Being a caregiver can be a difficult job, both physically and emotionally. Caring for a loved one in your home or nearby has many challenges. But what if your loved one is in another town, state, or country? Long-distance caregivers face different obstacles that complicate caregiving. Shiffy Crane, a well-respected Geriatric Care Manager in Orange County, CA, talked on this subject in February of this year. I was delighted to be part of the audience at the Senior Care Professionals breakfast sponsored in part by the Alzheimer's Association and Atria Golden Creek and to have the opportunity to hear her tips. Here are three ideas that I want pass along:
- Enlist the help of local resources. Be it a friendly neighbor, a professional caregiver, or a distant relative, another set of eyes and ears checking in on your loved one will give you more information and peace of mind.
- Remember your own balance. Though you may be concerned with your loved one, you have the right to live your own life and to take care of your needs, too.
Much appreciation to Shiffy Crane for her tireless efforts in educating the Orange County community on elder care issues. For more information about Shiffy, visit her website at www.elder-care-manager.com
- Make time for fun. When you visit your loved one,it's easy to switch into "caregiver mode" and get busy with tasks. While this is important, it's also crucial to allot "quality time" to reconnect with your loved one.
What comes to mind when you think about parents and kids sitting down for a difficult conversation? Most people might envision parents having a heart-to-heart with their teen about the birds and the bees or substance abuse. But what if the kids are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, and the topics they want to discuss include whether or not mom should turn over the keys to the car for good or what happens if dad has a stroke and needs long term care?
Family dynamics and communication styles play a large role in how these talks will proceed. If lines of communication were never transparent in a family, it’s likely that approaching an aging parent will be more challenging. Moving, money, health, and driving are commonly the trickiest topics to discuss with older adults (D’Aprix, 2010). This is due to the fact that, often, the parent is concerned about losing autonomy and shifting into a more dependent role. For decades, they’ve been the ones in charge of their own finances, home, and lifestyle, and often see no reason to cede control to their children. Adult children, however, may be worried about their parents’ safety and wellbeing, yet be uncomfortable transitioning to a caregiving role.
While broaching the tough topics with aging parents may be challenging, there are some methods that can help. Talking to parents before a health setback or other crisis occurs is paramount. Choose a calm, quiet, appropriate time and place to start a dialogue, and gauge if both you and your parent is in a relaxed mindset to have a discussion. These talks don’t have to be drawn out; twenty minutes is fine. Be sure to continue to keep talking at regular intervals. To avoid a power struggle, make the goal of the talks clear: maximizing the independence of the aging parent (Edmonds, 2012). The safer, healthier, and more financially organized the parent is, the longer the parent will be able to maintain the maximum autonomy. You, as the adult child, are there to assist and support this goal as long as safely feasible.
D’Aprix, A. (2010, November 17). Challenges of communication between older adults [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com /watch?v=b1sLvrTlaUo
Edmonds, D.S. (2006-2012). Talk to elderly parents about the future. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from http://www.talk-early-talk-often.com/talk-to-elderly.html
When I heard poet Marie Howe read her poems aloud on NPR's "Fresh Air" I was moved to tears. Howe has a gift in her ability to beautifully put into words feelings that are shared by many but not often easily accessed in such an eloquent way. Universal sentiments that accompany grief, loss, love, and connection are themes that run through much of her work. I wanted to share with my readers the following poem which holds particular resonance for me, and I thank Marie Howe for graciously accepting my request to post it here. "My Mother's Body" by Marie Howe from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton & Co.)Bless my mother’s body, the first song of her beating
heart and her breathing, her voice, which I could dimly hear,
grew louder. From inside her body I heard almost every word she said.
Within that girl I drove to the store and back, her feet pressing
pedals of the blue car, her voice, first gate to the cold sunny mornings,
rain, moonlight, snow fall, dogs…
Her kidneys failed, the womb where I once lived is gone.
Her young astonished body pushed me down that long corridor,
and my body hurt her, I know that – 24 years old. I’m old enough
to be that girl’s mother, to smooth her hair, to look into her exultant frightened
her bedsheets stained with chocolate, her heart in constant failure.
It’s a girl, someone must have said. She must have kissed me
with her mouth, first grief, first air,
and soon I was drinking her, first food, I was eating my mother,
slumped in her wheelchair, one of my brothers pushing it,
across the snowy lawn, her eyes fixed, her face averted.
Bless this body she made, my long legs, her long arms and fingers,
our voice in my throat speaking to you now.Click here to hear poet Marie Howe's interview with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air"
If you are a caregiver to a family member, let me start off by acknowledging how difficult it can be and how much energy you must be expending just to get yourself and your loved one through the day. While it may be a lonely endeavor, you are actually, not alone. According to a 2009 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP, more than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.
The role of caregiver is often not one that we choose, but is often thrust upon us by circumstance. We are often not prepared for what caregiving entails, and this can lead to feelings of overwhelm and depression.
While there are no easy answers or simple solutions, here are three ways to take care of yourself while taking care of another.
1. Enlist social support.
Asking for help can feel vulnerable. After all, we want to feel like we can handle it all. But going it alone can quickly lead to burnout. Ask friends, family members, and your community for help, and be specific. Depending on the person you’re asking, you might need emotional support, practical assistance such as help picking up prescriptions, caregiving respite, or help gathering information such as local caregiver resources. Keep in mind that others generally feel good about helping and will welcome being given concrete things they can do to support you.
2. Enhance your problem-solving skills.
Research shows that if a caregiver considers him or herself an effective problem-solver, they have a higher level of confidence in their ability to handle issues and complications that might arise; they also have increased ability to monitor their reactions and stress levels. This increase in confidence is linked to caregiver well-being and a decrease in depression. You can increase your problem-solving skills by establishing more streamlined routines and by sharing information with other caregivers.
3. Make time for yourself
Not neglecting your own needs might be the hardest of these suggestions to follow through on. Feelings of guilt are common, and it may seem like there isn’t time in the day. Without taking care of ourselves, however, we have nothing left to give others and we end up harming our own health. Identify what recharges you and make sure you make the time for it on a regular basis. Maybe it’s a yoga class, coffee with a friend, a few hours out of the house. Honor yourself by making your needs a priority.
Is there something that you've tried that has worked to decrease caregiver stress? Anything that you'd caution others to avoid? Please add your voice to the conversation by commenting below.
I'll be facilitating a Caregivers Support Group starting in September, 2011, at Journey Coaching and Counseling Services in Irvine. This group is intended to support and empower caregivers of ill, disabled or elderly family members, who often experience feelings of overwhelm, depression, and isolation. The group is held in a safe, non-judgmental and confidential setting and we'll work together to decrease stress and increase a sense of self-efficacy in the participants.
The group will run for 6 consecutive Tuesdays from 12-1:30pm, starting Sept. 13th, 2011. Cost is $30 a session, or a discounted cost of $150 for the 6 week series if paid in full by first session. If you know someone who can benefit from the support of others struggling with their caregiver role, please have them call me at 949-222-6681 or email at YourOCTherapist@gmail.com.