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Tuesday, 19 June 2018 08:00

Learning to love yourself first as a caregiver is a case of ‘easier said, than done’. But the saying ‘love yourself first before you can love others’ rings truer than ever in the world of caregiving. But why do caregivers find it so difficult to practice self-love? Is it a perpetual presence of guilt which limits this practice?

Some would argue that feelings of guilt and an unrealistic view of perfectionism is the primary cause behind constant self-criticism and a failure to truly put yourself first.

These unrealistic views and goals can leave you feeling constantly defeated, low and overly self-critical as a caregiver. If you’re looking to work on your self-love, here are a few simple steps to help you get there…

First things first, you will need to examine your attitude and thoughts towards yourself in order to let go of guilt and make room for loving yourself.

1. Avoid comparing yourself to others – comparison is the thief of all joy and can only lead to feelings of self-loathing, resentment and hurt. Try not to compare your life, your journey or path to other caregivers, friends, family members or even strangers.

2. Banish feelings of unearned guilt – as a caregiver, feeling guilty is probably a daily occurrence. You are prone to these feelings because of the vulnerability of your care receiver and circumstances which cannot be changed. Let go of these feelings as you, alone, cannot change the inevitable cycle of life and death and the journey your care receiver is on. You can only do your best to make their lives easier, happier and more comfortable.

3. Don’t let pessimism dictate your life – many caregivers struggle with feelings of pessimism and clinical depression. If you feel like you need to speak to someone about your feelings or unload heavy thoughts, then do so! Try and make a real effort to change your daily way of thinking and update your outlook on life. Time well spent on doing so can go a long way in changing your overall levels of happiness.

4. Accept that you are only human – yes, you’re a caregiver and that carries a lot of responsibility, but at the end of the day, you are still human and allowed to have flaws! The sooner you accept this, the easier you will become on yourself. Accept that you have flaws which may need to be worked on, but these flaws make you who you are, and plenty of people will still love you for that, regardless.

5. Exercise and nourish your body – this age-old nugget of advice never gets old. Looking after your body will help to look after your mind, it’s that simple. Exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet will give you more energy and help you to feel better about yourself, overall. This being said, avoid shaming yourself for missing a workout or indulging every now and then – remember, you’re only human (refer to point above!).

6. Forgive others, forgive yourself – holding onto grievances or feelings of resentment because you’ve been hurt by others in the past is just weighing you down. Let go of the transgressions of others and forgive them. The same goes for your relationship with yourself. This is so important – learn to let go of your past mistakes and forgive yourself for them. What you are holding onto probably isn’t half as terrible as you think it is. By forgiving yourself, you are letting go of feelings of guilt, regret and shame, while making room for self-love, acceptance and happiness. Learn from your mistakes, don’t hold onto them.

A final thought is to remember to choose a good support network and surround yourself with positive, uplifting people. Ultimately, this type of support system can help you on your journey to establishing a sense of self-love and they will only encourage you to do so. Absorbing their love and support can go a long way in establishing a love for yourself.

Tuesday, 05 June 2018 10:00

The accumulation of amino acids, known as amyloid beta in the brain has been dubbed one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Larger clusters of these amyloid beta are called beta-amyloid plaques, which eventually disrupt neuron signalling in the brain. This leads to the collapse of memory, personality and ‘normal’ everyday behaviour in an Alzheimer sufferer. Additionally, beta-amyloid plaques trigger the body’s inflammatory response, further encouraging the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Why a beetroot?

So where does the humble beetroot come in and how does it work to slow the progression of a disease such as Alzheimer’s? The answer lies in this root vegetable’s iconic pigmentation.

Researchers at the University of South Florida recently embarked on an experiment to test a particular compound found within beetroot pigmentation, known as betanin. This is the compound which gives beetroot its distinctive, dark red pigment. 

During their experiment, researchers discovered that the betanin compound positively reacts with amyloid beta. Ultimately, this works to prevent the process of oxidation in the brain which is associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Understanding the workings of betanin

Betanin as a compound is known as a forager of reactive oxygen, working to defend against oxidative stress. Basically, betanin works to protect against DNA damage, oxidation in the brain and body while simultaneously lowering blood pressure levels. 

Beetroot’s betanin compounds not only help to lower blood pressure, but also help to increase blood flow to the brain and increase the body’s oxygen circulation. Based on this, researchers have begun working on a hypothesis that betanin helps to prevent the clustering of amyloid beta in the brain, which ultimately leads to the progression of Alzheimer’s.

During thorough experimentation, researchers noted that the addition of betanin to a chemical compound mix of zinc and copper worked to reduce oxidation in the brain by up to 90%. As such, researchers are now working to include beetroot-derived compounds into modern-day Alzheimer’s medication as an inhibitor of the progression of the disease.

What lies ahead?

Despite these positive findings, researchers have expressed that the development of these new medications is by no means a ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s patients. However, they do offer hope in inhibiting the further progression of the disease.

They have surmised that the introduction of betanin to the diet of an Alzheimer’s patient, whether through nutrition, medication or a combination of both, holds the potential to stagnate the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. A diet rich in beetroot can be amazingly colourful, tasty and healthy and this humble vegetable can be introduced in a number of exciting recipes.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 01:00

Dementia related wandering is a common side-effect of this disease. Not all dementia patients are likely to end up as wanderers, but there may be an instance or few where wandering behaviour presents itself during your caregiving tenure.

What is dementia related wandering?

This is a very different form of wandering from merely exploring the neighbourhood or meandering about the city. Dementia patients with wandering habits are purpose driven, with wandering patterns often triggered by memories or changes in routine, lifestyle or life events.

It’s important to fully understand the driving force behind their wandering in order to a get a hold on their wandering habits. In this way you can take necessary measures to prevent wandering and decrease incidents of injury or getting lost.

Understanding wandering behaviour

In order to understand why a loved one with dementia has taken to wandering, you will need to understand what they’re trying to achieve or where they want to go. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking the question. But more often than not, it’s not that easy and you’ll need to observe their behaviour closely.

Step 1: Analyse what you are seeing

Some of these questions and scenarios may be common in relation to wandering behaviour:

  • Are they trying to ‘escape’ from somewhere?
  • Are they moving from one place to another with seemingly no direction or final destination in mind?
  • Are they actively searching something or someone i.e. walking with purpose?
  • Are they waking and wandering in the middle of the night feeling disoriented?
  • Are they anxiously pacing up and down in a certain area?
  • Are they following or shadowing another person and their movements?
  • Are they feeling paranoid and trying to escape ‘danger’?

Step 2: Take note of the time of day and frequency of wandering

Make a note of the time of day the wandering instances tend to occur as well as their frequency throughout the week. This way you can begin to decipher a pattern and a possible meaning behind their behaviour. You can also keep track of wandering patterns and learn to prepare yourself and prevent a wandering episode.

Step 3: Envision the underlying cause of wandering

Take all your observations and compile a rough understanding of why your loved one could be wandering. During this step, consider your loved one’s lifelong routines, how active they used to be, the onset of new dementia symptoms, changes in routine and lifestyle which could be triggering such behaviour. From your basic understanding you can work to try and reduce wandering episodes.

Management of wandering behaviour

If instances of wandering are becoming difficult to manage, it may be worth undergoing a thorough analysis from a dementia expert. There are some medications which can be prescribed to assist with sleep/wake cycles and reduce instances of wandering.

However, if medication is not an option, there are certain interventions you can employ to help reduce wandering episodes, such as:

  • Keeping your loved one engaged around the general time of day they tend to wander. Include them in chores, make them a snack, watch a TV show together etc.
  • Move locks and latches on doors to be out-of-reach of loved ones.
  • Place bells on all exit doors as an extra alert system if they leave the house.
  • Use wearable medical alert devices which signal when a loved one has left the vicinity of your / their home.

In instances where wandering is more of a regular rather than occasional occurrence, make sure to sew a name and phone number into coats or items of clothing. Place contact information in their pockets, a purse or wallet for simple identification. Lastly, notify neighbours and local authorities of their habits and where they should be returned to if found.

It’s important to note that dementia related wandering is not always a permanent habit and eventually the cycle of wandering can be broken. Dementia related behaviours evolve with the illness, so if your loved one has a habit of wandering, just keep in mind that it won’t last forever!

Monday, 30 April 2018 00:00

If you’re new to caregiving, first and foremost –welcome. Your journey through caregiving will be filled with a fair share of ups and downs, but most of all, it can turn out to be one of the most fulfilling commitments of your life.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018 02:00

More often than not, many care givers are thrust into the position of caring for an elderly parent, partner or loved one without fair warning. Maybe it was a bad fall, a sudden bout of illness or a turn for the worse for an Alzheimer’s patient. Either way, full-time care giving and the financial strain is just not something you had / have prepared for.

Tuesday, 03 April 2018 00:00

As a care giver you may feel frustrated, lost and overwhelmed due to the toll that Alzheimer’s and dementia can have on your loved ones.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 00:00

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological condition affecting millions of people across South Africa. Typically characterised by shaky hands, an unsteady walk and rigid limbs, PD is a progressive disease which can worsen over time. Aside from the problems associated with movement, PD can produce lesser-known neurological issues, such as Parkinson’s disease psychosis.

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 02:00

As a caregiver do you ever feel like you are being taken advantage of by a loved one or care receiver suffering from dementia? Perhaps you feel like their behaviour is manipulative because it’s just so out-of-character from the loved one or person you once knew?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 00:00

Whether we like it or not, the world is changing – daily, with new and improved forms of innovation released to the public more frequently than ever before.

Tuesday, 06 February 2018 02:00

This is an inspiring story of dementia patients finding a way back to themselves through the wonder of music therapy and its stimulation of memories, buried deep in the brain.

2016 saw Edward Hardy, an advanced stage dementia sufferer of Somerset in the United Kingdom, reunited with his former jazz band mates after a 25 year hiatus.

Staff member of Somerset’s Mellifont Abbey Care Home and fellow musician, Sam Kinsella, reintroduced the wonders of music therapy to Edward after realising they shared a mutual love for music. As a former jazz pianist with over 30 years performing in his own jazz band, Edward was offered the chance by Sam to sit down at a piano and strike a chord.

A truly amazing story:

‘I remember the day Ed started playing again. He hesitated for about 30 seconds and then started playing some amazing tracks to a ridiculous standard. It's really amazing because even though he's got dementia - you can name a tune and he can just play it’, said Sam Kinsella.

Shortly after this, Sam set out on a mission to bring together a jazz band of sorts, allowing Ed the opportunity to once again perform to a live audience. An online ad was placed searching for jazz band mates, with over 80 musicians offering their talent.

Amazingly, Ed’s former band mates saw the ad and came forward to perform with him – the first time in over 20 years!

"He hadn’t played with the band for the last 20 or 30 years and couldn't really comprehend it until they actually came together but when they started playing together and talking about the old times - that's when it started coming back to him." – Sam Kinsella.

The story of Edward Hardy, an advanced-stage, 93-year old dementia patient just goes to show the true power of music and how it not only enriches the human spirit, but also the human brain.

Music and dementia

Over the past decade, music therapy has gradually developed into a legitimate form of therapy for dementia patients across the globe, with dramatic effect.

The power of music, whether it’s jazz, 60’s soul, operatic arias or bible hymns has proven to aid dramatically in memory recall and improve quality of life for many dementia patients.

Additionally, the power of singing has also been found to unlock memories and kick start grey matter. It would seem that this form of therapy is able to reach deep into the brain in ways other forms of communication cannot.

This therapy has proven that even if dementia sufferers can no longer communicate, they still have the faculty to reach down into themselves and draw out a small piece of who they once were through singing, whistling, clapping, dancing and the playing of an instrument.

Music therapy has become a proven avenue of access to the part of the brain which remains undamaged by the ravages of dementia, bringing hope and increased quality of life for all dementia patients, no matter their stage of the disease.

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