Help for In-Home Helpers
Caring for an ill or aging loved one can be as draining as it is rewarding. The stress, guilt, and financial strain can make it hard for caregivers to reach out, even though that’s the best way to support the people we love, says Mattan Schuchman, a geriatric specialist at Johns Hopkins.
If caregivers can get past feeling that they’re letting their loved one down because they can’t do it all, there is a variety of help available, from private duty nurses who help with injections or wound care, to home care aides who assist with hygiene, meal prep, and housekeeping. And guilt goes both ways— it’s likely that the care recipient feels guilty about being a burden, Schuchman notes. “Often these feelings are mirrored on both sides.”
So don’t think of asking for help as a sign of failure. Instead, think of it as focusing on what’s important. “If you hire someone to do the mundane day-to-day tasks, such as getting groceries or doing work around the house, you can focus instead on spending quality time with your loved one and making good memories together.”
The Summer Slide
The lazy days of summer used to mean unmitigated free time for a kid, but research shows that the long break can cause some children to slip in academic achievement. Dubbed summer learning loss, it has parents reaching for homework workbooks. But is that really necessary? “A lot of learning opportunities are incidental,” says Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander. If you’re taking your kids on a family trip to a museum, for instance, or signing them up for a robust camp experience, that can be enough. “These are enrichment opportunities that equip children with skills to hit the ground running in the fall,” Alexander says. If you think your child does need a boost, be proactive while allowing room for play. “Go to the library, read regularly, encourage technology use that stimulates, rather than dulls, the brain,” Alexander says.
My Child Wants to Be Vegan, Now What?
Going vegan—abstaining from all animal products—is more in vogue than ever, but it comes with special considerations. Supporting your child’s vegan diet can be healthy, but it will require lots of extra attention. Here are some questions to consider if your child wants to make this dietary change.
How much time does the family spend in the kitchen?
“The first thing I’ll ask a family is, ‘How many meals are prepared at home?’” says Johns Hopkins nutritionist Tiffani Hays. “The types of foods that you use to substitute for animal products are a little more difficult to prepare such as beans and tofu. It takes more skill and more attention to what’s composing a meal.” To make sure you’re building healthy habits, have your young vegan involved in meal prep. “Pick out a cookbook together and make a plan where you’re both in the kitchen learning how to prepare dishes that taste good,” Hays advises.
How picky is my kid?
Ensuring your child will stay well-nourished while avoiding animal products doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for picky eaters. Since veganism chops down on food choices, having a finicky eater could be an issue.
How big is my child’s appetite?
“A vegan diet does tend to be bulkier than an omnivorous diet,” Hays says. To get the protein, nutrients, and calories a growing kid requires, your child will need a big appetite. Since children have smaller stomachs, even if he or she is eating a lot, it might not be enough to provide sufficient calories and protein as well as cover the essential vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, to fuel growth and development. You may consider consulting a nutritionist to see whether your child might need a vitamin supplement.
Am I sending healthy messages around food?
Veganism is by nature a restrictive diet, so be mindful of the messages children get, Hays says. “This is where the fine line between promoting healthy eating bumps against messages around restrictive eating and obsession with weight or body image.” Again, it may be worth working with a nutritionist who can ensure your child is developing healthy habits and attitudes around food.
The Power of Date Night
In the face of an overblown family schedule, date night can easily turn into something that happens only in rom coms—not real life. “In the midst of all this busyness, it becomes easy to start functioning on autopilot in our relationships, focusing more on the tasks we need to accomplish or the distractions around us rather than on truly connecting with each other,” says Johns Hopkins clinical social worker Erin Gillard.
Taking a pause to prioritize spending time with your partner helps build a healthier relationship—and a healthier life. “When we really stop and pause to listen to and connect with our partner, it helps foster connection and helps each person in the relationship feel supported to handle challenges,” she says.
You don’t need three-hour candlelit dinners to harness the power of date night. Instead, set small, achievable goals for your schedule. “Setting aside just a little time daily to have a conversation without distractions—phones and TV off—can be a step in really seeing your partner,” Gillard says. “I’d encourage a commitment to at least a monthly date night, ideally twice a month.”
Meet Your New Primary
Once a kid hits puberty, they start becoming, well, different. Bodies and minds change, and teens start asking difficult questions. (Or maybe they just hunker in their room blasting Jay Z.) Though the family pediatrician is capable of addressing many issues, you—and your teen—may feel more comfortable with someone specializing in adolescent medicine.
“We tend to spend more time on a teen’s everyday life than the average pediatrician,” says Johns Hopkins adolescent medicine specialist Jasmine Reese. So in addition to conducting annual physical exams or treating an illness, Reese and her patients chat about what’s going on in their home, school, and social environments. Many conversations involve reproductive health as well as frank discussions about drugs and alcohol. Doctors usually see kids without their parents, allowing them to share more freely.
Reese says that anyone between the ages of 10 and 21 is a candidate for adolescent medicine, but particularly those who might be struggling with emotional, behavioral, or reproductive issues.
Temporary Tat, Permanent Damage?
If you’ve got kids, chances are good you’ve also got temporary tattoos. Or maybe it’s colored hair chalk or dye, or body glitter. The number of products marketed for kids’ bodies is on the rise, but how safe are they?
Most of them are relatively benign, says Bernard Cohen, a Johns Hopkins pediatric dermatologist, but not all of them. He says parents should be particularly mindful of products containing the chemical paraphenylenediamine, which is commonly used in permanent hair dyes and dark-colored henna tattoos (not the traditional orange-brown variety). “It’s a potent allergen and can produce some pretty nasty reactions,” Cohen says, including red, scaly blisters on the scalp, face, and hands.
Reactions to allergens like paraphenylenediamine may not manifest after just one application, so Cohen recommends concerned parents test any new topical product on a small area of their child’s skin for a week to 10 days to see whether problems arise. If skin is clear, your kid is probably OK to dye his or her hair blue. Of course, your reaction might not be as benign.
Doctors On Call
Supporting a loved one suffering from a serious illness is difficult enough, but when that person lives far away, the job becomes more difficult. That’s where telemedicine can help.
The field of telemedicine— using technology to diagnose and treat health care issues remotely—has grown exponentially in recent years, and it’s increasingly being used to assist family caregivers. “Telemedicine streamlines the amount of work the family has to do,” says Rebecca Canino, administrative director of Johns Hopkins Telemedicine. “It allows the family caregiver to be part of the clinical care, so they can speak with the specialist as well.”
Patients and caregivers can participate in online video calls together in order to monitor recovery and discuss treatment plans. The video calls can display test results on screen, and allow all parties to communicate at one time. As part of the Johns Hopkins program, nurses also use remote monitoring devices to keep track of a patient’s vitals at home, providing peace of mind to patients and families. “With long-term care in particular it’s very difficult to remain engaged,” Canino says, “but telemedicine allows families to stay informed and stay part of the care team. If this interests you, it’s worth asking if a provider offers video visits. ”