Category: Family Life Services

Feeling overwhelmed

I stared at my rambunctious foster dog running circles through my living room wondering how on earth after two weeks she was still living with us.

I did not anticipate having her this long; she was with us strictly as a temporary rescue mission. She’s a great dog, but we just don’t have the space or time to do this long-term.

Around work and my normal commitments, I’ve been helping my oldest daughter organize a benefit concert as a fundraiser for her upcoming mission trip. My youngest daughter is in her post-season playoffs for field hockey, which translates to my being at games, college recruiting visits, making mac and cheese for team pasta parties and helping plan the end-of-the-year banquet.

And now it’s early November. You know what that means. It doesn’t matter that you just handed out candy to trick-or-treaters because now it’s officially the holiday season.

So how is someone who is already feeling overwhelmed head into the most overwhelming time of the year?

Recovery from addiction

Randall has worked with a Diakon Family Life Services counselor since he left rehab, as he continues his recovery from addiction. He is in his eighth year of sobriety.

I started drinking when I was 16. I stopped at age 51. During those years of alcohol addiction, I also used drugs for a period of time. Drinking and partying became an everyday ritual, something I believed was part of me. When it all got so bad—when I found myself in such a dark place that I was unable to help the people I cared about the most, my family—that’s when I realized I needed help.

How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

Now that we are almost halfway through the year, it’s a great time to reflect on our New Year’s resolutions.

I think we may find, however, that many of us (myself included) have not changed much. A habit needs more than just a holiday to make or break it. Habits are adaptations—specifically, coping skills—that we create to deal with daily life.

Traditional thinking is that it takes 28 days to change a habit. Whether we are talking about diet, spending habits or some type of rehab, individuals equate change to this magic number.

However, latest research shows that 66 days is the actual number. That is quite a difference!

And merely wishing and waiting till day 66 will not get us to our goals either. If you already quit your resolutions back in February, here are a few suggestions to help get you back on track.

Helpful holiday tips: How to visit someone with Alzheimer’s disease or similar illness

The holidays can be a very emotional time for everyone, including families and friends who have loved ones dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive illnesses.

For those affected by cognitive degeneration disease, the biggest thing to remember is to be accepting of what people feel.

Holidays can be filled with a wide range of emotions ranging from pure joy to utter sadness. Regardless of the emotion, accept it and try not to judge your feelings or the feelings of others during this time. Holidays may feel and look different because traditions are not able to be followed exactly as before, but that does not mean you cannot have a meaningful experience.

Here are a few tips that can help make your holidays happier:

  • Take a different perspective on the visit

One of the reasons visits can be a challenge is disease progression. Over the course of the disease, attention span changes, interests may vary and memories fade in and out. You may not be able to talk to the person the way you used to. Maybe you used to sit and have tea with your loved one. Now she can no longer sit for long periods of time or maybe she no longer likes tea. This changes our ability to connect, so we have to rethink our approach to the visit.

 

  • Step outside your world

Forget what you know to be true and enter into their world. Often loved ones’ perceptions may be different from yours. For instance, if they can’t remember something in the past, do not argue with them. Arguing or pleading with them to remember something can increase frustration for everyone. Contradicting their reality does not work when you are visiting with someone whose brain has a difficult time making sense of the world around them.

 

  • Be prepared to participate in an activity

Often, an activity such as listening to music or looking through a photo album may help make the visit enjoyable because it allows you to make a connection. If your loved one is in a care facility, reach out to the staff to inquire about fitting activities.

 

For example, a direct caregiver may be able to tell you that your loved one has a newfound love of sitting next to the garden and watching birds, something he or she may have never done before. Or perhaps a loved one has developed a new enjoyment of vanilla milkshakes or hamburgers. Use whatever current interests are to guide the visit.

 

Times can also play a factor in visits. Again, use your facility staff as a resource; they may be able to tell you that your loved one gets tired in the afternoon and when she gets tired, she gets tearful.  Similarly, if you are bringing home a loved one for the holidays, the staff may share with you the best time to take her out and when to bring her back to reintegrate her into her surroundings.

 

Remember, as the disease progresses, likes, interests and best times to visit may change. What may work on one visit may not work on another. Try to stay flexible with your goals and expectations.

 

  • Don’t ask loved ones to do something they can’t do

It is often hard for their brain to recall memories. Do not ask them ‘who am I?’ or encourage them to ‘think harder’ when they cannot recall a person or memory. As much as you desperately want to maintain a connection, asking them to do something beyond their cognitive function may cause stress and aggravation.

 

  • Embrace the present

Cognitive impairments are heartbreaking diseases. It’s difficult to watch someone you love deteriorate and change into a totally different person in front of your eyes.

 

This transition induces grief and prompts questions such as “how do I still love this person if he or she is not the person I knew?” Although it may seem as if your loved one is slipping away, remember that a person with dementia wants to remember you, but his or her brain is just not physically capable of doing that.

 

Although you desperately want to maintain your previous connection, the greatest gift you can give yourself or your loved one is a meaningful visit reflective of the present.

 

Know that, even with these tips, a visit can be difficult. Sometimes, you may not know what to say or do.

 

Regardless, acknowledge that you are doing the best you can. If you “go with the flow,” more often than not you will have a successful visit.

—Michelle Gaugler
Personal Care Administrator
Luther Crest, Allentown, Pennsylvania

With 24 years of experience in long-term care, Gaugler understands the struggles facing residents with memory-related illnesses and their families. Dedicated to enhancing life, she has contributed to memory support for patients in all levels of care.


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Consumer Satisfaction – A few lessons learned….

Doing a survey always begins with a bit of trepidation. What will the responses be? Will there even be responses? If we receive responses, will they be good or bad?

At Diakon, however, we are committed to customer service and so we are always very willing to put aside those trepidations and ask: How are we doing?

Within Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries, we recently conducted several satisfaction surveys of the organizations and individuals referring consumers to us for service. In addition, each year we conduct a retrospective review of all the consumer and referral source concerns we’ve received throughout the year.

I wanted to share some things with you that we have learned. First, the good news:

  • Quality – Across the board, those who refer to us believe that we offer quality care and services
  • Outcomes – Those who refer to us believe that our services produce good outcomes for the people we serve. In the last two years, we have increased our focus on sharing our outcomes data with the counties and agencies that refer to us, and they are increasingly aware of our outcomes as a result of our sharing data more publicly, such as on our website.
  • Staff qualifications – Our staff members are perceived as highly competent and qualified to do their jobs
  • Consistency of staffing – We are viewed as a stable, solid place to work
  • Communication – For the most part, we are seen as good communicators, following up with progress reports to our partners in the community and county agencies on those we serve for them.

Some areas for improvement also have been identified for a few programs, including:

  • Waits for service – In some of our programs, consumers and those who refer them believe that the wait for care can be lengthy at times. We have developed a plan to measure and improve this concern, particularly in Diakon Family Life Services’ SPIN program. We also are beginning a customer service training program that will help us all learn the “best practices” of expediting care and communicating with those we serve when there are unexpected delays.
  • Percentage of referrals accepted – The individuals and agencies that refer to us expect us to help those they refer, to say” yes” when they reach out to us for help. In a few programs, it can be challenging at times to meet the needs of the number of referrals made to us. We also have created a plan to measure and improve this percentage, particularly in our foster care services.

I extend a huge “thank you” to the people who took time to respond to our surveys, to our staff members and to all the county agencies with which we work—for all that you do to help the individuals and families we serve.

I deeply appreciate everyone’s hard work and dedication.

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Dealing with a trunk full of “rattlesnakes”

I had a college professor once who said that many people deal with traumatic memories as we would a trunk full of rattlesnakes. We keep the trunk tightly locked because we believe that if we open it, danger will quickly overtake us.

I have thought about that for years, wondering if keeping those rattlesnakes in the trunk is a good—or bad—idea. Are we truly safe leaving them in there or will, eventually, we find that they have worked their way out and we have no idea where they are—or if they’re ready to strike?

Would it perhaps be better to open the trunk and deal with them when we’re better equipped and ready, especially if perhaps we’ve requested someone to help us, to not open that trunk alone?

Of course, the trunk full of rattlesnakes is an excellent metaphor for traumatic or similar experiences. Everyone deals with those experiences differently but is there a better way to face and manage difficult memories.

Brooke Brown, clinical director for Diakon Family Life Services – Capital Region, which offers services to address traumatic experiences, below shares professional thoughts on trauma and how to address it in a healthy way.

—Melissa Kindall
Diakon Corporate Communications

I think that historically, we (that is the general population, not us therapist-types) have not really known how to deal properly with trauma and traumatic experiences. We have thought about trauma as a physical issue, like a car accident or something requiring medical attention. Or we have convinced ourselves that not dealing with traumatic memories is best because, after all, no one can see the wounds if we don’t talk about them.

When is counseling a good idea?

Counseling can be of assistance in a wide variety of situations. Several families, for example, mention the impact it’s had on their lives in edited excerpts below. To learn if it might benefit you, see advice below from Laurel Spencer of Diakon Family Life Services …

•    “I’m a single mom and messed up royally when I was younger. My youngest child, for example, has struggled with feeling abandoned. And who could blame him? His father told him that I should have had an abortion because having him ruined his life! My son wouldn’t sleep alone for years; it was hard for me to leave him. I sought out counseling for him but then realized I also needed an outlet. I’m still struggling but my son and I went to counseling together and I learned what he needed to have from me. I also learned how to better handle the stress of raising my children alone. Counseling definitely helped us.”

•    “My husband and I sought marriage counseling after becoming involved in foster care while also caring for our other children and grandchildren. There was never time for just the two of us. My husband thought counseling was a waste of time but went because he knew it was important to me. Communication was our key issue. Now, thanks to counseling, we are open to communication and pay more attention to each other. Counseling has allowed us see there needs to be “us time” and even parent/child time with each of our children. In fact, we hire a sitter once a month so that we can do something with our older kids. Before going to counseling, we had simply spread ourselves too thin.”

There’s no question about it: We live in a complex world that sometimes presents us with difficulties we’re not sure how to address.

Stress management for caregivers during the holidays

Oh no … it’s “the Holidays” already ….

As I reflect on what the holidays mean to me, I dig deep into my heart and find peace and serenity and a sense of joy and family—and then the world and life take over.

The house to decorate, cookies to be made, presents to be bought, cards to be sent—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who are caregivers of others, the holidays can become even more of a chore, even something to dread.

In fact, during the holidays, the biggest stressors for many people are relationships, finances and physical demands. It’s therefore important to listen to your body, reflect on the true meaning of the season, and do what makes you happy to keep the holiday period a peaceful season.

Mom on the run

At the age of 9, my daughter was beautiful and bubbly, intelligent and funny. Always tall for her age, she possessed a body built for strength and she was using that strength to become a decent swimmer.

Nine was a year of significant growth—and a year of doubt. This would be the year that she became more sensitive about how she looked and the size of her clothes. In spite of every bit of praise I could muster about who she was and the amazing things she could do because of her height and strength, she only understood that her body was different from many of the other girls’.

And like many of us, she didn’t like being different. She longed to blend in.

How to help save a life

At 14, a boy, so distressed by incessant bullying, took his own life. He left a note for his family and friends, reminding people how important it is to reach beyond labeling and intolerance.

At 14, a girl hanged herself; she looked for all intents and purposes to be a normal teen, active, involved, successful in school, but quietly feeling alone and hopeless.

At 13, another girl attempted suicide numerous times and then grew determined and leapt to her death; although she often seemed happy, in private she fought her own demons.

These youths, whose stories have been changed to protect families, came from different regions, but in many respects they all are “our children”—and we need to learn from their acts of desperation.