Understanding Stem Cells And Cord Blood For Treating Debilitating Diseases

Understanding Stem Cells And Cord Blood For Treating Debilitating Diseases

Stem cell treatments aren’t exactly new — these infinitely changeable cells have been used since the late 1980s, though they weren’t prominently advertised until the mid-2000s once the U.S. Government began the National Cord Blood Bank. Until then, many people didn’t even know that they could bank their infant’s umbilical cord blood for use later in life to treat debilitating diseases if they should occur.

Many people still aren’t familiar with stem cells in general, so we’ve decided to shed a little light on the subject for you. What are stem cells and what can these cells be used to treat?

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are cells in the early stage of development that still retain some transformational plasticity.  Once reintroduced into the body, they can transform into a variety of different healthy cells to help treat different diseases and conditions. Stem cell harvests happen in one of three ways:

  • ‘Adult’ stem cells — these are harvested from bone marrow.
  • Embryonic stem cells — these are harvested from embryos in the blastocyst stage, three to five days after fertilization.
  • Cord blood stem cells — these are harvested from the umbilical cord of a newborn immediately after birth.

Embryonic stem cells are only used for research purposes, while adult and cord blood cells can be useful in treating diseases.  The most significant difference between the two is in the transplant specifics and the amount of time they can spend in storage.

Adult stem cell transplants cannot be stored for more than a few hours and are only suitable for transplants to a recipient who is a close genetic match to the donor.  Cord blood, on the other hand, can be stored almost indefinitely and doesn’t require as specific a genetic match for the transplant to be successful.

Stem Cell Treatment Options

What sort of conditions can these stem cells help treat?

  • Cancers — cord blood transplants have been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of a variety of cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, bone marrow cancer and other solid tumors.
  • Blood disorders — these transplants can be used to treat red cell abnormalities and problems with blood cell proliferation.
  • Genetic disorders — some inherited genetic conditions, including those that affect the immune, can often be treated with cord blood transplants.

These stem cell capabilities have already changed lives in the most amazing ways — one small study followed a group of children who had been diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a genetic disorder that causes nerve cells to deteriorate and die. The prognosis for this condition is dire — most children with this disease die within five years of their diagnosis.

Recently, researchers treated a group of 17 boys — since the condition is limited almost exclusively to male patients — between the ages of four and 13. Of the 17, 15 of them are living happy, healthy lives with no recurrence of symptoms thanks to a cord blood-based gene therapy. Only one of the study participants died of the condition because his symptoms progressed too quickly for the gene therapy. The 17th participant withdrew from the study in favor of a bone marrow transplant.

Genetic disorders aren’t the only application for these stem cells — their transformational plasticity makes them an invaluable tool for patients of all age groups. They may be used in the future to help increase muscle strength in elderly patients.

Loss of muscle mass is a typical side effect of aging, but it can make it more difficult for older patients to continue living healthy and active lives. So far, this form of gene therapy has only mice to prove its practice, but the results were stunning — the elderly mice became stronger, their treated muscle tissue comparable to the tissue found in young mice.

Stem cells could even be used to help regenerate neurological function in elderly patients.  A recent study found that treating elderly mice with umbilical cord blood helps them improve their cognitive function, making it easier to learn and remember things. If this can translate to a human treatment, it could be one of the most exciting new treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia in recent memory.

This kind of tissue regeneration isn’t even limited to mice and humans.  Researchers in Moscow found that they could cure lameness in horses by injecting DNA into the injured tissues. This method could give new life to horses to might otherwise be put down because of their injuries — but it could also lead to further treatment for similar tendon and soft tissue injuries in humans. If you’ve ever sprained your knee or twisted your ankle, you might be able to benefit from this kind of stem cell-adjacent treatment.

Banking on the Future

There are so many new advances in stem cell and cord blood treatment that it’s almost hard to keep track of them all.  These discoveries are changing the way we look at regenerative medicine, and in time, they could even change the way we treat everything from cancer to the common cold.

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How Helpful Are Voice Companions?

How Helpful Are Voice Companions?

For a lot of people, smart home voice assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod are a luxury, a fun gadget that makes life just a little bit easier and more interesting.

For others, like those who need in-home care, they could be a life-changer.

Voice Assistants Provide Freedom

Voice companions and other smart home devices have the potential to dramatically improve quality of life for people with disabilities, the elderly, those who are sick or injured and others who need in-home care.

Smart devices can also provide peace of mind to loved ones and make the job of caregivers easier.

Family members and friends can use them to check in on their loved ones and get alerts if something goes wrong. They enable those who need care to do more on their own, increasing their sense of freedom and reducing their need for a caregiver.

How Home Devices Can Help

Those who have trouble getting up and moving around or those who can’t use their arms or legs might need someone there to help them complete tasks, even those as simple as opening the blinds, answering a phone call or unlocking the front door.

If they have a smart home assistant and other connected devices, they can use their voice to tell their voice assistant to complete these tasks for them. If they have a smart thermostat, they could tell Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or whichever assistant they have to adjust the temperature for them.

If they have a smart front door lock, they could tell their device to unlock the door to let someone in or lock it when they go to bed at night.

The ability to do even small tasks like these can increase freedom immensely.

A startup called HoneyCo is tailoring smart home technology toward senior citizens.

It offers smart home tech as one all-inclusive package designed to make life easier for older folks who need some care, but still want to live independently. They can even set up motion sensors in a home that will send an alert to a family member or caregiver if they don’t go off for an extended period, indicating the resident hasn’t been moving around.


HoneyCo seeks to remedy one of the most significant challenges associated with outfitting your home with smart gear:

It can be technically complex, and it’s hard to know exactly what you need, even for those familiar with this kind of technology.

Cost is another barrier that keeps some from using smart tech in their homes.

Several nonprofits exist to provide smart home devices to people with disabilities, but not nearly enough to help the 57 million Americans who have a disability. More organizations may start doing in this in the future, and the price will eventually come down, but, for now, cost is still a major challenge.

Most companies that make smart home devices haven’t specifically designed or marketed them to the elderly or people with disabilities, either, which might also slow their adoption by this population.

Startups like HoneyCo have started to change this, as have some of the big players in the tech and communications fields, like Google, AT&T and Comcast. Google-owned smart home company Nest uses feedback from blind users in its product design, and Comcast designed its voice-activated TV navigation system with blind people in mind.

Another significant challenge in getting those who need home care is convincing them to take the smart home plunge. This step can be a surprisingly big hurdle, especially for older people who are not familiar with technology.

They may fear for their privacy, think it may be too complicated for them to operate or believe it will require a mess of wires running all over the house.

Resistance to trying new tech is the issue Jim Godek ran into, according to a CNET article, when he wanted to get his 95-year-old mother an Amazon Echo to read audiobooks to her after she started losing her sight.

She eventually agreed to try it, though, and almost a year later, she’d listened to 178 audiobooks — a perfect example of the kind of freedom smart home devices and voice assistants can provide.

Image courtesy of Amazon Alexa’s press photos.

Traveling For Treatment: Tips And How To Cope

Traveling For Treatment: Tips And How To Cope

No matter what their diagnosis is, caring for a family member is a lifelong endeavor — a labor of love— that can be as taxing on you as it is on the person you’re caring for.

That endeavor becomes even more difficult if you need to travel to make sure your family member can get the care or treatment they need. Yet, this is hardly a rare occurrence. Approximately 11 million people around the world travel to other countries to receive medical treatment.

Whether you’re traveling across the state, across the country or around the globe, what can you do to help make the process easier on you, your family and the person you’re caring for?

Learn the Language

Countries that are popular destinations for medical tourism, as it’s being called, may have plenty of fluent English speakers who can help you or answer your questions while you’re in a medical facility. What happens when you’re heading out into the city to get food or supplies, though?

Don’t rely on a phrasebook or a translation app — take some time to learn at least a little bit of the language. You don’t need to be fluent, but being conversational in the local language will make the whole ordeal a little less stressful.

Plus, you may find that the more you speak with the locals, the more fluent you become. Immersion in the language makes it easier to learn — you learn naturally, as a local child would while they were learning to speak.

Take Some Time for Yourself

This isn’t easy when you’re in a foreign country and responsible for someone who may or may not be able to care for themselves for a short period of time.

One side benefit of these trips, sometimes called “reverse medical tourism,” is being able to see the sights of whatever beautiful country you’re visiting. You might not be able to plan a whole day cruise or anything elaborate like that, but it’s still important to take a little bit of time for yourself.

Research Everything

Flying across the globe to seek medical treatment for someone you’re caring for is an expensive proposition, so it’s important to research everything before you get on that plane. Look into the credentials and licensing for the doctor you’re planning to see. The medical standards may not be the same as they would be in Western hospitals.

Also, research the infection rate for the facilities where your family member may be undergoing procedures. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are more common in facilities outside the United States, according to the CDC, so if a surgical procedure is in the plans, it’s important to ensure you take all the steps possible to avoid coming into contact with these bacteria.

Pack Light but Don’t Forget the Important Stuff

In the United States, the majority of medical professionals have transitioned to the use of electronic health records — digital charts rather than old-school paperwork. While this helps to streamline medical care and billing in the States, these records may not be accessible to physicians overseas. Make sure you pack all medical records and applicable medical paperwork.

If you’re worried about the weight of your luggage — because we all know how expensive checked baggage fees can be when you’re traveling overseas — make sure to get a digital copy of your files and carry them in that format on a hard drive or USB flash drive. This is also safer for things like films or X-rays, so you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged or crimped during the flight.

On the same note, get copies of all medical records generated while you’re overseas before you head back home. Your U.S. based doctor likely won’t have access to those files, so it’s important to bring them back with you.

Be Prepared to Stay a While

Recovery times will vary depending on your family member and the procedure or surgery you’re traveling so far for. You should be prepared to stay as long as necessary to ensure their recovery is going well and that it is safe to travel.

If the procedure you’re traveling for includes a surgery, it may require a longer stay. Flying in the first four weeks after surgery increases the risk of blood clots, which can be a dangerous complication for someone trying to recover from a medical procedure. The risk goes up if the surgery was done on the legs or below the waist.

Be Aware of Currency

Most insurance companies will not pay for procedures done overseas, though they may reimburse you for it once you return home. You will likely be required to pay for the procedure out of pocket, so make sure you have plenty of the correct currency. Currency exchanges will vary depending on the day.

When it comes down to it, even if you’ve got beaches and mojitos waiting for you, this will likely be a stressful trip and it may push you to the very limits of your ability. The key is not to panic — this is to help someone you love, so if you remember that, everything else will just fall into place.

Caring for someone else isn’t an easy thing, especially if you’re trying to do it halfway around the world. Take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing this — caring for someone is a labor of love in every sense of the phrase.

Image by Oles kanebckuu

3 Medical Laws All Caregivers Should Know About

3 Medical Laws All Caregivers Should Know About

Medical laws change, but it is important to stay current if caregiving is a responsibility you’ve undertaken for a family member or if it is your profession. There are documents you will need to provide physicians with, as well as decisions to make regarding treatments and facilities.

Here are three of the big ones:


HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, came into being in 1996 to help patients gain control over their private information. Only the minimum amount of patient information is available to entities, including caregivers, insurance companies and other health care facilities, unless otherwise directed by the patient.

HIPAA protects patients and holds people accountable for violating the law and patients’ privacy. A violator could spend time behind bars and/or pay a steep fine. However, if a patient requests that their adult child or caregiver accompanies them to a physician appointment or tests, then the provider can release the information. It is clear the patient wants this person to know about their private health information.

The physician has the right to choose who to give pertinent information to if something happens to the patient and they are unable to respond, such as permanent unconsciousness. Even with HIPAA laws in effect, you may want to talk with your patient about a written directive to avoid any miscommunication.

2. The Stark Law

If your patient or loved one is living in a skilled nursing home or assisted living facility, understanding The Stark Law is critical. To avoid conflict of interest and financial kickbacks, The Stark Law puts into effect the protection of Medicare and Medicaid patients. The law states physicians cannot refer patients to a clinic, laboratory or facility and order services in which the provider will receive financial gain in return. This includes a member of a provider’s family.

For example, a physician may be violating The Stark Law if they refer a Medicaid/Medicare patient to a nursing home owned by the physician’s adult child. You want to ensure your patient is receiving the best care and not receiving unnecessary treatment. The Stark Law works to protect patients from unethical practices by enforcing civil fines and penalties and excluding violators from federal health care programs.

If you suspect a physician or facility is violating The Stark Law, you can report the incident to the Office of Inspector General.

3. Legal Documentation Laws

As a caregiver, legal documents are an important part of your responsibility. Your role as a caregiver can be severely limited without proper legal documentation. The following are a few documents you should have on hand and provide copies to your patient’s service providers.

  • Power of Attorney: As power of attorney, you can make medical and financial decisions for your loved one as needed. This document allows you to pay bills on behalf of your patient and make decisions regarding treatments when they no longer can make these decisions on their own.
  • Living Will: Experts suggest creating a living will before the need arises. This document provides a written record of the patient’s wishes regarding life support and treatments and removes the emotional factor during a crisis.
  • Health Care Proxy: If the patient prefers, they can assign a power of attorney to handle their financial responsibilities and a health care proxy to make medical decisions for them regarding treatments. A health care proxy is only used when the patient is permanently unconscious or is in the latter stages of a mental illness.

An elder-law attorney can explain the details of each of the medical laws concerning seniors and caregivers, as well as oversee the legal documentation you need. Before making decisions on behalf of your patient or loved one, make sure you are up-to-date with any changes to the laws.

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Saving the Caregiver System

Saving the Caregiver System

More families are relying on caregivers to care for a sick relative or friend. This could be a professional certified caregiver or simply another family member taking on the responsibility. However, the caregiver system needs an overhaul to support the growing number of seniors and those with dementia in the coming years.

With a system teetering on the brink of extinction within an industry expecting explosive growth, what can businesses and the public do to recruit and retain certified caregivers?

The Dangers Facing the Caregiver System

Qualified nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other caregiving businesses are competing with one another to find and keep new caregivers. Due to low pay and inconsistent hours, caregiving is facing a high turnover. With a profession that relies on long-term care, many certified caregivers move from one facility to the next for better quality conditions or pay.

It’s estimated that one in five people in the United States will be age 65 or over by the year 2030. This brings the issue of the caregiving crisis into focus as family members take on the unpaid responsibility of caring for sick relatives as well as caring for their own children. Aging parents unable to care for themselves may rely on their adult children for care, especially daughters.

JAMA Neurology points out that more women tend to assume the caregiver role compared to men. This can leave the female head of household having to cut back from a full time position to part time while caregiving.

If the family member suffers from dementia, which as many as 8.5 million of Americans will by 2030, the stress of giving round-the-clock care may be too much without an additional caregiver.

Many state Medicaid programs continue to offer the same flat rate to caregivers that has not changed for years, leaving caregivers looking for better-paying jobs. In some states, the unions that support caregivers are demanding dues from the Medicaid reimbursement, leaving even less in the caregiver’s pocket.

How Caregiver Employers Can Help

Although most caregiving facilities have their hands tied when it comes to raises, employers should consider offering their certified caregiving employees bonuses and/or more paid days off. Some nursing home owners provide their caregiving staff with special lunches or promise not to cut their hours due to the census.

Nursing home owners and caregiving business managers should stress the importance of long-term care with prospective caregivers. Dementia patients require the same caregiver every day as seeing a familiar face will make them feel safe and secure in their environment.

How the Community Can Help

High schools can also get involved in saving the caregiver system by promoting certified caregiving as a profession. Caregiving as a trade now involves training courses consisting of more than 100 hours of training as well as a standardized test in some states. In Arizona, students seeking certification need to train for 104 hours before testing.

The State of Washington requires 75 hours of training before a caregiver can work for a licensed agency, and those seeking the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) will need 85 hours. New Jersey requires 76 hours of training, and Nebraska wants 16 out of the mandatory 75 training hours supervised.

Employers of individuals faced with caring for a sick family member or friend should consider offering paid leave to the caregiver. Although it is only a temporary solution, given enough time away, the caregiver may be able to make long-term care plans. One company, Deloitte LLP, has taken this approach, offering employees 16 weeks of paid leave to care for a loved one.

In states with stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rates for caregivers, the public can speak with their Representatives about the possibility of increases.

In Illinois, a bill raising the pay wage from $12 an hour to $15 an hour for caregivers made its rounds through the Senate and the House. If more individuals bring this concern to their state’s legislation, caregivers may receive the much-needed increased pay rate and caregiving agencies may retain their best employees.

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An open letter to temporary caregivers: how to prepare and what to expect

An open letter to temporary caregivers: how to prepare and what to expect

If your parent is undergoing surgery or is experiencing a prolonged illness, you may find yourself in the role of temporary caregiver. Understanding what to expect during the caregiving period will help you prepare for this role.

Adult children are often pulled among responsibilities to their parents, their own spouses and children, and their jobs. While temporary caregiving can be an opportunity to show your love and concern, it can also be stressful and absorb a lot of your energy. You can minimize the stress with careful planning.

First, set aside some time to make a plan. Does your home need to be rearranged or altered to give care? Does your parent need psychological or physical preparation for their procedure? Do you need preparation?

Organize Your Home

Think first about the type of procedure being done and what the recovery period physically requires. Consult with your parent’s physician if necessary.

A number of surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, require patients to use walkers as they heal. Does your home allow for walker access? Does your parent need to be accommodated on a specific level of the house to avoid stairs?

Many procedures require special equipment, such as a bathroom bar, a recliner or a lifting apparatus. Be sure to check on all these requirements, giving yourself plenty of time to order and receive special equipment, and, if necessary, to rearrange your home.

Second, make your home safe for your recovering and possibly weaker-than-usual parent. Stabilize or remove any area rugs that might cause them to slip and fall. Make plans for a resting and sleeping area close to a bathroom. Make sure that light is adequate for an older individual to see and easy for them to adjust.

Prepare the Patient

Prepare to help your parent manage anxiety. It is normal to feel some anxiety about any procedure, especially surgery. Acknowledge this as part of your preparation. It can be very helpful to research the procedure together.

If your parent is having knee surgery, for example, it can greatly reduce anxiety to know that over 600,000 people in the United States have knee surgery each year, and fewer than 2 percent have serious complications. To complement the numbers, understanding what happens before and during knee surgery — like if radiofrequency ablation (RFA) will help or what type of metal components will be used — could ease the concerns you and your loved one have about the overall process.

You should also prepare by establishing a good relationship with your local pharmacy. Decide where you will go for needed medications before the surgery, so there will be no delay in filling prescriptions after the procedure. Make sure you have a list of your parent’s existing medications so you can discuss possible drug interactions with the doctor and pharmacist.

Will your parent be able to drive after the procedure? If not, you or someone else will have to drive them to their follow-up appointments.

Also, discuss insurance and finances with your parent. You need to know if they have any concerns about medical bills and charges, as this can impact both stress and recovery.

This is also a good time to bring up living wills and powers of attorney. While the majority of operations are successful, every adult should have their wishes on file in a will.

Understand What to Expect

Many patients spring back from surgery as soon as they start to physically heal, but it’s wise to expect some issues to pop up.

Medical interventions can be complicated. Your mom or dad may just not feel well. The procedure may have made them very aware of their aging body. Stitches might be irritating. They may have difficulty sleeping. Being in unfamiliar surroundings may be stressful. If the procedure requires dietary restrictions, they may feel frustrated — especially if they aren’t allowed to have their favorite foods.

Deal with issues as they come up. Be compassionate to your parent and show you care about them.

  • Acknowledge their feelings and frustrations.
  • Use humor if appropriate.
  • Emphasize incremental recovery.
  • Discuss the future optimistically.
  • Prepare the best meals you can within the indicated dietary requirements and eat the meal with your parent.

If they are having trouble sleeping, could a television, radio or computer provide entertainment late at night? Could the two of you play cards or another favorite game? If the unfamiliar environment is an irritant, could their space be enlivened with favorite pillows or decorations?

One good method to reduce stress for both you and your parent is to set up an online social network. Many older people adapt very well to social media once they see its benefits. Many social media sites like Facebook have groups for people who have particular conditions, such as joint replacements or diabetes. It can be helpful to read those stories.

There are social media sites for temporary caregivers as well. Set yourself up on one of these sites to obtain advice and support.

Temporarily providing care for your mom, dad or another relative can be a time to bond and show your love. But it can also be a challenging time. Prepare your home, your parent and yourself for the caregiving period and know what to expect, both physically and psychologically.

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The Most Important Things You Need To Understand About Your Parents’ Medicare Coverage

The Most Important Things You Need To Understand About Your Parents’ Medicare Coverage

Navigating the ins and outs of the world of insurance can be a difficult task no matter how old you are. The laws are constantly in flux, and talking to an insurance agent can leave you wanting to toss your phone in the trash. When you’re caring for a family member, it can get even more complicated. To help make the navigation easier, here are a few of the most important things you need to understand about your parents’ or family member’s Medicare coverage.

Medicare Comes in Parts

You’ve probably heard commercials talking about Medicare Part D. What does that mean, and what happened to parts A, B and C?

Part A covers hospital visits and any care related to those visits. Most retirees qualify for this automatically.

You have to sign up for Part B, which covers physician’s visits. The premium for this is automatically deducted from Social Security payments.

Part D, the one you’ve probably heard the most about, covers prescription drug costs.

Part C, though it isn’t officially called Part C, is designed to cover the gaps between the other three parts of Medicare. It’s most commonly called Medicare Advantage, but you can’t always sign up for Advantage while you’re signed up for the other three parts of Medicare.

Confusing, isn’t it?

Thankfully, the federal government has set up an online plan chooser to help you pick the best plan for yourself or your loved one. If you’re still confused, you’re not alone and you’re in luck — each state has set up a state health insurance program (SHIP), which puts you in touch with a live person to help you navigate all the various parts of Medicare.

Ask for Itemized Bills

Even with all the coverage Medicare provides, you will likely find yourself looking at bills from hospitals, doctors’ offices or labs that weren’t covered by Medicare. While this is to be expected, it’s important to go over each of these bills with a fine-toothed comb.

Make sure each bill you receive, whether it is one that needs to be paid by you or one that was paid by Medicare, is actually for a service you received. Most of the time it will be correct, but transcription errors can lead to you receiving incorrect bills.

If you think something is wrong, or you’ve received a bill for a service that was never rendered, ask for an itemized bill. This will make the hospital go back over their records. If a mistake was made, chances are you’ll never hear anything about the bill again.

Keep Your Paperwork Organized

Most of the time you spend when dealing with Medicare will be keeping track of appointments and paperwork. Not only will it help you find errors that require the request of an itemized bill, it will also help if you’re dealing with multiple doctors.

It can be hard, if not impossible, to get some doctors to read a patient’s chart. You might find yourself paying for repeats of tests or procedures that may or may not be necessary. If you think a test has already been done or a procedure has already proven ineffective, speak up. Bring the paperwork to back you up.

Ask Questions

Asking questions is your very best friend when it comes to Medicare. Whether you’re talking to a SHIP representative while you’re picking your parent’s plan, or a doctor or nurse, ask questions and take notes. A few questions you should always have in your arsenal include:

  • Is this procedure covered by my parents’ insurance? If not, is there a similar alternative that is covered?
  • What are the options available for psychological treatment covered by Medicare? This is an essential question if you receive an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. While there are a number of resources available, they are not all covered by Medicare.
  • Have you read the patient’s chart? It’s not a rude question, even if it might sound that way. A chart is a wealth of information that is far too often overlooked.
  • What is covered when it comes to preventive care? Preventive care can be a great way to, as its name suggests, prevent problems in the future. Knowing what is covered can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Keep your questions in a notebook or a memo file on your phone and if you think of new ones, add them in as well!

Even people who have spent their entire life studying the ins and outs of Medicare often find themselves puzzled when a new law or piece of legislation hits the books. If you’re taking your first steps into the world of insurance, be prepared to be confused. Just know you’re doing the best you can and there are tools and people out there to help you through the most confusing parts.

Image by Cathal Mac an Bheatha

Why you shouldn’t rule out medical marijuana just yet

Why you shouldn’t rule out medical marijuana just yet

One of the hardest jobs in the world is being a caregiver to a terminally ill loved one. You want to take away their pain and bring joy back into their bodies, but many times are unable to do so.

When modern medicine can no longer treat patients with late stage diseases — such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, cachexia, AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis to name a few — professionals often suggest hospice to the family.

Though somewhat controversial, there is a homeopathic medicine that can help your loved one by reducing their anxiety, increasing their appetite, lessening nausea and vomiting and lowering their pain levels: medical cannabis.

Your body already produces its own cannabinoid chemicals, but an increase in these chemicals can bring your loved one several much-needed benefits.

A State-Specific Alternative Medication

The cannabinoid chemicals found in the human body help to regulate your appetite, pain, memory, thinking, concentration, body movement and the five senses. Marijuana’s main ingredient is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The plant also consists of more than 100 other cannabinoid chemicals.

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is another cannabinoid chemical researchers are growing and testing to treat specific conditions, such as childhood epilepsy. The CBD oil does not promote an intoxicating effect, which decreases the likelihood of abuse.

Of course, you should check your state’s laws before seeking medicinal marijuana as an alternative medication. It may be the option that helps to prolong your loved one’s life while managing symptoms, but if your state doesn’t allow it, using cannabis as treatment would be illegal. However, states like Florida, where medical marijuana is legal, often have online eligibility surveys that you can fill out to determine if your loved one’s condition qualifies.

As many as 28 states have legalized medicinal marijuana with possession limits. Even CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta now advocates for the usage of medicinal marijuana, citing that the treatment does not increase likelihood for addiction and abuse. The incidence of developing dependence can happen in up to 10 percent of patients, which is a lower percentage compared to cocaine (20 percent) and heroin (25 percent).

There are also FDA-approved THC medications that reduce pain and inflammation as well as manage muscle control issues. CBD oil does not affect the mind and helps to decrease pain and inflammation. CBD may help patients with mental illnesses and addictions.

How Can It Help?

One of the studies conducted on cannabis extracts shows a positive outlook for the homeopathic treatment to kill certain cancer cells in animals while reducing the size of other cancer cells. There are ongoing preclinical and clinical studies to test marijuana’s extracts for its ability to treat diseases and conditions.

Currently, there are two marijuana medications approved by the FDA: dronabinol and nabilone. Both medications help to increase appetite and treat nausea. If you caring for a loved one who cannot hold down food due to their condition or its treatment, dronabinol and nabilone may help.

Sometimes the medication typically prescribed to boost appetite in terminally ill patients causes dangerous side effects, complicating treatment further. If your loved one is suffering from malnutrition and unable to take prescribed medication due to side effects like blood clots, medicinal marijuana may be the only humane option available.

Using Medicinal Marijuana to Manage a Condition

As a caregiver, you may feel helpless watching your loved one’s pain increasing while you’re unable to increase their pain medication. Increasing narcotics to control the pain can also be dangerous and result in overdosing. Medicinal marijuana is safer in this aspect.

If you live in a state where access to medical cannabis is legal, why not see if it helps?

Have you cared for someone who used medical cannabis to treat an ailment? What was the experience like? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Simple Ways Technology Can Help Caregivers

Simple Ways Technology Can Help Caregivers

Caregivers of the world: help is closer and more affordable than you might think. Despite daily technological innovations, it’s still easy to picture technology as a pricy luxury that only top hospitals or millionaires can afford to employ. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. There are countless technological aids readily available to help you help your charge.

Ready for a crash course? Here are 7 simple ways technology can help you with caregiving:

1. Provide Connections

While social media certainly has its pitfalls, no one can deny that it’s a useful way to keep in touch with loved ones. You name a photo-sharing, video-sharing or communication enabling media, and it has likely helped someone, somewhere, gain positive social interaction with distant loved ones.

Understandably, not everyone may want or need their own social media accounts, social media makes it easier for caretakers to share videos and photo albums to help their charge feel and stay connected. When it comes to video chatting, Skype remains a perennial favorite. It’s simple to use and isn’t android or iPhone specific.

2. Promote Mental Exercise

There really is an app for everything, including apps specifically designed to help improve memory and other cognitive skills. Some apps are broad in their mental fitness goals, while others are tailored to specific needs, like apps that help autistic children and adults learn to read facial cues. You can also simply install apps for favorites like Sudoku, crossword puzzles or Scrabble equivalents for more familiar mental fun.

3. Promote Physical Exercise

Many factors can limit physical exercise or provide motivational setbacks. Anything from transportation setbacks to anxiety over new situations can make going to the gym or joining a rec team a seemingly impossible task.

Assisted living facilities and in-home caregivers alike can use a variety of emerging technology to encourage and facilitate exercise. For example, nursing homes have experimented — with positive results — by combining virtual reality with stationary equipment as a way to make stationary exercise more exciting and engaging.

On a far more accessible level, a simple and mainstream device like a Wii can provide safe, fun exercise through Wii Fit programs.

4. Manage Medical Information

Whether you’re a concerned child, parent or a professional facility, it’s important to store and track a patient’s information in one central location. Professional facilities, in keeping with the times, utilize electronic medical records and scheduling systems to keep all employees up-to-date on patient care.

For example, caregivers who work at long-term care facilities might have access to information dashboards that streamline everything from appointments to billing to prescription tracking.

Personal caregivers, like friends and family members, can use a variety of apps and tools designed to help track information related to a dependent’s medical care. These tools can range from providing reminders to take or refill medicine to acting as a one-stop hub for all important medical information.

5. Navigate Impairments

Whether it’s hearing, visual, speech or other impairments, there’s a good chance some innovative techie is working hard to come up with an app or tool to help make life a little easier. There are already plenty of apps designed to help people with physical or mental disabilities better navigate the world. Some of these innovations include speech-to-text apps to help the hearing impaired enjoy phone calls or help the less dexterous send emails without typing. There are apps to magnify text for visually impaired or amplify conversations for the hearing impaired.

6. Ensure Safety

It can be difficult to balance safety with independence. Take elder care, for example. You want an aging relative to enjoy the emotional benefits of staying in their home as long as possible, but you don’t want to worry about them falling and injuring themselves or leaving home and getting lost.

Plenty of emerging tech helps caregivers navigate that tricky relationship between safety and independence. Solutions range from:

  • GPS tracking accessories for Alzheimer’s patients
  • Apps that alert caregivers if there hasn’t been movement for a significant period
  • PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems) that lets users call for help with the push of a button

7. Provide Support

Being a caregiver is never easy. Even on the best days, there are worries and setbacks, fears and questions. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, support is only a click away. It can be difficult to find a local support group for your specific situation, but the Internet is home to thousands of blogs, message board and support sites that connect people with shared life situations, no matter the physical distance. Not only do these sites provide emotional support, they also enable users to share research helpful information.

Keep an eye out on the app store, run a Google search or talk with a doctor to learn more about the technology available to help serve your loved one’s specific needs.

Image by Freestocks.org

Science Update: 3 Research Breakthroughs Worth Knowing

Science Update: 3 Research Breakthroughs Worth Knowing

Medical and scientific breakthroughs happen every single day, but some of the most recent breakthroughs have shown great promise in the way we approach medical treatment for a variety of ailments and illnesses.

Here are the three most amazing research breakthroughs you should know about right now:

Scientists Discover Common Cause of Neurodegenerative Disease

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s have been a mystery scientists have been trying to solve, and it appears that recently, they may have reached a breakthrough. The ‘brain cell executioner,’ as its being called, is the protein that delivers the final blow that destroys a brain cell’s DNA. By finding this mysterious protein, scientists can begin the work toward finding a drug or treatment to slow or even stop the damage that it does to the cells in the brain.

People suffering from neurodegenerative diseases aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from this breakthrough. The same proteins have been found to cause brain injury and stroke as well. The research being done by Johns Hopkins University has also found that this protein has ties to Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease as well. If testing techniques are perfected that allow doctors to test for the presence of this protein, it could be possible to predict, with varying degrees of accuracy, whether a person will develop a neurodegenerative disease, or whether they are at risk for brain injury or stroke.

Discovery of a Drug That Prevents Mesothelioma Growth

A new investigational drug is showing promise in the treatment of human Mesothelioma tumors in mice. The drug prevents tumors from growing by pulling a molecule that the tumors use during their growth stage and keeping it away from the rest of the cells.

This particular molecule, known as fibroblast growth factor or FGF, is vital to both the initial growth of the tumor and to the maintenance of the growth in the later stages of life. The drug has also shown some effectiveness in preventing the growth of other tumors caused by other forms of cancer as well, specifically those caused by lung cancer and the cancer of the endometrial tissues.

An investigational drug takes a long time to make it from the testing phase to where it is able to be marketed and sold to the public. Right now, the researchers are recruiting human trial subjects who have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Once this Phase 1 trial is complete, further trials will be conducted to determine the drug’s efficacy and safety, as well as any potential side effects.

Brain Implants to Allow Amputees to Move Prosthetic Limbs

Prosthetics for amputees usually consist of basic replacement limbs that rely on elastics and other motion assistance devices to grip, bend or manipulate items. A new breakthrough in neural implants has changed the way prosthetics are controlled. In theory, these implants could allow paralyzed individuals or amputees to walk again by controlling an exoskeleton with an implant placed in the brain.

Most recently, a paralyzed 28-year-old man was able to not only manipulate prosthetic limbs, but also feel the objects he was touching through those limbs.

These implants could provide a new lease on life for people who are either paralyzed or who have had one or more limbs amputated. If the implants prove successful, they could potentially offer these individuals the chance of an independent life that they would not be able to obtain otherwise.

Scientific advances like these are changing the way we look at treatment options and protocols. These advances here are a small piece of a very large puzzle, but they are amazingly hopeful pieces that will show us how to figure out a few more. It will be interesting to see where the next few years take us in terms of medical research and advancement.

Image by Negative Space

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until ‘Something Happens’ to Find a Caregiver

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until ‘Something Happens’ to Find a Caregiver

Looking into future care options for an elderly loved one is often approached from a negative perspective. However, planning for future care needs can be a surprisingly reassuring process. It’s something to be taken positively, as a safety net that you can put in place in the event that something was to happen. The key is to educate yourself and your loved one before that time comes.

While it might be a just-in-case scenario, finding a caregiver or caregiving community for your loved one shouldn’t be brushed aside. All too often, family members or older adults themselves hang back from exploring options in senior care, but this process is better investigated sooner rather than later.

The ideal time to explore these options is when your loved one is healthy. They shouldn’t take place after something concerning has happened.

Plan Just Like You’ve Planned for Other Life Events

Most people plan ahead for major life events, and the reason is simple: these events require planning to go well!

Oliver Hazan, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the continuing care retirement community Cross Keys Village, points out that arranging care for loved ones before something alarming happens has benefits that go beyond even peace of mind:

“The services and the lifestyle that are available in a good retirement community can actually slow down the effects of aging on most residents. Proper nutrition, regular and enjoyable physical exercise, and stimulating social interaction will – so to speak – turn back the average senior’s odometer.”

Furthermore, Hazan says that families who wait until care is needed may unfortunately have fewer options:

“Many communities have a one-year or longer waiting period before the perfect apartment or cottage becomes available, and most villages also have a medical qualification process, requiring your doctor to sign off and vouch for a degree of wellbeing before you are approved to move into an apartment or a cottage. (This is for your protection, as no reputable village would knowingly set residents up to fail in their new surroundings due to mobility or memory impairment).”

Senior care, and the care for any loved one, is too important to be left to the last minute. No matter what form of care you’re looking at, be sure to ask questions and find out the parameters thoroughly before you need them.

Explore Options at Your Leisure

Because of the multiple options available in seeking care for your loved one, the more time one has to read about them and think through them, the better. Are you thinking of hiring an at-home caregiver several times a week? Full-time? Considering a CCRC?

Call around to find out which caregiving style or organizations meet the criteria. Then, it’s a good idea to meet with caregivers or their agencies, visit CCRCs and other care options and ask questions. Ask for brochures on their services and activities.

“Gathering information about senior living should a joyous occasion, full of anticipation,” says Hazan. “It ought to be done leisurely, over months if not years. Doing it in a rush, while stressed and possibly sleep-deprived after ‘something happens’ is not something I would wish on my parents or anyone else’s.”

Move From Worry to Enjoyment

Seeing the benefits of planned future care can make all the difference in your loved one’s life. The pleasures of an improved or new environment, combined with freedom from worry, can itself make an older adult feel more relaxed and able to focus on life’s small enjoyments.

Why wait for something bad to happen when you actionably plan for a better future?

Image by Jake Thacker

How involved is too involved when a client passes?

How involved is too involved when a client passes?

As a professional caregiver, you’re well aware that death is inevitable. While you’ve probably had specific training on the steps to take when a client passes away while under your care, many instructors fail to address the crucial interaction you may face with your patient’s family after the fact. This brings up an important question: How involved is too involved when a client passes?

While many of the following suggestions depend on both the length of time the client was in your care and the relationship you built with the patient and their family members, this will give you some ideas for showing your respect after your client departs this world.

Mail a Sympathy Card

Sending a sympathy card is always a safe recourse, even if you’ve had minimal contact with the client’s family. A card will always be appreciated and will let the family members know their loved one was more than a job to those involved in their final days.

Send Flowers

If you spent an extended period of time with your patient, you might consider sending flowers to the wake, or making a donation instead if it was specifically requested. If you have one or more colleagues who also attended the client, it is perfectly acceptable to send one arrangement from all who were personally involved.

Attend the Service

It’s not at all unusual for caregivers and physicians to attend the funeral of a beloved patient. According to Professor Bruce Arroll at the National Institutes of Health, a professional’s attendance at the funeral “may help the relative over the shock and the initial grief and prepare them for gradual acceptance.”

Sometimes a caregiver spends months or years taking care of a client and becomes accepted as an extra family member. If this is the situation you’re facing, you should understand you’re most likely going through the grief process yourself. It’s not unprofessional to offer more than the minimal in this case, so here are a few ideas if you feel you should go the extra mile when a beloved client has passed away.

Order Funeral Cards

If you know the family is on a tight budget, you might consider making a contribution to the funeral itself. This doesn’t have to be anything major. You could pay for something small like funeral prints, photo books or prayer cards as a thoughtful way to show how much the client will be missed by you, as well as the family.

Pick up Meds

Often the devil is in the details, and something as simple as offering to pick up the client’s medications and delivering them for proper disposal will seem like a monumental chore to a grieving family. A caveat here: If you offer to do this, make sure you leave a detailed inventory of the medications before you take on this responsibility.

Return Equipment

Many times a patient has special needs during their final months or days and family members are unaware of the protocol involved in returning equipment that has been leased or borrowed. Oxygen tanks and wheelchairs are typical in this category, and you can volunteer to return them or notify the supplier for pickup. Unused supplies such as bandages can often be donated to an organization which helps the uninsured.

Bring a Meal

Bringing food is the universal sign of friendship and comfort, so don’t worry about falling back on an old standard. A casserole or other foodstuff which can be easily reheated will always be appreciated, especially if the immediate family is faced with a deluge of visitors from out of town.

Call a Week Later

If you feel like a part of the family, don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Often the survivors feel lost once the wake and funeral is over and the reality of their loss begins to set in. Calling or visiting will remind them that their loved one was more than just another patient to you, so don’t be afraid to talk about your client who has passed. Reminiscing about a fond memory may be the key they need to process their loss and begin the next stage of life without their loved one.

As you go through the process of comforting your client’s survivors, keep in mind that caregiving is a stressful occupation. Regardless of your professional attitude, you may also be suffering from the loss of a beloved client. Remember the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Take some time for your own emotions to process the loss, so you don’t end up suffering from occupational burnout.

Is it time to consider assisted living?

Is it time to consider assisted living?

Caring for an elderly client or loved one is a rewarding yet challenging situation.

Knowing when it is time to move an individual from her present home environment to a living environment that offers them more assistance is an emotional decision. You worry about whether or not you can find a trusted source of care and whether or not your client or loved one will adapt well to the new living situation.

There are several signs that occur in your client or loved ones’ life that may indicate a needed change in his living situation.

As individual’s age, if one or more of their activities requires a high level of assistance, a living arrangement change may be in order. Here are other signs to look for that may also prompt a living arrangement change.

Behavioral Signs

Behavior changes as one ages. The behavioral signs to look for when considering a living situation change include wandering, sundowning and aggression. In the later stages of dementia, wandering outside or in areas of the home that pose risks can occur more frequently. Sundowning is when agitated behavior becomes more prominent later in day, which is also indicative of dementia. Aggression is another behavior issue that may occur in older adults that is cause for some concern. If you notice any of these behavioral signs it may be time to make a shift to an assisted living facility.

Physical Signs

Physical deterioration that requires a higher degree of monitoring than you have the capacity to deliver is another sign that it may be time to enter assisted living. Finding out whether or not your loved one or client can still bathe themselves, groom adequately and cook are all signs of continued physical functioning. In addition, if you loved one is hiding bruises because they are falling, this may be a sign that further support is in order.

Social Signs

Sometimes when a loved one ages and they can no longer drive, and if their spouse has passed away, they can experience a high degree of social isolation. This loneliness can include withdrawal from friends and activities that this elderly individual used to enjoy. This is another sign that your client or loved one may benefit from the living environment offered in an assisted living facility.

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver stress can be another reason that may prompt a caregiver to seek help from an assisted living arrangement. The demands of caregiving can put a huge amount of stress on loved ones or professional caregivers.

The long-term damage that can be caused due to this stress can cause problems for both the caregiver and the elderly adult. Finding the right arrangement can serve as an appropriate solution to reducing this stress for all parties involved.

Searching for the Right Place

After evaluating whether your loved one should enter an assisted living facility and determining this is the right choice, there are several things you should consider in regard to assisted living facility choice. You should think about your loved one’s future needs, their financial stability and the financial stability of the facility that you are considering. You should also look at the licensure of the facility, whether or not there is a waiting list and what provisions are included in the assisted living contract.

A great place to start is by talking to residents and getting referrals from others you know who may have placed their loved one in assisted living. There are facilities directories that can help you locate an appropriate facility. You can even search the Internet and find out-of-this world facilities like Ventana, which provides everything from recreational activities like movies and a salon and spa to on-site rehabilitation and a wellness center.

Making the decision to move to assisted living is a difficult choice for both the caregiver and elderly adult.

Finding the right place for your loved one or client can require research and investigation. Once you feel confident in your choice, you will feel a sense of relief that you’re helping to provide the right situation and right care for your client or loved one.

Dealing with emergencies: What at-home caregivers need to know

Dealing with emergencies: What at-home caregivers need to know

If you’re the primary caretaker for a senior citizen, you probably already know an emergency situation can develop in minutes. No matter how great your care is, it’s a fact of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three seniors suffers from a fall each year, and it’s the leading cause of both nonfatal and fatal injuries involving seniors. Adding the risks associated with Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments associated with the elderly makes it likely you’ll be involved in one or more emergency situations during your caregiving role.

While nothing can take away the emotional trauma when you’re facing an emergency situation, there are proactive steps you can take to make dealing with a medical emergency run as smoothly as possible.

Be Prepared

The most important thing you can do is to be prepared for an emergency, so your reaction isn’t one of panic. Make a list of important facts about your elderly patient; keep it updated and in a handy place, and keep a second copy in your vehicle. The list should include the following information:

  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Insurance information
  • Medications and dosages
  • Doctors, dates of last visit and results of all tests
  • Medical conditions
  • A brief medical history
  • Health Care Proxy and resuscitation wishes

Some people keep track of this information for all of their family members in an app, such as Prime. Others use an old-fashioned piece of paper.

Stay in Touch

Keep a current list of phone numbers so you can contact anyone who needs to be informed of the situation. While this list may vary, it should include family members, physicians and others involved in the care of your elderly patient. Don’t rely solely on your phone to store the numbers; keep a copy in your wallet, at your home and in your vehicle in case someone else is enlisted to help make the calls.

Contact Your Local EMS

Call your local EMS so they have your address and situation on file. In today’s computerized world, many EMS teams use CAD analytics to monitor response situations, and knowing your location in advance may help them make a faster emergency run. This will also ensure your senior is taken to your hospital of choice when an emergency occurs.

Learn First Aid

If you’re not trained in first aid and CPR, take a class on each. Assemble a first-aid kit so you’re prepared for an emergency that might not require immediate hospitalization, such as minor cuts and scrapes from a fall. By keeping the material in a handy box or bag, you’ll save time by not having to dig through the medicine cabinet or cupboards to find what you need. If you travel often with your senior, make a smaller kit to keep in your vehicle.

Pack Your Bags

It’s a good idea to keep an overnight bag packed with a two- or three-day supply of things your senior might need during a hospital stay. Nightclothes, incontinence products and extra medications should be included. Add anything such as books, snacks and favorite items which might help your elder retain their daily routine.

While you’re at it, pack a bag for yourself in case you end up staying at the hospital for an extended period of time. Spare outfits, daily hygiene products, and any medications or supplements you take on a regular basis should be packed; add some drinks, snacks and books so you’re prepared for a few days away from home.

Remember Your Own Health

Taking care of a senior citizen can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. In order to stay strong for your elderly patient, you can’t ignore your own needs without suffering the consequences. Arrange for someone else to take your place now and then, even if it’s only for a few hours. Soak in a hot tub, have your hair and nails done, and get exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block.

Contact your state or local council on aging, and find resources available in your area to help you cope with the trials of long-term care.

Being prepared for an emergency situation will give both you and your elderly patient the peace of mind you need.

Dangerous medications you need to know about

Dangerous medications you need to know about

If you’re the primary caregiver for a senior, you know medications play a big part in the daily routine of most elderly people. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a startling statistic: Although those over 65 comprise about 13% of the population, they are responsible for more than 1/3 of the total outpatient spending on prescription drugs.

What does this mean to the caregiver of a senior citizen? It means you need to stay informed of the medications your patient is prescribed, and you must take extra vigilance to avoid potential health problems from dangerous medications. While this may sound simple, there’s more to look for than a skull-and-crossbones warning label on the prescriptions your elderly patient or family member is taking.

Here are a few key points to use as a cross reference when discussing medications with your senior, their primary care physician and their pharmacist:

Drug Side Effects

While reading the side effects warning on each drug label may seem obvious, some side effects may mimic or escalate the symptoms of another ailment. For example, many seniors take statins to regulate their cholesterol. One side effect of statins is memory loss or confusion, and can be confused with symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Likewise, a patient with edema may be taking diuretics which could put them at risk of depleted sodium levels, which can also cause confusion and disorientation.

Drug Interactions

As the medications multiply, so does the danger of an adverse interaction between them. Certain antidepressants should not be taken with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because both can cause stomach bleeding. Likewise, opioid-derived painkillers should not be combined with antianxiety medication because the combination can cause depression, lower breathing rate and lower heart rate, an often lethal combination.

Drug Abuse

As a primary caregiver, you should closely monitor your senior’s drug usage for signs of drug abuse. Prescriptions running out too soon, erratic dosing schedules and the senior fixating on the medication are all signs of possible drug abuse. Many prescription drugs can be addictive, and a treatment program may be necessary for an elderly person to escape addiction. Drugs commonly causing addiction in seniors include opioids containing oxycodone or hydrocodone as well as benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax).

Incorrect Dosage

Depending on the medication, too little can be as dangerous as too much. Correct dosage of each prescription is vital for the medication to work as prescribed, as is obvious for diabetics and heart patients. Make sure the primary physician is starting each medication at an appropriately low level; for the elderly it’s often recommended they begin certain drugs with one-third to one-half of the usual dosage. On the other hand, conditions such as hypertension and pulmonary disorders may require higher dosages as their disease progresses. Proper monitoring of blood levels and effectiveness should be done on a regular basis to reduce the risk of underdosing.

Keeping Track

Although it may seem impossible to keep track of all the aspects of dangerous medication, the key is in organization. Start a journal of your daily caretaking in a three-subject notebook, with a section dedicated to each of the following points:

  • Daily medication times and dosages, with notations on any change in medication and dosage.
  • Daily notation of all symptoms, both old and new. It’s especially important to keep track of any change in severity of a symptom, especially if your senior is prone to memory loss or weakness. By gauging the severity each day you’ll be able to see gradual changes, both good and bad.
  • An up-to-date list of all medications your elderly patient is taking. Include the condition they’re taking it for, the prescribing physician and their contact number. That way, you can easily consult with either a physician or your pharmacist so you know what to watch for where medicines are concerned.

By starting a daily log of dosages and side effects, you may be able to prevent a crisis caused by too much of a good thing.

7 ways to recover when you’re mentally exhausted

7 ways to recover when you’re mentally exhausted

Anyone who’s ever undertaken a huge project, such as completing their finals or taking on an important client project at work, will tell you that it can be mentally exhausting. Once the task is complete, it can feel as if you’re totally emotionally drained, with no energy left to interact with others or even do anything.

If this state of affairs is left unchecked, other problems can quickly come about in the mentally exhausted person’s work, family and social life. Luckily though, there are ways to recover when you’re mentally exhausted, and ways to avoid the situation in the first place.

1. Unplug

Chances are you spend all day replying to emails, checking Facebook and texting people. Technology is a fantastic tool, but when you’re emotionally drained it’s just one more thing that’s demanding mental energy you just do not have.

Want to read the next 6 tips to refresh? Click to read it on Productivity Theory.

Wishes, hope, and joy: One 17 year old’s birthday wish

Wishes, hope, and joy: One 17 year old’s birthday wish

Can you remember how you spent your 17th birthday? Maybe a family party at your house or a movie with friends?

For Kodi from Battlefield, MO, his 17th birthday marked a different milestone, one which would shape his life, impact his family and ultimately make him a stronger person: he was diagnosed with T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma is a highly malignant and rare type of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As caregivers know, a diagnosis like this propels a family into the unknown: what will the treatments be? How long will we be fighting? What will our lives look like in the comings months and years?

Kodi’s medical team recommended that treatment begin immediately at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. In fact, his first chemotherapy treatments had to be conducted under anesthesia in an operating room because the large mass in his chest was restricting his airways.

Fast forward through six months of weekly chemotherapy and two years of additional monthly treatments and Kodi now has a 90% chance of a complete cure. Way to go, Kodi!

In the midst of his treatment, Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted CJ Pony Parts in Harrisburg, PA. Make-A-Wish makes dreams come true for children and young adults battling a life-threatening illness.  According to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, nearly 27,000 children receive life-threatening diagnoses every year, and they granted wishes to over half of those children. Wishes vary in size and scope, from achieving a dream to living the day as a marine to even meeting a unicorn in a rainforest.

The goal of the Make-A-Wish foundation is to eventually grant every wish for every eligible child. Granting these wishes is about more than checking off an item on a bucket list. As we caregivers know, joyful life experiences give patients renewed energy and hope to fight their illness and overcome obstacles. They can bond and strengthen families who have been ravaged by the stress of disease. Helping kids with life-threatening illnesses fulfill their wishes is good health care.

Make-A-Wish reached out to CJ Pony Parts to help with making Kodi’s dream come true.

Kodi asked that his 1970 Mach 1 Mustang be restored to its original beauty and speed. The eight-month repair and rebuilding process included replacing the body and sheet metal, interior, weather stripping and many other parts and repairs.

The Mustang Mach 1 was first introduced in 1969 and was built through 1978. It boasts a two-door “sportsroof” or “fastback” body style. The iconic car was featured in Hot Rod magazine and set speed records. The Mach 1 was reintroduced in limited release in 2003-2004. Simply put, it’s an awesome, classic car.

In the spring of 2015, Kodi was given the keys to his rebuilt, shiny blue 1970 Mach 1 Mustang in front of a crowd of well-wishers and supporters at his hometown fire hall. The happiness and joy is nearly palpable in photos from the day.

As a caregiver, you probably aren’t able to restore a classic muscle car to its original speed and beauty. But you can grant small, everyday wishes and provide joyful experiences to the loved ones in your care.

How do you try to make a difference in their lives each day? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

4 medical breakthroughs that are changing healthcare

4 medical breakthroughs that are changing healthcare

Medicine is an exciting field where new innovations occur every day. Some of these are bringing us one step closer to curing cancer, while others are making medical imaging easier. Many of these aren’t so new after all, and through research and adjustments, scientists have used familiar materials and treatments in different and more effective ways.

Here are some of the latest breakthroughs that are improving care for the ill or disabled.

Silicone Microspheres

Tiny microspheres the size of a red blood cell are now being used for targeted drug delivery to tissues and as, when dyed, as contrast agents for medical imaging. Silicone rubber is versatile, waterproof, and heat-resistant, making it the perfect substance for microspheres.

The trouble is that microscopic spheres out of silicone are not easy to make. Now, though, researchers have figured out a way to make stable spheres by using mists of ultrafine silicone droplets. They’re finally able to start using this technology for what used to be only speculative procedures, opening the door to better treatment options for a variety of illnesses and procedures.


New research shows that a genetically modified strain of herpes can kill cancer cells and prevent tumor growth. This technique can be targeted against cancer cells, which keeps healthy cells out of harm’s way. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, can kill non-cancerous cells and weaken patients’ immune systems.

Virotheraphy may also be used against cancers that have already spread to other organs, so the diagnosis of a metastatic cancer may not be quite as bleak as it once was. One in four patients who participated in the case study responded to treatment, but none had any other treatment options available to them due to the nature of their cancer. Even though the numbers seem small at first, they show a significant advancement in the treatment of otherwise inoperable cancers.

Drug Combos for Cancer

A study that claims terminally ill cancer patients can be cured of the disease with a certain combination of drugs showed a dramatic decrease in tumor size among over half of its patients in the course of a year.

The treatment uses the body’s immune system to fight off cancerous cells and allows it to recognize and attack tumors that it previously couldn’t detect. These drugs could replace chemotherapy in about five years if accepted. The treatment’s side effects are relatively minimal, though during the study it cost over $100,000 per year per patient.

New Treatment for HIV

For decades, it has been difficult to determine the best time to start administering retrovirals to HIV patients because of their tendency to have severe and sometimes toxic side effects. A new study shows that treatment is more effective when given at the time of diagnosis than when white blood cell counts begin to get low.

In fact, the treatment is so effective that they halted the study a year early and felt ethically obligated to give everyone in the trial access to the same treatment rather than continue with a control group. This could lead to new recommendations about treatment of patients with HIV over time, giving them access to medication earlier than previously considered safe.

The medical field is constantly changing, and innovative breakthroughs are made every day. While some fizzle out after more research, there are several that have proven promising in everything from cancer to HIV treatment to basic medical imaging techniques. These are often just reimagined uses for familiar materials, like silicone, or advances in the way doctors should be administering accepted forms of treatment.

What other kinds of breakthroughs would you like to see in the next few years? Tell us in the comments section below!

5 ways mindful meditation can benefit caregivers

5 ways mindful meditation can benefit caregivers

Although being a caregiver is often rewarding, it’s frequently stressful too. Fortunately, mindful meditation can help ease anxiety and promote well-being so caregivers can do their job without feeling overwhelmed. Keep reading to learn about several specific ways mindful meditation can be worthwhile for caregivers.

It Has a Physical Effect on Stress

Many people report feeling more relaxed after meditating, but a recent study shows mindfulness meditation actually causes physical changes in the body related to lowering stress, too. Participants in a study that aimed to establish a link between mindfulness and production of cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – went on a mindfulness retreat. Data taken afterwards showed that those people whose mindfulness levels increased during the retreat had lower levels of cortisol.

It’s a Healthy Way to Calm Emotions

Being a caregiver can be extremely taxing, both physically and mentally. Sometimes, people use things like food and alcohol to help themselves feel more balanced after emotionally draining days. With practice, mindful meditation can restore that sense of balance too, but in a way that’s not potentially harmful if people overindulge.

For an extra meditation boost during a tough day, you can check out resources like Headspace and Calm.

It Can Help the Person Who Requires Care, Too

Depending on the extent to which a person needs care, it can be very difficult for a caregiver to find activities to do together with him or her. If the individual is elderly and struggling with loneliness, a study has found meditation may reduce loneliness and make gene inflammation less prominent. The latter is thought to contribute to problems like neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disease.

A caregiver can choose to introduce meditation to the person under care once foundational principles are learned, or decide to learn those skills together in a collaborative way. Since mindfulness is something that can be done anywhere at any time, it’s great for people who are bedridden or not able to be very active.

It Can Help Raise Necessary Funds

Sometimes, being a caregiver is expensive, especially if the person who needs assistance requires things like dialysis, special mobility equipment or home modifications. Organizing a fundraising event on mindfulness meditation could provide the financial support needed to pay for someone’s care, thereby reducing burdens on the caregiver.

Beyond fundraising options, meditation workshops, drop-in sessions and retreats are just a few examples of events that could be held to help raise money. Resources like CG’s Community, Front Stream and Mindful can help you connect with others and plan a meditation event.

Practicing Mindfulness Meditation Increases Compassion

A compassionate spirit is an asset to anyone, but especially someone who provides care to others. Studies have shown meditation increases the likelihood people who practice it will show compassion, do good things and act virtuously.

More specifically, scientists found meditators are more motivated to relieve others’ suffering than people who do not meditate. Someone might argue a person who agrees to be a caregiver for a loved one, or does so as a career path, is characteristically particularly compassionate. While that may be true, an increase in compassion is almost certainly a good thing for a person to have if he is always around someone who needs assistance with tasks of daily living.

Although there are many more benefits that could come from adding mindfulness meditation to your schedule, you’ve just learned about some that most readily apply to a caregiving role. Regardless of if you already meditate or have always wanted to try, there’s no better time to make it a part of your everyday routine.

5 ways caregivers can raise money

5 ways caregivers can raise money

Financial needs are one of the biggest sources of stress for caregivers. Professional caregiving services are often underfunded and personal, familial caregivers often find themselves reaching into their own pockets.

Money is a necessary evil to ensure the best care for your charge or loved one. Thankfully, in our increasingly interconnected, technological age, there are a multitude of fundraising opportunities available to help lift your financial strain.

Looking to raise funds for the care of a patient or loved one? Try one of the following:

Organize an Event

The first day of Thin Mint season is a wonderful day, but most people are too easily burnt out with product-based fundraisers. Just how many candles, lollipops, magnets, frozen pizzas and other useless items do people want or need?

Skip the oversaturated, cheap-goods market and offer something that will get people excited, like a local event.

Community events pull double duty, meeting your fundraising needs while also serving and strengthening your community. Host a movie-on-the-lawn, a concert, a barbeque or whatever strikes the interest of your neighborhood. Ask local businesses to donate food or goods (which in turn provides cheap advertising for their brand) and charge for admission.

Use Kid Power

Kids are enthusiastic and – due to their pint-size adorableness – it’s hard to say no to them. It may sound cynical, but adults are more likely to shell out money in support of their child than they are an acquaintance or stranger.

Use this to your advantage. Host a kids’ talent show or mini-carnival and fundraise via cost of admission. Parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family members will show up to support junior and – by extension – your cause.

Try Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

In peer-to-peer fundraising, you’re not limited to the size of your personal network, nor are you forced to go door-to-door to seek donations. Instead, you tap into your network and core base of supporters. You empower them to turn around and fundraise among their peers. Your supporters’ supporters can then tap into their networks and, before you know it, your support base has multiplied itself.

Never heard of peer-to-peer before today? Don’t worry, there are many fundraising resources available to help you get started. One of my favorites is FirstGiving.

Stick to Simple and Social Fundraising

Let’s face it: people can be quite lazy. That’s why it’s in your best interest to make it as easy as possible to a) learn about your need and b) donate.

Trusted crowdfunding sites and textable donations are two of the easiest, most user-friendly options available. Donors do not have to purchase useless junk, travel to a specific location, or complete a pointless task in order to get their money to you.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to harness the communicative powers of social media. Spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram. It’s highly effective as well as free.

Take Advantage of the Holidays

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas marks one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year. More people shop during this time of year, so it’s the best time to get out there and work those crowds.

Gift wrapping services are always needed and pair well with the season. While you can raise money by charging for the wrapping service, make sure you also provide means for people to make larger donations. The end of the tax year also means many individuals are looking to rack up a few more deductions, so make it easy on them.


Caring for a loved one can be difficult, but raising funds for their care doesn’t have to be. Keep your process simple and accessible and you’ll do just fine.

4 heartwarming caregiver stories

4 heartwarming caregiver stories

People often emphasize how it’s hard work to be a caregiver, and can be extremely mentally and physically taxing. That’s true; but it’s important not to forget the positive aspects.

Keep reading to enjoy four stories that’ll make you have a renewed appreciation for your job, whether you do it as a profession or solely out of the goodness of your heart.

healthy homemade soup

A woman becomes the caregiver of her community

A retired woman from New Jersey named Jo Ann lived in a community of people who found it difficult to cook healthy meals for themselves. She felt compelled to do what she could to help, and began making huge batches of hearty soup for several residents, then putting portions into individually sized containers.

That led to many of the residents eventually feeling confident enough to depend on Jo Ann and her husband to help them with basic home maintenance, and even trips to the emergency room.

It just goes to show caregiving can come in many forms, and  from anyone who’s willing can lend a hand.

the hands of a woman with arthritis

Josephine finds a new perspective by caring for her Aunt Vivian

When Josephine’s Aunt Vivian’s arthritis got so severe it was hard for Vivian to manage on her own, Josephine and her husband opened up their home. Josephine stepped into an almost full-time role of caring for her 91-year-old family member. Even though Josephine acknowledges the job is difficult sometimes, she thinks it’s well worth the effort.

Josephine feels rewarded through caregiving, and realizes most things in life that are worth doing are hard. She views her caregiving responsibilities as very worthwhile, and says they have allowed her to get to know her aunt on a deeper level. That was something she didn’t get to do earlier in life, but now she has a chance to fully embrace the opportunity.

When caregiving duties feel draining, it’s so important to find solace in the bright spots and cherish positive perspectives. Josephine has certainly learned that, and it has boosted her attitude during the tough times.

an adorable black lab (okay, so it's Cori's roommate's dog and not the dog in the story, but trust us, he's pretty cute)

A faithful canine helps a girl live an independent lifestyle

Although humans frequently fill caregiving roles, animals sometimes help out too. At least, that’s the case with Kourtney B. and her service dog. Kourtney was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy at age 11, meaning she gets seizures that have no known cause and cannot be controlled with medication.

Kourtney’s mom quit her nursing job to stay home with Kourtney, and researched some ways to help her daughter regain some of the independence that was compromised because of seizures. Eventually she came across an organization that matches people with seizure alert dogs. Soon after making an inquiry, Kourtney was matched with a dog named CorKey II. Kourtney had brain surgeries in an attempt to reduce the seizures, but there is no guaranteed way to stop them.

Fortunately, CorKey II can recognize when seizures are about to happen, and also helps Kourtney manage her anxiety. More importantly, the dog is always by her side, whether through medical appointments or during social outings. That constant presence has helped Kourtney live a safe and independent life, and she now finds herself wondering how she ever lived without her service dog by her side.

This story is a great example of how some animals are not just great companions, but also help keep their owners safe from possible physical harm. They can help them have as much independence as possible.

accepting uncertainty through Buddhist mantras

Doreen learns to calmly accept changes

When Doreen began caring for her 92-year-old mom, she soon got acquainted with uncertainty. Seemingly good days could quickly turn into emergency room visits, and an attempt to walk up a few stairs might end in a fall.

Through those experiences and others, Doreen realized how crucial it is to understand change is inevitable. It was just necessary to be there for her mom in good times and bad. Doreen, a person who studies Buddhism, found comfort in the phrase, “Keep calmly knowing change,” spoken by a monk named Analayo. It has become a daily mantra. Doreen has also gotten accustomed to accepting there are some things she can’t do without help. Sometimes she asks neighbors for assistance, but there are times when aid comes from strangers.

Doreen now knows the only constant thing that can be said about caregiving is it’s in fact quite ever-changing. However, she’s smartly learned how best to cope with that fact, and it’s helped her be able to rise to the challenges of her role.


Hopefully these examples will brighten your day, uplift your spirit, and help you feel reenergized throughout your responsibilities as a caregiver. No matter what, the assistance you give helps people live fuller, more dignified lives.

6 things you need to plan for (but don’t want to)

6 things you need to plan for (but don’t want to)

Caring for a person with a severe or terminal illness can be taxing, to say the least. One of the most difficult, but necessary, things to do is discuss the practical aspects of end-of-life planning before the person in your care actually needs to arrange these services.

The subject is undoubtedly unpleasant for everyone involved. However, the sooner it’s brought up, the more thoroughly these issues can be addressed. It’s much more difficult to think such things through when emotions are high and your thoughts are focused more on family and friends than planning a process or dealing with legal documents.

To save further headache and heartache later, here are a few sensitive topics that should be addressed before the time comes:

1. Distributing assets

Determining how a person’s property should be distributed after he or she has passed can be extremely difficult, especially if there are many family members involved.

The easiest way to minimize complications is to make sure the individual has a will that is current enough to accurately reflect his or her wishes. If an existing will was drafted a decade ago, there’s a good chance things have changed since then. It may be necessary to update accordingly.

Also remember that a person may have designated someone as a benefactor for financial assets a long time ago, but things may have changed. A beneficiary designation sometimes trumps what’s listed in a will, so it’s important for the two to match up to avoid issues with financial assets.

2. Medical means to prolong life

It’s also important to discuss whether a person wants to be kept alive through medical devices, and if so, for how long? You can decide to look at the question in a simpler way. If a person’s heart stops, or he or she cannot breathe independently, should lifesaving measures be attempted?

Answering these questions helps to preserve a person’s dignity and will give you the comfort of knowing that you are following through with that person’s wishes, should such steps need to be taken.

3. Welfare of surviving kids and pets

Make a plan to ensure minor children and pets will be properly cared for following the passing of a parent or guardian. Specifics about surviving kids under the age of 18 should be addressed in a will. Pets are sometimes forgotten due to the stress related to a person’s death, so be sure to make arrangements for them as well.

4. Paying for the funeral

Many people do not realize the actual cost of a funeral. Matters can become more complicated if surviving relatives allow personal emotions such as guilt to impact how much they spend on funeral arrangements.

Fortunately, options like pre-need funeral services eliminate many preventable hassles because the funerals are paid for in advance. This allows the associated individual to have a say in his or her own funeral arrangements, and removes uncertainty that may otherwise plague distraught family members.

5. Addressing end-of-life fears

As a caregiver, don’t underestimate the worth of finding a quiet time to talk with a person who may be nearing the end of his or her life. The individual may be scared about the possibility of dying in a strange place, leaving unfinished projects behind, having final wishes misunderstood or other related causes of stress. Make sure to give him or her an opportunity to raise those concerns in a secure place without feeling rushed.

6. Making decisions if a person is mentally incapable

There may be a time when a person can no longer make spontaneous decisions about his or her well-being, especially in situations of extreme pain, dementia or similar conditions.

A person who is close to the end of life may not be willing to have certain medical treatments performed or may not be in a state of mind to make decisions about such treatments. It’s important for caregivers and family members to have open and honest conversations about such situations. This way, it is determined in advance who has the right to step in and make decisions on a person’s behalf.

It’s true that these tough topics are not easy to bring up, especially when there are many other strong emotions in the equation.  However, by addressing these issues in advance, a person’s surviving relatives will be equipped to carry out his or her final wishes, knowing that they are truly what the person wanted.

Have you ever addressed any of these issues with someone you were caring for? What discussions did the person and family find the most helpful? What additional issues would you recommend addressing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

6 places to find more caregiving opportunities

6 places to find more caregiving opportunities

It’s usually very rewarding to work as a caregiver. However, just like any other profession, there’ll probably be times throughout your career path when you have to look for new jobs or sources of work.

Here are a few smart ideas of places to start or continue your caregiving job search. Even if you have no plans to leave your job for the moment, it’s wise to be aware of resources just in case.


1. Generalized Online Job Databases

Indeed, Snagajob and Monster are just a few of many examples of websites where you can find hundreds or even thousands of open caregiver jobs in one place. Although those kinds of sites are convenient when you’re short on time, keep in mind they’re the first places many jobseekers look for work, meaning you’ll probably have a lot of competition for the available positions.


2. CaregiverList.com

This is a searchable website that specifically targets people who are looking for caregivers, as well as providers of care who are in search of work. One advantage of this website is it gets you in touch with people who are already looking for the kinds of services you provide.


3. Staffing Agencies

Because staffing agencies often get word about open positions before they are posted publicly, it’s a good idea to reach out to some of the establishments in your area, and get your resume on file. Being associated with a staffing agency may also relieve you of some of the burdens that come with job searching. People who need caregivers tend to deal with staffing agencies when they don’t have the time or desire to interview candidates. Once the team at a staffing agency knows you, you’ll be in the database to get notified when potential positions become available.


4. Local Hospitals and Physical Therapy Offices

If you’re ready to consider the idea of working as an independent caregiver rather than being associated with a caregiving company, think about going into nearby hospitals and physical therapy facilities to talk to the staff there about your skills and experience. Bring copies of your resume when visiting places in your community and be prepared to discuss what makes you an excellent option for a person who is recovering from an injury or illness and needs a helping hand.


5. Craigslist Aggregator

People from all kinds of industries often depend on Craigslist to discover job listings in particular areas. Log on to the Craigslist for your area to start your search. You can be even more efficient by using a Craigslist aggregator like SearchTempest. This option works best if you’re willing to relocate or make a longer commute to take a new caregiving job, because an aggregator allows you to search Craigslist sites across multiple cities in seconds. With this site, however, you must be careful, and give each job through once over in case of old listings, or misinformation.


6. Community Centers

Check to see if your hometown has a community center that caters to elderly or disabled people. Those types of facilities are often relied upon by family members who are assuming caregiver roles, but want to give their relatives supervised ways to socialize with peers. There may be a bulletin board on the premises where you can post a flyer advertising caregiving services. Libraries also usually have public bulletin boards where you can spread the word about the specialty assistance you can provide.



Now that you know several ways to look for new caregiving opportunities, it should be easier to feel confident about the search. It’s almost always a good idea to discuss your caregiving skills in person when possible, but online resources can also be very helpful to clue you in to new leads you haven’t previously considered.