Friday, November 15, 2013

Little Things, Big Results

A city truck just eased by my house using one of those big leaf-suckers to clean up the leaves I blew to the curb a couple of days ago.

In the craziness of caregiving it’s easy to get the feeling that fun is being sucked out of life like someone is using one of those big leaf-sucker machines.

Take a moment and try this simple exercise:
Ask yourself what you’d do for fun if you had:
2-5 minutes
5-30 minutes
30 minutes to ½ day
More than ½ day

Money is no object. The person for whom you will be caring is taken care of. Your family is taken care of.

Now, get to work with your ideas.

Tick, tick, tick.

Ok…now, let’s realize that on an everyday basis you may not get more than ½ day to ease away from your responsibilities. You might not even be able to get 30-minutes to ½ day.

So, the question is, “What would you do if you had 5-30 minutes, or 2-5 minutes?”

The key is to find things that take short bits of time…mini-vacations…that can lower your stress and craziness level, raise your enjoyment-of-life level, and keep you on an even keel.

In 2-5 minutes you can listen to a song, do part of a crossword, laugh at a cartoon, get a hug, tell someone you love them, hear someone tell you they love you and do all kinds of small, good things.

Neuroscience research shows that little things we do to enjoy life have a profoundly healthy effect on our mental and physical health.

In other words, they can keep us from going crazy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Putting Together the Puzzle

When was the last time you put together a puzzle?

When someone dumps a puzzle out of a box and onto a table what’s your strategy?

I’m betting the first three things you do are: Flip over all the pieces that are printed side down. Locate all the pieces that have edges showing they are part of the border. Put the border together.

Once you start the way most folks begin the process it’s anyone’s guess what you do next…we all have our own way of putting the rest of the puzzle together.

Caregiving is one of life's great puzzles. So often people who are thrust into a caregiving role believe it's supposed to be done in a specific way...but that's just not true.

The "border" of caregiving, the one area of focus that everyone should have, is safety. Once you make sure the person for whom you are caring is safe, everything else is open for discussion. 

We'll have family, friends, experts and advice-givers saying, "this is how you MUST do it!" Don't listen to them. As long as you have the safety issue covered the rest is up to you and the person for whom you are caring.

Don't let trying to put the puzzle together make you crazy. Find your own way.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Video Again Available

This morning I'm doing a video session to create a new opening for the Care for the Caregiver video.

In 2003, the video won the National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today's Caregiver Magazine.

At the time it was one of the few tools helping family caregivers and educators understand and deal with the tremendous stress of family caregiving.

Within about 60 days the video will again be available at

Monday, October 28, 2013


One of the worst ways that caregiving makes us crazy is making us forget things!

Most of us have ways we remind ourselves to do things, remember new ideas or keep important tasks in front of us.

Some people use a To-Do List and check it on a regular basis. Others use sticky notes or little slips of paper, then jot notes to themselves and either leave the notes in plain sight, put them in a pocket or purse or post them on the bathroom mirror or other places in home and office.

I’ve started using a new system that is working really well. I send myself an email and put the task, new idea or issue on the subject line.

I know I’ll check emails on laptop, iPad or iPhone a couple of times a day. So, when I see my list of emails there’s the thing I have to do or the idea I want to remember.

One of the wonderful things about this method is that I can note the idea and send the email by voice simply by using the Siri feature on my phone. I don’t have to type it in or text it…which works really well ‘cause we’re all trying to cut back on texting while driving…you are doing that, aren’t you?

Try my idea sometime…send yourself an email as a reminder. I’m betting you get hooked like I have.

And, I’ll tell you what I REALLY love about the idea: Late in the week I go into my email, call up all the emails with my name as the sender and simply Delete, Delete, Delete…it’s like checking tasks off a To-Do List, a great Got-It-Done feeling!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Swimming Through the Craziness

Of all the people to be slowed down by their caregiver experience making them crazy I should be the last one…but I’m not.

It’s been waaaay too long since I posted a blog and I promise it won’t happen again. They won’t come every day but I can promise one or two a week.

Here’s what got me going again: Seeing the legendary Diana Nyad finally make the record swim from Cuba to Florida. I was immediately reminded of a quote by the minister, author and radio personality, Eric Buttorworth (1916-2003). He said, “Finding ourselves in deep water is not a problem if we know how to swim.”

If caregiving ain’t deep water I don’t know what is.

The key is knowing how to swim through it. There will certainly be times when it seems that you are drowning…or, at least, that you are swallowing more water than you’re swimming through.

If you keep stroking—looking for those things that give you patience and strength and help you maintain your health—you can swim to the other side, the time when you won’t be a caregiver anymore.

One of the most difficult things about the experience though, is that most of us dread the day we reach the other side. The end of the caregiver experience is certainly a bittersweet arrival.

But, if all you’re doing is treading water or thrashing around like a small child trying to learn to swim you can’t last through the experience. You exhaust yourself and start going under.

Keep kicking, keep stroking…like Diana Nyad. It took four attempts over 25-years for Nyad to complete her swim and make her dream come true. Do as she did; learn more about the experience and about yourself.

If you’re a caregiver you’re in deep water. Keep swimming. You can do this.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Get a Notebook

A good friend has just entered the caregiver journey. She’s a very smart person, highly organized and efficient, and we’ve talked about what’s coming in terms of caregiver responsibilities.

One of the suggestions she’s taken to heart is getting a notebook in which she’s keeping notes, instructions, forms and information relating to her caregiving situation.

If you don’t have a folder, file, notebook, box or something in which you store all the stuff you need to keep up with sooner or later you’ll be unable to find something important at just the moment you really need it.

Go to an Office Depot or Staples and get one of those big 4-inch-wide binders. Get a package of sheet protectors (for the articles you want to save and forms you’ll need on a regular basis). You might want to get a couple of the plastic pages in which you can put the business cards you might get from service providers.

I know some folks who are waaaaay organized who have different tabs for sections such as Insurance, Medicare, Home Care Groups and other topics.

Having something in which you can keep all the stuff means one less thing to worry about…. ‘cause you know you’ve got more than enough to worry about.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

You're Going to Have to Cowboy Up

Here’s the tough news I hate to give you: You’re going to have to Cowboy Up and be a caregiver.

My friends out west who use the phrase say that Cowboy Up means you’re going to have to toughen up and make some difficult decisions and do some difficult things.

I had to be a caregiver for my father and I’m having to be a caregiver for my mother. I didn’t want to do it for my father, and I don’t want to have to be a caregiver for my mother, but I did it and I’m doing it.

That doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that I didn’t love my father nor do I not love my mother.

But, caregiver duties are sometimes so difficult and challenging—not just the duties themselves, but the feelings those duties bring with them—that they bring a wild range of conflicting feelings.

Guilt, anger, fear, frustration, irritation and even anger are all part of the caregiving experience; just as joy, fun, laughter, happiness and satisfaction come with caregiving.

And, though research shows that the quality of the relationship you had with the person for whom you are caring often determines the type of experience you have as a caregiver, no matter how wonderful your previous relationship has been with the person for whom you are caring you’ll still have, at times, negative feelings.

You can not feel guilty about having down times and negative feelings…although you will.

The up-side is that being able to Cowboy Up builds courage and character. And, you’ll be able to take the courage and character you’ve learned into the rest of your life. 

You’ll discover that the courage and character you develop starts to affect other areas of life; your family, your work, your spiritual life, your physical life, even your ability to create and reach bigger and better goals.

Whether you believe it, or even know it or not, being able to Cowboy Up may be the greatest gift caregiving brings to you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Keeping Up With Our Stuff

When caregiving makes you crazy one of the first things to go is your short-term memory? You're focused on your challenges and no telling how many other, little, everyday things fall through the cracks.

Like your car keys. Anybody misplaced those lately? How about your glasses or cell phone or purse or shoes or…you get the idea.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, reporter Michael Hsu noted that, luckily, the brainiacs in the computer business have started coming up with gizmos that can help us keep track of our stuff.

The technology can be extremely useful for caregivers.

StickNFind ($50 for two,, hipKey ($90, and the Proximo ($60, all use Bluetooth technology. You use an app on your phone to find your stuff, or, in some cases, you push a button on the device to find your phone. They use small sensors you stick on the things you want to keep track of.

As more and more Baby Boomers become caregivers and Generation X becomes caregiver sensitive because they have to care for those of us who are their Boomer/parents we’ll see a whole range of gadgets meant to help us. Think of the camera setups long-distance caregivers are using to watch their parents. You can buy the camera and technology at Radio Shack. Sensors are being used to tag folks in care centers so they can be found if they wander away.

While technology can’t do much for what goes on in our hearts as we move through the caregiver journey, increasingly it can help our heads.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Annie and Another Day

Just walked out to get the paper and it’s overcast…again. The last few days here in my part of North Carolina have been pretty nasty and it’s starting to get me down.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been ugly and raining all year, or for the past month or even for a whole week.

But, a few days of rain can easily get you into a feeling of, “Is the sun EVER going to come out again?”

Caregiving can keep you in that bad weather feeling a lot of the time if you let it.

When the weather isn’t perfect for awhile it’s hard to remember what it was like when it was sunny. Remembering that the sun is up there all the time, but just hidden right now, can be a challenge, especially when caregiving.

There’s a cute song from the Broadway show/movie, Annie…Tomorrow; I’m sure you’ve heard it. One of the lines is, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”

I just checked the weather report. The forecast for morning is continued overcast so for the short term things will stay gray. The forecast for the next 5 days is partly cloudy so, while the sun may peek through at times, it looks like I’ve got to create my own sunshine.

Not a bad metaphor for caregiving and life.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Catching Winks

Recently, a friend who knows that I teach caregivers asked, “Are the parents of kids with challenges also thought of as caregivers?”


He had made a common mistake, thinking that caregivers are only those folks who take care of their parents or spouses or older family members with mental or physical challenges. Too often, parents of kids with various mental and physical issues, and health care professionals are not considered in the discussion about caregiving.

But, here’s the most interesting part of the conversation. He said, “I was at ballgame not long ago and a group of autistic kids and their parents walked onto the field and were honored. And ALL the parents looked so TIRED!”


One of the real challenges of caregiving is getting enough rest. Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Well, fatigue also makes us crazy. And causes us to make mistakes and get injured and snap at people out of frustration and cry more and…being tired just makes things…worse.

As a caregiver you often lay in bed at night worrying about how you will fulfill your caregiver duties, how you’ll pay for all this, how you will get your kids to school when you’ve got to get mom to the doctor…how you’ll have a life.

I wish I had a quick and easy answer.

I mean, I do…but you won’t like it. Grab rest whenever you can. If possible, when the person for whom you are caring is sleeping try to get some sleep, if just a nap, if you can. Try to not fill that time with all the other things you think you should be doing. President John F. Kennedy was said to be famous for taking “combat naps,” 15-minute snoozes to refresh.

Please try to get to bed at a decent hour. And, try to set up as regular a schedule as possible for sleep. I know for some caregivers that’s an almost impossible task, but if you don’t fatigue will jump up and bite you in a variety of ways.

Caregiving can make you crazy. Fatigue makes you crazier.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To-Do Lists Can Make You a Little Less Crazy

Has caregiving gotten into your head and created a level of confusion that has made it difficult--if not impossible--to get things done?

On a variety of occasions it has certainly had that effect on me.

Here's my solution: A simple To-Do fact, not one, but two To-Do List.

The first one, a Master List, is done once a week. I list all the things, personal and professional I have to do.

And yes, that list will get pretty long and daunting. Don't worry about that. You don't have enough hours in the day to do all you believe you need to do. I'll show you how to pare it down to manageable.

The second list is a working To-Do List. This is what folks are talking about when they talk about To-Do Lists.

But, here's a key: You don't want more than about 6-8 things on the working To-Do List. In fact, if you're looking at 10 or more things on a list your brain starts to lock up. You can't process more than about 10 chunks of information at a time.

That's not to say you won't get more than 6-8 things done in your day, it's just that long working To-Do Lists literally make you dumber and slower.

If you let it, doing a list can get you a little depressed because you see all the things you want/need to do. But, the better part is that the habit gives you a sense of control. You don't spend so much time feeling overwhelmed, feeling crazy.