Archive for the ‘Illness Guide’ Category

Meditation For Health

Posted on December 3rd, 2015 by karen

Single Cloud

by Karen Keller Capuciati

When friends tell me about their health issues, I often suggest they start meditating. And I usually I get a look that says, That’s nice, Karen, but I need a real solution to my problem.

But research on this topic is actually beginning to flourish. The National Institute for Health (NIH) is exploring the benefits of meditation for conditions as varied as asthma, panic attacks and heart disease, and there have been promising results. A number of studies indicate an actual cardiac benefit from various meditation techniques, while other research has demonstrated that meditation may indeed reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

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Water, Water, Everywhere: Preventing Dehydration

Posted on May 6th, 2015 by kim

dehydration tips

by Kim Keller

I never fully appreciated how important drinking water was until my dad needed to be hospitalized — twice! — as a result of severe dehydration. He first complained about feeling extremely tired, and then he suddenly became completely confused, seemingly out of the blue. It scared us! Dad was so weak and disoriented that we needed to call an ambulance to get him safely to the hospital.

And as it turned out, the fuss was all about water.

It seems so simple. Water. Yet, severe dehydration is a serious health concern for aging adults. Medications can be dehydrating. The ability to signal thirst doesn’t work quite as well anymore. The ability to store fluids diminishes. Those with dementia can no longer keep track of their water intake. And, for many, the dismay of incontinence makes all fluid intake extremely undesirable.

My sister Karen and I became relentless reminders with our dad, and now with our mom, to drink more water! Talking with friends, we’ve discovered that we aren’t alone. Many of them have experience with this issue as well.

So we asked for some of their tips, and here’s what they told us:

“I am always trying to get my mom to drink more water. Part of the problem is not knowing how much she drank. I always suggest that she put water in a quart bottle and I tell her she needs 2 bottles a day. That way she always knows how much she had.”

~ Mindy, art restorer, Weston, CT

“Most older adults, I have found, if they drink water at all, handle it better in small doses — meaning a small glass, but fairly consistently throughout the day. Encourage drinking a full (small) glass when taking meds, which is usually at least twice daily. I encourage clients to drink about half the small glass before taking the meds, so they go down easier. I try to get them to also drink a full glass (even if it’s small) with every meal. Make it a routine.

“I think water can be boring and uninteresting for many older adults, so we put it “on the rocks,” or we add a splash of OJ, grapefruit juice, cranberry, etc., to mix things up. (Be sure to check if there are any issues with medication interactions here.) We’ve even added a maraschino cherry for fun.”

~ Kathy, a gerontologist and eldercare manager, Hartford, CT

“I recently bought something called a citrus zinger water bottle. It has a juicer on the bottom for lemons, limes and oranges but can also be used for fruit of all kinds. It flavors the water, which sometimes is what’s missing for people: raspberries and lime, blackberries and lemon, melon and mint, etc.”

~ Karla, Darien, CT

“What is their favorite drink? Coffee? Then put liquids in their favorite coffee cup and make sure it’s hot. Whiskey? Then pour apple juice in a favorite whiskey bottle and warm it up in the microwave. Juice? Then pour water in a red-pebbled glass so that it looks like juice. Martini? Pour water in a martini glass and add olives. When it looks like their favorite drink, they are more likely to drink it.”

~ Jolene Brackey, author of Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

“In the last couple of years of my father’s life, he would get so dehydrated that he’d have these episodes. He’d lose contact with reality, start calling out, and become incoherent or delusional. It was always a big emergency, involving ambulances and rushed visits to the hospital. One time they almost had to turn a plane around on the way to Florida. We did everything we could think of to entice him to drink. There was always a water bottle, fruit juice, his favorite drinks like Cel-Ray soda (we had to get it from NYC; soda that actually tastes like celery), non-alcoholic beer or soup at hand. It seemed like we asked him to take a sip of water at the beginning of every other sentence.

“The only time he requested water was one time that he came out of a coma. He was “nothing by mouth” at the time. He asked me for water, and it was quite the moment because we had been told he was not going to wake up, that he was going to die that night. So I had to refuse him. His eyes flew open. He thought it was so funny after all the times that I had asked him to take a drink. He said, ‘WHY? WHY??’ and then asked for the nurse. When she came, he said, ‘Tell her what you just told me.’ I repeated my refusal about the water. The nurse confirmed the medical orders and then went and called his doctor at 1 a.m. to have the orders reversed. When she came back in, she asked him what he wanted. ‘I want what I can’t have,’ he said, meaning Scotch. But he finally agreed to some water.

“I tell this story because I would have to say that, while we were very committed and resourceful in taking care of my dad, I always felt embarrassed when he had these episodes, as if I hadn’t been taking good enough care of him, as if it should have been so easy to simply give him water. So that would be my first piece of advice: to hope that people won’t feel embarrassed when this happens. The other things we learned to look for was his skin tenting or his tongue being wrinkled, but we really could have used a better way to anticipate these episodes.

“It would have been better if we could have made an arrangement to bring him in for an IV drip or, better yet, to have it available at the house, rather than wait until we had to call an ambulance because, by that point, it was very difficult to move my dad around. There were many times, taking care of Dad, that I felt like simple remedies were not available to us. These things would have made our lives easier at such a difficult time, but there was no place for simple solutions in a system that had a rule and a procedure for everything.”

~Grace, photographer, Block Island, RI

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The Still Moving Story Of “Still Alice”

Posted on February 11th, 2015 by karen

Still Alice Movie Poster

by Kim Keller

I was so excited to go to the movies last Saturday to see Still Alice, the acclaimed adaptation of Lisa Genova’s wonderful debut novel of the same name from 2007, one of my all-time favorite books. And I wasn’t remotely disappointed.

Still Alice is an eye-opening and heartbreaking story about Alice Howland, movingly portrayed by Julianne Moore. Alice is a world-renowned linguistics professor, teaching at an Ivy League university and lecturing all around the world. She is in a seemingly happy marriage, with an attentive husband (played by Alec Baldwin) and three grown children. In other words, Alice is in the prime of her life, until small uncharacteristic memory lapses start to happen.

It begins with brief little moments, like forgetting what she’s about to say or overlooking an appointment. Then one day it escalates. Alice suddenly becomes disoriented while she’s jogging and can’t find her way back home. After the episode has passed, Alice realizes that she had been “lost” right smack in the center of the college campus where she has taught for years. The experience leaves her so shaken and scared that she knows she needs medical intervention. But nothing prepares her for the diagnosis she receives: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

I know it may seem hard to imagine loving a movie about someone who is, in effect, losing her mind. It is painful to watch Alice despair as she falls deeper into the grasp of Alzheimer’s indignities. We watch her struggle to fight off the advances of the disease, and her attempt to maintain as much of her life and identity as she possibly can. She uses her cell phone alarms to help her manage her day, and she becomes consumed with memory games. One night as Alice is cooking dinner, we watch her write three words on a little chalkboard in her kitchen. After she writes down the words, she covers them up, sets the timer for five minutes, and walks away to continue making dinner. When the timer goes off, she walks back over to the chalkboard trying to recount those three words, challenging her memory as she uncovers the board. Then she erases the words and quickly writes down three more. Back and forth, back and forth, she goes.

But even with all the heartache, Still Alice is equal parts intrigue, inspiration and fascination. I recognize that fascination might seem like an odd word to use here, but both the film and book allow the viewer and reader the unusual perspective of experiencing the disease from Alice’s point of view. Usually Alzheimer’s is described by medical professionals or by caregivers, but this is Alice’s story, and she gives us a uniquely intimate seat.

I believe the movie strikes a chord because so many people fear what every little memory lapses might mean as they age. I found myself playing the memory games right along with Alice, and I was actually relieved when I got the answers right.

Although Alice needs to relinquish her university position, she nonetheless teaches us all a few valuable lessons about life. She shows us the importance of living in the moment — even after most of her memories and her identity have slipped away, we can see the joy she feels holding her newborn grandchild.

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In Care of Dad: A Look Back At 2014

Posted on December 24th, 2014 by kim

good caregiving tips

by Kim Keller

I remember when I was a kid, rolling my eyes at my parents when they’d talk in wonder about how fast time goes by. Of course, that was a long, long time ago, and here I am now thinking, where did 2014 go? I don’t roll my eyes any longer. Now I just smile knowingly.

And at the end of December, my parents would sit around and reflect on all that had happened that year. I thought it was kind of silly then, living in the past and all, but I see the wisdom in that now, too. You should always bring along the lessons and whatever good life has to offer.

In that spirit, here’s a look back at In Care of Dad in 2014:


“I will never leave you — no matter what happens I will always be with you.”

Unbeknownst to both of us at the time, those would be the last words my father would ever say to me. That one sentence would carry me into my fatherless future, like a road map to guide me on the sometimes perilous, sometimes heartbreaking, always blessed journey of my life.

— Ann Meyers Piccirillo, Always Your Daughter, January 22, 2014.


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Caregiver Guide: Tips For Caregivers Of People With Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted on August 15th, 2013 by kim

Caregiver Guide: Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease

by Kim Keller

Here’s a great little tip: check out the “Caregiver Guide: Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease.” This 26-page booklet, created by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is both easy to read and filled with practical advice.

The guide is broken down into 20 essential topics, ranging from communication and dressing to wandering and home safety. Each topic is then addressed with a bullet-point list of five to ten useful advisements. The tips focus on keeping the person with Alzheimer’s calm, functioning and safe. The suggestions generally revolve around these central themes:

Reduce Distractions — Remove extraneous stimulation to help your loved one maintain focus. For example, eliminate all background noises, such as a television or radio, so that only one source of conversation is going when you’re trying to communicate.

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Enter Medivizor: The Personalized Medical Information Service

Posted on June 20th, 2013 by karen

by Kim Keller

It’s hard to keep up with the latest medical information out there, right? I’m sure you can relate to this. Our mom was diagnosed with colon cancer last November, so, naturally, my sister and I wanted to learn everything we could about her medical condition.

We jumped on the Internet to start our research, but it’s really exhausting work, sorting through the morass of information out there, trying to find information that’s relevant, credible and the least bit helpful. And way too much brainpower is wasted trying to figure out what most of it even means.

So I was pretty excited when I was introduced to a new personalized medical information service called Medivizor, which was developed specifically to help people just like you and me make sense of it all.

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Essential Hospital Discharge Planning

Posted on February 21st, 2013 by kim


by Kim Keller

“Nearly one-fifth of Medicare beneficiaries — roughly 2 million beneficiaries per year — discharged from a hospital return within 30 days,” according to the Medicare Payment Advisory commission.

That’s a frightening, and preventable, statistic. One major factor is poor discharge planning. The process is often rushed and slapdash, and fails to protect patients from relapsing and winding up back in the hospital.

That’s why Karen and I felt pretty fortunate that our mom’s recent stay at Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville was professional from top to bottom, with a well-considered discharge process.

It’s critical to get this step right. So, whether your own local hospital does this well or not, it’s a good idea to have a discharge checklist ready when you find yourself in this position. Here’s the one we rely on:

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Lifting The Veil On Manic Depression

Posted on September 10th, 2012 by kim

by Andrea Francisco

I knew something was terribly wrong when I came home one night many years ago and my husband was very agitated. He was irritable, and I could see a wild look in his eyes that I’d never seen before. I thought there was an explanation for the irritability — after all, he was working long hours the last few weeks, often coming home at 2 a.m., then starting the routine all over again a few hours later.

Who wouldn’t be tired and cranky with a punishing schedule like that?

I encouraged my husband to relax, but it just agitated him more. I tried to keep as calm as possible, but deep inside, my heart was pounding and I was genuinely afraid.

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Ten More Tips From The Caregiver Trenches

Posted on April 24th, 2012 by kim logo

Third in a Series Detailing Our 100 Most Beneficial and Indispensable Lessons

by Kim Keller

Karen and I learned lots of important lessons while helping our parents during their respective illnesses, and we’ve been on a mission to lend a hand to other families ever since.  So many people shared their experiences with us during those difficult days, back before our dad died in July 2006 and up through the time of our mom’s stroke in 2009, that we’ve stored up a lot of information and a lot of gratitude.  Whether it was practical advice or sharing a great resource or just offering simple words of encouragement, those stories helped us find our way through the despair and the chaos, and we hope to return the kindness.

In that spirit, here are ten more of the most important lessons we’ve learned:

1. Create a Durable Power of Attorney — This allows you or another trusted person to handle your loved one’s personal business affairs, from banking to investments to real estate, etc.  A “durable” power-of-attorney is preferable to a standard power of attorney because it’s set up specifically to deal with the possibility of your loved one’s becoming disabled or incapacitated.

2. Maintain a Regular Schedule — This is a critical need for anyone who is disoriented or suffering from memory loss.  We had to set up a routine for both our parents.  Routines are calming and less strenuous, because a familiar schedule doesn’t require, and hence deplete, as much brainpower.  Our mom actually lost her ability to tell time after her stroke, so her daily routine — wake up at 8, shower, get dressed, breakfast at 9, etc. — helped her regain her footing with time.

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Be Prepared: How To Identify A Stroke

Posted on February 21st, 2012 by karen

by Karen Keller Capuciati

We are still not quite sure how our mom managed to make the call to her friend, Marcella, on the morning of September 14, 2009.  She didn’t know it at the time, but she was having a stroke.

She later told me that she knew something was wrong because she couldn’t open the window blinds.  She couldn’t mentally coordinate this simple everyday task.  When she called Marcella, she couldn’t speak clearly — she couldn’t put words together to explain what was happening.  So Marcella rushed over to Mom’s house, where she called Kim and me on Mom’s cell phone.  (We remember it distinctly because we were on the phone together and we both saw that Mom was trying to reach us — something was definitely up!)  When we had Mom on the phone, she couldn’t find the words to say what was wrong.  She gave the phone back to Marcella who confirmed that Mom was very distressed and indeed having trouble speaking.

The thought that Mom might be having a stroke crossed our minds.  Clearly the answer was GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM NOW!

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