Home for the Holidays? 5 Signs to Look For as You Check on Parents’ Well-Being

By: Austin Kiliham

This holiday season, families across the county will come together to celebrate. Going home for the holidays can give adult children a window into how their aging parents are faring and a chance to pick up on any worrisome clues.

This year, while you’re celebrating, take time to do some sleuthing and look for these five signs that perhaps things aren’t going as well for Mom and Dad as they should be.

1. Look for physical change.

A person’s body can tell you a lot about how they’re doing, and some physical features raise potential red flags. Weight loss can be an indicator of physical illness or depression. It can also signify that a parent is having difficulties shopping for food or cooking for themselves. Weight gain, on the other hand, can point to injury, diabetes, or even dementia, if a person forgets they have eaten and eats meals over and over again.

Increased frailty is also noteworthy. Ask yourself if your parent is shuffling more than previously, is having trouble balancing, or is having difficulty getting in and out of chairs.

Has your parent’s personal hygiene changed? Physical ailments or memory loss can impact a person’s grooming habits, so pay attention to how their hair and makeup look. Also, notice body odor and whether or not your parent is wearing clean clothes.

2. Glance through the mail.

Looking through the mail gives you clues about whether your parents are staying on top of daily tasks. Look for unopened personal mail from friends and relatives that wouldn’t usually be ignored. Look also at bills and letters from banks, creditors, and insurance companies. Red flags may go up if any letters from these institutions refer to late payments, overdrawn accounts, or hikes in insurances premiums resulting from recent accidents.

Older people can be especially vulnerable to solicitors, so take a look at what kind of charities are sending mail to your parents. Look for thank-you notes that signify recent donations. If a parent is experiencing memory loss, they give to the same charities repeatedly without remembering that they have been doing so.

3. Make a quick inspection of the house.

Look through the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets to see if there is any expired food. We all forget a can or two on the back shelf, but make sure those items are headed for the trash and not for consumption. Multiples of some kitchen items — 10 jars of mayonnaise, for example — may be a clue that your parent isn’t handling the shopping list correctly.

Take a look at any appliances that need repair, especially if it’s something that your parent used routinely but looks as though it has fallen into disuse. Also check for signs of past kitchen fires, a common danger for older people living at home.

Check the living spaces. Are they clean? Or is there more clutter than there used to be? Not only is too much clutter a tripping hazard but also it can mean that your parents are having a harder time maintaining their home.

Are your parents able to take care of plants and animals in the house? This can be a reflection of how well they are able to care for themselves.

Check for signs of neglect outside as well. Are there newspapers piling up on the porch, or is mail overflowing the mailbox? Look too for unmended fences, gutters that are clogged with leaves, or signs of a leaking roof or siding.

4. Go for a drive.

Have your parents take you out for a drive. While outside the car, check for damage like dents and scratches that can be signs of careless driving. Inside, check the dashboard warning lights that can indicate forgetfulness when it comes to maintenance.

When you get out on the road, does your parent remember to buckle the seatbelt? Does he or she display any signs of driving impairment? These can include being easily distracted, having a slow reaction time, tailing too closely, or confusing the gas and break pedals.

5. Talk to friends and neighbors.

When talking to people in your parents’ social circle, notice if there is a general note of concern in their voices. Ask whether your parents have been getting out as much as they used to, or whether they’re not as social anymore. Ask if your parents have talked to friends about trouble they’re having with health or with chores at home — complaints that they haven’t mentioned to you. Talking with friends and neighbors can also be helpful if you think your parents could use some additional help. Creating a community at Lotsa is a great way to get some friends, family and neighbors involved in helping out your parents around the house.

While you’re home for the holidays this year, use this opportunity to assess the well-being of your loved ones, and consider opening any critical conversations about their wellness.

Austin Kiliham is an author at Caring.com the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Also a great place to learn about senior care options, long distance caregiving, and senior health.

Employee Caregiving on the Rise: How Will Employers ReACT?

Employee, family member, caregiver, friend, citizen. We all carry multiple roles in society, and each comes with pressures to deliver the highest quality service.  Sometimes those responsibilities require more than a 24-hour day will allow, which has implications for not only individuals and families, but also businesses of all shapes and sizes.

The Employee Caregiver

The dual role of employee and caregiver is not new to families, but it is one that employers now cannot afford to ignore.  From doctor’s appointments and pharmacists visits to consultations with insurance companies and moving mom and dad closer to home, elder caregiving responsibilities often become a full-time job of their own.

There are approximately 65.7 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States, and of those nearly three quarters of them also maintain some form of employment. As the population ages at unprecedented rates, the demand for informal care will only increase.  In 2000, the number of people 60 and over was approximately 650 million; by 2050, there will be nearly 2 billion people over the age of 60. With one in six American workers already acting as caregivers, and over 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day, employers must adapt to employee caregiving as the “new normal.”

Employers Must Take Action

The greatest opportunity for talent recruitment and retention and employee satisfaction is to provide for this growing group of the workforce.  Unpaid caregiving responsibilities for an aging population have a financial impact on both caregivers and their employers, and for employers, the potential costs are significant.  A poll from Gallup shows that providing care keeps 24 percent of employees from working more. The cost to employers due to lost productivity of employee caregivers is estimated as high $34 billion annually.  These costs are attributed to replacing employees, workday interruptions, absenteeism and shifts from full-time to part-time work.

Awareness of caregivers in the workplace is high.  In fact, Gallup found that three out of four front-line managers report that they know which of their team members are caregivers.  What is missing is the action to support these employees and therefore improve their overall business success.

Resources for Front-line Managers

To that end, on the occasion of National Family Caregivers Month, ReACT (Respect A Caregiver’s Time), in collaboration with AARP, has launched a new website (www.aarp.org/ReACT) that will provide employers with the tools they need to open channels of communication about caregiving in the workplace, embrace caregiving as the new normal and find ways to address employees’ needs for flexibility. This free Employer Resource Guide will also provide support for employers through social media and networking groups as a means to share success stories and best practices.

ReACT welcomes employers of all sizes to join us as we support caregivers as both good business and good practice.

To learn more and join ReACT, visit www.respectcaregivers.org or follow @ReACTCare on Twitter.

 

Family Caregivers, Burnout & Respite

By: Comfort Keepers®

This month is National Family Caregivers Month and serves as a time to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of family caregivers far and near. Unfortunately, as the senior population is projected to increase in the following years, the number of eligible family caregivers is declining.  According to AARP, the ratio of caregivers to individuals over the age of 80 will decline from 7:1 in 2010, 4:1 by 2030 and 3:1 by 2050.

More and more seniors and their families are turning to in-home care compared to nursing homes or retirement facilities, but the added care from family members is resulting in caregiver burnout. Family caregivers can benefit from a little break every now and then, and it’s so important to incorporate respite care into a family caregiver’s role.

Find A Stress Reliever that Works For You

Senior caregiving can be demanding, and juggling caregiving and your family’s schedule can create added stress and fatigue. Families want to provide an improved living condition to help increase a senior’s quality of life, but they often forget about their own health in the process. In order to deliver the best results, you have to perform at your best. Find a stress reliever that works best for you. There are many methods to finding some alone time for yourself in order to decompress. Call on other family members for support, hire an in-home care provider to check on your mother or father for a few hours a day, take the time to unwind in a book, music, yoga, meditation or any other method you enjoy doing. If the stress is still too much to handle, schedule a doctor’s appointment for consultation.

Look at the Cost

Making a profound change in your life can cause a lot of stress, and one of these could be from new financial expenses. AARP has estimated more than 42 million unpaid family caregivers exist in the United States, and family caregivers over the age of 50 who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits in their lifetime. These costs can come from acquiring an additional person in your household, doctor and hospital fees, home renovations and so much more. Becoming a family caregiver is a decision that needs to be fully analyzed. Determine if your family can afford to be family caregivers, compare in-home respite care services and their cost, and research the benefits you can receive based on your insurance.

Know Your Limits

Finally, family caregivers often set a high expectation. Know your limits and create a respite care plan to accommodate. Snapping at everyone and going through a roller coaster of emotions is normal, however it does not benefit anyone. Start to work the problem and not let the problem work you. Lay out your family’s schedule. Where are the peek stressful times in the day? Consider creating a community at Lotsa Helping Hands. Friends, neighbors and coworkers can sign up for tasks on your calendar, from spending time with your senior as you run errands, to perform housekeeping chores or taking your children to soccer practice, having extra hands from your community can truly help.

We don’t suggest taking a month vacation, but learn to set aside some time for friends, spouses and family. Even if you have set the expectation of serving as the leading caregiver in the family, the weight should not all be placed on your shoulders. Take time out for yourself. The additional time in your day-to-day schedule can make the difference in the amount of stress in your life. To learn more about Comfort Keepers® respite care services, visit us online at www.comfortkeepers.com.

Comfort Keepers is a leading franchise network in the in-home care market for seniors and other adults needing care. Since its founding in 1998, the company has grown to more than 700 franchised locations around the world by staying true to the founders’ goal of providing in-home care services that allow clients the opportunity to age in place. In August of 2009, the brand was strengthened even further by the purchase of the franchisor, CK Franchising, Inc., by Sodexo, one of the world’s leading food and facilities management services companies and the global leader in the health care and seniors markets. For more information, visit www.comfortkeepers.com.

 

 

The DOs and DON’Ts of Caregiving

By: Alexandra Axel, The Caregiver Space

Do you want to give a caregiver in your life a break? Here’s what NOT to do.

When a loved one develops a health problem, typically one family member serves as the primary caregiver, depending on geographic distance from, or relationship to, the patient. In an ideal world, the rest of the family steps in to give the primary caregiver some respite.  But sometimes, relatives hoping to help can end up doing more harm then good.

If you want to help the caregiver in your life, try to avoid participating in the following scenarios:

Playing “good cop”

Imagine you’re visiting your sister, your mom’s full-time caregiver, to give her a much-needed break. You’re so excited to see your mom that you let her do whatever she wants even though your sister has been keeping her on a strict schedule, as recommended by the doctor. Your sister returns to find your mother even more resistant to following her care plan. Now you are the child that lets things slide and she is the one always saying no. So much for your sister’s respite! She now has to work even harder to convince your mom to do what is in her best interests.

Being the visiting critic

It’s Thanksgiving and you’re going to your father and step-mom’s house to celebrate. Your step-mom was recently diagnosed with cancer and your father has assumed the position of fulltime caregiver. You’ve never been a caregiver before but you point out the many things he could be doing better. For one, he should be getting more sleep. He shouldn’t be so short with his wife. He needs to start cooking and not buying frozen dinners. Your dad feels like he is doing everything he can but your unsolicited comments make him feel like it’s still not enough. Consider for a moment that he is probably exhausted, frustrated and stressed out. Instead of pointing out the things he could be doing, help care for him by cooking him a meal, answering your step-mom’s requests, and let him get some sleep.

Thinking you know what is best

One weekend you go to visit your cousin with special needs to give your aunt and uncle a night off. They have been his caregivers for the last twenty years with barely any time to themselves. Without asking what your aunt and uncle need, you arrive with big ideas for what you’ll do to help. You decide that you’re going to take care of installing the ceiling fan, fixing the banister, doing the grocery shop, and wash the stack of dishes in the sink. Your uncle and aunt politely let you work however they were really hoping for a little time to themselves while you looked after your cousin. So much for that 7pm movie!

Now that you know how to avoid the pitfalls that many well-meaning friends and family fall into, consider what you CAN DO! Offer and accept help. Consider creating a community at Lotsa Helping Hands for the caregiver in your life. You can help coordinate meals, organize rides to medical appointments, or simply send out updates on behalf of their family. Caregivers usually have a hard time asking for your help and you’re doing a huge favor by offering your support. Just remember to listen, ask for direction and strive for compassion.

 

November is National Family Caregivers Month!

By: John Schall, CEO, Caregiver Action Network

November is National Family Caregivers Month and this year’s theme this is Family Caregivers – Now More Than Ever!

Each year, more and more Americans are caring for a loved one with a chronic condition, disability, or the frailties of old age.  There are as many as 90 million family caregivers in the U.S. today.  And family caregivers, in turn, rely on help from volunteers – friends, neighbors, others in the community – with any number of the many tasks that go along with caregiving.

 

  • Wounded veterans require family caregivers, tooAs many as 1 million Americans are caring in their homes for service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other wounds and illnesses.
  • And it’s not just women doing the caregivingMen are now almost as likely to say they are family caregivers as women are (37% of men; 40% of women). And 36% of younger Americans between ages 18 and 29 are family caregivers as well, including 1 million young people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
  • Family caregiving is serious workAlmost half of family caregivers perform complex medical/nursing tasks for their loved ones – such as managing multiple medications, providing wound care, and operating specialized medical equipment.

With the ranks of family caregivers growing every year, we recognize the importance to the Nation of the role that family caregivers play Now More Than Ever!  And we recognize, too, the millions of volunteers who selflessly help family caregivers in countless ways each and every day!

If you or someone you know is a family caregiver, the Caregiver Action Network provides free educational resources at www.CaregiverAction.org to help with the many responsibilities that caregivers face.  And CAN’s Lotsa Helping Hands Community can help bring caregivers and volunteers together to help with caregiving tasks.

How is Music Therapy Helping Dementia Caregivers

By: Comfort Keepers

Nothing hurts more than seeing a loved one’s memories start to fade away. Familiar faces and places are taking more time for your mom or dad to recognize, and the patience and compassion a family caregiver has to show at all times can be an unanticipated struggle some days. There is no cure for dementia, but studies have shown increased cognitive activity can help offset the progression of the disease and make improvements. The American Music Therapy Association says that music therapy provides dementia patients with numerous opportunities, and we want to go over some of the ways it can help enhance the care of your loved one with dementia.

Like any muscle, the more you exercise the brain the stronger it becomes. Music can help seniors recall memories associated with a song, recite show-stopping lyrics, find familiar footings for a piano composition or hum a favorite melody. As a result, mood and mental states will show positive developments. Depression, anxiety and aggression could be some of the changes you see in your loved one’s behavior, and soothing music can help relieve those stressful symptoms.

Mobility and speech abilities could also be a symptom you are observing in your senior. Their favorite jazz, big band, blues, swing or chart-topping records could be the motivation they need to get up and get moving or project their voice once again. Music is so powerful that it can be a part of the pain management or speech therapy incorporated in your caregiving routine.

For the younger members in a family dynamic, interacting with a grandparent that has dementia can be confusing. Music is a way to break the ice and give seniors a sense of purpose. Corky duets make for great entertainment at the next family gathering, and singing or playing an instrument is a great hobby for the two of them to pick up.

Although dementia can be a challenging condition to navigate, music can give caregivers some sense of relief in their caregiving routine. Music therapy can also serve as a stress reliever for a family caregiver, and overall music should be a new element added to your family’s daily schedule. Often overlooked, the potential outcome is too great not to try. For more information about dementia care, visit www.comfortkeepers.com.

Comfort Keepers is a leading franchise network in the in-home care market for seniors and other adults needing care. Since its founding in 1998, the company has grown to more than 700 franchised locations around the world by staying true to the founders’ goal of providing in-home care services that allow clients the opportunity to age in place. In August of 2009, the brand was strengthened even further by the purchase of the franchisor, CK Franchising, Inc., by Sodexo, one of the world’s leading food and facilities management services companies and the global leader in the health care and seniors markets. For more information, visit www.comfortkeepers.com.

Healthy Choices for Caregivers

By David Novak

Caring for a loved one with an illness — like cancer, dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease– is not easy.  It takes strength, patience and love.  When caring for a loved one, your health and wellness may often take a backseat.  As a caregiver, all your time and energy is devoted to nurturing your friend or family member. You grab fast food at a drive-through or skip meals entirely to stay by his or her side.  You let your exercise program go.  And because a caregiver role can be extremely mentally fatiguing, your mental health can be at stake as well.

As a caregiver, it’s critical you stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one.   According to experts, making small changes in your physical, mental and dietary health can lead to significant improvement in your ability to effectively care for a loved one.

Try these suggestions to maintain good health:

Exercise and Stay Social

More than anything, you as a caregiver have a tremendous responsibility for the care of your patient.  And more than ever, it’s important for you to take care of yourself first.  Can you really take care of someone else with a disability when you’re not healthy and fit yourself?  The answer is:  Probably not.  And sure, this is sometimes difficult and easier said than done, but by maintaining good physical and mental health, you are helping yourself and your loved one at the same time.

Try to get some physical exercise in every day, even if it’s a 10-minute walk. Research suggests fitness and activity facilitates a better mental attitude, and equips you with dealing with stress that comes along with being a caregiver. Whenever possible get your sleep, take breaks, make and keep social activities and try to keep your sense of humor as well.

Good Mental Health

Having friendly communication and a healthy relationship with your loved one can be tremendously rewarding. As any illness progresses, family roles can change. A head-of-household, for example, may no longer be able to sustain that role, and may rely on the caregiver to assume that role. Studies suggest that caregivers with a high quality relationship with their patients have better physical health and reduced depression.

Also, If you try to care for someone by yourself, and without any external help, this is a recipe for disaster.  It’s simply too much stress and work to accomplish on your own. So get the help you need. By doing so, you will feel less isolated and more attached to the outside world. This is important.

Receiving outside help lowers your stress and gives you frequent breaks, which you need. You can find help through support groups.  Joining a support group to help you meet people who are going through what you are going through, vent frustrations, give and receive mutual support, and exchange resource information and coping strategies is vital to your mental health.

Additionally, there are community sanctioned services available, and if those aren’t available, friends, senior centers, adult health facilities churches and organizations like Meals on Wheels are there to help you as well.  A social worker from your insurance provider can connect you with other services. There are also fee-based services available, which can help with cooking meals, dressing and bathing.

Know about What You’re Dealing With

There are plenty of educational resources available to you so you can learn all there is to know about the disease your loved one is afflicted with. Both online resources and your local library are available at your disposal.  Other resources include your loved one’s doctor. It’s a great idea to accompany that person to their doctor’s appointments and ask the doctor questions so you are thoroughly schooled on the disease.

Primary to a caregiver’s education is to assess both yours and the loved one’s needs. These can include topics such as the home environment, both of your emotional states and your own health. As a caregiver, you need to figure out how much you can do alone, and what outside support is required. This can include financial concerns such as expenses, employment for both parties, legal matters, (such as Power-of-Attorney) and insurance.

Knowing what you’re dealing with, and being educated on all facets of the disease and the care for the disease will dramatically reduce your stress levels.  You won’t be guessing what to do anymore.  Ambiguity is a sure stresser, but having the knowledge about the disease, your patient and the right steps to take as a caregiver can reduce your stress 10-fold.

A Good Diet

As a caregiver, fitting in three squares a day can be challenging. But, you miss out on vital nutrients when you skip meals, so eat healthy foods every few hours. Your body needs food every five to six hours to function properly. Eating healthy foods at regular intervals refuels your body, and helps keep your blood sugar and metabolism at healthy levels.

If you can’t eat a meal every five to six hours, a healthy snack is the next best thing.  Intermittent snacks are actually great for your metabolism, and the best kinds are those with unrefined carbohydrates, like whole grains and fruit, as well as protein, like low-fat cheese or peanut butter.  Simple carbs and protein will help you stay energized.

Whole grains in particular are great because they have a lot of fiber.  Additionally, a diet rich in whole grains may help curb your risk of colon disease.  In addition to the usual whole grain suspects like rice and bread, other foods like popcorn, oatmeal and quinoa are good alternatives, rich in real whole grains.

Limit red meat and avoid processed meats as well. Studies shows that eating too much red meat can increase your risk of colon cancer. Beef, lamb and pork, including hamburgers, are all red meat.  Rather, eat more fish and chicken, add dairy as a protein or try plant proteins. In addition to limiting red meat, it’s important to avoid processed meats like pepperoni, hot dogs, bacon and sausage. Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or they have added chemical preservatives. Eating these meats can raise your risk for disease.

Finally, drink a ton of water. Many drinks, like soda and juices, have a lot of sugar and calories. Drinking too many can add up to unwanted weight gain overtime. And, an unhealthy weight puts you at risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Water has no calories. It also helps you stay full longer so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight.

A Thought-Out Plan

Caring for a loved one is tough. Caregivers need to assess the way their loved one is cared for, along with how the added stress of the disease is playing into your own life.  Both you and your patient need to make changes to your daily routines to manage the disease together.  With a thought-out plan and taking advantage of available resources and free services like Lotsa Helping Hands, you can make both yours and your loved one’s lives both healthy, pleasant and enjoyable.

David Novak is a international syndicated newspaper columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV around the world. His byline has appeared in GQ, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, among others, and he has appeared on The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show and Paul Harvey Radio. David is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/

The Changing Landscape of Caregiving

By Anila Sitaram Venkat

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, 20% of Americans will be 65 years or older, up from 13% in 2009.  This trend represents a confluence of two factors: an aging Baby Boomer population and the fact that people are living longer than ever before.

This trend will no doubt have far-reaching implications, from creating a shortage of geriatricians and nurses trained to care for the elderly, to placing an increased burden on our hospitals and long-term care facilities. However a lesser recognized impact is the strain that this trend will place on caregivers: the family and friends charged with taking care of their elderly loved ones. 

The Older Adult of Tomorrow

Over the last 20 years, though life expectancy has increased, healthy life expectancy has not kept pace. The prevalence of obesity among adults has risen to 27.8 percent, while the prevalence of diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure has increased to 9.5 and 30.8 percent, respectively.

Furthermore, as people live longer, they are prone to suffer from multiple chronic medical conditions (multimorbidity). According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these people are at higher risk of mortality, poor functional status, unnecessary hospitalizations, adverse drug events, duplicative tests, and conflicting medical advice.

Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, poor diet and inadequate physical activity, contribute greatly to the rise in multiple chronic conditions. 

Implications for Caregiving

As tomorrow’s older adult changes and evolves, so does the role of the caregiver. As family caregivers take on larger roles in caring for their loved ones, there are three specific areas of focus that will become increasingly important.

First, caregivers need to facilitate and encourage positive changes in their loved ones’ lifestyles. For example, caregivers can take simple steps to make the home environment safer and more secure, giving their loved one the confidence to engage in more physical activity within the home itself – be it with short walks or simple housework. Caregivers should also consider leveraging innovative technology to encourage movement. For example, they can use Wii Fit to make exercise fun and novel for their loved one.

Second, caregivers should be increasingly involved with the health care of their loved one. With multimorbidity comes a myriad of doctors and other health care providers, medications and care instructions. Oftentimes, until electronic health records can fill the gap, caregivers are the only link between all of the above and will be the ones responsible for information-sharing and ensuring successful hand-offs between parties.

Third, caregivers should be well-apprised of their loved one’s wishes and preferences for care towards the end-of-life. Multimorbidity usually accompanies higher rates of adverse effects from medical intervention. While one of your loved one’s doctors may want to treat one particular condition within his or her specialty, treatment may not be in the best interest of your loved one’s overall health, in the context of all of his or her illnesses. Your loved one may instead prefer to live out his or her remaining days in peace and comfort.

As the aging population evolves, so too must the role of the caregiver. By preparing for the potential changes in their loved ones’ health status, caregivers can more easily adapt as needed and continue to play a critical role in the care of our elderly population. Balancing caring for an elderly loved one with other responsibilities can be challenging. However, there is help available through Lotsa Helping Hands, which allows caregivers to benefit from the gifts of much needed help, emotional support, and peace of mind, while volunteers find meaning in giving back to those in need. 

Anila Sitaram Venkat is an editor at ElderBranch, a comprehensive, trusted information source for people looking for senior care for themselves or a loved one.

 

Support, camaraderie and books

By Hope Flammer, CEO of VoiceQuilt

If you’re visiting this blog, you know that Lotsa Helping Hands is a terrific resource for coordinating support for a loved one in a caregiving community.  When I first discovered Lotsa Helping Hands, I envisioned armies of volunteers delivering casseroles to families taking care of a loved one in the hospital.

I’ve realized now that Lotsa communities do so much more than deliver food! I’ve been particularly touched by stories of community members who help in ways that are especially meaningful and thoughtful.

Two years ago, a close friend mentioned that her Lotsa Helping Hands community was reading aloud the last Harry Potter book to a friend named Louis.  Louis always looked forward to the story – as well as the companionship.  It was a welcome respite for him and his caregivers.

Last April, I became aware of “Team Julie”, a community created for a minister suffering from ALS. Over the past few months, this group has delivered meals, raised money for medical treatments and even helped find housing.  What struck me most, however, were the books that they read. Each month, Reverend Julie sends a list the books her team has read aloud to her. Here are a few:

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr

When ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel

A Voluptuous God by Robert V.Thompson

Julie’s enthusiasm for her readers and reading list– as well as my friend’s story about Louis – suggest that reading aloud provides something extra: the gift of camaraderie.  An engaging narrative provides an escape from the day-to-day routine and an excuse to be together without the pressure of conversation.  In some cases, it might even trigger conversation about themes larger than ourselves.

Last month, a New York Times article described a variation on this theme.  It described how a daughter bonded with her mother, a patient with Advanced Alzheimer’s, by reading aloud picture books.

“…she and her daughter read from the very same books she had read her children: ‘The Story of Ferdinand,’ the pacifist bull; ‘Mama, Do You Love Me?,’ a board book set in Alaska, about an Inuit mother’s unconditional love of her daughter; and ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and the Redwall series, about swashbuckling mice.”

In this case, memories of a favorite story help a daughter and her mother reminisce and spend meaningful time together.

Reading aloud is a meaningful yet easy volunteer task that provides the social connection a patient needs.  Recent research shared by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) suggests that there are health benefits to social connectedness.

What’s more fun that sharing a good story?  Have you read to your friend or loved one in your Lotsa community? Share your stories and thoughts below!

Community Helps Everyone Involved

Late in July, my twenty-two year old nephew was informed he had a brain tumor twice the size of a golf ball, requiring immediate surgery.  As Lotsa’s CEO, I found myself once again as a first-hand witness to how Lotsa Helping Hands can have a profound effect not only on the family caregivers and the patient, but also on the community of volunteers and supporters that rally behind them.

My sister and her family, led by my niece, reached out to their extended family and circles of friends and created a Lotsa Helping Hands Community, now almost 100 people strong. Perhaps the best way to communicate what the community has meant to everyone is to share a few of the posted messages:

“We have felt a powerful web of love and positive energy surrounding us all week.  I didn’t realize what a difference it would make.”

“I find myself checking … much more than normal, eager for updates.  Please know that your support network is much bigger than you could ever imagine.”

“However extensive you believe your net of love and support network to be, I am certain that it’s much more than that.”

“So happy to read the updates…. It’s almost like we’re there with you.”

Only my nephew and his family truly know what this amazing support has meant to them. But as an active member of their Community I have observed a profound phenomenon: members of the Community come from so many various circles – my nephew’s kindergarten teacher, college friends, my sister’s colleagues, extended family from two sides, parents of my niece’s friends – yet in some unexpected way, despite being strangers, we all now feel connected.  Certainly the purpose of my nephew’s Lotsa Community was to provide help and support for the family. But it has been amazing to personally witness how the sense of community has bolstered all the rest of us during the tense times before, during, and after surgery.

When someone we love and care about is struggling during the often surreal experience we call ‘caregiving’, we too feel ourselves floating untethered during the uncertainty, wanting to do something helpful, say something meaningful, yet not wanting to become part of the burden.  As a member of my sister’s Lotsa Helping Hands Community, I am reminded of the latin derivation of the word ‘community’: ‘together’ + ‘gift’. We all benefit from the gift of coming together in community to help those around us.

This August, if you know someone who is caring for a loved one, consider creating a community for them. It only takes a minute, and it’s one of the easiest ways to offer your help and support during a tough time. And you may be surprised how the help and support extends far beyond the family you are helping!

Hal Chapel is CEO and Co-Founder of Lotsa Helping Hands.