Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Twinkle Toes

I saw a segment of the NBC network news tonight about a recent medical discovery. Apparently, dancing can overcome, if only temporarily, the effects of Parkinson's disease. It was a very sweet portrayal of older couples dancing and interviews with some of them who had experienced relief of their Parkinson's symptoms after having danced. The researchers aren't certain whether the brain activity during the act of dancing somehow short circuits the Parkinson's signals or if it has more to do with endorphins produced by the act of dancing but there will be further study on the issue. Fascinating stuff. I'll be interested to see where it leads.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Teach your children well

I just read in the book Eldercare for Dummies that 80 - 90 percent of help provided to the more than 10 million older folks who require some level of assistance is provided by family members. Even though spouses are usually the first primary caregiver, adult children (mostly daughters or daughters-in-law) will shoulder more and more of the caregiving duties as both parents age and/or become overwhelmed.

I have joked that by helping to keep my own mother at home I am setting the example for my sons (and their wives) of how these things are done. Even though they joke about putting me in a $2 a day home at the first sign of trouble I am sure that my kids will do whatever they can to ensure that I'm well cared for if and when I lose the capacity to care for myself 24/7. I am particularly fortunate because both of my sons had the good sense and good fortune to marry awesome wives that I just love and who love me back. In any case, it's a good idea to be nice to your children, like the bumper sticker says because they will one day be choosing your nursing home!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The magic button

There has been a trend over the years to help seniors remain in their homes rather than placing them in long term care facilities. Generally speaking it's better for an older adult to remain at home for as long as possible and there are several long term care diversion programs that provide services in the home. Sometimes it only takes one or two changes or adjustments that you can arrange yourself to make that happen. In my opinion, a personal emergency response system is invaluable for prolonging independence for the older person. There are several companies who provide them and, as with anything else, you will want to investigate all the options. We have had a Lifeline system for my mother for several years and I can tell you it has really helped give my mother and me a great sense of confidence that should something happen in my absence she only has to press the button on the pendant she wears to call for help.

We are fortunate that Mother is still able to manage quite well on her own for short periods of time but if we didn't have the "button" I would not be nearly as comfortable going out to do some shopping, going out to dinner with friends or keeping my Friday night date with my grandson. Mother has a cell phone but she doesn't keep it on all the time and if she were to fall may not be able to reach it or turn it on. But just a push of the button on her pendant alerts the folks at Lifeline and they are on the speaker with her in minutes. If she were unable to respond they would begin calling for assistance immediately and they would also notify me as well as our neighbor.

Before making a decision to move to a long term care facility be sure to investigate ways to enable your elder to remain at home. It might just take something as simple as some grab bars in the tub, advance meal preparation, or a personal emergency response system.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You've Gotta Have Faith

A link between spirituality and health has been long suspected and is receiving more attention and study these days. Some results*:

  • A Duke University study found that heart disease and stroke patients with higher "religiosity" scores tended to recover faster than those who had little or no religious beliefs
  • A six-year study of 4,000 healthy Christian Americans over the age of 65 found a positive correlation between spiritual activity such as prayer or Bible study and a lowered (50%!) risk of death
  • The National Health Interview Survey found that people who attend worship at least once a week live an average of eight years longer than those who do not.
Many studies have proven that those who actively practice their faith have a much lower risk of depression as well. I can personally attest to the benefits of an active faith in my own experience. At times of death, illness or trouble I have had my spirit calmed and strengthened through prayer and have received many, many acts of mercy and support from my faith community. Caregiving is difficult enough without trying to do it alone. If you don't have a faith community it may take several attempts to find the one that fits but don't give up. It can save your health or perhaps even your life.

* Reported in BeWell Magazine, Spring 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Products we love

One "must have" item in my pantry is Herb Ox sodium free broth - beef and chicken flavors. Since even the lower sodium canned broth is still too high in sodium for my mom's diet these little packets of flavor are invaluable. I use them to make gravy, soups and a mighty tasty beef stroganoff among other things. They come in boxes with individual packets and you can find them next to the canned variety. For a really good gravy I mix two or three packets of broth with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch or flour and a cup of water. Shake it up in a jar and then heat it slowly in a pan on the stove until it thickens. I also add other spices, pepper, garlic, poultry seasoning, etc. as appropriate for the particular dish. Simple, delicious and sodium free. What's not to like about that?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thanks for the Memories

No, I'm not singing Bob Hope's signature song... I'm talking about creating a legacy of memories for your loved ones. So many of us want to find a way to document our lives for posterity but it's hard to even figure out how to get started for lots of folks, myself included. I ran across this nifty package that helps you recall and record your memories in an album, on a CD and more on the web site's store. Keepsakes and memories are truly some of the best gifts we can leave for our loved ones but documenting your life and your family history can also give you a better perspective on your life. We often are amazed to discover that our lives have been pretty interesting after all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A thought to share on Spirituality

I don't know what gets you through the tough times but for me it's my faith and my church family. Here's a quote I ran across the other day that I had to save for use on a bleak and rainy day:

Recall that spirituality is concerned with the full range of human experience, every inch and ounce of it, and with integrating the whole of one's life in light of more than meets the eye.
- Michael Downey in Understanding Christian Spirituality.

To me, this reminds me that there is more than the right here and right now and that a "Holy Other" is deeply concerned with it all. I am not alone and there is love, comfort and strength available to me for the asking. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Finding teh Funny

One of my most favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 17:22 - A merry heart is good medicine but a broken spirit dries up the bones. A person who can't see at least a smidgen of funny in most of life's circumstances risks a broken spirit and dried up bones. Sometimes you have to wait for time to wear the sharp edges off before you can find the humor in a situation but if you can find it, you'll go a long way toward redeeming a difficult circumstance.

Carol O'Dell gives a wonderful account of finding the humor even in the midst of the stress of caring for her mother who had both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases in her book Mothering Mother. I had the pleasure of hearing Carol spoke at a conference I was involved in earlier this year and her story is, as she says, both heartbreaking and humorous. I highly recommend this book for it's insight, hope and inspiration for folks who care for older adults in general but especially for daughters facing the particular speed bumps in caring for their mothers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No soup for you!

Soup is a favorite of many people, and I have found that older folks especially like it. But all the canned or frozen soups are unbelievably high in sodium. Even the ones that claim to be "low" or "lower sodium" are just too high in the stuff for me to feed to mama. Today it's unseasonably cool in north Florida for mid-April and it's a good day for soup so here's a recipe I adapted for cream of tomato basil soup.

5 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion (optional, if you don't like them, leave them out)
4 tbs flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups milk (depending on your diet you can use any milk/cream combination you like. I sometimes will use a can of fat free condensed milk and the rest skim milk. If you don't have to worry about fat content you can use heavy cream or half & half.)
1 box Pomi chopped tomatoes (yes, I said box. These tomatoes are from Parmalat, the folks who have the shelf-stable milk in a box. I get them at Publix right next to the canned tomatoes. They have only 10 mg of sodium per half cup serving which is awesome. If you don't like tomato chunks in your soup like I do, they also have strained tomatoes so use those instead)
pepper and basil to your taste

Open the box of tomatoes and stir in the baking soda. This will keep the milk from curdling when you mix it all together. Cook the chopped onions in the butter until soft. Add the flour and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the milk & sugar and cook while stirring until it warms through and begins to thicken a bit. Add the tomatoes and then the pepper and basil, stir, taste and adjust the spices accordingly. Let it simmer on low for a little while to blend the flavors and then enjoy your soup!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Don't neglect yourself

It's way too easy for a caregiver to put off self care because our responsibilities can be so time-consuming and we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of our to-do lists. I like the example of being on an airplane with someone we're responsible for. The flight attendants always stress that in the event of an incident that requires the use of the oxygen masks you should always put yours on first because you can't help or care for anyone else if you're unconscious. It's the same with life as a care giver... if you allow yourself to be depleted, worn out and used up you can't possibly have anything left to give anyone else. Check into respite services through your local Area Agency on Aging , your church or sometimes your local community may have such a program. Friends and family are probably more willing to lend some time and support than you realize. Don't be shy about asking. You can also schedule time for yourself each day to go for a walk, read something uplifting or just "be" for a while. Whatever recharges your batteries, just do it! Nobody benefits if you are overwhelmed and help is very often just a phone call away.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caregiver Support

Here is a link to another excellent resource. You can join for free if you are a family caregiver and the fees for others are reasonable.

Saturday Morning Breakfast

On Saturdays I usually cook one of Mom's favorites for breakfast. Bea, her part-time paid caregiver has breakfast duty Monday-Friday and always makes either hot or cold cereal with fruit. Sundays are usually "running late for church" crazy mornings so Saturdays we try to enjoy a leisurely breakfast while scanning the Saturday newspaper. Today it was a standard favorite, a poached egg on english muffin with juice and coffee. I like Thomas' multi-grain light muffins, those bad boys are low in sodium (190 mg), 100 calories, 1 gram of fat and 8, (count 'em! 8!) grams of fiber. What's not to love about that, especially since they're quite tasty.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Helpful Things

The website for Caregiver Magazine is chock full of nifty and helpful things. Stop by and you may find some useful stuff.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What's for Supper?

It's that time of day again. Time to figure out what to cook for dinner. Because Mother doesn't trust most restaurants to not put salt in her food I can't go for take-out like most folks, so we eat in and I cook. I've adapted or created quite a few recipes out of necessity so I'll check the freezer to see what's available and decide from there. Be right back.

Okay, so Publix had Orange Roughy filets on sale a week or so ago and I picked up several packages of that. We usually eat tilapia since it's less expensive but I watch for those sales and so this week it's orange roughy, a mild white fish that we enjoy. This is the basis for my go to "fast food" meal, so called because I can cook it in less time than I could get in the car and drive down the street to one of our neighborhood drive-thru's. Seriously, I can put this very healthy meal on the table in about 10 minutes. Here we go:

  • defrost the fish about half way in the microwave
  • heat a little olive oil in a saute pan and add the fish filets with some pepper and McCormack's salt free "It's a dilly" seasoning with the heat between medium and medium-high
  • put a package of Green Giant "Simply Steam" veggies in the microwave. Tonight I'm using the green beans & almonds.
  • turn the fish and season the other side
  • put a package of Uncle Ben's 90 second brown rice (has to be the brown rice, all the others have too much salt) in the microwave
  • go set the table
  • by the time the vegetables and rice are cooked the fish will be done
  • enjoy! Now, wasn't that easy?
  • Approximate calories & sodium per serving - 490 calories, 180 mgs of sodium, not counting any butter or margarine you put on your rice.


Welcome to "Feedin' Mama" - a place for conversation, encouragement and resources for those of us who are caring for an elderly parent, other relative, friend or neighbor. Care giving can be daunting, challenging and frustrating while at the same time it can be the most fulfilling of tasks you will ever undertake. My purpose is to draw from my academic, professional and personal experience to help other care givers and to learn from you as well. I believe that it will become a place of refuge, support and hopefully answers and solutions to some of the dilemmas we all run into when the roles get reversed.

I chose the name "Feedin' Mama" because one of my biggest challenges in caring for my 89-year-old mother is her diet. She has frequent episodes of congestive heart failure so she has to adhere to an extremely low-sodium diet. That meant that I had to stop serving almost any kind of processed food. When you start looking at those labels it's mind blowing how much sodium is in that stuff, so it's almost all fresh or frozen in my kitchen these days. Being a moderately creative cook I've come up with a decent repertoire of tips and recipes that I'll share from time to time in this space and I welcome yours as well. But there's so much more to taking care of an older adult, especially a parent and we'll talk about a lot of them, too so I hope you check in often.