Northern VA Eldercare Answers
Helpful tips for family caregivers
Even in hard times there are many things to be grateful for, such as programs for family members of veterans or lifestyle changes that make it easier to live with COPD. In this issue, we also share tips on how to keep a gratitude journal so you can appreciate life’s gifts throughout the year.
Family caregivers of veterans
The Veterans Administration (VA) has many programs for those who have served in the armed forces. The VA also provides help for family caregivers of veterans.
The VA’s mission is to support those who have “endured the battle.” Family caregivers are considered a key part of the health care team. As such, they have access to several services:
- A family caregiver support line. The VA understands that being a family caregiver can be lonely. And stressful. This special phone line was set up to help. Support professionals are available Monday through Friday. They can help you cope with all the emotions. And the unknowns.
- A family caregiver peer mentoring program. This service matches family caregivers for one-on-one support. Experienced family caregivers share tips and insights. It can be very comforting to talk with someone who is also “in the trenches.”
- A family caregiver online workshop. Family caregiver well-being is the focus of this Internet series. Family caregivers learn together during a period of six weeks. The goal is better coping. Less stress. The workshop includes strategies for very challenging situations.
Other VA services give family caregivers a break by providing direct care to the veteran. These include
- home-based primary care. This program brings health care services directly to the veteran’s home.
- homemaker and home health aide care. Trained aides come to the home to cook, clean, and provide personal care.
- respite care. This service enables a family caregiver to get away for a few hours. Sometimes a few days.
Find out more about these programs by calling the family caregiver support line, toll-free, at 1-855-260-3274.Return to top
Keeping a gratitude journal
In November, the annual celebration of Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful.
Ideally, feelings of gratitude arise every month of the year. Gratitude is a healthy emotion, one to be cultivated. In fact, research shows that people who systematically practice gratitude are better off
- physically: more robust immune systems, lower blood pressure, fewer aches and pains, and improved sleep
- emotionally: more optimistic, happier, and more consciously engaged with life
- socially: less lonely, and more accepting, generous, and outgoing toward others
If you’d like to feel more positive year ’round, make a commitment to yourself to keep a gratitude journal. It is proven to help. Here are some tips:
- Commit to happiness. The goal is to notice more consciously what’s good in your life and to treasure the good as a gift. Use the journal to support a larger goal of increased happiness.
- Don’t force it. Don’t try to write something in your gratitude journal every day. That tends to backfire. Your acknowledgment of the positive can become humdrum, a chore. Writing once or twice a week is actually more effective.
- Savor your gratitude. It’s better to write in some detail about a single event than to make a broad list. Take your time. Let the writing reawaken the sensation of gratitude.
- Reflect on people rather than on things. Pay particular attention to the people and relationships you are grateful for. Gratitude for things tends to be fleeting.
- Record your surprises. It’s the unexpected events or favors that bring out the deepest feelings of gratitude.
Sure, you’ll still have to deal with daily tasks and challenges. But focusing on the ways in which you are also “lucky” can help you keep a spring in your step.Return to top
Preventing flare-ups of COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) thickens airways, making it harder to breathe in and get enough oxygen. Damage to the lungs also makes it harder to exhale and get rid of waste gas (carbon dioxide).
COPD is characterized by flare-ups that rather suddenly make breathing much more difficult. Often the patient needs to go to the emergency room. Every flare-up has the potential to make the disease get worse at a faster rate.
Here’s what you can do to prevent a flare:
Aim for quality air.
- No smoking. If your loved one smokes, he or she has already been told to quit. Ask visitors and other family members not to smoke in the house.
- Reduce exposure to common irritants. Keep the house well ventilated and free of dust, animal hair, and other allergens. Strong fumes, such as those in cleansers and paints, should also be avoided.
- Limit exposure to outdoor pollution. Check for local air quality at epa.gov/airnow. Stay indoors when the pollution level is high.
Beware of infections. Any cold or respiratory infection can cause a flare.
- Stay current on vaccinations. Make sure your relative keeps up with flu and pneumonia vaccines.
- Avoid crowds. During flu season, your loved one should avoid public places. Ask friends to be mindful of their own health before visiting.
- Wash hands frequently. Fingers and hands collect bacteria from everything! Have your relative avoid touching his or her eyes, mouth, and nose. Bring a personal pen for use in stores, at the doctor’s, etc. Carry hand sanitizer or wipes.
- See the dentist regularly. Good dental hygiene helps protect against infection.
Promote overall health. Getting adequate sleep is important for a person with COPD. So is getting enough exercise. Walking is recommended. But talk with the doctor first. There are special lung-friendly activities designed for persons with COPD.Return to top