Signature Strength: Courage

In the tradition of “positive psychology,” we encourage family caregivers to know and use their signature strengths. These personality traits can become reliable tools. Courage, for example, has many faces beyond bravado and derring-do. See if you recognize yourself in these descriptions.


Honesty and integrity are facets of courage.
Are you a person who insists on living by your values? Do you prize authenticity? Courage is at the root of what it takes to

  • know your limits and take respite breaks when you need to;
  • talk compassionately with a family member about behaviors that are not healthy;
  • ask a sibling to participate more in helping out with Mom or Dad.


Another aspect of courage is the willingness to continue even if the going gets tough. Think about ways you advocate for your parent with the healthcare system. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself calmly handling once-unimaginable tasks in personal care or wound care.


Maintaining focus
Courage also involves feeling several things at once, yet staying focused. A courageous person may feel fear. But they steady themselves with a belief that they can make an impact. The thoughtfully courageous assess situations with eyes wide open. They see the risks. Rather than run, they look for ways to reduce the chance of a negative outcome.


Tempering qualities
The roar of a lion—a blustery manner or righteous indignation—may look like strength. But that type of courage is not usually constructive in family dynamics. Better to remember that lions can be tender too, and they work for the overall good of the pride.

Courage may not be something you think of as your signature strength. This fresh look at the many sides of courage may help you see the daily bravery you exhibit as a family caregiver.


Are there days when you don’t feel like a lion?
We all feel that way from time to time. Usually it’s when there is more to be done than we think we can accomplish. As the Northern Virginia experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Care Management Services can help you look authentically at the situation, and find your courage to take the next step. Give us a call at 703-329-0900.

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season

Did you know that 60% of people with flu symptoms leave the house during their illness? Furthermore, 70% of them go to the drugstore. A good reason to stay clear of the pharmacy during peak cold and flu season!


Good preparation involves a lot more than a vaccine.
Cold and flu germs are highly contagious. If an infected person sneezes, anyone within a 3-foot radius is likely to get exposed. And those flu germs live up to 24 hours on hard surfaces. Not to mention that the sick person unwittingly starts spreading germs as early as three days BEFORE feeling any symptoms and continues to be contagious up to 24 hours after the natural break of a fever.


Tips for yourself and for your loved one

  • Get the flu vaccine. Even if it’s not a perfect match with this year’s influenza virus, it will minimize the intensity of symptoms.
  • Get eight hours of sleep at night. In one study, those who got fewer hours were three times more likely to catch a cold.
  • Wash hands often. Touching hard surfaces (counters, doorknobs, the poles on public transit) is a sure-fire way to bring germs into your body, usually through rubbing your eyes or eating.
  • Frequently clean surfaces at home and work.
  • Shy away from crowded situations.


Avoid the pharmacy by stocking up ahead of time on

  • soups, teas, and other fluids to keep well hydrated;
  • fever reducers: Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin;
  • saline drops or a neti pot to gently flush nasal passages;
  • honey and/or cough drops to soothe the throat;
  • decongestants (to dry up the nose), cough suppressants (for nighttime sleeping), expectorants (for daytime purging of mucus in the lungs). Consult with the doctor beforehand to be sure there are no conflicts with prescribed medicines;
  • lots of tissues. Don’t keep used ones around;
  • humidifiers to ease breathing;
  • wedged pillows to sit (and sleep) more upright.


Are you prepared for getting sick?
Very likely you have many people relying upon you. And as a family member, you don’t readily get a “sick day.” As the Northern Virginia experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Care Management Services see family members work themselves so hard that they frequently succumb during cold and flu season. Let us help relieve the stress ahead of time so you have a chance to dodge the illness. Give us a call at 703-329-0900.

Making the home safer

Most hazards around the home are obvious once you are made aware of them. But they are easily overlooked in the course of day-to-day living. Don’t let your loved one get injured because of a simple oversight! Here’s a home safety audit you can do yourself.


In every room of the house, you want to be sure there is even light from the center and to all corners. Those little objects that cause a stumble frequently hide in the shadows. A common location for a fall is moving at night from the bedroom to the bathroom. Place nightlights along the path to light the way for sleepy eyes and a body in a hurry. Stairs and wet or icy walkways also pose extra dangers for a fall, so be especially sure to keep those areas well lit.


Remove all throw rugs if you can. Or put sticky tape on the underside to pin corners down and keep the rug from slipping. Keep pathways open and tidy. Pick up piles of paper, shoes, boxes, towels and trip hazards. Find alternate paths for cords and wires, or tape them down to the floor.


Be sure to fix uneven or loose stairs. Handrails should be securely fastened to the wall.  The edge of the stairs should be painted a bright color with non-stick tread on the surface. If stairs are carpeted, be sure the carpet is securely nailed down.


Bathrooms are particularly dangerous as they combine hard and often wet and slippery surfaces. Be sure to use rubber-backed non-skid rugs and apply a non-skid mat or decals in the tub or shower floor. Grab bars by the shower and toilet are a must. And a toilet seat riser is a good idea if your loved one is at all unsteady rising up from a chair in the living room.


Would you like a home assessment?
We at Senior Care Management Services can spot a trip hazard the minute we walk into a room. It’s not rocket science, but you may simply be so used to your parent’s house, that you don’t notice. As the Northern Virginia expert in aging well, we can help you identify the fixes needed to spare your loved one the consequences of a fall. Give us a call at 703-329-0900. We know home safety!

Preparing for Hip or Knee Replacement

If your loved one is slated for joint surgery, don’t underestimate the impact.
Expect that he or she will have reduced energy and greater needs. Limited mobility will create surprising challenges. Things you take for granted will need extra care and attention. Plus, the body simply needs time and energy to rebuild bone, muscle, and nerve connections.

There is much you can do ahead of time to help prepare a smooth path for recovery.

Support physical preparation for success

  • Opt for an outpatient procedure if possible. It’s less invasive. Plus, recovery at home reduces the risk of complications.
  • Consult a physical therapist. There may be exercises your loved one can do now to tone key muscles that will be needed after surgery.
  • Support your relative in trimming excess weight and cutting down on alcohol and tobacco. They all impede healing.


Make practical arrangements

  • Plan to provide daily help the first two weeks. The grogginess of pain meds and the difficulties of bathing, dressing, and walking make it unwise for your parent to go solo.
  • No driving! A “chauffer” is needed for 3 to 6 weeks for errands and medical appointments.
  • Stock up on easy-to-reheat meals. High-protein and high-fiber foods are wise—to promote healing and reduce any constipation from pain medicine.
  • Plan to have a trusted friend or family member at the hospital, especially if there are mood or memory problems.


Rearrange the house

  • Create a center of operations on the first floor. Ensure phone, remote, computer, books, meds, and water are all within easy reach.
  • Devise a downstairs bed that is low (feet can touch the floor when sitting on it) and firm.
  • Place a commode at bedside for the first week or so. Really. It makes life MUCH easier!
  • Remove throw rugs—a serious trip hazard—and create wide thoroughfares. Your relative may be clumsy when using crutches or a walker.


Round up assistive devices

  • Put a toilet seat riser in place.
  • Get a bath bench to make showering safe.
  • Buy a grabber for reaching things that have fallen.
  • Purchase sock aids to reduce the need to bend when putting on socks.


Is surgery on the calendar?
Most people with painful hips or knees eventually opt for surgery. As the Northern Virginia expert in family caregiving, we at Senior Care Management Services can help you prepare so that the person you care for can come home and enjoy a more comfortable, speedy, and solid recovery. Give us a call at 703-329-0900.

Signature Strength: Wisdom

Each of us has strengths . . . and, well, areas that could use improvement. As a family caregiver, you may often feel inadequate. Or guilty. Or think that you aren’t doing enough. Such negative self-assessments are common. A more balanced assessment would acknowledge that you also have qualities that shine.

Most of us believe that to be better people, we need to focus on our trouble spots. Over the next months, we will be drawing on the science of “positive psychology,” which shows that cultivating what works is just as productive as scrutinizing the things that aren’t working well. For example, each of us has characteristic “signature strengths.” Wisdom may be one of yours.

Wisdom and knowledge
Are you the type of person others turn to when they need advice? If so, you probably have the strength of wisdom and knowledge:

  • Curiosity and a love of learning
  • Willingness to look at all sides
  • Ability to change your mind
  • A tendency to take time to reflect, look inward
  • An understanding of social dynamics
  • Empathy


Wisdom is more than being smart.
It’s a special kind of intelligence that blends the heart and the brain. The more life experiences you have had—including losses—the more opportunities you have had to develop a wider perspective. The wise individual is able to listen to the heart but not be overcome by emotional extremes.

Using both sides of the brain
Wisdom is commonly associated with age. Brain studies reveal that older adults use both sides of their brain—the analytical side plus the more intuitive side— more equally than do younger adults. As one scientist put it, “they are in all-wheel drive.”

Cultivate your wisdom
Learning from the habits of wise individuals can help you foster this strength. Explore something unfamiliar. Try a new perspective. Pause and reflect. Strive to interpret the actions of others with kindness and compassion.

Would an outside perspective help?
Sometimes that wider perspective is most readily accessed by working with others outside the family system. As the Northern Virginia experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Care Management Services can help you gain new insights and cultivate your own wisdom for the tasks ahead. Give us a call at 703-329-0900.

When you need an energy boost

When caregiver fatigue strikes, many of us reach for caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, cola, chocolate, or an “energy shot” drink, the effects are immediate. Like a reliable friend, caffeine seems to help us keep going.


Pros and cons
Studies have shown many benefits from caffeine. It can enhance performance. It increases productivity and elevates mood. It may even reduce or delay Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

On the other hand, caffeine can be hard on the heart. It’s like giving your heart a stress test on a regular basis. It’s known to cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat and can contribute to high blood pressure. Insomnia and anxiety are also common side effects.


Too much of a good thing?
High-caffeine energy shot drinks are increasing in popularity, especially among older adults. Take caution. In a four-year time span, the number of adults going to the ER because of energy drink intake doubled. Among adults age 40 and older, the rate quadrupled! Although the numbers are small, clearly there is a trend. Symptoms ranged from palpitations and anxiety to actual heart attacks.

The Food and Drug Administration says that 400 mg of caffeine per day is likely safe. A 5 oz. cup of caffeinated coffee has about 100 mg. A can of cola about 50 mg. Energy drinks, by contrast, vary dramatically, having from 200 to 500 mg of caffeine.


If you want to quit
Caffeine can be addictive. Tapering off, or down, is easier than going cold turkey. One approach is to make your coffee or tea half decaf. Or switch to smaller servings or fewer drinks per day.

Another option is to respect your fatigue. Try to get enough sleep at night. And if life allows, consider a short nap midday. Listening to your body may be a wiser approach than reaching for a cup of joe or a high-impact energy shot.


Struggling to juggle it all?
If you are “self-medicating” with caffeine, perhaps it’s time to get some caregiving help. Too often, we at Senior Care Management Services see family members stealing from their sleep to find those extra hours needed in the day. Burning the candle at both ends is not a sustainable long-term strategy. At the same time, as the Northern Virginia expert in family caregiving, we understand! It’s hard to get it all done. Give us a call at 703-329-0900. We can help share the load so you can live a healthier rhythm and drink that cup of coffee only because you want to, not because you need it.