Northern VA Eldercare Answers
Helpful tips for family caregivers
Laugh, stay cool, and get your relative a free memory checkup. All are low-cost ideas to reduce stress and keep your summer fun and healthy.
Add a dose of laughter to your life
Don’t you just somehow feel better when you laugh? It turns out, that’s not just fantasy.
Laughter has physical benefits at the cellular level. Research consistently demonstrates that a good belly laugh engages many different systems in the body.
And laughter delivers emotional health benefits as well.
Studies show that laughter
- supports the heart. If we’re laughing, we’re not stressing. The stress hormones are the root cause of heart attacks, because they damage the circulatory system.
- relaxes muscles. Good, deep breathing is part of laughing. It stimulates oxygen flow to the muscles and triggers muscle relaxation.
- lessens pain. The body’s natural pain-relieving hormones, the endorphins, are released when we laugh.
- boosts immunity. Laughter helps combat infections and other diseases by triggering better antibody response at the cellular level.
- eases mood. Laughter is emotionally distracting. It can interrupt the blues and cast everything in a new light.
Want more laughter in your life?
- Read children’s books. They are often silly (Amelia Bedelia, anyone?). Ask a librarian for recommendations. The illustrations alone may bring a chuckle.
- Look for humorous gift cards. Maybe even buy one to put on your refrigerator. In a couple of weeks, send it to a friend, and give yourself a new one!
- Play with a pet. If you don’t have a pet, find out if there’s a dog park nearby and go watch. Dogs are naturally joyful.
- Spend time with funny people. Some people have a knack for finding the humor in things. Laughter is You may even learn to laugh more at yourself!
- Choose comedy. When you’re selecting a movie to watch or a screensaver for your computer, look for something funny.
- Make silly happen at home. Dress your toast with raisin eyes and jelly mouth. Wear goofy socks. Play a game with friends.
Or, just plain start laughing. Whether you’re laughing at someone’s joke or laughing for no reason at all, your body responds the same.
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Dealing with extreme heat
Make sure your loved one is ready to “take the heat” this summer. Older bodies are less able to cope with excessive heat, so it’s important to ensure safeguards are in place.
Check in with your relative’s doctor. Certain chronic conditions and medications increase an older adult’s risk of heat stroke. Get advice on optimal fluid intake and medication management for times of extreme heat.
Provide air conditioning. Ideally, your relative has access to air conditioning at home, in at least one room. Make sure that it works! Otherwise, identify a place nearby that’s air conditioned where he or she can get relief for an hour or two. Perhaps make arrangements to visit a library, movie theater, or shopping mall.
Arrange for contact. Especially if your loved one lives alone, it’s important that someone check in several times a day during a heat wave. This provides an opportunity to catch symptoms of overheating early on. Our article on safety tips for summer provides more details on the signs of heat stroke and steps your relative can take when its hot.
Watch the weather. If you don’t live nearby, use the National Weather Service to monitor the weather at your relative’s location. Hot weather in a city is particularly dangerous, because cities trap heat and are slow to cool.
Plan ahead for shade. Take a look at where your relative’s dwelling gets the most direct sun. Awnings and shutters are more effective than curtains, because the sun’s rays don’t heat up the glass. Trees and bushes are useful, too. Consider adding insulation in the roof and walls to block the heat from entering through these hot surfaces. The government offers financial help for insulation through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.
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Early detection of memory problems
Once a year, encourage your relative to see the doctor for an “Annual Wellness Visit.” The purpose of this free exam is to catch emerging health problems early on.
Identifying changes in thinking or memory is a primary reason for the visit. If the doctor detects problems, your relative will receive further tests.
Screening for memory loss is invaluable. It can help
- rule out conditions that look like Alzheimer’s, but are not. It may be your loved one’s memory problems can be resolved;
- introduce treatments if needed. With many conditions, early treatment can slow the progress of the disease. It can also improve daily life and independence;
- provide access to support services;
- reduce difficult behaviors common with memory loss;
- rally family members to action;
- prioritize time for your loved one to make important decisions about the future; Perhaps go on that trip she’s been thinking about. Or finish up a trust or advance directive;
- support creation of a care plan that maintains quality of life.
A delayed or missed diagnosis denies your relative, and family, all these important benefits.
Here’s what you can expect at the Annual Wellness Visit. In addition to reviewing physical health risks, the doctor will
- ask your loved one about his or her personal awareness of memory problems;
- ask your relative questions that rely on sophisticated memory and thinking processes. These are the first to go in conditions of memory loss;
- ask you about your perceptions. Ideally the doctor will give you a questionnaire to complete. This gives you an opportunity to share your concerns.
Make it a priority for someone to go to the Annual Wellness Visit with your relative. If you cannot attend, speak with the doctor’s assistant about your concerns. If the practice uses a questionnaire for families, ask that it be sent to you in advance.
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