Care for Caregivers

By Roz Jones

If you’re caring for an aging parent or facing the challenges of assisting a loved one or friend who is chronically ill, disabled or elderly, you are not alone. You are one of the 22 million Americans who care for an older adult. Caregivers provide 80 percent of in-home care, but unlike nurses and home health aids, they are unpaid for their labor of love. 

“Caregiving is a difficult job that can take a toll on relationships, jobs and emotional well-being,” says Dr. Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers. “Those who care for others need to be sure to take care of themselves, as well.”

Here are some important tips for caregivers:

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help 

We tend to wait until we are in crisis before asking for help and consultation. Seek out the help of a licensed clinical social worker or other trained professional.

It’s Not Easy to Tell Your Parents What to Do 

The most difficult thing about caring for a parent is the day you have to tell them they need to have help, they can no longer drive or they may have to move from their home. Discuss long-term care wishes and desires before any decline happens. 

Take Care of Your Mental Health

It is not unusual to feel frustrated with your parents or children when they refuse your input and help. Seek a referral to a professional who can help you cope with your personal issues and frustrations. 

Stay Informed

We live in a world of constant change. Medications and treatments are constantly changing and the only way to keep up-to-date is to stay informed with the latest news. Attend local caregiver conferences, participate in support groups, speak with friends and relatives, and talk with professionals in the field of gerontology and geriatrics. 

Take Time Out

Caregivers who experience feelings of burnout need to accept that occasionally they may need a break from their loved one in order to provide him or her with the best care.

Laugh

Humor and laughter are tremendous healers.

Hire Help

If possible, you may want to hire help. The most important thing is to find trustworthy people to provide assistance. Use recommended home care agencies, talk with friends about their experiences and interview professionals before deciding on the one you are going to retain.

Caring for Elderly Parents: 5 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

By Roz Jones

Joanne’s mother, Betty, had rheumatoid arthritis for years.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, Betty was disabled by the pain, fatigue and limited mobility that she had feared since her diagnosis.  

Joanne convinced her fiercely independent mother that living alone was no longer an option.  And Joanne, the eldest of four children, knew that caring for her sick mother fell on her shoulders.  Joanne was a legend in the circles of her family, friends and colleagues for her ability to act with grace under pressure.

Joanne took two weeks of vacation from her job and cooked and froze meals for her husband and three children.  As she flew to her hometown, she wondered how she would coordinate her mother’s care from a distance. Supporting her husband as he built his new business, nurturing her kids and directing a major project at work already made her feel that she was running on empty.  

You may relate to Joanne’s story.  One out of four Americans cares for a friend or relative who is sick, disabled or frail. That’s 46 million Americans who offer unpaid help to a loved one.  If they were paid caregivers’ compensation would exceed last year’s Medicare budget! And if you become a caregiver, you, like Joanne, may try to do it alone, shrouded in secrecy. 

Solo caregiving compromises your ability to nurture yourself and others. Let’s take caregiving out from behind closed doors.  For your sake and the sake of those who count on you, please get some help. Caregivers are competent people who feel that they should be able to do this job.  Yet, many soon find themselves unprepared and ill-equipped to manage the sometimes daunting tasks, such as managing a complex medical regimen or remodeling a house so it’s wheel-chair accessible or even finding someone to stay with their loved ones so they can go out to a movie without worrying their relatives will fall on the way to the fridge.

If you are a caregiver, you know that this act of love has its costs.  You stand to forfeit up to $650,000 in lost wages, pension and social security.  Add to that is the personal cost to your well-being, as your new demands leave you less time for your family and friends.  You may give up vacations, hobbies and social activities.  Finally, caregiving places a burden on your health.  Caregivers are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, depressed immune function and even hospitalization.

Instead of reaching out, caregivers become isolated.  Many who assume the caregiving burden fit the profile of the giving family member, like Joanne, who does not want to trouble others with their problems.  Some fear the consequences of disclosing their new demands to coworkers or employers. Caregivers are further challenged by the cultural conspiracy of silence.  Our youth-centered society turns a blind eye to the unpleasant and inevitable reality that all of us age and die.  This leaves both caregivers and care recipients unprepared.  Look no further than the path of Hurricane Katrina to witness the consequences of a lack of planning.

What can you do?   Start talking about the “what ifs” and make a plan.  

1. Start with yourself. What will happen to you and your family if you become disabled or die unexpectedly?  Do you have disability insurance? Do you have a will?  Do you have a living will, and have you identified the person who will make the medical choices you would make if you are not in the position to do so?  

2. Approach healthy family members.  Say, “I hope that you live many happy years in which you enjoy all of the pleasures you worked so hard to create.”  Have you thought about what would happen to you in the event that you cannot live independently anymore?  If some medical event befalls you, who would make your medical choices?

3. Look into community resources that support caregiving.  A day program, for example, helps your loved one by providing social connections with peers.  Your community may even offer transportation to and from the program.  Getting out of the house offers the additional benefit of getting bodies moving.  Socializing and exercise are the two most powerful interventions that help your loved ones stay at their best.  

4. Make specific suggestions to friends, family members and neighbors who want to help. You may even want to keep a “help list.” When they say, “Let me know what I can do,” you have a response:  “Could you take Mom to her physical therapy appointment this week?”  “When you’re at the store, could you pick up some oranges and blueberries?”  “Could you watch the kids for an hour so I can get to the gym?” Your giving friends will appreciate specific ideas about how they can help.

5. Take care of your health.  Get good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise to stay in top health.  Wash your hands regularly to prevent colds and flu.  Manage your stress with laughter, a prayer or even a deep breath.  Nourish your soul with a taste of activities that recharge your batteries such as writing in your journal or gardening.  Finally, talk to your doctor if you feel depressed or anxious.   

The best strategies for effective caregiving include preparation, acts of self-care and reaching out for help. That begins with the courage to start talking openly about caregiving.

Managing Caregiver Guilt: 5 Tips To Manage Guilt So Guilt Serves You, Not Imprisons You

By Roz Jones

Guilt is a common feeling in the landscape of care giving. Guilt can propel you to be the best you can be …or it can immobilize you.

 For caregivers, painful feelings — such as guilt, sadness and anger — are like any other pain. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘Pay attention.’ Just as the pain of a burned finger pulls your hand from the stove, so, too, guilt guides your actions and optimizes your health.

You have a picture of the “Ideal You” with values you hold and how you relate to yourself and others. Guilt often arises when there’s a mismatch between your day-to-day choices and the choices the “Ideal You” would have made. The “Ideal You” may be a parent who attends all of the kids’ soccer games. Miss a game to take your dad to the doctor, and you think you’re falling short.  

You may have needs out of line with this “Ideal You.” You may believe that your own needs are insignificant, compared to the needs of your sick loved one. You then feel guilty when you even recognize your needs, much less act upon them. A mother may ask herself, “How can I go out for a walk with my kids when my mother is at home in pain?” (A hint for this mother: she can give more to her mother with an open heart when she takes good care of herself.)

You may have feelings misaligned with the “Ideal You.” Feeling angry about the injustice of your loved one’s illness? You might even feel angry at your loved one for getting sick! Recognizing those feelings can produce a healthy dose of guilt. Yes, you may even feel guilty about feeling guilty.

 “Why did my loved one get sick?” you may ask. Perhaps, if the “Ideal You” acted more often, your loved one would be healthy. What if you served more healthful meals? What if you called 911, instead of believing your husband when he said his chest pain was just “a little heartburn”? 

 If you’re the kind of person prone to guilt, learn to manage guilt so that guilt serves you rather than imprisons you. Here are 5 tips for managing your caregiver guilt:

 Recognize the feeling of guilt: Unrecognized guilt eats at your soul. Name it; look at the monster under the bed

 Identify other feelings: Often, there are feelings under the feeling of guilt. Name those, too. For example, say to yourself: “I hate to admit this to myself, but I’m resentful that dad’s illness changed all of our lives.” Once you put it into words, you will have a new perspective. You will also be reminding yourself of how fortunate you are to have what it takes to take care of loved one.” 

 Be compassionate with yourself: Cloudy moods, like cloudy days, come and go. There’s no one way a caregiver should feel. When you give yourself permission to have any feeling, and recognized that your feelings don’t control your actions, your guilt will subside.

 Look for the cause of the guilt: What is the mismatch between this “Ideal You” and the real you? Do you have an unmet need? Do you need to change your actions so that they align with your values?

Take action: Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to be with your loved one.

Change your behavior to fit your values: For example, Clara felt guilty because her friend was in the hospital and she didn’t send a card. Her guilt propelled her to buy some beautiful blank cards to make it easier for her to drop a note the next time.

 Ask for help: Call a friend and say, “I’m going through a hard time. Do you have a few minutes just to listen?” Have a family meeting and say, “Our lives have been a lot different since grandma got sick. I’m spending more time with her. Let’s figure out together how we’ll get everything done.”

Revisit and reinvent the “Ideal You”: You made the best choices based on your resources and knowledge at the time. As you look to the future, you can create a refined vision of the “Ideal You.” What legacy do you want to leave? What values do you hold dear? Then, when you wake up in the morning and put on your clothes, imagine dressing the “Ideal You.” Let this reinvented “Ideal You” make those moment-to-moment choices that create your legacy.

Understand that you will be a more effective caregiver when you care for the caregiver first. Loved ones neither want nor expect selfless servants. As a caregiver, when you care for yourself, you increase and improve your own caring. Yes, guilt is part of caregiving, but this guilt can help you become the caregiver you and your loved one want you to be.

Get Comfortable Talking About Uncomfortable Things

By Roz Jones

There are things you generally don’t talk about in polite company- politics and religion top the list. Being considerate about tricky topics is a good thing. Avoiding uncomfortable things helps people feel at ease but sometimes you have to get comfortable talking about uncomfortable things. 

Talking about death, dying, and making plans might feel morbid but it is a necessary part of living. Being able to share your thoughts about things like: 

  • What sort of care you consent to in the event of an accident or injury
  • If you want to be revived or kept on life support
  • Where you want to live in the event you can’t live at home
  • Who should make medical or other decisions on your behalf if you are unable
  • Your thoughts on funeral planning and burial options
  • And more 

One of the reasons it’s so hard to talk about uncomfortable things is the feeling there is little control. The truth is, if you do not have plans in place, you’ll have very little control but if you do have plans in place, much of your care and aftercare is well within your control. All the more reason to have tough talks!  

Here are some tips for getting comfortable talking about uncomfortable things

Tip #1. Do your homework- The more you know about a subject, the less uncomfortable it is. There’s nothing you can’t learn about any subject connected to the legal, financial, and medical aspects of end-of-life care. Educate yourself and you will be well equipped to have intelligent and easier talks about the subjects. 

Tip #2. Prepare your audience- If you are going to have an uncomfortable discussion, prepare your family or friends beforehand. Don’t blindside someone with a tough talk they may not be emotionally ready for. Instead, give them time to get ready and be mentally prepared to absorb what you need to share. 

Tip #3. Practice- The more often you talk about uncomfortable things, the easier it will be. Start with professionals like clergy, medical staff, or attorneys before chatting with family or friends. Practicing your conversation will help you find the best words to use as well as become more comfortable speaking them. 

Some conversations are going to be tough no matter what. Being able to speak about uncomfortable things more comfortably helps those who depend on you feel safer and more prepared to help when the time comes. Get comfortable by doing your homework, prepping your audience, and practicing your conversation beforehand. 

End-of-Life Planning – Why Does It Matter?

By Roz Jones

Thinking of end-of-life matters can feel uncomfortable and cause some anxiety. It isn’t common to think about the end of life when it seems so far off. Planning for retirement might feel more comfortable because the thought of spending time doing the things you love – rather than working towards retiring – is exciting and rewarding after a long career; however, it’s just as important to think about and plan for the inevitable winding down of life. 

There’s no easy way to think about death or even an illness or accident. It’s much easier to think about being vital and healthy. Focusing on health is important. Doing the things you can to stay healthy – like eating right, exercising, and keeping a healthy mindset – is sure to help keep you fit and focused on a great life. Not thinking about end-of-life matters won’t make the inevitable any easier or make it go away. One thing we all have in common is we are going to pass away – we just don’t know when or how. It’s life’s biggest personal mystery. 

End-of-life planning matters because there are many things you can do to make things easier for yourself and your family. There are steps you can take to be ready if/when you face an accident, an illness, or your life ends. Many people are afraid to “tempt fate” or “bring about what you think about.” These are immature ways of looking at a very mature subject. 

End-of-life planning isn’t just about your funeral. It’s about important aspects of living such as: 

  • Protecting your assets
  • Having important medical documents if you are unable to communicate
  • Having income for retirement, illness, or long-term care
  • Communicating your wishes with others

And

  • Pre-need funeral planning 

It might feel strange thinking about or taking action regarding end-of-life matters but, like anything else, the more you engage in the tasks, the easier and more natural they will feel. Before you know it, speaking to professionals about your needs and sharing the information with your family will feel a lot less odd and a lot more responsible – something to be proud of. 

Don’t let the fear of the unknown and the morbid aspects of end of life planning scare you. Be brave and do what it takes to plan ahead so you and your family are prepared and ready when your start to face end-of-life issues.