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ElderCare Solutions of MI

Tag: Caregivers

I can’t believe that Thanksgiving has come and gone, Hanukkah is almost over, and Christmas and New Years are right around the corner!  The best part of any holiday celebration is visiting with family from out of town.  While it’s always fun for everyone to catch up with each other, all too often my phone rings the following week because  people get an unexpected surprise…their parents do not seem to be doing as well as they were last year, or as well as they seemed over the phone.  Changes can happen suddenly if someone has a fall or other serious illness, but most often changes happen very gradually, with cumulative effects that become more pronounced over time.  And while they may go unnoticed from week to week, if it’s been several months since your last visit, the difference can be very surprising.

But how do you know when your parents might need a little help?  Here are a few clues that you might see on your visit:

  1. Stacks of unopened mail
  2. Old, expired or moldy fruits, veggies, milk and yogurt in the fridge
  3. Unanswered messages on the answering machine
  4. Difficulty walking or precarious balance
  5. Fatigue and lethargy
  6. Confusion or forgetfulness
  7. Misplaced or lost items

The tricky part is knowing what to explain away and what to consider concerning.  Any one of these signs by itself  may not be worrisome, but if you’re seeing more than one, it may be time to talk with your parents and other family members about getting some support.  If you’re not sure,  meeting with a geriatric care manager can help you decide, and arm you with recommendations to put in place before you leave or have at the ready.  Although this may be a conversation you’re dreading, it’ll make getting on the plane to go home much easier.

Feeling thankful,


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Fall is in the air…even if the temperature will be 92 degrees here in Michigan tomorrow!  And many of us have favorite fall activities that we like to participate in.  Missing out on many of those activities can cause older adults to feel isolated.  Here are a few ways to incorporate the seniors in your life into your family’s fall festivities:

Take a trip to the local cider mill - there’s nothing like hot donuts and cold cider to welcome in the change of season.  If the trip is too physically taxing, bring a jug of cider and a bag of donuts with you the next time you visit an older adult.

Take a drive to look at the leaves – whether just a few miles away, or taking a trip up north,  driving to look at the fall colors is a favorite past time for older adults, and is usually comfortable for people with mobility issues.

Take in a football game – while getting into the stadium and climbing bleachers may be a thing of the past, today’s big screen HD TVs make watching at home almost as good as being there…and the seats are much more comfortable!  Make popcorn and hot chocolate and cheer for your favorite team as a family.

Stroll (or wheel) through an art fair – the last fairs of the season will be happening over the next few months.  For a listing of art and craft fairs visit

Create multi-generational fall art projects – When you get ready to rake those leaves in your yard, have your children select the prettiest ones and set them aside.  On your next visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s, bring the leaves, construction paper and a glue stick and create some seasonal decorations.

However you choose to spend your fall family time, I hope you enjoy, and make memories to last a lifetime!

Going to the cider mill,


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Long distance caregiving…that phrase certainly sums up my week!  It seems as though everyone I spoke with this week lives out of town, but is coming in for the holidays and is worried about their parents. I am very fortunate because both my in-laws live locally.  and unlike my sister-in-law, I don’t have to get on a plane every time there’s a problem.

When that dreaded role reversal happens and our parents begin to need help, it’s hard under any circumstances.  All of us deal with the uncertainty of wanting to help, but not wanting to step on our parents’ toes.  But the emotional stress takes on another dimension when you’re not there to check on your parents yourself.  This week I spoke to daughters who feel guilty about not being more available, and to sons who feel helpless…both feel anxious and burdened by worry.

As difficult as these first few conversations can be, I’m always so uplifted when I get off the phone.  People’s relief at having found someone, willing and able to be there for their parents long term, is almost tangible.  Someone who can not only help put supports in place but will be there to follow up as their needs change over time.  At those times, I’m grateful to be a Geriatric Care Manager!

Talk to you next week,


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Now that spring has arrived and summer is around the corner, I often find myself refilling my water bottle several times throughout the day.  And unlike me, my clients usually don’t have a water blottle with them when we’re out and about.  As we get older we become less aware of thirst, so I thought this beautiful weather week would be a great time for a quick dehydration reminder.  Many times dehydration is caused by inadequate water intake, but that’s not the only cause.  Other culprits include medication side effects, sweating or diarrhea.  

If you’re not sure of the signs of dehydration, here is a list from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Dry, sticky mouth with thick saliva
  • Sleepiness, weakness or a general feeling of being unwell
  • Decreased urine output with a dark or deep yellow color
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Cramping in the limbs
  • Breathing faster than normal
  • Low blood pressure
  • Acute confusion

While water is the best option for hydration, here are other ways to increase fluids in the body:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Flavored gelatin
  • Watered down juices
  • Sparkling or flavored water
  • Soups
  • Ice pops
  • Limit salt intake
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Minimize the number of beverages with caffeine.

The goal is not to change your loved one’s behavior, but to be creative in finding ways to keep them hydrated.  As they say, timing is everything.  It is best to drink often instead of in large amounts.  After a trip outdoors, during meals and with snacks are all good times to offer a beverage.  While most older adults may not think to  ask for a drink, if you offer them one while getting one for yourself they’ll most likely agree, and remember, every sip counts! 

Don’t forget, if you have questions, concerns or suspect dehydration be sure to check with their doctor.

Refilling already,


Contributing author Christie Schoenwald

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The holidays are a much anticipated time of year for most of us.  Whether you celebrate Passover or Easter, chances are you’ll be seeing family this time of year.  However, for some the holidays bring unexpected surprises if they live out of town and haven’t seen the older adults in their life for some time.

An older adult’s level of functioning can change significantly over the course of a few months, even more so if it’s been longer since you were last together.  Here are some potential red flags that might indicate more support is needed:

  • Stacks of unopened mail
  • A fridge full of old, expired or moldy fruits, veggies, milk and yogurt
  • Unanswered messages on the answering machine
  • An older adult seems to:
    • have more difficulty walking
    • have precarious balance
    • have less energy
    • tire easily
    • be confused or forgetful

It can feel overwhelming when you first realize that all is not well, but there’s no need to handle it on your own.  Their physician might be a resource, and a Geriatric Care Manager can help you identify and put in place local resources that will make it easier for you to board that plane for your return flight.

Happy Holidays,

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A new year…a time for new beginnings and resolutions…anything seems possible!  As you make those New Year’s resolutions be sure to include ways to not only care for the older adults in your life, but to be sure you care for yourself as well.  In addition to all the old standbys like “Lose those extra 10 pounds”, you might also consider some of the following:

  • Be honest with yourself
  • Create resolutions that are realistic
  • Vow to make time for a little fun each week
  • Be sure you laugh, loudly and often
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Be proactive whenever possible

None of us can escape the complexities of aging, whether we’re experiencing difficulties ourselves, or with someone that we love.  But the one thing we can control is how we react to those changes.  Are you being proactive or reactive?  Let’s all plan to age well and live well in 2013.    

 Ringing in the New Year,


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The cliché is that life begins with parents as caregivers and ultimately the tables turn, with children becoming the caregivers of their parents. The reality is much more complicated.

My siblings and I have been very fortunate in that our parents are pretty healthy and have been pro-active in dealing with the changes that inevitably come with age. A couple of years ago, my parents decided to downsize to a smaller home “in town” rather than remain where they’d been living in the country. Since then, they’ve discussed what their next respective living arrangements should be, depending upon who survives the other. As a result, my siblings and I have been spared difficult future conversations about changes that will need to happen, although the conversations about what they’ve decided are often difficult in their own way. With these actions, even at 84 years of age, my parents continue to “give care” to us, their children.

So it was a new experience when, about a month ago, I found myself for the first time taking the position of telling them that I didn’t think they should do something, specifically drive to Florida on their own. I was very worried, yet also respectful of the fact that it was their choice. I reminded them that several years ago they’d made the decision not to take any more long driving trips. Fact acknowledged, no change in plans. I slept on it and then called again the next morning, this time explicitly saying that I didn’t think they should do it. Still no change. I continued to gently voice my concerns and insisted that they at least agree to call me each night when they checked into a hotel. Ultimately, they decided not to make the trip alone (I think mostly because Mom had concerns of her own in the first place and somehow that finally prevailed).

Today, they are each other’s primary caregivers, but I know the day will come all too soon when one of them will be left alone or need help caring for the other.  While this is close to impossible to even visualize, I hope that I can be as good a caregiver as I see them being for each other. In the meantime, as I’ve done throughout my life, I watch and listen for the lessons they offer. They’ve always been my best teachers through the way they’ve lived their lives. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from them about caregiving:

  • Be a partner to the one for whom you care and talk through important decisions, but also have others with whom you can vent and share concerns privately. At times, we all have things that need to be expressed but are best not said to each other.
  • Have conversations about preferences for important decisions while everyone is healthy. Don’t hesitate to raise concerns or reservations about choices. Cry during the conversations if you have to, but have them.
  • Face the fact as courageously as you can that you will one day lose the one for whom you are caring.  It will make it easier to respect their decisions and wishes during that time period when health and abilities are declining.
  • When the day comes that you must accept care (and make no mistake, that day will arrive for the majority of us), accept that care graciously and express gratitude.

Throughout life, we are each other’s caregivers. This is one of the many blessings to be grateful for each and every day.

Shari-Beth Goldman

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I said good-bye to my beloved grandmother, Nannie, as I called her, in late November 2008. Alzheimer’s disease had ravaged her brain and taken away the grandmother I knew as a child. She was diagnosed in 2001 and steadily began to decline. Gone was the vibrant, eccentric gourmet cook, artist, and world-traveler, among other talents. She no longer helped me make cookies, sent me hand-drawn cards, or went on safari in Africa. She now needed to be reminded who I was, what food she was eating, how to get dressed.

She moved in with us and I watched as my mother had to essentially care for a second child. It must have been difficult, having one child going off to college and not getting an empty nest as she had been expecting. It was challenging for all four of us (My parents, my grandmother, and I) as we all had our roles constantly redefined, changed, and renamed. I was no longer granddaughter, I was big sister. My mother was no longer a daughter; she was a mother to her mother. My father was just a visitor. Even the dog played along: he was now the cat.

Within these roles, our responsibilities and expectations also changed. We no longer ventured far from home. I would have to “baby-sit” my grandmother and make sure she didn’t try and walk down the stairs for fear of a fall. My grandmother would set the table; someone else would reset it with the proper dishes and silverware for each setting. We all learned patience and creativity as we tried to keep her occupied and happy. We repeated ourselves often. The dog learned that he would have to go outside to do his business every 15 minutes because Nannie would forget she had already let him out.

As her disease progressed, it became obvious that she was no longer safe in our home. My parents woke up in the middle of the night to find her outside in her nightgown in December waiting for the bus to “go home.” With much pain and regret, my mother made the decision to place her into an assisted living unit. Faithfully, she visited my grandmother nearly every day. For over three years, my grandmother was in this facility before she went into hospice.

A few days before she was moved to hospice, she was having a particularly good day. I had taken a leave of absence from work so that I could be with my family and spend time with my grandmother, so I was sitting with her in the common room when she had a completely lucid moment, looked right at me and said, “I love you, Jennie.”

I think about this moment often. It is something I hold onto, for in all those grey, dark days where Alzheimer’s had taken over, this is a memory that shines like sunlight. It chases away all those negative thoughts and is how I like to remember Nannie in those last few weeks leading up to her death.

Jennifer Simms-Coffey

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My mother passed away in January, 2005, at age 83, after battling breast cancer.  My father had been her primary caretaker for a year prior to her death.  He got great satisfaction from being the “provider.”  For most of her life, he was the financial provider, but in her later years, he also provided transportation, meals, entertainment, and mostly, companionship.  My dad was bereft at her passing as he had lost his job and his identity.

My parents and I were part of a unique triad, each of us an “only child.”  The natural support and connection of extended family had always been missing from our lives, more noticeably so following my mom’s death.  However, my dad was adept and resourceful in combatting his loneliness and quickly filled his life with people and experiences that he enjoyed.  Unfortunately, as the years progressed, his mild dementia began to affect his judgment, his decision making skills, and ultimately his independence.  It was at this point that I, as the only child, was pressed by honor, obligation, and love into assuming the parental role for a very resistant parent.

You should understand that I am a social worker.  I help people for a living.  “I know how to do this…I am a great helper” I thought.  Only one problem, my dad doesn’t want help.  So, no matter how good I am at helping, each action provokes resistance and resentment.  I had to come to understand that he is not resisting me—he is resisting his dependence on me.  He still wants to drive, and believes that he can, even after failing a state driving test five years ago.  He still wants to write his own checks, even after many unfortunate investments that have depleted his resources.  He still wants to get around without the assistance of a cane or walker, even though he is regularly hospitalized as a result of falling.  He still wants to be on his own, and do what he wants and… WHO CAN BLAME HIM??  I know I would want that independence, too.

So, we wrangle.  I insist, and he argues.  I arrange for his care, and he tries his best to go along with it.  He believes that I took his freedom away, and I tell myself that I must keep him safe.

And in the midst of it all, is love.  Love for me, his grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  And it will be very special for my daughter to have her 91 year old grandfather walk down the aisle at her wedding next month.  What a gift.

Ellen Yashinsky Chute

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Caregiving…It’s the job none of us apply for, but most of us will end up having at one time or another.  Caring for an older adult that you love is truly an honor, but it also can be one of the hardest jobs we’ll ever have. 

As a geriatric care manager I have worked to help support spouses who are caring for each other, grown sons and daughters who are caring for their parents, even brothers and sisters caring for one another, and have been touched by their love, compassion and dedication.

Because November is National Caregiver Month, I would like to highlight family caregivers.  For the rest of the month, this blog will feature a different guest each week, sharing their stories…the struggles and the successes.

 Waiting for their posts,


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ElderCare Solutions of Michigan is a division of Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, a non-sectarian not-for-profit organization that has served the metro Detroit area for more than 80 years.