How Much Do You Know About Your Parent’s Health?

Adult children with Parent at Maple Knoll Village

With nearly 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day, the demand for caregivers increases each year. According to a report from Families Caring for An Aging America, at least 17.7 million individuals in the U.S. are caring for an older adult with various health needs. For many families, this responsibility often falls on a family member, such as a spouse or an adult child. In fact, data suggests that more than half of older adults between the ages of 85 and 89 require a family member’s help because of health or other functional issues. However, many older adults require help much sooner than this. Other conditions which are common among older adults such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart-attack or heart-disease, and fall-related injuries can result in needing assistance with basic daily tasks. Sometimes the need for assistance is quite obvious and other times it can go unrecognized for long periods of time.

For long-distance adult children, it can be difficult to know when a parent needs extra support. Many older adults either learn how to hide their condition or don’t want to burden their children with asking for help. It’s not uncommon for adult children to be surprised by their parent’s condition after going long periods of time without visiting, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s even more common for adult children to wonder why their parent isn’t asking for help when they need it.

Why isn’t your parent asking for help?

Whether your loved one is experiencing normal age-related forgetfulness or decreased mobility, it might come as a surprise when they don’t ask for help. However, there are a number of reasons why parents hesitate to ask their adult children for assistance:

  • Denial. As humans, we can rationalize any situation no matter its severity. Even if your loved one is experiencing changes in their memory or physical health, they may not have accepted these changes yet. Instead, your parent might be placing blame on others around them.
  • Cognitive decline. When adults develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may not realize that they are putting their safety at risk. In addition, it’s not uncommon for those with memory conditions to hide their symptoms from their loved ones.
  • Fear of losing autonomy. Oftentimes older adults worry that receiving more care and assistance results in a loss of independence. They might fear losing the ability to drive, take care of themselves, or live in their home independently.

Understanding the Warning Signs

Whether you’re already noticing signs of declining health in your loved one, or aren’t exactly sure what to look for, there are some common warning signs that can help you identify a problem. The Mayo Clinic has developed a list of signs and symptoms of various health conditions that should spark concern. The next time you visit your loved one, you may consider asking these questions:

Are your parents able to take care of themselves?

Failure to keep up with basic daily routines, such as bathing and brushing teeth, could be a sign of depression, dementia, or other physical impairments. The next time you’re with your parents, pay attention to their physical appearance. In addition, any changes in the way your parents do things around their home could also provide insight into their health. Are they paying the bills on time? Are the dishes clean? Neglecting housework or having problems buying groceries could also be signs of depression or dementia.

Are your parents experiencing memory loss?

It’s common for older adults to experience sporadic forgetfulness, however, there is a difference between these normal changes and memory loss that interferes with daily life. Warning signs of abnormal memory loss can include: asking the same questions repeatedly, getting lost in familiar places, not being able to follow instructions, and becoming confused about time, people and places.

Are your parents safe in their home?

Take a look around your parents’ home and look for anything out of the ordinary. Are they able to refill their medications and take them consistently? You may consider looking around for any fall hazards or signs they have recently fallen.

Are your parents safe on the road?

If your parents become confused while driving or you have concerns about their ability to drive—especially if you have noticed any new scratches or dings in their vehicle, it might be time to have a conversation about driving alternatives.

Have your parents lost weight?

Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something is wrong. Weight loss can be related to many different factors including difficulty cooking, loss of taste or smell, social issues and underlying conditions such as malnutrition, dementia, depression, or cancer.

Are your parents still social?

If your parent is neglecting their normal social activities, it could be a sign of depression or dementia. If you notice your parent withdrawing from their hobbies or avoiding their friends, it may be time to address your concerns.

Next Steps

If you’ve noticed any warning signs in your loved one, it can be difficult to know what to do next, especially if you live cross-country or far away. However, there are many steps you can take to ensure your parent is getting the support and care they need. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Consider a CCRC. Continuing care retirement communities are great options for older adults who want access to different levels of care in one place. CCRCs offer independent living, assisted living and skilled care nursing. These are also great options for couples who prefer to age together, especially in situations where one spouse requires more care than the other.
  • Share your concerns. Talk to your parents about your concerns and ask them to visit their health care provider. If you are long-distance, you may ask a trusted friend or family member to accompany them.
  • Address immediate safety concerns. If you notice any threats to your parents’ health or safety, such as malnourishment or fall-hazards, it’s important to address these first. This might include hiring additional support, such as a personal care attendant, or installing grab bars around the home.
  • Contact your parent’s healthcare provider. If your parents dismiss your concerns, it may be time to seek help from their healthcare provider. Sharing your concerns with their doctor will help them look for warning signs at their next appointment or conduct assessments to diagnos memory loss or other conditions. You parent may be more open to hearing feedback from a trusted doctor or other healthcare provider.

At Maple Knoll Communities, our main priority is the health and safety of our residents in all levels of care. We work together with family members to provide support, address concerns, and offer peace of mind. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Time to Move? Why you should consider a CCRC

Older couple having coffee

As we enter into our later years, most of us will need to decide where we want to spend the rest of our lives. Aging in place might seem like the most practical option, however, many older adults end up needing assistance as they age. In fact, according to an article published by Forbes Magazine, nearly 18 million older adults, or half of everyone aged 65 and older, report that they need some assistance with routine daily activities. Older adults have a wide variety of living options including low income or subsidized housing, senior apartments, and continuing care retirement communities, also known as CCRCs.

Continuing care retirement communities provide a wide range of care, services and activities all in one place. These facilities offer a spectrum of care including independent living, assisted living, and skilled care nursing. In addition, these communities usually offer additional services like housekeeping, social activities, medical care, meal plans, security and maintenance teams. CCRCs are ideal for older adults who want to age in one location without worrying about the future, and for spouses who require different levels of care.

Benefits of CCRCs

Some older adults are discouraged from looking into a continuing care retirement community because of the price tag. Out of the 2,000 CCRCs in the country, two-thirds charge an entry fee in addition to monthly fees. However, for many older adults, the benefits outweigh the cost. Here’s why a CCRC, like Maple Knoll Communities, is more than just a place to put your things:

All inclusive

One of the biggest draws to a CCRC is that everything is included, which is a great perk for adults who are aging alone or away from their families. Residents can enjoy meals, on-site maintenance, security, transportation, housekeeping, laundry and even some utilities. This removes the burden of completing every-day tasks and frees up time for hobbies, exercise and social activities.

Access to a large social network

Many CCRCs offer social activities and clubs, which provide an opportunity for residents to connect with one another. Isolation and loneliness are large concerns among the older adult population, and consistent interaction with peer groups can help reduce the risk of developing these issues. CCRC residents will enjoy the opportunity to participate in outings, educational speakers, organized travel, and interest-based clubs.

Health care services

Most CCRCs offer health care services within their communities, which allows residents to seek medical care when they need it and eliminates the need for transportation.  Residents can also move through the continuum of care whenever they begin to need more support.

Peace of mind

Watching our loved ones age can be a difficult process, especially for adult children who live far away. However, CCRCs provide comfort to families knowing that their loved one is safe and will be cared for throughout the duration of their lives.

Improves quality of life

Older adults who live alone are more likely to develop feelings of loneliness and depression, which can cause major health concerns such as cognitive decline. At a CCRC, residents are consistently engaged, encouraged to socialize with others, and develop new skills and interests.

Provides relief for a caregiver

CCRCs can be attractive for couples who require different levels of care or if one spouse if the primary caregiver for the other. If needed, the spouse can receive extra care within the facility, where assistance is provided. In addition, many CCRCs offer respite care to give the caregiver time for themselves.

Financial Advantages of CCRCs

While the initial investment to move into a CCRC can seem like a lot when compared to other living accommodations, it isn’t unreasonable considering all that they offer.  In fact, CCRCs are often a less expensive option over the long-term. If you’re considering a CCRC but are deterred by the cost, it’s important to consider the financial advantages.

  • Investing for the future. Retirement is an investment many people work towards most of their lives. So, it’s important that you invest in your own retirement wisely. If you move into a CCRC at an appropriate age, and amortize over a period of time, it’s often cheaper than you might expect. In addition, most CCRCs use entrance fees to fund long-term improvements within the facility, which you will directly benefit from throughout your life. And, most importantly a CCRC guarantees that you will have access to the care you need when you need it, making for a worry-free future.
  • Ensuring all meets will be met. If you choose the right CCRC, you will be taken care of for the rest of your life. Be sure to ask if a CCRC is a non-profit as you look at your living options. CCRCs that function as non-profits will almost always take care of you even if you outlive your assets for a number of different reasons.
  • All investments are protected. CCRC contracts should include policies regarding refunds and how much your loved ones will receive if your entrance fee outlives you.  Most CCRCs will protect your assets and should be upfront with their contract model.

Questions to Consider

As you discern through your retirement options, it’s important to ask the right questions as you tour different communities. LeadingAge, a nationwide organization of nonprofit and government aging-services providers, recommends that prospective residents ask these 10 questions when considering a retirement community.

  1. Are you a for-profit or not-for-profit, and what’s the financial strength of the retirement community?
  2. What’s included in the monthly fee?
  3. How do you help me to maintain my freedom and independence?
  4. What kind of emergency response systems do you have?
  5. How do you measure your residents’ satisfaction?
  6. How many residents offer input and feedback?
  7. What is the difference between independent and assisted living?
  8. Can you remain in independent living when your needs change and how is aging in place supported?
  9. What are the five most popular programs in your community and who decides what programs and events are scheduled?
  10. Can I review your residency agreement?

At Maple Knoll Communities, we know how big of a decision it is to choose where to spend your retirement. We’re here to support you in each step of the way. You can find answers to these questions and more here. To learn more about our offerings, or to schedule a tour, please contact us!

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

White and Gray Snowy Mountain Minimalist

As more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, more caregiving services are being provided by people who aren’t healthcare professionals. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy institute, an estimated 43.5 million American adults are unpaid caregivers, and 85% were caregivers for someone related to them, and half of these caregivers provided care for a parent. While caregiving can have many rewards, it can also be emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding. Caregiver burnout can occur when the stress of caregiving goes unaddressed, which can have negative long-term effects on one’s health. While there are many happy and fulfilled caregivers, burnout is very common. In fact, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that 40% of caregivers feel emotionally stressed and 20% of caregivers experience physical pain and discomfort. Caregiver burnout can look different on each individual; however, there are some common symptoms that can serve as warning signs.

Symptoms of Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Caregivers are often stressed for time and many put the needs of their loved ones above their own. Many caregivers don’t realize their health is suffering until they’ve already reached the burnout stage. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry with the person you’re caring for
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad, helpless and hopeless
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
  • Your life is centered around caregiving, but gives you little fulfillment
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when you have help
  • You are beginning to neglect your own needs like eating and exercising

Causes of Caregiver Burnout

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion that results from failing, wearing out, or feeling totally used up due to too many demands on one’s energy, strength or resources. Burnout can occur for a number of different reasons, depending on an individual’s situation. The researchers at Johns Hopkins have compiled a list of some of the most common causes of burnout among caregivers, which include the following: 

Emotional demands

Caring for a loved one is a full-time job that often goes unrecognized and underappreciated. There’s an extreme demand on emotional and physical support when caring for a loved one. It can often feel like there is not enough of you to go around.

Demand of constant care

Trying to meet the needs and demands of everyone can create conflict and stress. Balancing your own life with the needs of your loved one can feel impossible and create unattainable standards.

Workload

Caregivers can often feel as if there’s not enough time in the day to complete all the tasks on their to-do lists. This can be completely overwhelming and lead to feelings of stress and worry. 

Lack of privacy

It’s common for caregivers to get very little time alone, especially if there are people coming in and out of the home to assist with care. To make matters more confusing, caregivers can also feel a sense of isolation while also experiencing the need for privacy and alone time.

Isolation

When dealing with the needs of someone who requires fulltime support and care, a caregiver can feel isolated from others. Caregivers might often feel tied to the home, especially if their loved one can’t be left alone, leaving little time to run errands, exercise, or do something for themselves.

Guilt

When caregivers are on the brink of burnout, it’s not uncommon for them to experience guilt. This is often accompanied by feelings of increased stress levels, and feeling like they aren’t providing as much comfort or care as they want to provide.

Long-term Effects of Caregiver Stress

While experiencing some stress is a normal part of life, long-term stress can having negative effects on one’s health. In fact, long-term stress can lead to health problems like depression and anxiety, which can also raise your risk for other health issues, like heart disease and stroke. Stress can also cause a weakened immune system, making it harder to recover from sickness and injuries, and can even decrease the effectiveness of vaccines. Some caregivers who experience long-term stress may notice weight-gain, which can increase the risk of other health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. High levels of stress, when combined with depression and anxiety, can increase the risk of chronic diseases like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Untreated stress can also cause problems with short-term memory, decrease attention span, and affect overall cognitive health.

Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers often feel powerless, which can contribute to burnout and feelings of depression. It’s common for caregivers to feel like they lose autonomy of their own lives as their goal is to provide and care for a loved one. However, changing this state of mind can help reduce the risk of burnout and decrease depressive feelings. Here are a few simple ways to get started:

Practice acceptance. It’s so tempting to ask yourself why your loved one is suffering and why you’re in this particular situation. However, that won’t change any outcome. Instead, work towards acceptance. You might consider making journaling a consistent practice or start a list of things you are grateful for and make sure to read it every day.

Celebrate the small wins. When you start to get discouraged, break up your day and celebrate every task, no matter how small. Even if you don’t get anything done in a day, take some time to celebrate all the effort you put into caring for your loved one.

Caregivers often feel unappreciated, despite their efforts to support and care for their loved one. Studies have shown that caregivers who feel appreciated have better physical and emotional health. Here are a few ways to get the appreciation you need:

Lean on your support group. When you’re feeling like you need some encouragement, you might need to ask for it. Choose a supportive family member or friend who will be sure to listen to you and acknowledge your efforts.

Acknowledge your own efforts. If you ever feel like you’re not doing enough, make a list of all the ways your caregiving is making a difference in the lives of the people you love. Reading this list whenever you feel unappreciated might help remind you that your work is worth being celebrated.

Caregiving is a hard job to do alone. Asking for help can be difficult for many caregivers, but you might be surprised to know how many people are willing to help. Instead of trying to do it all alone, try asking for help in these ways:

Respite care. You might ask a trusted family member or friend to help you out with a few tasks around the house or to care for your loved one while you make time for yourself. If you don’t have anyone who can help, some Medicare plans cover the cost of respite care for several days. This can help you get a break to rest and make time for the things you love to do.

Practice saying “yes.” Don’t be afraid to accept help when offered. If a friend or family member offers to help, be prepared with a small list of tasks that others could help with, like going to the grocery or driving your loved one to an appointment.

At Maple Knoll Communities, we know how hard caregivers work to take care of their loved ones. Our communities offer caregiver support groups, dining services, and on-site medical care to make caregiving feel a little less stressful. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.