Kristen Mauk has never been one to stop learning. The clinical nurse specialist has nearly 30 years of experience in rehabilitation and gerontology, a handful of degrees, and has authored or edited seven books. She now helps train the future generation as a professor of nursing at Colorado Christian University in Colorado. She also recently launched her own business, Senior Care Central/International Rehabilitation Consultants, which provides nursing and rehabilitation education throughout the world.
Question: What drew you to nursing? What do you enjoy about it?
Mauk: “I grew up in a medical family. My father was a pediatric surgeon and my mom was a nurse, so I was always around the healthcare professions. However, nursing offered so many opportunities for growth and change while doing what I loved — helping others. There are many aspects of nursing that I enjoy, but feeling like I help make peoples’ lives better has to be the best perk of the job. Nursing is a versatile profession. I started off my career as an operating room nurse, worked for a decade in med-surg, geriatrics, and rehabilitation, then eventually went back to school for additional education so that I could make a greater impact on healthcare through teaching nursing students.”
Question: You have an impressive education. Why did you continue to pursue advanced degrees in the field? How has that benefited you?
Mauk: “First, I am a life-long learner, something that was instilled by my father who was always encouraging his children to explore the world and have an inquiring mind. Dinners at my house were filled with learning activities such as, ‘How does a flashlight work?,’ ‘What is a group of lions called?,’ or ‘For $20, who can spell hors d’oeuvres?’ (By the way, I got that $20!) So, continuing my education through studying for advanced degrees seemed a natural progression when you love to learn and love your work. I felt a need to know as much as possible about my areas of interest, gerontology and rehabilitation, so that I could provide better care to patients and be a better teacher for my students. My advanced education has?opened many doors in the professional nursing world, such as the opportunity to write books, conduct research to improve the quality of life for stroke survivors, or hold national positions in professional organizations.”
Question: What’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had, either as a student, educator or in your practice?
Mauk: “There are many memorable experiences I’ve had both as an educator and in practice. One of the most memorable from practice was early in my career working on a skilled/rehab unit in a little country hospital in Iowa. There was an older man who couldn’t find a radio station that played his favorite hymns and one of my co-workers knew that I had a musical background and asked me to sing to him at the bedside. I timidly held his hand as he lay in his hospital bed, and with the door closed because it was late at night, I softly sang all the old hymns I could remember. He closed his eyes and smiled, clasping my hand for nearly an hour of singing. The next evening, I heard him excitedly tell his family members that ‘an angel visited me last night. She had the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard. She held my hand and sang all of my favorite hymns!’ Hearing that outside the door, I smiled, but was later surprised when I stopped in to see him that he truly didn’t seem to remember me. One day later, he died unexpectedly. I often look back and wonder on that experience. In the many years of nursing experience that followed, I have learned that there are sometimes angels where we least expect them.”
Question: What advice do you have for people just starting their education or their professional career?
Mauk: “Nursing is a great profession! Learn all that you can while you are in school and continue to be a lifelong learner. The need for nurses who specialize in care of older adults and rehabilitation is only going to continue to grow because of the booming aging population. There is currently, and will continue to be, a shortage of skilled professionals to meet the demand that is looming with the graying of America. Gain skills that will make you a specialist and afford you additional opportunities. Always give the best care to those you serve. Set yourself apart by building a professional reputation for excellence through advanced education, publication, scholarship, clinical practice, and community service. Then, go and change the world!”
By Dr. Nanette J. Davis, Ph.D.
Caregiving has often been compared to a roller coaster ride, with its inevitable ups and downs. This is especially true as your loved one deteriorates and faces the end of life. If you’re one of the 65 million family caregivers who has been feeling overwhelmed for too long, “burnout” may have set in.
Take that first step. Identify and claim the full range of your emotions—the anger, indifference, anxiety. In a recent study, 50% of family caregivers confessed to feeling depressed and some 69% admitted that frustration drove them to place their loved one in care. You may be experiencing the following, as well:
- Confusion over role reversal
- Loss of interest
- Withdrawal or isolation from friends and other support persons
- Poor sleep
- Desire to harm self or others
These unwanted reactions can also be compounded by the guilt and shame about feeling this way. Here are a few suggestions that might make a big difference.
- Make a point to engage in outside activities for maintaining a sense of health and well-being. Sure, it could feel like “one more thing” to do. But if you choose your outside activities wisely—staying away from demanding people or events—you could feel surprisingly refreshed.
- Seek and accept outside help. Once you admit to yourself and others that you can’t do it alone, the burden suddenly lifts. Good starting points are: local organizations, social service agencies and faith communities. Don’t overlook family, friends and neighbors who may be able to lend a hand.
- Allow your loved one plenty of opportunities to practice functional skills—as hard as it may be. Feeling as independent as possible satisfies a basic human need, even for a seriously ill person.
- Consult with a geriatric specialist, pastor or counselor about the right course of action if your loved one has become overly dependent or has exhausted your resources—physical, emotional or financial.
- Admit that you are juggling multiple roles, and engaging in an ever-so-delicate dance of support. The dance can go on as long as you allow the role of who leads and who follows to shift as circumstances change.
- Pay attention to your own needs. You can achieve balance when you include time to sleep, exercise, eat and attend to your own medical needs. Time spent with family, friends or just being alone helps you bounce back, too.
- Practice saying—maybe even forcefully—“no” when appropriate, and “yes” when someone offers to help.
- Seek out quality respite care.
- Enjoy an occasional movie or lunch with a supportive friend.
- Don’t expect too much from yourself.
Continue to recognize, acknowledge and accept your difficult emotions, so you can then work on setting boundaries, letting go of control and developing coping skills. For example, meditation and yoga can be incredibly relaxing.
Your commitment to your loved one can be a renewable resource if you take the right steps and are willing to change strategies when the “same ol’, same ol’” isn’t working anymore.
You can visit Dr. Nanette’s ABCs of Caregiving blog at http://www.abcsofcaregiving.com/
Moving from one home to another is seldom easy — in fact, it’s considered one of the most stressful life events people experience. However, the process can be especially tough for senior citizens. Whether you’re an older adult about to leave your long-term home or you’re the child of a senior getting ready to help a parent leave his/her home, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Acknowledge Emotions. Anytime you’re talking about leaving a long-term home, you’re talking about more than changing addresses. Saying goodbye is hard. Instead of ignoring the sadness that accompanies such a move, process it. Remember, it’s normal to feel some sadness, whether you’re moving into an assisted-living facility, in with relatives or simply to a smaller place.
- Pare Down Possessions. When it comes down to the physical moving process, the less you have to move, the easier the transition. Rather than packing every worldly possession and forcing yourself to organize later, take the time now to downsize. Go through all your furniture, knick-knacks, mementos, gadgets and so on, and determine whether you’ll truly need those items in the new place. Separate everything into “keep,” “give away” and “trash” piles. If you don’t want to hand down or donate certain items, plan a garage sale to get a little extra cash in the process.
- Hire Professional Movers. Don’t endure unnecessary stress by managing the moving process alone — hire movers. Find a company that specializes in assisting with smooth transitions, and enlist its help to transport furniture and boxes to their intended destinations. If some things are going to a new home and others are going to friends and family, communicate to your moving company which items go where.
- Pack an Overnight Bag. Set aside a few changes of clothes, important toiletries, towels and sheets to have with you for that first night or few nights in your new home. Instead of rifling through boxes and feeling overwhelmed with all there is to unpack, there will be a little normalcy — even when you’re still getting settled. Other good items to bring are a first-aid kit and flashlight.
Moving as a senior citizen isn’t easy, but it can be a smoother, more pleasant experience with a little planning. Use the tips above to aid your upcoming move.
Chris Crompton is a marketing manager for TSI, a leader in the shipping and freight industry since 1989. TSI offers low rates and professional service on long distance small moves and shipments.
When you’ve started to notice changes in an elderly relative, you may wonder if a mental health issue is the cause. While it is important a mental health professional diagnoses these issues, some signs exist indicating that the time has come to make an appointment.
Depression can occur for a host of reasons. Elderly individuals may be suffering from the loss of a loved one, or they may feel alienated, isolated or otherwise separated from their friends or from their interests outside of the house. Individuals who seem filled with sadness and negative emotions or who are hinting about emotional turmoil may need outpatient or inpatient treatment for depression.
Anxiety Issues/Bipolar Disorder
You may also notice that your loved ones are having heightened periods of elevation followed by periods of deep sadness. They could be suffering from bipolar disorder. Serious anxieties could begin to manifest at this age too. For example, you may notice that your elderly relatives always seem to be thinking about their own death or about expected loss of other loved ones.
As people age, you may think that it is a normal occurrence for them to forget information that they would have once remembered. However, these early slips could be signs of a more serious problem that is coming into fruition. Your loved ones might now be forgetting about certain dates or social events, but these struggles could turn into failures to take medication or complete other necessary medical tasks.
If you notice that your loved ones are not taking care of themselves as they used to, this situation could also be a sign of mental health issues. For example, you may have noticed that your relatives are no longer brushing their teeth or bathing on a regular basis. Seeking professional help can uncover the root of the issue so that a plan of treatment can be devised.
Your loved ones might also seem to not want to participate in social activities anymore. Whether they are constantly declining invites to attend family functions or they do not want to participate in community activities any longer, these decisions could be signs that a mental health issue is present.
As your loved ones age, you may be the lookout for physical health issues. While addressing these problems is imperative, so is watching for signs of mental health struggles. May is mental health awareness month, get involved to help bring awareness to this important cause!