“Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.”
Foreword: I originally published this article in July and thought that it needed another go round on the blog. If you help out a family member, read below and see if you qualify as a caregiver. (More than likely, you probably do!) I want you to know that there are resources available to help you!
Recently, a therapist friend of mine brought up the fact that caregivers do not realize they are caregivers. My mind was blown! She was totally right. It reminded me how I used to not see myself as a caregiver to my grandparents. On a professional level, I have worked with family members in nursing homes who did not see themselves as caregivers. Lots of people do not perceive themselves as caregivers!
It seems like when people think about caregiving they imagine a kind nurse helping a sick, frail patient with some sort of self care task, like getting dressed or taking medicine. Or people think that a caregiver is a parent raising a child. Both thoughts about caregivers are correct, but let me tell you, the definition of a caregiver expands way past physically helping a person with the intimate parts of everyday life.
I talk about caregivers all the time in my blog, videos, and with clients and their families. It is long overdue for me to break down what a caregiver actually does!
A caregiver is a family member, friend, or paid professional that helps a person with activities of daily living. I understand that is a broad definition, but let me explain. Activities of daily living refer not only to self care tasks like toileting, bathing, grooming, etc., but they also refer to taking care of the home, finances, transportation, community errands, using a telephone, and so on and so on.
If you just sit for a minute and actually think about all of the seemingly small things you do a day, than you will realize that some people need help with all of those things you take for granted. Let me tell you about my first hour of a normal day. I get out of bed, put on my glasses, make the bed, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, let the dog out, make breakfast, eat breakfast, and walk the dog. For each one of those tasks, I could go into even more detail about what I do.
There are some people who need help with every single one of those things that I do in the first hour of the day! My first hour of the day consists of my personal needs and taking care of my dog. If someone helped me with any of those things, they would be my caregiver. Is your mind blown yet?
My personal experience as a caregiver started many years ago with my wonderful grandparents. My grandmother, Granny, would ask me to help out with tasks around the house like changing the light bulbs, taking down the attic fan cover, and carrying the laundry basket up from the basement for her. (By the way, all of those things are caregiving activities!) I did not see myself as a caregiver. I saw myself as helping Granny out! I actually cherished going to my grandparent’s house and reading my list of to do’s. In my mind, that’s what you do for your family: you help your family whenever they need something.
Over time, my grandparents asked for more help around the house and going out in the community. I loved our new weekly ritual of picking them up and driving to the grocery store. Granny would chit chat with the store employees at the front of the store and at checkout. We would take our time walking the aisles while Granny asked me to reach for the products she wanted. I would push the cart and Grandpa helped me load and unload the groceries into the car and house. All of us worked at a furious pace to put the groceries away, “Hurry! The ice cream will melt!” We ended our grocery run at the dining room table eating donuts and drinking coffee or cappuccino and catching up with each other over the past week. I had no idea that my role as a caregiver would continue to grow.
Eventually, my caregiving responsibilities included managing my grandparent’s medication and finances. I used to work as a pharmacy technician while in school, so it seemed a natural fit for me to make sure their medications were refilled and placed in their weekly medication organizer. Granny trusted me with balancing her checkbook every week and Grandpa knew I would pay the bills as soon as they came in the mail. I always made sure to do the bills and medication how they wanted to give them peace of mind.
The increase in caregiving tasks came with more time spent with my grandparents at their house. My mother and I split caregiving duties to even the load and allow us to attend to other parts of our lives, like work and school. Mom would take my grandparents to doctor’s appointments, the nail salon, the hair salon, and other errands. My grandparents were lucky enough to qualify for a personal care attendant through one of the county’s senior services programs who helped with laundry, cooking, and cleaning the house. We were fortunate to have a team of caregivers for Granny and Grandpa!
Towards the end of Granny’s life, she was able to do many of her self care tasks such as dressing, toileting, bathing, brushing teeth. Sometimes Mom helped Granny put her curlers in her hair in the evening before bed due to Granny’s arthritis in her shoulders. Granny called us when she felt sick and we would give her medicine and contact her doctor. When she passed suddenly in 2016, I felt my world shift. Of course, I missed my role as a granddaughter to Granny, but I also missed my role as a caregiver to her. I loved how Granny was my caregiver when I was a child, and I was able to be a caregiver to her in the last part of her life.
In a way, my role as a caregiver to Grandpa has greatly reduced as well. After Granny passed, Grandpa needed physical help with self care tasks in addition to taking care of the house. Grandpa now requires at least two people to help with sitting and standing during his activities of daily living 24 hours a day. Because of Grandpa’s needs for more help, he now lives in a long term care facility where the nursing staff provides the care he needs. Now, my role is back to being his granddaughter. We still continue our tradition of cappuccino and donuts every Sunday while we visit together.
I hope my personal experience as a caregiver allows you to see your role as a caregiver to others. Do you take out your neighbor’s trash? Do you mow your uncle’s lawn? Do you show your grandma how to take a selfie or post on Facebook? Do you take down your mom’s curtains to be washed? Guess what? You’re a caregiver.
As a fellow caregiver, I salute you. Caregiving is an unpaid, invisible, incredibly important job that almost all of us do and are not recognized. Caregiving is one of the hardest experiences we encounter as human beings. It demands patience and dedication to our loved ones or people we provide services to. I would like to end this article giving you a few resources because I want to make your life easier, friend!
Here are a couple of short videos to brighten your day and show you some caregiving tips: 3 Free Tips for Millennial Caregivers, How to Install a Motion Sensor Light.
Click on these links to learn how to help yourself as a caregiver: Alzheimer's Association, AARP, Caregiver Action Network, and National Alliance for Caregiving.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day! Time is precious when you help a loved one! Please comment down below with any caregiving tips you would like to share!
Holy moly! My OT Spot posted my article here! Take a look at it!
My OT Spot is a fantastic website dedicated to people interested in becoming occupational therapists and current practitioners to learn how to succeed and thrive in this field! The article I wrote gives occupational therapists a list of highly recommended home modifications for their clients when they go home from rehab.
At the end of the day, I want to help people stay at home safely and independently. I love love love helping my fellow occupational therapists serve their clients!
If you read this article, please comment down below on what you think!
Last week we discussed three ways to pay for home projects that help us and our families live at home safely and independently. Apparently, that article left you hungry for more information! So this week, I wanted to follow up with EVEN MORE financial resources for your consideration!
Let's do a quick recap on the who, what, and why it's important to invest in home projects, such as home modification or remodeling. We all want to live in our homes as long as we possibly can. (I have never EVER met anyone who said they wanted to live in a nursing home!) Despite us wanting to live in our homes forever, over 90% of housing in the U.S. is NOT set up for us to safely age in in place! That means every person in the U.S. needs to start investing in home modifications that will allow us to remain independent caring for ourselves, OR we will ALL end up spending more money on things we hate, like medical bills and rehab.
So you may ask, "Maria, how can I afford to pay for home modifications?" Great question! Here are six solutions for you (To see a more comprehensive financial resource list, click here.):
1) If you are a home owner, renter, or landlord with a low to moderate income, listen up! You can request home repairs or simple modifications through your area agency on aging, which is financed by the Housing and Urban Development HOME Program and Community Development Block Grants. In Kansas City, MO, you can click here to request help to fix repairs and install accessible features, like grab bars in the bathroom.
2) Don't worry Missouri farmers and ranchers! I'm thinking about you too! The United States Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offer loan programs for low to moderate income home owners and landlords to buy, build, rehab, or improve a house! It is worthwhile to consider these low interest loans for home improvements that allow you to age in place. Before your family talks you into moving to the city for retirement, look into this type of loan for home modifications to stay safe and independent on your land!
3) Go to your local bank or credit union and ask about the loans they provide that are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Let's say you take out a loan that is FHA insured and something terrible happens where you are unable to repay the loan. Not to worry! FHA will reimburse your bank the amount of the loan balance. Since the bank is guaranteed a loan payoff, they are often willing to lower loan requirements for the income and credit score. These types of fixed or variable rate loans are great for low to moderate income homeowners and landlords to make homes accessible for people to live for a lifetime!
4) Do you care for children 18 years and younger with developmental disabilities? Do they feel heavier and heavier every time you pick them up to feed/dress/bathe/toilet them? It's time for some home modifications to protect your back and the health of your child! Check out the Missouri Medicaid waiver that pays for home environmental modifications to make it safer and easier for you to help your kiddo! This waiver is available to both homeowners or renters across the state!
5) If you have trouble getting in and out of your home, take a look at the Missouri Residential Dwelling Accessibility Tax Credit. This tax credit is for people with disabilities who have an income of $30,000 or less a year. You can be credited up to $2,500 for modifying your entryway (i.e. garage, front door, back door, side door) to make it easier to enter and exit your home. Personally, I love being reimbursed by the government for doing something good for my home and my physical health! No more worrying about accidental injuries when getting in and out of the house!
6) Veterans! You have sacrificed your time and lives for our country's independence! Now, it's time for you homeowners or renters to maintain your independence in the community! Go to this link to apply for housing grants to adapt your home! You deserve to live in a home that is set up for you to complete your daily activities. Also, click here to learn more about the Home Improvement and Structural Alterations Grant for veterans that focuses on home modifications specifically for bathrooms, entryways, and kitchens. In my humble opinion, those are the top three places in your home that you should address first!
The time for home modifications is now! I don't care how old you are! I'm looking at you all in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or above! I don't care if you can still walk or drive at night! I don't even care if you think you can rely on your kids in your golden years! People of all ages need to make changes in the home now to live at home for a lifetime. All it takes is one project at a time, folks.
After you find out which financial resources above will work for you, call an occupational therapist, like me, to guide you in creating home modifications custom made for you. Occupational therapists understand that people have different wants and needs in their home. We love working with people to tailor their home environment just for them! In fact, check out the research showing that occupational therapists are the most effective at home modification recommendations!
Lastly, I know that you know people who could benefit from this information. Share this article with every veteran, grandparent, parent, farmer, neighbor you know! Click on the links above and learn more about these grants, waivers, and loans for Missouri residents! Consider this: if you clicked on one link a day, you would be finished in one week. Take notes on which financial resources will and won't work for you to stay organized. If anything, remember that you better do it before you need it!
If you have read my blog or watched my YouTube videos, you may have noticed that I STRONGLY encourage people to make home modifications to live at home safely and independently. When people think about making changes in their homes, like home modifications or remodeling, images of giant piles of burning cash instantly come to mind. You tend to think, "I don't want to spend a ton of money right now" or "I have no money for a home project. I've got bills to pay!" It is common for people to fear spending money on home modifications. Just to be honest, I feel the same way towards my house!
Before we spiral into the depths of fear and anxiety, let me tell you that you do NOT need to spend large sums money on home modifications. Feel better already?
You CAN make simple changes in the house right now that are low to zero cost!
Case in point: I recently completed a low cost home modification project for a client. CLICK HERE TO SEE PICTURES! My client called me and asked for help to figure out how to make it easier to get out of bed and get on and off the toilet. We customized the bed height and toilet for her and added a bed rail that worked specifically for the adjustable base underneath the mattress. After trying out her new digs, my client had a big smile on her face and shouted, "Whoop, whoop!"
My client and I also talked about some long term home modifications to think about, such as enlarging the bathroom and widening the bathroom doorway to make it easier to move around. My client wanted to wait and think about how she would finance a bigger home project. I offered suggestions on looking at: 1) secured loans on savings, 2) home equity line of credit, and 3) certificate deposit (CD) secured loans. These options typically offer the lowest interest rates and maintain your total amount in savings. Talk about financial relief! Phew!
I share this information with people because I don't want you to end up spending more money down the road. Less than 10% of houses in the U.S. are set up for people with moderate joint problems! Unfortunately, many people put off making changes in their home because of money, BUT they end up spending MORE money on medical bills related to an injury at home.
If anything, take away this advice: Make small home modifications today and plan for bigger projects in the next 1-3 years. You deserve to invest in your personal safety and independence at home. Comment down below if you have already made some home modifications!
Veterans deserve to stay at home! And what better way than to live in a community of tiny homes?
The Veterans Community Project (VCP) created a tiny home community in south Kansas City for homeless veterans. The community provides on-site services to help "address the underlying causes of the veteran's homelessness." Services include counseling, case management, and connecting veterans to other local resources to promote housing stability.
Now the goal is not for the veterans to live in the tiny home community forever. This is a transitional home where the veteran lives while working a self-paced program to assist with reintegration into civilian life. So the timetable on the length of stay varies from person to person.
Let's talk about the tiny homes for a second: they are 240 square feet each! They are true to the definition of a tiny house! The houses sit on a slab of concrete and, of course, have all the modern conveniences of electricity and running water. VCP plans on building more tiny homes in the future to assist more veterans in the KC metro.
After snooping through some pictures of the tiny houses, I happily discovered VCP implemented some accessible features. I see zero-step front door entries, lever-styled handles on the front door, lever-styled kitchen sink handle, and stove and oven controls located on the front of the appliance. There is a window next to the front door so veterans can see who is coming to visit before opening the door.
The kitchen lower cabinets have doors that swing out which may allow enough room for a person to sit underneath the sink while washing the dishes or prepping a meal at the counter. This gives an opportunity for the veteran to conserve energy.
I like that the houses have a lot of windows to allow natural light into the home. (Remember, natural light makes us healthier and happier!) The tiny houses have great color contrast between the flooring, walls, furniture, and cabinets making it clear to see for veterans with low vision. Also, the houses are easily customized. One of the tiny houses has bunk beds stacked three high for children to visit! Astounding!
It does not seem like all of the tiny houses have the accessible features I listed above. But I do have some additional thoughts for the future for new construction and remodeling of the existing units!
One thing I noticed is the community has a gravel walkway. It would be worthwhile to replace the gravel with a paved sidewalk that is five to six feet wide. This would allow people, including wheelchair users, to navigate the neighborhood.
Installing barrier free showers would improve the safety and longevity of a veteran's ability to independently bathe in the tiny house. Even though the houses provide 240 square feet, the design could be more open concept to allow wheelchair users or people who use canes or walkers to safely move around during every day activities. For instance, wheelchair users would need at least five feet of turning radius to use the toilet. Creative professionals, like myself, can help design privacy features to maintain dignity for open concept tiny houses.
The last suggestion is building raised garden beds to make it easier for veterans with chronic back pain or fatigue. Gardening allows veterans the chance for gentle exercise, social participation, sense of purpose, and to feel good every day!
I love to see this tiny home community in Kansas City make a huge difference in the lives of the people who deserve it the most! Thank you to everyone involved with VCP and to veterans who serve this country!
Okay, Kansas City! The weather has consistently been non-wintry, and it’s making me want to garden outside every day again.
Gardening has a lot of excellent benefits. It’s a form of exercise, lifts the mood, gives you Vitamin D from the sun, relieves stress, prevents illness, lowers risk of dementia, makes your yard beautiful, and grows yummy produce! Gardening: everybody’s doing it.
So why don’t you get back outside using these gardening tips I painstakingly researched? Keep reading to pick up knowledge!
Since gardening is a form of exercise, be sure to warm up your muscles and stretch. For inspiration, click on this link for Go4Life.
Next, you need to wear the proper attire. Put on lightweight clothing, long sleeves, and a hat to protect against the sun. Remember folks, we need the sun in moderation just like anything else. Too little sun, you get sick all the time. Too much sun, you become a dehydrated raisin. If you garden before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m., you will avoid this problem.
Take sips of water while gardening. No pop or soda or coke (depending on where you hail from)! Caffeine + sun = even more dehydrated raisin. Make sure to take breaks every 15 to 30 minutes in the shade. This will give you a chance to drink the water!
Choose tools with long handles or curved handles for good leverage and grip. I know gardening is exercise, but I don’t need to work too hard! Look out for tools like ergonomic pruners that can prevent wrist strain. If you have a lot of pruning, keep your wrist in a neutral position and remember those breaks we talked about earlier!
Use a wagon to carry plants and tools to save time and muscle strain. You can paint the wagon and tools bright colors to stand out from your green and brown garden. Let’s see, I would paint my tools a neon yellow or pink. Maybe neon pink with yellow dots! What colors would you choose?
Kneeling on the ground while gardening can become tricky! If you do kneel, place one knee and one foot on the ground like this.
Consider a kneeler stool to help the back, hips, and knees! It has handles for you to use your arms to help push to stand. You can also flip it over and sit on the stool portion. Anyone whose legs fall asleep while kneeling can raise their fists in victory!
The best back savers are raised garden beds. They can be as tall as one foot or waist high. It doesn’t matter the height, as long as it guarantees your ability to garden. Vertical gardening is another terrific option for gardening, especially with plants that love to climb like cucumbers and melons!
If you have any gardening tips to add, please share them with me! Gardening is an activity for a lifetime that goes hand in hand with your home for a lifetime. Why don’t you do it before you need it? Contact me to help you find ways to garden easier!
Resources: DIY Network, University of Missouri Extension, Agrability, Era Living.