Caring Currents

The Junk Wars: 8 Ways to Get Rid of Aging Parents' "Stuff"

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"Christmas lights. Do not work." Three boxes, so labeled and tucked in the basement ceiling joists, were perhaps my favorite find while clearing out my parents' house. Well, those or the shelf of neat notebooks recording weekly bowling scores back to the 1960s. A dozen casserole lids, no casseroles. Spare stereo knobs, circa 1975. Enough yarn to knit a sweater that could encase the entire house and yard, Christo-style.

I tossed plenty of useless stuff while clearing out my parents' home of 40-odd years, recently. (100 pairs of elastic-waist pants, anyone?) But I had it relatively easy, because my parents weren't involved. (My mom had died and my dad, who was relocating, was sidelined by dementia.)

Most caregivers face the "junk wars" with still-living relatives. It can happen when you combine households because of the recession. Or help a parent downsize into assisted living. Or just t

8 Spring Pick-Me-Ups for Tired Caregivers

Those cold, wet, gray days in early spring -- like today for me -- seem like a good analogy for caregiving. Unlike, say, those balmy spring days with blue sky and soft air, right now everything seems on hold, in suspended animation. There's more wistfulness than hope in the air. You (okay, I!) have a vague wish that things looked brighter. It may seem your days won't ever burst back into green.

No matter how dedicated or cheerful a caregiver feels toward his or her responsibility, it's inevitable to wake up to one of those days.

At least when that happens in spring, there are new seasonal opportunities for giving yourself (and your relative) a lift:

1. Sniff a hyacinth.

Next trip to the supermarket, bend down and inhale these superfragrant spring bulbs -- or better yet splurge on one and bring it home for your loved one. (Pick the one with still-tight green blossoms so it lasts lon

10 Feel-Good Dementia Caregiver New Year Resolutions

Vintage New Years Postcard
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New Year's resolutions about how you ought to start another diet and ought to be nicer belong back in the Aughts ('00s). For this new decade, caregivers looking after someone with dementia are better off focusing on tasks that will help them power through another demanding year.

The following resolutions may be unexpected, but they're heartfelt and truly helpful:

1. I will order my priorities so that I come first.

Selfish? More like practical common sense, because if you fall apart physically or emotionally, you put the welfare of those you care for in jeopardy.

2. I won't beat myself up if I lose my patience.

Because you know you will. (Both lose your patience and berate yourself for it.) Dementia care can be immensely frustrating. You wouldn't be human if you didn't vent. Try to mostly vent to others with well-functioning brains (or to a pillow or a workout), but cut yourself slac

World Alzheimer's Day and Why People With Alzheimer's Need It

Cool Globes Chicago Sad Earth
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On World Alzheimer's Day, Tuesday, September 21, most people with Alzheimer's disease won't be able to participate in an Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk. But they directly benefit from events like these being held around the world.

That's because World Alzheimer's Day events are meant not only to raise funds for research but to raise awareness about Alzheimer's and people with Alzheimer's disease. That makes this World Alzheimer's Day an opportunity for each of us to think about what messages we'd like to give to those who aren't yet affected by this living tragedy called Alzheimer's.

So here are three facts about Alzheimer's that I want the whole world to know:

1. Alzheimer's is not an inevitable effect of aging.

Senility doesn't strike everyone; it's a terrible disease. In a generation, much has been done to change this old public misperception. The fitting theme of World Alzhe

Prescription Medications Cost Too Much? Here's What to Do

One of the most popular discussion topics among family caregivers is the insanely high cost of prescription medications and the failure of Medicare to cover that cost. It's a topic that comes up over and over again, and for good reason. When you can't afford the drugs you need to stay healthy, it's a serious situation.

Now comes new evidence that this crisis is very real, and is affecting more and more of us across the country. According to a report issued this week, manufacturer prices for the brand-name prescription drugs most commonly used by people on Medicare rose 9.7 percent for the year ending in March "” the biggest annual jump since 2002, when the AARP started tracking prices. The price of specialty drugs, such as many used for cancer, rose even more, by 9.2 percent.

In fact, every single drug in the list of the top 25 prescription medications cost more this year than it did t

How to Find a Doctor Who Listens - and Cares

Slightly confusing signs
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After last week's post on how to break up with your doctor, I received numerous comments and e-mails sharing heartbreaking stories and asking an important follow-up question:

How do I find a good doctor who listens to me, respects my participation as a patient or as a caregiver, and takes a proactive role in caring for my health or the health of my loved one?

Most articles on this subject cover the basics of cost and convenience, so we'll breeze over those. Of course you need to find a doctor whose office is convenient, who's covered in your insurance network or accepts Medicare or Medicaid if you're on it, and who's affiliated with the local hospital you prefer to use.

But there's much much more to it than that. What we want most of all is a doctor who listens, respects what we have to say, and works with us to provide the care that we want. In other words we want someone who realize

Five Signs It May be Time to Break Up With Your Doctor

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Recently an interesting discussion has been taking place at The subject? What to do when the doctor isn't listening to you or the person you're caring for, not carrying out your wishes when it comes to treatment and medication choices, or recommending drugs or treatments that seem inappropriate for much older patients. Here are a few examples.

"¢ LindaSD says her mom's doctor tries to make her feel guilty when she asks to remove a medication from her mom's regimen or refuses a procedure. Her mom, who is 90, is in late-stage Alzheimer's, so she decided not to give Aricept and to refuse a colonoscopy, but had to fight those battles with the doctor who disagreed.
"¢ Grannylove2 feels it's important to honor her mom's decision not to take Aricept for her advancing Alzheimer's, and told a story of her mom being admitted to the ER for a cracked ankle, then falling off the bed whi

Having Surgery? Protect Yourself From Dangerous Blood Clots

Mature businesswoman smiling
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If you or a family member is going to have surgery, you should know about an all-too-common danger and how to protect yourself. The danger is from blood clots that can form in other parts of the body, then move to the lungs, where they can cause death. I've been researching blood clots for and need to issue this warning based on what I've found out. First, the scary facts.

Fact: "One of the most common causes of death among hospitalized patients is pulmonary embolism." (Source: Government report.) Pulmonary embolism is a fancy name for what happens when a blood clot moves from elsewhere in the body and lodges in the lungs.

Fact: Routine autopsies estimate that from 10 to 25 percent of all deaths in hospitals involve a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot. That's a lot - as high as one in four.

Fact: "Following general surgery, the approximate risk for deep venous thrombosis

Has a Pre-existing Condition Kept You From Getting Insurance? Now It's Yours

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"All I want to know is, how soon until we can apply for the new government insurance that doesn't allow them to refuse you for a pre-existing condition?" a friend asked me the other day. Her husband, who's in his late 50s, has been diagnosed with precancerous colon polyps that need to be removed. He had been on COBRA after being laid off from a financial services job two years ago -- and it just ran out.

One area of the new health care bill that's not controversial -- at least not to those who've been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition -- is the section that says insurers can no longer decline someone from coverage just because they're not in perfect health.

There's been so much arguing back and forth about what the bill does and doesn't promise that I thought we should take a close look at this particular issue, which affects so many members. Those

How to Get Real, Practical Help From Your Doctor When You Need It

Laughter: The Best Medicine
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How many times have you left the doctor's office with a suggestion or recommendation only to realize, once you get home, that you have no idea how to carry it out? It happens to me all the time. For instance, when accompanying an elderly friend to a recent medical appointment, we discussed his high blood pressure and the doctor reminded us again to cut down the salt in his diet. In the car, I mentioned the doctor's advice, and my friend shrugged; it was clear he had no idea what that meant in practical, day-to-day terms. After all, he's a lifelong bachelor who lives alone and tends to resort to canned soup and microwave meals when I'm not cooking him dinner.

When I got home, I googled "low salt diet" - and immediately felt overwhelmed. It would have been so nice to leave the doctor's office with some clear, simple instructions on how we could go about lowering salt intake.

Thinking a