beat yourself up when you lose it with your loved one.  Again, you are human.  Apologize and move on.  Sometimes the loved one is hurt by your outburst.  However, a conversation that includes an apology and an “I love you” can go a long way.  Especially before dementia progresses into late stages, people are aware that their behavior and/or speech is confused.  They don’t know what to do about it and it often helps defuse a frustrating situation to have a caregiver admit that they are confused or don’t know what to do or how to handle it either.  The two can learn together.

  1. Understand it’s a new normal.

When dealing with dementia, caregivers and family are always dealing with a “new normal” in the life of a loved one affected by this disease process.  The disease process of dementia causes deterioration in the brain, is usually progressive in nature, and promotes periodic personality and functional changes in the affected loved one.  These changes are hard for caregivers and family members to watch and understand.  It is often the inclination of caregivers and family members to refer to the way the affected person “used to be” and to desire to get their loved one back to that normal.  One of the hardest realities to face is that the former version of the affected person does not exist anymore.  Who they are now and what they can do now is their new normal.  It is important for caregivers and family members to understand this new normal and how it dictates their required care.  As the dementia progresses, the affected loved one may experience additional new normals, causing the caregiver to need adapt the approach and strategy of care.

Caregiving is not easy!  No two cases of dementia are alike. The dementia process often requires a changing approach by the caregiver over time as the disease progresses.  It is challenging enough for someone experienced with dementia to navigate the path to dementia care without any missteps.  I advise caregivers not to be too hard on themselves, to get educated, and to seek regular guidance from their loved one’s healthcare practitioners.

 

About the Author

Jennifer Olson Crane is a Gerontologist and a member of Savantive LLC, a professional consulting business she started with her husband.  She has a passion to help older adults, especially individuals diagnosed with dementia, by addressing their struggles in a way that leads to positive outcomes and improved quality of life.

Jennifer educates families and caregivers about the dementia process, connecting them to appropriate resources for their affected loved ones, and providing ongoing support as the situation changes.  She writes and speaks on the topics of dementia and caregiving.

Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (summa cum laude) from Liberty University and a Master of Science (summa cum laude) in Gerontological Services from Saint Joseph’s University.

 

(Note: The opinions and information expressed herein are that of the author and are not reflective of any current or former employer or client.)

© 2018 Savantive, LLC

A Tale of Two Graduates…

The last week was an interesting one for me.  I was able to pick up my cap and gown for my Master’s graduation ceremony.  I put it on and had my picture taken.  It was the moment that it all felt real to me.  I have gone to school for the past 5 years straight and most of it has been done online.  I did not walk for my undergraduate ceremony and so I didn’t get a cap and gown.  I will walk this time, and picking up my cap and gown meant a lot to me!

My daughter will be graduating this year as well.  She is a senior at her college and will earn her Bachelor’s in English-Professional Writing.  She, too, picked up her cap and gown this week.  She, too, is beginning to realize the reality of graduation.

Our two ceremonies are just one week apart.  On May 12 I will go to her college and watch my baby get her degree and close the door on one chapter of her life and move into the next chapter.  I am sure I will shed a tear.  I am so stinking proud of my girl and all that she is accomplishing.  I can’t wait to see where she goes next in life.  May 19 she will see me walk across the stage.  I have worked very hard to get to this moment and I am so proud that I have been able to show her what determination can do!

My daughter and I are graduating together this year.  It is a moment that I never expected to happen but one that I am very excited about!

Strength in Tears

I have spent most of my life ashamed of my propensity to cry.  I felt that it showed some weakness in me, some deficiency in my ability to be a strong, real person.  I’m not sure where this came from.  In looking over my life, I can remember trying hard not to cry in the face of conflict or challenge, but the more I tried not to, the more I cried.  In my poor sense of self it was just one more reason not to like me.

My sense of self is changing.  I am becoming more comfortable with things that used to upset me.  I am beginning to understand that things like my tears are not a shameful thing.  I am an emotional person who takes things to heart.  I care deeply and I feel deeply.  That is ok.  That is part of what makes me who I am, and part of what makes me so good at what I do.  My compassion and empathy make it possible for me to be able to make a difference in the lives of the older people I work with.  It makes me able to hear and understand my children and husband when they are struggling.  It makes me a better friend.

I read something the other day that kind of stuck with me, and I guess it is the impetus to this post.  I wish I could find it so I could reference it here.  Basically, it said that tears show strength and the ability to release tension and keep perspective in the face of troubles.  Someone who is able to cry is comfortable with their own feelings, comfortable being authentic and open, and able to express true emotion.  Crying cleanses the soul and allows a person to move forward free of strain.  It is a tool for those who are strong to stay strong.

I like this thought.  It is ok that I cry and it does not mean that I am weak or unable to cope.  I am me, and me is different maybe from you.  Me is strong and sensitive and empathetic and caring and able to navigate life in ways that are positive and effective in serving others.  It makes me a good mom, a good wife, a good sister and daughter, a good Gerontologist, a good Christian, and a good person.  My strengths are uniquely suited to my roles and my place in this world.

Even my propensity to cry!

Registered for my Final Two Classes Today……

I remember sitting down at my computer blogging about my decision to go back to school.  I had been out of school for around 20 year., and a lot has happened in my life since I had last been a student.  In December 2015 I graduated summa cum laude with my B. S. in Psychology.  I began grad school right away, and I also blogged about my decision to pursue Gerontology.

Today I am sitting here blogging about registering for my final two graduate classes.  By December of this year, I will hold a master’s degree in Gerontological Services from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

This journey has taken me through five years, two moves, both of my children graduating high school, health concerns and surgeries, the death of a grandparent, and multiple other life changes.  It was very difficult at times, and I even spent some time in tears and ready to give up.  I kept going, though, and here I am!

I am working to find a job and begin to build upon my education and truly make a difference to the people who I work with.  I am looking at research ideas, and beginning the process of developing them.  I am still a wife and a mom, and these roles are the ones I still identify with most closely because these roles mean the world to me.  I am also someone who is passionate about my chosen field and the individuals that I work with.  In some ways. I am the same person I have always been.  In others, I have changed and grown.

My husband and my kids have given me their love and support, their proofreading skills and their shoulder, their understanding and their cheering section to get me through.  I could not have gotten here without them!

So here I am getting ready to tackle my final semester of school.  I am excited to see where I land as I apply for and interview for positions in my field.  I am excited to see what the next chapter of my life holds as I am stepping out as a confident, educated and capable woman.

Body Image

I am 43 years old and yesterday I wore a two-piece swimsuit for the first time since I was about 19 years old.  It wasn’t a two piece that looked like a one-piece, it was a bikini top and a skirted bottom.  My belly was uncovered for all to see! (Ok, so all was my hubby and kids and two very good friends.  But still…)

I have struggled with my weight and with my own self-image for my entire adult life.  Swimsuit season has always been hard for me, just as it is for women everywhere.  My body flaws were exaggerated and even new flaws imagined.  My usual swimwear choice always covered me and was much “older” than me in style and color because I wanted to hide.  The idea of a two-piece was ludicrous to me!  I had two larger babies, and my belly sports the stretch-marks to prove it!

I have spent the last 5 years of my life working to improve myself.  I have been working on degrees and educational pursuits that have allowed me to see myself as a smart, intelligent person who is able to succeed at the things that I set my mind to.  I have also faced some health issues that were serious and gave me an appreciation for where I am today.  I am at a relatively good place in my life.  I am starting to actually like me!

This is translating into how I feel about my physical self.  Do I weigh what I want to?  No.  Do I still have health concerns?   Yes.  When I decided I needed a new suit, I decided to be open about what I would try on.  I decided that I didn’t need to make such a big deal of my “flaws” and I could decide what made me feel good and attractive and confident.  I tried on the suit I got and my husband and daughter both told me I look good.  I mentioned that you could see my stretch marks, though they are faded after so many years.  Hubby said, “So??”

So got the suit.  I took it with me yesterday as we went to our friends house to celebrate Independence Day and swim.  I had a moment when I put the suit on and went out in front of everybody.  It was hard at first because my insecurities tried to raise their ugly protests.  My friends both said they liked my suit and that I looked great when I joked about it in an effort to cover up my nerves.

We had a great time!  I felt comfortable and it was nice to be able to break through that barrier for myself and be comfortable in my own skin.  It’s been a long time!!

I think that women place too much pressure on ourselves to look skinny, young, fit, whatever.  I think that being a 43 year-old woman with a real body is the most common thing in the world, but many of us feel that we are somehow ugly and flawed because we are normal.  Is this due to our culture?  The media?  The pressure of our husbands or friends or others?  I don’t know why we feel somehow less when we are not some stereotypical image of the perfect woman.

I know I’m not the “perfect” woman….but that is ok.  For once, I feel good about my self.  That is everything!!

Dress for Success

I recently had the opportunity to meet a manager of a memory care unit in a nursing home facility.  I will not mention where or who this individual is, but I had to mention what my impressions of this individual were.  When I walked into our meeting, I was shocked to see how this individual was dressed.  She was wearing leather leggings, 5-inch heels and a crop top.  She looked like she was ready to go to a club or bar-hopping with her friends, not head up a professional meeting or be at a professional job.  It made it very difficult for me to give her the attention and professional courtesy that her position warranted.

This meeting caused me to spend some time thinking about the things that that we choose to wear.  I hear a lot of talk about people wearing what they want and dressing in ways that make them feel comfortable and express their individual identity.  I am all for that, to a point.  I don’t think people should have to wear business suits every day, for example, but by the same token, I do think that clothing and style choices should be appropriate to the situation.  This woman had the freedom to wear what she had on, and though I was an outfit that I never would have picked for myself, was fine for her if that is what she was comfortable wearing.  However, her position was a professional one that brought with it exposure to residents, families, medical professionals, administrators, and others who would all form their impression of this individual partly on what they saw.

Someone once told me to dress for the position I want.  Taking care to look professional for a professional role, I think, is important and says something about you.  It says that you have common sense, that you have respect for your position and for the expectations of others.  It portrays confidence and competence.  If you have a nice pair of slacks and a cute top on, versus tight leggings and a crop top, it affects how others see you and treat you.  It can even have an effect in your ability to do your job well.

This might be a “no duh” post to a degree, but I think that the fact that I met this professional very recently means that maybe it needs to be said out loud.  Just food for thought…

 

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