Friday, December 28, 2012

Ten New Year's Resolutions for the Caregiver

1.      I will remember to take care of myself.  
Eat healthy, sleep well, exercise regularly…whew, that might seem daunting when you’re in the midst of caregiving, but taking care of yourself makes you a better caregiver. Maintaining your emotional and physical health is vital. Make and keep preventive care appointments. If the stress of caregiving becomes overwhelming, seek professional help. Remember, if you are not feeling well, you will be unable to take care or visit your loved one.
2.      I will allow myself time to recharge and de-stress.
Don't become a victim of caregiver stress. Remember that the world will keep spinning even if you are not there. Maintain your “me” time. Commit to doing at least one thing you enjoy or need every day. This can be as simple as keeping a journal, having dinner with friends, watching your favorite television show, or reading a good book. If you make plans to go on vacation, give nursing staff a heads up and inform them of anything they need to be mindful of when you’re not there.
3.      I will seek and accept help.
Lean on friends and family. Take them up on their offers to help. Whether you need someone to keep an eye on a loved one at home, or you’re afraid he or she is lonely in a nursing facility, your “helpers” can be that “friendly visitor” that can check in on your loved one when you’re unable to. Other tasks may include running errands like grocery shopping that will allow you more time to be with your loved one. Take advantage of online care team calendars where “helpers” can sign up for specific tasks, like this one provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.
4.      I will seek local resources.
Ready and willing support may be available around the corner. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging, NJ EASE at 1-888-747-1122 (for resources for older adults and caregivers), a local chapter of a national disease-specific organization, or the nearest senior center.
5.      I will find support.
Do not walk this road alone. Connecting with someone who is going through a similar caregiving experience can be cathartic and helpful. Support groups provide an opportunity to share advice, vent frustrations and learn from others who have the same concerns, stresses and challenges. Support groups are available in a variety of formats from group meetings moderated by a professional, to online support groups to social networking groups. You might even find someone in the same nursing facility as your family member that you can connect with.
6.      I will have the "tough talk" with my loved one.
Dying is a part of life and it can be difficult to talk about, but it’s one of the most loving things you can do. Have an honest discussion with your family member about end-of-life issues and last wishes. Where would he or she like to be laid to rest? What about funeral arrangements? Discuss how he or she would like to receive medical treatment, if any, and then document those wishes using an advance care directive. Work with your loved one to establish a healthcare proxy, providing copies to all healthcare providers.
  1. I will work in partnership with the professionals who are caring for my loved one.
Always advocate for your loved one, but try not to let your passion for good care come across in a negative manner. Speak up and ask how the situation can be resolved. Friendly, open communication with nursing staff will help keep problems from becoming serious.
If you do believe your loved one’s rights are being violated, please refer to our residents’ rights brochure or contact the Elder Ombudsman’s office if you have concerns regarding your loved one’s care.
8.      I will not feel guilty if I seek help from professionals.
  Sometimes loved ones need more assistance than you can adequately provide. If you’ve sought in-home care agencies, assisted living centers, and nursing homes to help you take care of your loved one, remember that you are still a caregiver. You are still needed by your loved one.
9.      I will give my loved ones a "break."
  We know things may get tough to deal with sometimes. You didn't voluntarily come into this caregiver role, but this also was not the life your loved one imagined. He or she may feel trapped in a body that is not cooperating. Their inability do what once came so easily can be a source of their aggravation. Remember to keep calm and remain patient during these frustrating times. Also, leave the situation if you need to cool off.

10.      will remember my loved ones for who they really are. 
Remember your loved one for who they really are. If things have become more difficult because your loved one is in serious physical decline, mentally rehearse the memories of his or her best years. If your loved one lives in the past and repeats the same story over and over again, use it to your advantage. Ask them about that era – who were the movie stars or the athletes of that time? You might end up hearing a brand new story that your loved one is more than willing to share.

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 Year In Review

Clinical Ethicist Helen Blank speaks
at OOIE Ethics Training in March 2012.

Ombudsman McCracken presents
outstanding leadership award to
Jane Knapp on behalf of the
Tri-County Regional Ethics Committee.

OOIE staff promote Ombudsman services at the
New Jersey State Fair in Augusta, in August.

Volunteers from the southern region of the state
participate in volunteer training in Trenton.

Assemblywoman Donna Simon
greets residents during an October
Residents’ Rights Bingo
event at Acorn Glen in Princeton.

OOIE staff Nikiah Nixon at the OOIE booth at the
AARP Consumer Expo in Mercer County in August.

Ombudsman McCracken speaks to residents during an October
Residents’ Rights Month event at Hamilton Continuing Care in Hamilton.

Ombudsman McCracken greets a resident during a June “Elder
Abuse Awareness Day” event at Bristol Glen Retirement Community in Newton.

OOIE Attorney Amy Brown speaks with a
resident at House of the Good Shepherd in Hackettstown during
an April “National Health-care Decisions Day” event.

OOIE Policy Director Elizabeth Speidel with Mary Luby of Mon-mouth
County Office on Aging, Disabilities and Veterans’ Services,
attend event at Luftman Towers in Lincroft.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Help Nursing Home Residents Enjoy the Holidays

When the hustle and bustle of the holidays is fast approaching, it is important to remember our loved ones who are in area nursing homes. This can be a depressing time for them. They are separated from the normal routine and for many of them, this may be their first time away from home during the holidays. Family members should realize the importance of reaching out to their family and friends living in nursing homes.

Try to include your residents in the holiday festivities in some way. Investing in your loved one can be key to a happier holiday for both you and your loved one. Here are some ideas:

Visit Often
Visits from family and friends are always welcomed around the holidays. It can help their day go a little faster and make it a little more special because of the visit from you.
Many treasure visits with children and grandchildren as well. Children, adequately chaperoned, can be a real source of enjoyment and happiness for an older adult. 

Taking a loved one home, if possible, while you are preparing for the holiday festivities, will make them feel they are still a part of the celebration. They can smell the cookies in the oven, watch the "hustle and bustle" in kitchen, see the lights on the Christmas tree or participate in the lighting of the Menorah. Another plus is that once you have them home, their enthusiasm is contagious!
And don’t rule out visits from pets as well. Many nursing home residents love to have visits from pets. Quite a few nursing homes have volunteers certified to do friendly pet visits. If this is the case, request a furry visitor the next time they come into the facility.

Spirituality and the Holidays
Getting your loved one in touch with their spirituality during the holidays can be especially helpful as
well. The holidays are a time when many older adults reminisce of days gone by. While this is usually a pleasant experience, it can be a little sad because of the many losses we experience by the time we are older adults. A resident’s spirituality can be a comfort and a source of strength for them during the holiday season. Getting your loved one in touch with a counselor or person from the clergy can be helpful in addressing the loneliness and spiritual concerns that they may have in their lives. Most nursing homes are good at having an area priest or pastor available to visit with residents. Speaking with the nursing home social worker or administrator and setting up a visit for your loved one can be a source of personal strength and encouragement for them during the holidays.

The Importance of Involvement
Try to get your loved one involved in a project that allows them to reach out to someone else. Most residents love to be productive and involved in other people’s lives. You never lose the urge to make a difference to someone less fortunate than yourself. There are all types of projects that older adults can get involved in.
  • Making holiday cards is one activity that does not require a lot of energy and can be done at a resident’s leisure, when they are feeling up to it. They can either make cards for their friends and family or they can make cards for other people in the community who could use a friendly reminder that they are being thought of.
  • Create a "Holiday Diary" with the assistance of a family member or friend. Have the resident document a holiday remembrance so that it can be saved as a keepsake. For this project, the loved one recalls a special holiday memory, a story, a gift received and/ or given or special holiday song that meant so much to him or her. The resident can have a diary entry for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the Eight Days of Hanukkah. This is a great way to find out about holiday traditions and special times that happened long ago. Keeping a written journal of these special moments can be a treasure in years to come.
Bonnie Camp, a certified volunteer advocate with the Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly and a hospice volunteer, received her MSW and Gerontology Certificate in 2011 from Rutgers University School of Social Work. She graduated from Stockton State College with a Bachelor’s degree in social work and minors in gerontology and writing. She is currently employed as a nephrology social worker with South Jersey Healthcare at dialysis units in Bridgeton and Millville.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tips and Gift Ideas for Long-Term Care Residents

It is the time of year to start thinking about what to buy for the person on your list who lives in a nursing home, assisted living, or residential care facility. Most items appropriate for retirement community residents are inexpensive gifts, and they’re easy to select if you know a little about the recipient’s hobbies and preferences.

Consider some of these practical and appropriate gifts for a nursing home resident:
  1. Warm bathrobe
  2. Soft nightgown or pajama set
  3. Cozy enclosed slippers or firm shoes with rubber soles
  4. Clothing items that are easy to wear, such as jogging suits and cardigan sweaters with large buttons
  5. Hand lotion and facial tissues
  6. Comb or brush
  7. Large print edition books, magazines, or puzzles
  8. A deck of playing cards or board game
  9. A soft pillow and pillowcase
  10. A quilt, blanket or comforter for the bed
  11. A CD player and some CDs
  12. Photographs or photo collages
  13. Stationery, note cards, greeting cards, pens, and stamps
  14. Calendar for 2013 with dates marked on it for upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, etc. For birthdays, mark down how old the person will be on that day; for anniversaries, the number of years together
  15. Address book with addresses written in for family and friends
Be aware that there are many gifts that are not appropriate for nursing home residents, like huge televisions and fancy clothes. Also, due to possible swallowing difficulties and restrictive diets, sending food items such as candy, cookies and fruit is not advised. If a nursing home resident has Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, do not send liquid items such as perfume, cologne, after shave or lotion, as these may end up being swallowed.  Gifts like scented candles are dangerous, since many residents require oxygen as part of their care regimen.

Here are few tips to remember when choosing a holiday gift:

  • Remember that residents in nursing homes have limited space for personal belongings
  • Check with the administration about their policy on items families and friends can bring to residents
  • Permanently label any gift with resident’s name
  • If you’re giving clothing, make sure it’s wash-and-wear, unless you’ll be responsible for the dry cleaning
  • Understand that off-site laundry is the rule in many nursing homes. Clothing can easily be lost during this process.
  • Know that, even if someone is in a “private” room, it’s still accessible to staff and other residents
  • Keep safety in mind at all times: glass or ceramic items are breakable and can cause injury
  • Find out about the administration’s policies on pointed or sharp objects such as scissors, pins or needles – including plastic flatware and knitting needles
  • Give the resident money directly, unless it’s pocket change for phone calls.  Deposit money in the resident’s  “patient personal account”
  • Bring food or candy if the resident is on a special diet, UNLESS you check with the nursing staff and have their OK
  • Bring visiting pets the nursing home administration hasn’t cleared .  That can be traumatic for both the animal and the resident
The holidays can be a very lonely time for nursing home residents. Remember that your time is best gift you can give.  Nothing can take the place of visiting your friend or family member in the nursing home. This is a very enriching and appropriate gift for nursing home residents. Spending half an hour, or even just a few moments, can be a great experience for all. Offer to read a holiday story, talk to your loved ones about their favorite holidays, or ask them to tell you about a gift they received and treasured as a child.  Find out their favorite holiday song and sing it to them, or find a recording of it and play it for them.  Senior citizens are valuable members of society and spending time in their company is beneficial to all, so bring the kids.  Younger grandchildren will have a better understanding of the stages of life when they experience visits to the nursing home, and  their youthful presence will delight many.

Seasons Greetings

I hope that you are all enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season. This year, in the aftermath of the one of the greatest natural disasters in our state’s history, I know that many of us are very thankful for our state’s excellent response to Hurricane Sandy and all the devastation that the storm left in its wake.

Unfortunately, studies show that vulnerable elderly citizens suffer inordinately in natural disasters and that mortality rates in long term care tend to increase following widespread evacuations. While the long-term effect of Hurricane Sandy on the state’s senior population cannot be known at this time,  government agencies in New Jersey in partnership with the senior-serving provider community were incredibly well prepared for this devastating event.

In the days and weeks following the disaster, OOIE staff and volunteers checked on conditions in facilities that had lost power or that had been forced to evacuate residents. Our staff found that long-term care facilities did everything they could to ensure quality care and continuity of services during those critical days and nights after the storm hit.

Now we must be vigilant about another unfortunate Sandy after-effect:  the prevalence of disaster-related scams. According to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, it is not uncommon for unscrupulous home improvement contractors to try to take advantage of people seeking home repairs following a disaster. In addition, fraudulent charities sometimes pop up seeking donations, never to be seen or heard from again.

Vulnerable senior citizens are very often easy targets for these scammers. They don’t have to be: information about how to avoid disaster scams is available at the New Jersey Consumer Affairs Division website or by calling the Division at 800-242-5846.

Warm wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.

- James W. McCracken, LTC Ombudsman