Northern VA Eldercare Answers
Helpful tips for family caregivers
This month we look at the healing properties of sleep and complete our series about depression in older adults. We also have some tax tips for caregiving families.
The power of sleep
When your schedule gets tight, is sleep one of the first things to go?
According to the experts, that’s all too common. And it makes about as much sense as deciding to do without food, air, or water. Sleep is that essential.
Most adults need 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep promotes brain function and mood.
- Mental focus. Sleep helps keep us sharp. It supports concentration, problem solving, and productivity.
- Emotional stability. Sleep helps us cope with change and difficult circumstances. Too little sleep contributes to reactivity and/or depression.
- Prevention of memory loss. New studies indicate that the brain may use sleep as a time to clean out the harmful proteins that build up in persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Sleep is essential to physical health.
- Healing and repair. The tissues of the heart and blood vessels particularly need sleep time for repair. Getting too little sleep for too long doubles your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
- Maintaining normal weight. Lack of sleep changes the production of hormones that regulate hunger and blood sugar. This can lead to weight gain and/or diabetes.
- Fighting infection. Adequate sleep helps keep your immune system strong.
Tips to support good sleep:
- Exercise daily (but not right before bed), and get some sunlight each day.
- Maintain a steady sleep and wake schedule throughout the week, including weekends.
- One hour before bedtime, wind down with calm activities. Cut out bright lights, such as from a TV or computer screen.
- Avoid heavy eating, caffeine, and alcohol for several hours before bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a cool, quiet sanctuary for sleep, and use your bed only for sleep or sex.
- Use short daytime naps for a boost if necessary (maximum 30 minutes). Naps can otherwise interfere with nighttime sleep and do not provide the same type of healing rest.
Sleep is not a waste of time! Getting enough sleep not only feels good, it gives you the stamina and resilience you need to juggle all your responsibilities effectively.
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What to do if your loved one is depressed
Depression in older adults is very common. It is also very treatable. If you suspect depression, the first step is to have your relative talk with a medical professional. He or she can check for other health conditions. You want to get an exact diagnosis.
Studies show that 60% to 80% of older adults who receive appropriate treatment for depression do feel better.
Antidepressant medication is the most common approach. Things to know about antidepressants:
- Your relative’s primary care doctor can write the prescription.
- Costs are typically covered by insurance.
- Today’s antidepressants have fewer side effects than in years past.
- It may take 4 to 6 weeks before your loved one feels the full effect.
- Your relative may need to try a few different medications before finding the one that works best.
Mental health counseling is often the preferred treatment. Many doctors prescribe counseling along with antidepressants. Most counseling involves private sessions with a specially trained professional.
- Your family member may be taught more positive ways of thinking. Or how actions and activities affect mood.
- Sessions may focus on solving problems in daily life. Or they may concentrate on resolving difficult relationships.
Other options. Research studies reveal two proven self-help options. They are useful if the depression is not severe.
- Exercise. Regular exercise boosts mental as well as physical health. Get the doctor’s approval before your loved one starts a new exercise program.
- Reading self-help books. Completing written exercises in books about depression can change thought patterns and behaviors. Ask the doctor to recommend a book he or she has found to be effective.
No matter the treatment chosen, make sure a trained professional stays involved. Ongoing monitoring of your loved one’s progress is essential.
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When several relatives cover expenses
Are you helping support a loved one? Perhaps you and several family members are each giving a little bit. Don’t overlook a potential tax benefit. One of you may be able to claim the elder as a dependent.
First, your loved one must meet IRS guidelines to qualify as a dependent:
- Income. In 2012, his or her taxable income must have been less than $3800 for the year. This includes pension benefits, interest, and dividends from investments. Also, withdrawals from retirement savings plans. Social Security benefits are typically not counted.
- Relationship. Immediate family members can be dependents, such as a parent or sibling. Another family relative may also be a dependent. For instance, an in-law or stepparent will qualify. Even nonrelatives can be a dependent if they lived with you all year.
- Support with expenses. Your relative must have received support for more than half of his or her living expenses. This kind of support includes providing food, clothing, and housing. Also, paying for medical and dental care, transportation, recreation, etc.
Second, everyone eligible to claim support expenses must write a letter stating which one of you will take the tax benefit for the year. Save those letters! The IRS will not ask you to include them with your return. But they may ask to see them later.
The person claiming the exemption will need to file Form 2120. This is a “Multiple Support Declaration.” It simply lists everyone else who was eligible for the benefit but declined to make the claim. Any family member who paid more than 10% of the elder’s expenses is eligible.
Get a professional review. To be on the safe side, ask the person who does your taxes or an elderlaw attorney to look over your documents.
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