Take Good Care of Yourself, Caretakers.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve. We all know what that means: resolutions. While they may be a good idea and we may intend to keep them when we make them, I think we can accept that most of us don’t. So instead of resolutions, I have some recommendations for a special group of people.

I am a Chronic Kidney Disease patient, holding steady at stage 3 for the last decade. While you all know that, I’m not so sure that many of you know that I am also an Alzheimer’s care partner. That’s what the Alzheimer’s Association calls the more commonly used term ‘caretaker.’ I love my husband, but this is hard… harder than I’d expected it to be, even though I’d been a caretaker before.

For those of you not in this position, a caretaker is “one that gives physical or emotional care and support,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/caretaker.

The Alzheimer’s Association offered me quite a bit of advice about how to preserve my own health while being a care partner. Lori Hartwell’s Renal Support Network does, too. And then there are so many, many other organizations offering advice that always seems to be helpful. Now I offer it as recommendations to you, the care partners of your loved ones.

Why? The Family Caretaker Alliance at https://www.caregiver.org/taking-care-you-self-care-family-caregivers phrases the answer to this question so well:

“On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and one of the most often forgotten—things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.”

I had trouble with this idea at first, thinking it selfish when it was my husband who needed help – not me. I was wrong. The Mayo Clinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784 explains why:

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Hmmm, that would explain the irritability and overeating, I suppose. But I had to do something about this or I’d be as large as my little house soon.

Let’s get back to Lori’s site for a minute. Dr. Michael Fisher guest blogged at https://www.rsnhope.org/rsn-blog/6-tips-to-survive-your-partners-kidney-disease-diagnosis/ and offered the following as one bit of advice:

Enlist friends and family to help you, or hire the help you need. Get a neighbor to drive the kids to and from school or enroll them in an after-school program for help with their homework; hire a housekeeper; negotiate flex-time or permission to work from home; and ask family members and friends to volunteer for regular assistance. This is an all-hands-on-deck occasion!”

He’s right. We now have a house cleaning service every other week, bottled water delivery, and a mobile vet. Decades ago when I was a caretaker for a different loved one and was in a pretty poor financial state, my friends and neighbors took my kids to school and after school activities. Family came on the weekends with marketing they’d done for us and to let me run down to the basement to do the laundry. While money makes it easier to have help, it’s not impossible to ask for help without money behind you.

U.S. News Health’s most important tip for caretakers is:

“If you’ve taken on the role of caregiver, the first thing to do is learn as much you can about your loved one’s disease or illness to know what to expectOtherwise, you’ll be driving blind.

Imagine getting in your car, turning on the ignition, closing your eyes and then driving. What do you think will happen? Before long, you’ll crash into something or someone, resulting in damage and even injuries.

The world’s roadways operate smoothly (most of the time) because drivers know what to expect and follow the rules. Likewise, caregivers who learn more about their care recipient’s disease will be more aware of the challenges that lie ahead.”

You can find them at https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/05/01/the-2-most-important-caregiver-tips.

I always go for education first; I was a teacher for over 50 years. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. I know, I couldn’t believe it either when I first realized that. So?  I started listening to the advice about how to take care of my emotions while care partnering. VeryWell Mind at https://www.verywellmind.com/caregiver-support-caregivers-and-stress-relief-3144520 offered the best recommendation for me:

“It may be difficult for you to find time alone, especially if you’re the sole provider of care, but don’t forget that you need to give to yourself in order to have the ability to give to others. However, taking an hour or two for journaling in a coffee shop, seeing a movie by yourself, getting exercise with a long walk, or going to a nearby park and immersing yourself in a good book are all excellent, restorative options that can help you to stave off burnout.”

I found I craved silence… or just listening to the birds or the horses that lived behind my house. When I could leave my husband alone and couldn’t get the silence I needed while being at home, I took off to a coffee shop with my Kindle. It helped. Hopefully these recommendations will help the caretakers among you.

Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve.

Until next year,

Keep living your life!

Feed Me

Over the years, I’ve seen advertisements for food preparation services. You know the ones that cook your meals and deliver them weekly. I would approach the people offering the service to see what they could do with the renal diet. That was a deal killer right there.

All right, I figured. Maybe what I should be doing is finding a chef who is willing to work with kidney patients rather than ask existing food preparation services to accommodate just me. I even had one chef who agreed that this is a valuable service and something she wanted to do. I was excited. Then she simply stopped emailing and answering calls. That was a couple of years ago.

I sort of gave up… until I ran into an advertisement for Clarence’s food service. I figured it was worth it to try again and called him. It was.

I explained to Clarence that I don’t permit advertising on my blog, but I would like other Chronic Kidney Disease patients to see how they can make use of food preparation services such as his. He was kind enough to write this guest blog for us. I’m hoping that this inspires you to approach a chef in your area to ask him/her if he/she is willing to provide such a service. Of course, not all of us want to have someone else prepare our meals or want to spend the money to do so, so this is a blog for that portion of readers who do.

Meal Planning for Those with Kidney Disease.
Clarence Ferguson, RTSM, CMTA, NT

Understanding your kidney disease, or renal disease, is the first step in taking control of your health. While I am not a doctor, I have aligned myself with those whose specialize in CKD so that I can adjust meals accordingly. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys are no longer able to remove waste effectively from your body or to balance your fluids. The buildup of wastes can change the chemistry of your body causing some symptoms that you can feel, and others that you don’t.

With kidney diseases, the first symptoms you may have are ones that you won’t feel but that will show up in tests that your doctor orders. Common problems are high blood pressure, anemia and weakening bones. It is important to find a kidney doctor (also called a nephrologist). And once you have your doctor’s recommendation that’s where we come in and prepare your meal according to his or her recommendations.

Okay Clarence, we know that but how do we navigate healthy eating?

Here are some suggestions for you and what I prepare for clients who struggle with CKD.

Make sure these snacks are readily available:
1. Fruit: apples, grapes, tangerines or strawberries; dried cranberries or blueberries; or packaged fruit cups with diced     peaches, pears, pineapple, mandarin oranges or mixed fruit. Make sure they are organic.
2. Low- or no-sodium microwave popcorn.
3. Low-sodium crackers, pita chips or unsalted pretzels.
4. Pouches of tuna or chicken and a side of Vegainse (a dairy free option for mayonnaise).
5. Kidney-friendly nutrition bars or liquid supplements, such as the ones from ID life, since they meet these guidelines.

What we do at Fit Body Foods
1. Compare brands. Sodium and potassium levels can vary significantly from one brand to another.
2. Look for low-sodium labels on packaging. Stock up on the lowest sodium broths, stocks and condiments.
3. Choose fresh vegetables, or frozen or canned veggies with no added salt or sodium.
4. Use only 1/4 as much of the tomato sauce and canned tomatoes that a recipe calls for to limit potassium and sodium.
5. Don’t use canned fish or chicken with added salt. All fish is fresh, so we can control the sodium levels by rinsing to reduce the sodium. Try to limit use of canned goods in general.
6. Avoid baking and pancake mixes that have salt and baking powder added. Instead, make a kidney-friendly recipe from scratch.
7. Use sweet pickles instead of dill pickles and check for added salt.
8. Check cold and instant hot cereals for sodium amounts. Although oatmeal contains more phosphorus than some cereals, it may be okay one to two times a week if phosphorus is well-controlled.
9. Check the ingredients in vinegar. Some vinegars, such as seasoned rice vinegar, contain added salt and sugar.
10. Avoid store-bought sauces and gravies that have mystery ingredients in them. Make our own instead from real-food ingredients.
11. Use homemade soup recipes, such as Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup, instead of pre-made or canned soups. Some soups contain more than 800 mg sodium per serving.
12. Low – and reduced – sodium broth is great for use in cooking. We save the homemade broth from stewed or boiled chicken or beef.
13. Don’t trade sodium for potassium. Some products replace salt with potassium chloride.
14. Limit nuts, seeds and chocolate as they are high in potassium and phosphorus.

We prepare food weekly and deliver to our clients on Sundays. We take the worry out of meal prep, our meals start at $7.99 a meal, and we can accommodate most palates. We can be reached for orders at: info@coachclarence.com.

Below is a sample recipe:
Cucumber-Carrot Salad
Diet types: CKD non-dialysis, Dialysis, Diabetes
Portions: 4
Serving size: 1/2 cup
Ingredients:
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cucumber
1 cup carrots
2 tablespoons green onion
2 tablespoons red bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash® Italian Medley seasoning blend

Notice there is nothing new here. We all know this information. What is appealing is having someone else, someone who understands our diet limitations, buy the food and prepare it for our meals. I explained to Clarence that our food needs as far as electrolytes change with each blood test and he agreed that it’s important to eat according to your numbers. That’s something he’s very willing to pay attention to. Should this interest you, why not approach a professional in your area to see if they can also provide such a service?Big news! SlowItDownCKD 2011 is now available on Amazon.com in both print and digital (and needs reviews: hint). SlowItDownCKD 2012 will not be far behind. These are the first and second parts of the reformatted, larger print, more comprehensively indexed The Book of Blogs: Moderate Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 1, (available only until SlowItDownCKD 2012 is published).

Until next week,

Keep living your life!