AgeAssured Ally Angelina Portuense has worked with many of our members to optimize their homes for successful aging. Here are some of her best tips!
********

Let’s face it: as we get older, the choices we made when buying or designing a home years ago may no longer work as well. For example, bathtubs are harder to get in and out of than showers. Doorways might be too narrow for walkers and wheelchairs. In this essay, I will walk you through a typical home and review some of our AgeAssured Allies’ best tips to make it as safe and accessible as possible. 

A Smooth Entrance

Front steps: If you have any front steps, make sure that they are in good condition (i.e. uncracked concrete or solid wood) and have handrails on both sides. Handrails should extend beyond the bottom and top of the stairs to provide support for their entire length. If stairs become a challenge, consider installing an metal ramp certified by the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) with a licensed contractor or a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). 

Doorways: At the entrance (and around any doorway in your home), ensure that there is enough clearance for ambulatory assistive devices (such as a walkers, wheelchairs or rollators) in case you ever need one or are already using one; a minimum of 36 inches in width is ideal. Make sure that your entryway is well lit at night and that any welcome mats are secured to the floor properly to avoid becoming a tripping hazard. 

Age-Friendly Kitchens

The kitchen is often the heart of a home, the place where meals come alive, delicious smells waft, and creativity either soars or plummets. Whether you enjoy cooking or have a love-hate relationship with it, being able to prepare your own meals is a big part of aging successfully. Happily, there are steps you can take to make your kitchen more age-friendly. 

Countertops and Shelves: Keep them free from clutter, especially those close to the stove. When it comes to where to store things, put the items that you use on a daily/frequent basis at arms-reach when standing at the counter. Invest in a sturdy step stool to reach things on top shelves, ideally, one with a handrail and non-skid rubber for your feet. 

Kitchen Tools: Switch to more ergonomic utensils and tools and consider soft-grip bowls and shears. Many older adults like rocker knives, which allow you to cut vegetables and fruit on a cutting board with one hand. An electric can opener might be another wise investment. 

Safer Bathrooms

Designing safe and sturdy transitions in bathrooms are key to making them age-friendly. Is there enough space for you to transition from sink to shower or shower to toilet? If space is an issue, think about installing grab bars, which take up hardly any room. If space is not an issue or permanent grab bar placement is not possible or desirable, explore durable medical equipment that can help with challenging transitions. For example, if you have a large tub wall that requires you to step over it in order to enter the bath or shower, consider a shower transfer bench that you can sit on and slide off of to get over the tub barrier. If getting off the toilet is becoming more difficult, consider a raised toilet seat with arms. Since bathrooms floors can be slippery when wet, consider installing non-stick tape in and outside of the shower as well as non-slip shower mats. 

Well-Equipped Bedrooms 

Navigating dark hallways and stairwells in the middle of the night is not ideal at any age. Not only are our eyes not fully adjusted after waking, but our movements can be slower than normal. So make sure all of your hallways are well-lit and cleared of clutter, especially any hallways going from your bedroom to the bathroom. Light switches should be conveniently located, i.e. at the entry to the hall from the bedroom). Consider battery-operated motion sensor night lights. 

Be mindful of how “slippery” your comforter and sheet sets are. As a geriatric case manager, I have lost count of how many stories I’ve heard from clients who have fallen out of their beds because their covers were too slippery!  

Next, think about how your furniture is arranged. Is there ample space around doorways? A clear passage from the bed to the bathroom or hallway? If getting on or off the bed is becoming a challenge, consider a bed grab bar that can help you pull yourself up and out. Access to a phone in the middle of the night is also important; make sure there is a place close to the bed where a phone can be securely held and charged. Alight should be easily reached and switched on from the bed, too. 

Easy Living Rooms

Living rooms often need to be re-configured as we age to facilitate cleaning and to prevent falls. Examine critically whether you need all of your furniture and knick knacks. Area rugs should be securely fastened to the floor to avoid being a tripping hazard. Electrical cords should be secured to the wall or away from any foot traffic and coiled to remove any slack. Consider anything you can do to make the living room easier to clean, such as de-cluttering, installing hardwood floors versus carpet, or replacing horizontal blinds with vertical ones for easier dusting. 

At Assured Allies, we fully support your desire to age happily in the place you call home. I hope these tips have been helpful. We have plenty more! We’d also love to hear what works for you so we can share your tips with other members. Please reach out to us anytime at [email protected] or call us at (866) 727-7833.

Angelina Portuense, LSW
Angelina is a case manager who has been working in the elder care field for over seven years. Her passion for working with older adults started in her teenage years when she became a family caregiver.

Sure it’s fun to blow out 70 birthday candles, but it’s even more fun to climb rocks. Especially red rocks. Giant ones. Just ask Jim Klein, who recently celebrated his epic birthday by “getting out of my comfort zone” and climbing up to the top of Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ. Jim was kind enough to sit down and tell us why he did it, and why this big red rock resonates for him on the threshold to a new decade. 

Jim, thanks for sitting down to share your story with Assured Allies. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I just turned 70 and live with my wife Beverly in Ohio. We have a son, Alex (32) who works for Ohio Health and a daughter, Madison (27) who is a Dr. of Veterinary Medicine. As for me, after receiving a BA from Rutgers and MBA from Columbia, I pursued a career with leadership positions in major global brands including Avon, Swatch, Universal Studios, Twentieth Century Fox, National Geographic and the Smithsonian. In my leisure time, I love the great outdoors to explore, hike and kayak.

And you just turned 70.

Yup.

And just posted to Facebook about your epic Cathedral Rock climb, reaching the “‘End of Trail’ marker just to prove that it is so not the ‘End of MY Trail.’” Did you hike alone?

No, you should never hike alone. I hiked with my wingman son, Alex, who is an expert hiker and trail guide, and my daughter Madison.

How did you come up with this idea, to celebrate 70 with a big climb?

We fell in love with Sedona back in 2019 and I told my family I wanted to climb the iconic Cathedral Rock for my big 70th birthday in 2022, giving me some time to prepare because it is a “bad boy” hike involving climbing, crawling, sliding, and technical skills that I didn’t have, but planned to learn on the job [smiles].

Some people have a fighting disposition towards aging. Is that you?

The best way to deal with aging is to not deny it, but to defy it by pushing your limits, leaving your comfort zones behind, and celebrating what is still possible. I have always been a positivist, even about birthdays. I actually have better strength and aerobic capabilities than I had 20 years ago, thanks to pushing my limits and by power walking an average of 10K a day for over five years.

How did 70 feel at the top of Cathedral Rock?

The climb pushed my physical limits! I crab-crawled up one big boulder on my hands and knees after falling back five times, ungracefully slid down big boulders on my butt, and climbed up through a 90ft tall crevice to reach the summit. At the top I found myself somewhat bruised and battered but thrilled by the accomplishment and the belief that the best years still lie ahead.

What are you looking forward to in the next decade?

I have officially retired from my professional career, but continue to enjoy providing pro bono guidance to some of my former companies. Beverly and I are not snowbirds but we do love mountains, so rather than buying a condo on the ocean, we plan to travel out West to the National Parks starting with the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We also look forward to  some Napa/Sonoma Valley trips for some fun. In my consulting practice, I work with a lot of young people and inspire them to “Go West” to see the majesty of the National Parks, which have almost become spiritual for me and my family.

Most people have at least one health concern or scare before age 70. Have you had any and if so, how did you deal with them?

I just passed my annual physical with flying colors, but four years ago, I had a health scare when I was diagnosed with severe heart disease from a calcium score reading. They discovered it was a false alarm when they put me on a treadmill stress test that revealed I was in the top 5% of aerobic capacity for my age. Nonetheless, it changed my life. I changed my diet and started a fairly extreme exercise routine. A good scare is a good motivator.

What gets better at this stage of life?

My relationship with my wife and kids has never been better and we still love going on family adventures together. If you are physically fit and mentally still kicking, your outlook on life gets better with age.

What advice would you give others about healthy aging or aging well?

Stay physically fit and mentally healthy. And create your own adventures, because there is no better feeling than pushing your limits, leaving your comfort zone and experiencing the thrill of accomplishment. Never stop educating yourself and never stop exploring the amazing world out there.

When AgeAssured member Jani holds court on her front porch, walks down a hallway lined with  family photos, or hugs one of her nine great grandkids in her living room, it’s clear that this 85-year-old matriarch has built a rich life around family and a particular place: the Missouri home she’s lived in for over 60 years. Assured Allies is proud to help Jani age on her own terms, in her beloved home, through hip replacement surgery and beyond. 

Jani was kind enough to share her experience with Assured Allies in a video, which you can watch here. The following interview is a mildly edited excerpt. 

Tell us about your home.

Jani with Christina Ferrari, her Ally Angelina Portuense, and Andy Freedman of Assured Allies.

My home means a lot to me. We moved in in October of 1960 or 1959. I’ve lived here over 60 years and both of my kids have never missed a Christmas. I always told my grandkids that I didn’t care who they married, but they had to marry someone who would come to my house for Christmas [laughs]. It means a lot to be able to stay here.

How did you hear about Assured Allies and the AgeAssured program?

Well, I’ve had two knees replaced and one ankle replaced, and then I started having trouble with my right hip. Before I had surgery in the fall, Assured Allies called me. They wanted to know if there was anything I needed in my home.

What was your first impression? 

When I first heard about Assured Allies I was a little confused because they were going to give me something for free. So I called my insurance company and they said it was for people that would rather stay in their home than go to the nursing home. 

How did your Ally, Angelina, help you get ready for your surgery?

Angelina called me back and wanted to know if I could use anything in the house. I said well, I‘m having a little bit of trouble with my hip that needs to be operated on, and they [Assured Allies] sent me many things that I needed when I had surgery. They sent me a little motion light, anything I mentioned they somehow found [a walker basket, sock aids, personal grabber, long-handled bath brush, leg lift strap, and more] to make it easier for me to stay home, with no charge to me at all. Angelina’s been a godsend; she explains everything to me and this makes you feel good, that somebody else is looking after you. 

What gives you a sense of purpose in your life?

The main thing that makes me happy is being with my kids and my grandkids. That’s what Assured Allies is trying to do for me — get my home fixed so I can stay at home. 

Do you have an experience with Assured Allies that you’d like to share? If so, please let us know at [email protected] We’d love to keep spreading the word about how we help members like you age in place.

In her early 70’s, my mom, Rita Ann, who recently passed at age 94, had an ankle replacement. The doctor who pioneered the surgery traveled from Sweden to perform the operation himself. “Can you also make me tall and blonde?” mom quipped before the surgery. The doctor was charmed, but my mom’s walking continued to decline and the surgery was ultimately pronounced a failure.

The author with her mother, Rita Ann, and brother Jeremy.

I never questioned this until recently. Last May, Rita Ann who was then 93, fell and shattered her “good leg.” After six weeks at a top rehab facility in L.A. she was sent home because she was too frightened of falling to cooperate with the physical therapists or even get out of bed. It was then that I realized that all those years ago her ankle replacement was most likely a failure because she didn’t really work at regaining mobility. Knowing my mother, I am sure her physical therapy sessions were focused on discussing the personal issues of the physical therapist and my mother offering advice and support. Exercise and pushing themselves physically is not something that most women of that generation did.  We boomers are much more fit than our mothers. At age 68, I go to the gym 5-6 times a week, take multiple classes, swim and walk at least six miles a day. By contrast, at my age my mom’s exercise regimen was mostly limited to her 5 p.m. stroll to the fridge to get the wine.

If my mom had been more inclined to exercise and to regain mobility, it certainly would have enhanced her later years. But in many ways her life was very rich and there is much to learn from her about successful aging. Her curiosity about other people and her genuine investment in them kept her engaged in life and surrounded by love. 

Many people in their 80’s and 90’s are lonely because their friends are gone. But my mom continued to make friends throughout her life and had friends of all ages and walks of life. She approached everyone she met as if that person were a book recommended by the New York Times. Regardless of time, space, or setting, mom opened the hearts of all who crossed her pa​​th, appreciatively read a page or two, and left those hearts more loving of themselves for her appreciation.

The Harvard Grant Study of Adult Development, which has been ongoing for 8o years, has shown the value of relationships as a form of self-care. “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Beautiful and charismatic, my mother drew people to her. But her secret was not so much that she was dazzling but that she has always done the hard work of building relationships. This is something that any of us can do. When we display a genuine interest in others, that comes back to us. 

Mom was always more interested in hearing about the happiness and woes in the lives of those around her than dwelling on her own difficulties. Even notorious curmudgeons fell under her spell. I have always benefited from this. Growing up, the grumpiest shopkeepers welcomed us because we were Mrs. Gold’s kids. Irritable, child-hating Doc Seltzer told mom she had a beautiful figure and told everyone else, “Don’t touch that Sis unless you’re going to buy it.” 

Rita Ann and the author on Derby Day.

Mom doubled her charm offensive when she felt someone was sad or bitter. Monosyllabic Mr. Peterson had the only bakery for miles in Manchester, Maine, and he drew customers who would wordlessly make their purchases and then escape. When my mom first exploded onto the scene, her ebullient greeting was met with something between a murmur and a growl. She continued to greet him warmly until eventually he chatted with her, sharing his concerns about being a single father raising daughters. Mom brought out the best in everyone by concentrating on them. She made people feel good about themselves, and that made her feel good, too.

My mother’s later years were brightened by her optimism and hope. Her certainty that life still held more for her motivated her to relocate to California at age 93.  That hope also allowed her to continue after the loss of a son and two beloved husbands. As a widow in her early 60’s, she fell in love again and remarried. When she could no longer walk, she could still dance.  

Being by my mom’s bedside at the end of her life, I spent a lot of time watching her sleep. I think the reason her face was still beautiful at 94 is that there was no bitterness reflected there. She had the glow of someone who has always chosen to see the best in life and in other people. Even at the end, in constant pain, unable to get out of bed and with her memory in shreds, letting go of life was unfathomable to her. 

Rita Ann was always good about staying in touch with her wide network. When she no longer felt up to making phone calls, her phone continued to ring all the time. Nieces and nephews would call her and numerous others who thought of themselves as a niece or nephew. Several flew across the country to visit her. While almost all of mom’s friends are  gone, their children became mom’s friends and they called her.  So many wrote beautiful messages that they asked me to read to her, extolling her “joie de vivre” and “unstoppable life force.” I read her tributes such as “You have always been a bright light in my life.”   I hoped that hearing how she had impacted so many over her lifetime would bring her comfort.

Listening to these messages of love and appreciation, my mom turned to me, my brother and sister and emphatically drew out her last word.. “Fantaaaaaastic!”

Benita Gold
Benita Gold is a publicist, writer, storyteller, and late bloomer. She has performed personal stories in comedy clubs and festivals. She became a mom at 51 and married for the first time at 53.

Our AgeAssured Allies, professional aging experts who work with our members to help them age successfully in place, know how small adjustments can make a big difference in an older person’s life. This article exemplifies the “Aha!” moments and thoughtful solutions that arise when Allies collaborate with members to make their lives easier.


‘Mom, I told you that already!’

“No you didn’t! When? I don’t see a text. Was it an email?”

“It was on the phone. Yesterday!”

“Yesterday? You mean when you were driving on the highway and your voice kept cutting in and out?”

We are living in an era like none before. We are bombarded with information that arrives in a multitude of communication channels, in an unplanned and unmeasured way.

Each one of us encounters information from a multitude of sources at different times. Between mail, email, text, TV, radio, newspapers, websites, social media, apps, calls to the mobile, calls to a landline: we are all overwhelmed.

The quality of the message is often poor. We talk (and listen) while doing something else. One person on the call is driving;  the second is washing dishes.

Do you remember when a telephone had a cord? And a chair next to it? And a paper and pen? If you do, you probably remember that making a call wasn’t cheap. So if you made the call, it was for a reason. Both people on the line would stop their activity, sit down, and focus. They would give each other 100% of their attention, and convey their point. If it was really important, well, that’s what  the paper and pen were for.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), healthy aging is not just about your “intrinsic capacity,” i.e. what functional abilities you have as an individual. It’s also about your environment. And on that note, I’d like to empower you to make the world more supportive of your needs. 

How does this apply to modern-day communication? Many adults have a harder time hearing, especially with background noise, and multitasking or  switching between tasks. We all have the right to a supportive environment. There is nothing wrong in saying, “The line is noisy, happy to chat, but if there is something important you want to say, I might not get it all, can you email or call later?”

Three easy tips:

  • Find a place that is comfortable and not distracting for important calls.
  • Keep a pen and paper at hand.
  • Make it known to your family and friends what your preferred communication modes are. Some like texts, others prefer phone calls or email.

As part of our AgeAssured program, we want to help you find your balance in a world of information overload and fast-changing communication trends. Your environment can enhance your strengths and abilities, rather than frustrate and detract from them.  

Michal Herz
Before joining Assured Allies, Dr. Michal Herz,  our Voice of the Consumer Director, worked passionately for twenty years in the field of dementia and aging.

As a caregiver, I often ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” A few months ago, for example, I was at my mom’s house doing the dishes after cooking her dinner when she asked, “Angelina, could we spend time together out of the house sometime too?” I nodded, but inside I felt apprehensive, overwhelmed by my other responsibilities, raising a child and working full-time. I didn’t want to give her the little “me time” I had leftover, but I felt guilty that she had unmet needs, loneliness and maybe a lack of stimulation. 

After some reflection, I was honest with her. I shared how stretched I felt and together we came up with a “good enough” plan. We earmarked Saturdays as our day to go out shopping, eat out, and socialize. My 7-year-old son would come along too. Out of the house, I would be freed from thinking about chores and able to focus on spending quality time with both of them. They would enjoy family time with each other, and I could get some errands done. Lunch out would be a special treat for all of us. 

Happily, this multitasking solution met both my mom’s needs and mine, but it’s not always so easy. Each caregiving situation is unique, and creating balance is not a simple recipe. In this spirit, I find the following general guidelines helpful when I feel out of balance as a caregiver, and I hope that they help you too.

Guidelines for Caregivers: Five Tips

  1. Juggling is inevitable, but caregiver burnout – a chronic state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of caring for another – is not. Be aware of how you are doing, in addition to those you care for. Seek help if you see signs of burnout. 
  2. Communication is key to any relationship, including caregiving. When tensions or conflicts arise, brainstorm solutions together that respect everyone’s needs, including yours!
  3. Loneliness is a major issue for adults over 60, 43% of whom report feeling lonely. Caregivers often feel that they’re the only social lifeline. Aging parents may prefer to rely on you because it’s comfortable and investing in new relationships takes effort, but helping them to expand their social circle can benefit both of you in the long run. 
  4. It can be very difficult for people to express their needs and feelings directly, and proxy battles (i.e. a heated argument about buying the wrong kind of creamer that is not really about the creamer) are common. When emotions run high (yours or theirs or both), wait for a calm moment to try and analyze what the real needs are. Write them down on paper, if that helps. Clarity can help reveal solutions hiding in plain sight. 
  5. If you need help as a caregiver, it’s never a negative reflection on you! On the contrary, recognizing that you need help is a strength.

Angelina Portuense, LSW
Angelina is a case manager who has been working in the elder care field for over seven years. Her passion for working with older adults started in her teenage years when she became a family caregiver.

Are you a snacker? If so, you’re not alone. Snacking increased during the pandemic and research indicates nearly half of Americans eat three or more snacks a day. People turned to snacking during the pandemic for both indulgence and health. While occasional indulgent snacks such as sweets or chips can be eaten for enjoyment, healthy snacks can help boost energy levels between meals.

Research indicates for folks ages 65 and above, healthy snacks can help provide adequate fuel and needed nutrients. Snacks high in fiber, whole grains and protein not only increase nutrient intake but also satisfaction and satiety. Being mindful of including protein and fiber will turn your snack into a power snack!

Older adults may not always feel hunger due to medical conditions, medication side effects, or  mouth and swallowing issues that make it harder to eat. Having regular meals and including snacks can help keep nutrient intake and energy levels higher. Scroll down for savory and sweet snack ideas, and a delicious chocolate chia pudding recipe. Use the following tips as general guidelines. Happy snacking!

Tips for Power Snacking

  • General rule of thumb: include a snack if meals are longer than 3-4 hours apart
  • Aim for at least two food groups per snack – start with protein and add a serving of fruit, veggie, or whole grain.
  • Have at least 3-4 “go-to” healthy snacks on hand. Changing up snacks weekly helps prevent burnout and variety increases nutrient intake.
  • Plan both savory and sweet snacks and choose what suits your taste.
  • For people with diabetes or working on weight management, portion control snacks.
  • For weight gain, eat larger portions as tolerated.
  • Protein options – lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, legumes, Greek yogurt.
  • Fiber options – Fruit, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Savory Snacks

  • Pair fruit or whole grain bread/crackers + nut or seed butter, cheese, hummus or bean dip
  • Boiled egg + fruit or veggies
  • Tuna, egg, chicken or chickpea salad + whole grain cracker or bread + salad greens, cucumber, or tomato slices
  • Veggie soup + whole grain crackers
  • Half a sandwich + fruit
  • Pizza – top a halved whole wheat English muffin with tomato sauce, fresh spinach and cheese and broil until cheese melts
  • Popcorn – pop your own kernels in the microwave in a brown paper bag folded on its side.  Add toppings: nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor, flaxseed oil for a buttery flavor or cinnamon for a sweeter flavor. Add a handful of nuts for staying power.

Sweet Snacks

  • Greek yogurt or cottage cheese + fruit
  • Trail mix – nuts and/or seeds + dried fruit
  • Pudding + a side of nuts
  • Angel food cake + Greek vanilla yogurt + fruit
  • 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate + fruit or nuts
  • Protein bar + fruit
  • Smoothie – In a blender combine 1 cup fruit, a handful of spinach or kale, 1 Tbs. nut or seed butter.  Add ice and milk of choice to desired thickness.

Chocolate Chia Pudding: A healthy snack for a sweet tooth

Serves: 1

 Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • ⅔ cup nut milk, dairy milk, soy milk, or oat milk
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of salt

 Instructions:Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate in a glass container overnight, or at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, top with ¼-½ cup berries.

Kitty Finklea
Kitty Finklea, is a lifestyle coach, registered dietitian and personal trainer at McLeod Health and Fitness Center in South Carolina.

Being a caregiver to a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, chronic physical conditions, or simply old age and increasing frailty is hard and sometimes heartbreaking work. According to research from AARP in 2015, about half the time, there is just one family caregiver handling everything, and if the person needing care is your spouse, that rises to three quarters of the time. And in nearly every family, there is a primary caregiver – the spouse, a particular grown child, grandchild, or sibling – the one who takes the lead and performs most of the caregiving tasks.

As the primary caregiver, you may find that you need to do more and more to keep your care recipient safe and well cared for. Perhaps you’ve moved your parent into your home, or you have to stop by their home several times a week to check up and help out. You drive them to doctor’s appointments and spend odd moments on the phone making arrangements. You buy their groceries and pick up their medications. You have to make decisions and get the help and supervision your family member needs.

Yes, caregiving is time-consuming and energy draining. The resources to help may be out there, but they are difficult to navigate and evaluate. And your family, like many families, may hesitate to bring in professional or hired helpers, believing you “should” keep things as normal as possible, not rock the boat, and try to do everything within the family, So you end up adding all these new duties and worries into the regular obligations and responsibilities of normal life.

People tell family caregivers to take care of themselves, but realistically, how? What should you do? At Assured Allies, we advise caregivers to keep four things in mind:

1. Establish your informal Care Team

No man (or woman) is an island, and no caregiver should be, either. Sooner rather than later, you must reach out for help and support. And keep reaching!! Get a Care Team together and keep them involved.Do not fall into the “only I can do this” trap. DELEGATE. It’s not at all uncommon that the care recipient, your wife or husband, mother, or brother, wants ONLY YOU to be there and do things for them. He or she probably doesn’t feel good, may be easily upset, angry, or demanding. And many of us WANT to be that one caregiving person, because we love our care recipient and we know them better than anyone. But – repeat this as many times a day as necessary: It is not disloyal, selfish, or in any way wrong for you to ask others to step in, whether family members, neighbors or friends, or hired caregivers.

Call upon out-of-town family members – and don’t wait till they offer! Ask them to come to town for a few days every couple of months. Set the dates with them and hold them to it. While they visit, you will be freed up to leave town or stay around and get some other things done. In-town family members or good friends who work could be enlisted to participate for an evening or weekend day. And if they do offer, say yes!

Your older teens or grown kids in the area who are “living their own lives” and whom you “hate to bother?” You know what? If they are reliable and able-bodied, get them on your team. They can spare a couple of hours a week to sit with their grandparent, go to the grocery store, or do other chores. They will be more understanding of what you are going through after they have spent some time doing what you do and gain valuable life experience.

2. Pace yourself

Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to make some extra room in your schedule so you are not simply adding your new caregiving tasks on top of everything else.

Set priorities. Learn to say no, or “not now,” to your care recipient, and anyone or anything else, when things are not critically necessary. Learn to leave some things for another day.

Do not expect perfection from yourself. Lower unrealistic expectations. Simplify routines and use available resources as much as you can. Is your dad truly unable to eat the meals from Meals on Wheels, or is it possible he could learn to like them and even enjoy the visits?

Be flexible and open to change. Old age and chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are progressive, so your care recipient’s needs change over time, and so should your care plan. Work with family, health providers, and professional care providers on your team to continue to update your plans for meeting your care recipient’s needs.

3. Respect and care for yourself

Everyone needs nurturing and nourishing, body and soul, to feel good, maintain health, and do good work. As the caregiver to a family member, this is especially true.

Every day, try to get the sleep and nutritious meals that will fuel your body well.

Every day, prioritize getting some “me time”; 30-45 minutes of doing what you enjoy, whatever that may be.

At least every few days, get some exercise, and arrange for some free time to do something that recharges your batteries.

Protect your physical health. Don’t ignore your own medical appointments, check-ups, dental visits, and so on. Pay attention to signs that you are overdoing it. Learn the best ways and tools available to assist someone with transfers, toileting, or bathing without risking strain or injury. And when you can’t do it alone, get help.

4. Build a network of experts and people you trust

Caring for a loved one, can often feel lonely, and may not be something even your closest friends can relate to in a way to makes you feel understood. That’s why it is critical to develop a community you can trust to both gain perspective, and sometimes, simply vent your frustrations.

Seek out caregiver support organizations for meetings, online forums, or therapy groups. Sharing your experiences with others who are in the same boat can be very comforting and therapeutic and helps to grow your care network of support.

Talk to professionals in the industry who might be able to give you additional ideas or help you put together a plan. Aging Life Care Professionals help families navigate the challenges of caregiving and bring deep knowledge and often, personal experience with them.

Wherever you may be on your own caregiving journey, know that it is never too early (or too late) to make sure you care for yourself.

January is a great time for caregivers to set new intentions and goals for the coming year. How can you minimize stress and find time for yourself in 2022? Reflect back on the previous year and consider where you are headed now, what is going well (congratulations!), and what is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. If you anticipate that daily living activities will require more support, identify what you can manage on your own and which tasks you’d like more help with. Widening your circle of support is a significant task in and of itself: write down a Plan A, B, and C to steer your efforts.

And what about caregiving – for yourself? Get enough rest: allow yourself to sleep in or take a delicious afternoon nap once in a while. Feeling lonely? Tap up your social network as needed with a Zoom happy hour, a book club, a game night, or a crafting group. And don’t forget that you have a body: sustain or increase your own strength and vitality (and ability to get things done!) with regular exercise. A new year is a great time to explore something new – a session with a personal trainer, a new game like pickleball (which doubles as social time), or a fun-themed obé workout.

Last but not least, know that if you feel underappreciated, you probably are. More than 48 million Americans are unpaid caregivers who are often too overwhelmed and exhausted to advocate on their own behalf. Knowing you’re not alone can be a great solace and source of hope for eventual change – share your struggles and learn from others’ by joining a caregiver support group, or gain a broad horizon for your experience by reading “Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America” by Kate Washington.

At Assured Allies, we appreciate and value everything you do as a caregiver and wish you a happy and prosperous 2022!

Alexandra Pritkin-Morin
Alexandra is an Age Assured Ally, a professional aging expert who is passionate about assisting older adults in maintaining a joyful and active lifestyle.

Brighten Winter Doldrums

If cold weather has your loved one cooped up inside, here are some ideas to keep their spirits up:

  • Let holidays linger: There is no law against playing holiday music and keeping decorations up and lights shining well into January and beyond if they inspire joy and fond memories.
  • Embrace natural light: Keep blinds open during the day to encourage everyone’s circadian rhythms and lift mood. Set up a comfy chair near a window where you or your loved one can sit and soak in the sunlight.
  • Grow indoor plants: Greenery inside contrasts nicely with winter’s spare palette outside. Plants are rewarding to care for and a wonderful focus for interaction. How about an air plant that your loved one can spritz daily with water, a potted lemon tree, or a tropical plant?