By Carol Zernial
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

I’m always saving the good stuff. I was recently visiting a family member, and I noticed that they hadn’t opened the jar of special Maine blueberry jam I had given them two years ago. I then came home and noticed that we hadn’t opened our jar either. Does this sound familiar?

Why do we save the good china for special occasions? Is that bottle of champagne still sitting at the back of the fridge waiting for a celebration? Do we ever sit on the good couch without the dog blanket?

The author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia used to talk about how he came home after his father had lost his business. His mother had put out the good china and spent the remaining money on a really wonderful meal. He was shocked. How could they afford it? She said that now was the time they needed a celebration.

As caregivers, do we ever treat ourselves? When things seem to be at their very worst, do we ever break out the good china and order the best take out we can afford, even if it’s a pizza?

Waiting for better times, for something good to happen, or until we feel better can be a long wait. Sometimes, we wait too long — the blueberry jam has gotten too old and lost the flavor that would have made it a special treat.

I struggle with this one. I’m afraid of using the good stuff. What if it runs out? Or what if I never get any good stuff to replace it? Worst of all, what if that is the last of the good stuff forever? The “what ifs” loom larger than reality, and I miss out on some things that could have been special if I hadn’t waited too long.

This year, let’s pledge to give away the best Halloween candy instead of finding it still in the dish at Christmas time. Let’s not put life or the opportunity for joy on hold while waiting for the right moment. We can’t let life pass us by or tick down the clock while we’re waiting for things to get better.

Enjoying that rare special treat really does make us feel special. Using the good stuff creates space in our lives for more good things to come our way. Using the good stuff can be spontaneous, or it can be planned as something we look forward to – a special occasion of our own making.

The good stuff — we’re worth it.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at CaregiverSOS.org or toll-free at 1-866- 390-6491

By Dr. Jamie Huysman
LCSW, CFT

Recent events across our great country have proven once again that lack of planning and not being prepared can have terrible consequences. A pre-arranged plan of action for fires, floods, and other natural disasters can go along way to keeping you and those you love out of harm’s way until help arrives.

Natural disasters and other unforeseen events add yet another layer to the role of caregiving. Preparing is part of caring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older adults prepare for those events that are likely to occur where they live.

For example, seniors living in Florida need to know how to prepare for a hurricane, while older adults in the Midwest should stock up for blizzards and floods. In California, people should prepare for earthquakes and wildfires while those living near a chemical or nuclear plant or along a highway where hazardous materials are frequently transported need to prepare for disasters in these settings. New York City advises its residents to keep plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal out toxins from a chemical attack.

The emphasis on personal responsibility is not intended to replace the role of rescuers and government agencies to help during and after a disaster. However, in the initial stages of a disaster, especially a powerful hurricane or other wide-scale event, people are typically on their own, at least for a while. It takes time for emergency responders to organize and reach the scene of a disaster even under the best circumstances. Elders should assume that they might not be able to reach their doctors or pharmacies, receive home-delivered meals, or obtain their usual home health services during the initial days of a severe disaster.

Those who care for loved ones with memory disorders can find excellent information at nia.nih.gov.

People with pets should arrange to take them along during an evacuation or leave them in a safe place. Most shelters do not allow pets due to health, safety, and noise concerns. FEMA recommends that pet owners contact a local animal shelter or talk to a veterinarian to learn about emergency options for pets.

If you have a loved one in assisted living, ask what emergency measures they have in place. Talk to your local Area on Aging about conducting disaster preparedness events. Let the fire department know if you are not able to evacuate, but need to shelter in place, particularly if cumbersome, but necessary medical equipment is in use.

Some disasters give some window of warning while others do not. Knowing what to do before the onset of an emergency situation will ease any sense of panic that naturally comes with these events. The overwhelming nature of circumstances beyond our control is best managed with a cool head and calm manner. Yes, easier said than done. Panic can be contagious. You can prepare for power outages and supply shortages.

Doing what you can do does help. As a caregiver, you are the first responder before the first responders. You can prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe. That’s taking your oxygen first!

For more information consider:

cdc.gov

caregiver.com

cdc.gov

Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

By Dr. Jamie Huysman
LCSW, CFT

Being a primary caregiver can leave little room for creating a balance with the other important parts of your life. All caregiving and no life can make you one burnt out mess! Setting a schedule is necessary when there are specific duties that require doing at specific times, such as giving medications. However, you must consider boundaries around what care you are willing to provide and what you are physically not able to do. Breaking through any confinement in your life is an exercise in expanding your horizon. Both have their place.

When you are new to caregiving, setting a schedule is advisable as you learn to manage your own time and energy with the needs of your caree. Take some time to define your role, learn what you need to know, gather all available resources, including other family members, and come to terms with how to fit these new responsibilities into your daily life.

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By Carol Zernial
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

I used to talk about persons “suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.” Until I met Gerda Saunders. Gerda is the author of Memory’s Last Breath. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia when she was only 61. That was seven years ago. Gerda is “living” with dementia every day.

We interviewed Gerda on the podcast, Caregiver SOS on Air, available on The Answer 930 AM and on for free on ITunes. Her book had just received glowing reviews from the New York Times. Gerda can’t remember what a glass is for or how to turn on the lights, but she has retained her gift for words. “Things” are her nemesis.

We had a good laugh at the political incorrectness of her diagnosing physician who said she was “dementing.” She thought it was such an odd word that it caught her attention, and she was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to use that old terminology. I assured her that I was kind of horrified that a professional would use such a derogatory word to her face.

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By Carol Zernial
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

Something has to change. After visiting seven assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in two days in the hopes of finding an appropriate living community for a vibrant but frail older relative this month, my sister and I wanted to run screaming for the doors. I have met other people who love the care that their relatives are receiving, and I can even name one nursing home that I think does a good job. But overall, our choices for long-term residential care are mostly dismal or cause for sticker shock. There’s very little in between.

I’ve talked about my relative who went through half a million dollars, his life savings, in about five years in a nursing home. He had a shared room, basically a twin bed that was more like a hammock, and a bedside table with a thin hospital curtain separating him from the same set up on the other side. He shared a bathroom with 3 other residents. Plush this was not. Nor warm, homelike or comfortable.

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