1107 E Eighth St, Traverse City, MI 49686 | Become a Caregiver

As we age, there is no better place than Northern Michigan to enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle. Supporting your physical, mental and emotional health are key pieces to maintaining independence well into the golden years. Here are a few topics that we are exploring to support healthy aging in Northern Michigan:

Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Most older adults want to do everything they can to stay happy, healthy and independent. A good diet supports the physical strength and mental well-being that we all need.

Eating fresh foods can make a profound impact on your heart. Studies show that 70% of heart disease can be prevented with correct nutrition. But eating right isn’t always easy. Surprisingly, as we age, even our taste buds change. Increased sweet and salty cravings can be satisfied by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only are they delicious, but they also help reduce cholesterol.

Often people don’t want to buy fresh fruits and vegetables because they worry they will spoil. Most local grocers know this and make it easy to purchase only what you need. You can also keep produce longer by freezing it into individual portion sizes. Having frozen fruits and vegetables on hand is great! It’s convenient and you get to enjoy them all year long.

There are lots of options for finding fresh, local produce in Northern Michigan. Here we are blessed with an abundance of fantastic farmers markets and local grocery stores. Try delicious fresh produce and improve your health in the process.

Fun, Safe Ways to Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Getting outside is just as important for your health now as it was when you were a kid. Spending time outdoors exercising or just enjoying the scenery can improve your health and your mood.

In Northern Michigan, there are plenty of opportunities and activities for people of all abilities to enjoy the outdoors. At Hull Park in Traverse City, anyone can walk on the paved pathway, fish from the dock, or sit and watch the boats on Boardman Lake.

Some beaches are equipped with Mobi-Mats, which provide a hard surface across the sand so anyone can get right up to the waterfront. There are lots of Mobi-Mats throughout the region, including Sleeping Bear Dunes, Clinch Park, and the Petoskey State Park.

Another option is to explore trails like the ones at the Grass River Natural Area. The boardwalks covering the trails are wheelchair friendly and provide access to the unique wetland environment.

Or how about getting outside right at home? A walk with family and friends is a good way to socialize and get some exercise. Lawn games such as bocce ball, croquet, horseshoes or even playing board games, are great ways to spend time outdoors.

Shuffleboard is a great social activity! You can find courts across Northern Michigan at senior centers, parks and even some restaurants.

Family Communication from a Distance

Many of us have family members spread across the country and world. Even if you live close by, busy lives can make getting together difficult. Communicating across generations also creates unique challenges. Many technologies in use today were not designed for older adults and can cause frustration.

We know that loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure, depression, and even the ability to think clearly so staying in touch with the people you care is important.

One solution we’re excited about is the grandPad, an easy to use tablet that makes keeping connected effortless, fun, and secure. Video chatting is as easy as the push of a button. You can record voicemails, share photographs and a lot more. In addition to the grandPad, new technologies, programs and apps are being created every day to make keeping in touch easier.

Scheduling regular phone calls has benefits too. Our loved ones know they can count us, they look forward to the conversations—and that improves overall health and wellbeing.

Of course, using the old-fashioned mail is very much appreciated by the generations that grew up writing letters. Print photographs, send them to your loved ones and talk about them over the phone.

Put some thought into what kind of communication plan will work for you and your family. It’s proven to have a big impact on staying happy and healthy.

Your Aging Brain

As we age, one large concern for many of us is our cognitive health. Becoming forgetful can be challenging. The good news is that we can reduce our risk of cognitive decline. At Comfort Keepers, we encourage our clients to incorporate these four strategies to keep the brain healthy:

  1. Exercise regularly. While the human brain makes up only two percent of the body’s weight, it consumes nearly 25% of the body’s total blood supply. Physical activity keeps that blood pumping.

  2. Stimulate your mind. Simply learning new skills or keeping the brain regularly “exercised” through puzzles, games or a class can make a big difference.

  3. Watch your diet. The brain requires fuel. Feed your brain with healthy choices, including B vitamins, rather than lots of sugar, salt, fat and processed foods.

  4. Stay social. Strong social connections lead to longer life expectancy and improved overall mental well-being. Consider volunteering.

Scientific studies suggest the key to maintaining a healthy brain is active engagement. So keep learning, stay active, and be social!

Kitchen Safety

While the kitchen is considered the heart of the home, an unsafe kitchen can be a disaster for you or an aging loved one. It’s important to consider fire prevention, comfort and convenience, and food preparation and leftovers when making the kitchen safe. Here are five ideas to prevent accidents and stay safe in the kitchen:

  1. Move items that are used most often out of the highest and lowest cabinets and shelves, and into easy-to-reach cabinets and drawers.

  2. Once a week, go through the food in the refrigerator and throw out anything that is expired. Go through your pantry and cabinet items once a month.

  3. Make sure there is adequate lighting over the sink, range, and countertops to avoid spills, cuts or other accidents. You may want to install under-cabinet lighting to help with this. Also, add a night light.

  4. If there are area rugs in the kitchen – or anywhere in the home, remove them. They cause a lot of falls.

  5. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and make sure everyone knows how to use it properly.

Make sure you survey the kitchen with a critical eye. What may seem perfectly harmless to you may be a potential threat to your loved one.

Avoiding the Holiday Blues

This time of year, it can seem like everyone is happy and enjoying the season. But for lots of people, especially for older friends and family members, the holidays magnify feelings of loneliness and loss. Here are a few tips to help aging loved ones avoid the holiday blues:

  1. Include those who might be isolated in social gatherings throughout the season. Make sure the people in your life who cannot drive are able to participate in get-togethers and events. Simple activities like baking and decorating are meaningful and interactive.

  2. Create visual memories of the season by collecting holiday photos and cards. Create an album to share. Talking about the photographs is fun and preserves the history of a family.

  3. Learn or do something new in the new year. Take a yoga class or learn a new computer skill. Plan a getaway, even if it’s just a daytrip, can keep you excited about the future.

  4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Make sure to eat healthy meals. Stay active and drink lots of water.

Simple activities and time spent together during the season will go a long way toward preventing the holiday blues.

The Three Ms: Medicine, Mobility, and Meals

No matter our age, we all strive for and enjoy independence. For aging Baby Boomers and seniors, maintaining that independence can come down to three M’s: medication, mobility and meals. An issue with one of those three can snowball into a large problem.

  1. Medication It is very important to be consistent with medications. For people of all ages, setting pills up in a medicine box helps with organization and ensures that medication is taken on schedule. Continue to talk with your healthcare provider and your pharmacist if there are any questions or concerns about side effects and dosage.

  2. Meals Nutrition is an important component of health, and that is especially critical for seniors. If you find that cooking and preparing meals is difficult, try a meal subscription and delivery service. Avoid eating processed foods and frozen meals. If you’re an adult child or caregiver, make extra food to bring your family in a serving-sized container.

  3. Mobility The key to maintaining mobility is to stay active. Continue to engage in low impact exercises such as walking, swimming and yoga. Start now, and stay active. Movement goes a long ways, as physical activity strengthens the muscles, heart and lungs.

If any of the three Ms become an issue for you or your aging loved one, talk to your doctor to help determine next steps.

Seniors Stop Driving, How to Start the Conversation

Telling someone they’re too old to be driving can be a difficult and sad conversation to have. Although it is hard to pull that independence away from an adult, there are times it needs to be done for the safety of loved ones. Here are a few tips on how to talk about this difficult discussion:

  1. Start the conversation early. By the time you start to notice that they’re not safe in their driving, it might be too late. Starting the conversation early and making a plan will make the transition easier for both your loved one and family members.

  2. Start slow and be respectful. Do not come on too strong, be respectful and take a slow approach. Start a conversation and demonstrate your understanding and empathy. For example, “Dad, I’m not getting any younger, and the older I get he less I like driving at night. How are you feeling about driving at night?”

  3. Think about solutions. There will be push back, and it is better to plan ahead and have solutions in mind. For example, if the concern is not being able to golf with friends, offer the solution of riding with one of the playing partners. Having solutions in mind before starting the conversation.

  4. Compromise. If you start the conversation about driving early enough, it may be easier to make compromises and find a middle of the road such as no driving after dark and no driving for long trips on the highway. Winter in Northern Michigan is a great reason to stop driving and consider alternate transportation options, as the snow and ice make it difficult.

Understand that there may be many conversations about driving. By acknowledging the person’s feelings and coming up with a few solutions, you can help your loved one maintain their independence and ensuring their personal safety.

Moving or Getting Care

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a loved one can no longer can live on their own independently. Here are answers to a few common questions that we receive in regards to making the decision about moving or getting care for your aging loved one:

  1. When is the right time to move or to get care? By listening to what your loved one has to say, you can tell a lot about their feelings and their mental well-being. If they are talking about being lonely, not wanting to participate in life, or seems depressed, this is a clear indicator that you should get care is. Additionally, take note of their current living environment. If you notice unsafe hazards, such as stairs or clutter, it may be time to start the conversation about moving.

  2. What happens when adult children move their parents to be near them? This experience can be catastrophic if expectations have not been made clear beforehand. Before planning the move, talk about how much you will see each other, will you be taking them out, and what is your responsibility and time commitment. Remember that your loved one is giving up everything and their whole lifestyle is changing so it is important to patient and understanding.

  3. What can I do if my parents are adamant that they don’t need help? This is a decision that takes time, so make sure to start the conversation early and plan ahead. Finding a middle ground and compromise is important. If they will not move, could they agree to in-home care or participate virtually in doctor appointments? Remember that everyone values independence—no matter their age.

  4. What can I do to keep this from becoming a major source of conflict? By being proactive and transparent with all family members involved, everyone will remain on the same page. Hold yourself back and do not make them feel pressured. Although it may be urgent to you, this is a big change in your loved one’s life. Also, a major source of conflict we see is when adult children start to clear out their parents’ “stuff”—it’s important to them that you respect their belongings, even if you think it is “junk”.

Having the conversation about moving or getting in-home care can be difficult. Keep reminding yourself that by being proactive, you will not only provide safety for your family member, but will also keep them happy and healthy for years to come.

Alzheimer’s Awareness

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 people have Alzheimer’s disease and another person is diagnosed every 65 seconds. Although memory loss is affecting nearly every family, it is a difficult conversation to start with loved ones. Talking about the disease can help bring it from the shadows and prepare for treatment. Here are a few questions that we often hear about preparing for a conversation about Alzheimer’s:

  1. Start the conversation early. By the time you start to notice that they’re not safe in their driving, it might be too late. Starting the conversation early and making a plan will make the transition easier for both your loved one and family members.

  2. When is an ideal time to start talking about Alzheimer’s? It’s never too early to start talking about Alzheimer’s, as it can start to affect families in their 40’s. The earlier you can start having the conversation, the easier it will be to accept the fact that Alzheimer’s is a normal part of life. Having the conversation early can be empowering, because you know that Alzheimer’s is a potential factor in your future and you and your loved ones can plan ahead.

  3. What should you do if you are worried that you or a loved one may be impacted by Alzheimer’s? It is important to visit your doctor and confirm whether or not your symptoms are Alzheimer’s or some other factor. At Comfort Keepers, we see clients experience memory loss due to medications and diet. Your doctor can help confirm when to be concerned about Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Another important facet of early discussion of Alzheimer's disease with loved ones is getting financial, legal, and long term care plans in place while everyone is at their cognitive peak. Remember to approach the conversation with great sensitivity and care. Patience and understanding are the key to successful communication about Alzheimer's disease.

Planning For a Crisis

End of life is a topic of conversation that no one really wants to have. Once an emergency happens, it may be too late to get things in order. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a crisis:

  1. Talk to a doctor. Start the planning process by talking with their doctor to learn about the types of decisions that could come up in the future, including medical treatments. At this time, gather and fill out the legal forms with your loved one’s wishes. Having these forms completed means that you will be able to gain access to the information that you need in case of an emergency.

  2. Start the conversation early. Having this conversation early with loved ones can help plan ahead and avoid future conflict. Remember that this is not a one-time conversation, as your feelings may change over time. This makes it even more important to keep your loved ones in the loop and avoiding surprises.

  3. Get directives in writing. Knowing where important items such as healthcare documents and keys will help avert crisis. Having this information in writing assists family members and loved ones when the time comes to use this information. Having an advanced directive can give your loved one and those close to you added peace of mind.

Most importantly, be patient, kind and loving. Just because this topic may be top of mind for you, it doesn’t mean it is for the rest of the family.

For Better of Worse; In Sickness and in Health

When two people tie the knot, “in sickness and in health” is one of those common vows that are made. Growing older together can eventually lead to experiencing declining health of a spouse, which is a real challenge. Here are a few important points to remember when caring for an aging spouse:

  1. The dynamic of the relationship can change. With illness, there can be a lot of emotional and physical changes, which can change the dynamic of a relationship. Be aware of the expectations of your loved one, and ask others for help when needed.

  2. Maintain the relationship that you have. Continue the things that are routine, for example car rides on Sundays, and try to compartmentalize the medical and caregiving portions of the day. Keeping routines can help create a sense of normalcy, which is comforting for both spouses.

  3. Listen. As an adult child, it’s important to remember that being a caregiver is a huge undertaking and can be quite exhausting. Make sure to listen, and show support, as the caregiving spouse may want to vent and have a place to express their frustration and fear.

  4. Make sure there is a plan if the caregiving spouse becomes ill. An established plan will make the transition of caregiving easier if the health of the caregiving spouse begins to fail. The devotion between spouses is amazing and awesome, but it is very challenging to let go of some responsibility. It is important to find the right combination of support to assist both aging loved ones. For example, maybe mom really wants to remain dad’s caregiver, but you could assist mom with the laundry to that relieve her of that burden.

Being a spousal caregiver is an important and challenging role, and ss with any caregiving role it may be difficult to think about “me-time”. Remember to take care of yourself—eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Both you and your loved one will benefit.

Upkeeping Personal Hygiene As We Age

Personal hygiene can be difficult to maintain as we age, and is one of the hardest topics to approach. Here are a few questions that we are often asked regarding personal hygiene for aging loved ones:

  1. Why do people have difficulties upkeeping hygiene? Neglecting personal hygiene can be an indicator of a health problem. Additionally, there could be aches and pains that make taking care of yourself difficult, as well as a fear of falling. For example, stepping over a tub to get in and out of the shower can become a challenge, as well as changing clothes.

  2. How should we approach a conversation about hygiene? Recognize that the person you are speaking to might not be aware of their body odor or food on their clothing. Make sure you are respectful and choose a private place and time to have the conversation. Approach the as solving problem and trying to help and inquire about any fears they might be having in regards to hygiene tasks such as bathing or brushing teeth.

  3. What can we do to make personal hygiene easier for our loved one? Definitely start in the bathroom and make sure that your loved one has the right toiletries supplies and that they are easily accessible. Bathrooms can be quite hazardous, so take a look to make sure that the area is well-lit and that there are dependable grasps for standing and sitting in areas such as the shower and by the toilet. The most important way to make hygiene a priority is to make it a routine. Try laying out clothes for the week, or use a calendar to write important personal hygiene dates on it.

Most importantly, remember that the bathroom is a sensitive place to ask for help. Some people want only family members to help, and others are adamant about having a third-party individual help with bathing. Understand what your loved one’s desires and preferences are in regards to hygiene assistance and make sure them.

Family Fights

As elderly parents begin to rely on family for support, conflict between adult children can begin. This can be a difficult time as you go from seeing each other from once a year, to needing to make important and intense decisions together. As old rivalries and criticisms are brought back to the surface, here are three ideas to make sure everyone works together:

  1. Work as a team. Outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities in terms of the care plan, and look at it as you would if you were filling these roles at work or a church committee. Look at the roles objectively, and then set up a communication plan so that everyone can be updated on a timely manner.

  2. Let people help in the way that they’re most comfortable. If someone in the family loves to cook, have them bring dinner. If someone works in a hospital, they would be ideal for taking care of all the medical information. Cooperation between siblings can start as early as when one parent passes away, and needing to call and check in on the other parent so they’re not lonely.

  3. Get a third-party involved. A neutral third-party such as a social worker, pastor, or family friend can help calm the tension between siblings. There are also family mediators who specialize in senior care issues that can help find middle-ground and break through ill will.

Remember that there are no perfect families. Be calm, take it slow, and communicate early. The main objective is getting your parents the help they need.

Money Talks with Loved Ones

Talking about money with loved ones is hard, especially because financial conversations are typically a quiet topic among families. Now that people are living longer it’s even more import to start early because it costs more to live in retirement age, and finances provide comfort and security. Here are a few tips for talking with loved ones about money:

  1. Start Early Typically financial discussions and decisions for long-term care are made in the middle of a crisis, such as a loved one becoming sick or an emergency medical procedure. As long-term care is a large financial expenditure, families end of up making expensive decisions when there is little time and stress is high. By starting the conversation early, you can ensure that your loved one chooses the care they want and that the family does not have to make a hard decision during a crisis.

  2. Get your own emotions in check. It’s normal to be sad, angry, and scared about the situation. However, it’s important to process your emotions before the conversation so that you enter the dialogue with a clear head. When beginning the discussion, start the conversation with facts and be specific about your concerns. Make sure you state that you are there to help.

  3. Get the plan in place. This is a great time to get organized—know where important documents are kept, insurance information, and even a contact list of all of the doctors. This is a time to open up communication and be patient, and also layout expectations for roles.

Remember that talking about money with an aging loved one is not a one-time event. It will take time, energy and patience. Above all, the discussion needs to come from a place of love and kindness.

Alcohol Use

Having a glass of wine with dinner or the occasional drink is a common part of life for most people. But as we age, the way the body handles alcohol changes and can be problematic for reasons that we may not readily recognize. Below are a few reasons why alcohol consumption can be dangerous as we age:

  1. Falls. As you age, the body does not tolerate alcohol like you could when you were younger. With less body mass and muscle, the body cannot absorb alcohol and inebriation can increase the risk of falls. For older adults with thinning bones, falling can have serious consequences.

  2. Dehydration. Drinking alcohol can dehydrate the body. This can become and issue because the body contains less water as we age, therefore making it much easier to become dehydrated.

  3. Medications. Many seniors consume both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Drinking alcohol can cause certain medicines not to work properly. Other medications can have harmful interactions and become dangerous, and even deadly, when mixed with alcohol. It’s important to read the labels on the medication and consult your physician if you have any questions.
  4. Health Conditions. Alcohol can actually worsen health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems and memory loss. Additionally, alcohol is a huge risk for those adults who suffer with mood disorders, depression and anxiety.

While there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for alcohol use as we age, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks. If you suspect that your loved one may have a problem with alcohol, encourage them to talk to a professional such as a doctor, counselor, or social worker. As with any conversation, remember to be kind and patient.

Family Planning

There’s nothing like being thrown into a crisis to make you realize that you haven’t planned as well with your family as you needed to. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re ready if a predicament were to occur:

  1. Have the right to documents Make sure your loved one has a will, a health care power of attorney and a power of attorney for financial decisions. These documents ensure he or she will be cared for according to their wishes.

  2. Make a family plan Discuss caregiving matters with all involved members of your family, and have your loved one put in writing who will be responsible for which caregiving roles — and have all parties sign.

  3. Organize Documents Have a file with birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, citizenship papers, death certificate of a spouse or parent, power of attorney, deeds to property and cemetery plots, veteran’s discharge papers, insurance policies, and pension benefits. Be sure the documents are all in one place and someone knows where they are located.

It’s not an easy conversation, but being prepared for a family crisis is essential. Consider having a series of small, brief discussions to avoid overwhelming your loved one – or yourself! Planning ahead shows you are taking on responsibility as well as making sure your parent’s wishes are honored.

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