Caregiving An Act Of Love

Five Stress Busters to Keep Caregivers Healthy
Caring for yourself helps you better care for others

If you are among the 50 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. who are caring for your Mother, Father, or other elderly or disabled loved one, you know the daily to-do lists can get long and overwhelming.

Caregivers take on dozens of diverse tasks ranging from bathing, dressing and feeding their loved ones to shuttling them to doctor’s appointments, paying bills, picking up medication, cleaning house, cooking meals. Many unpaid caregivers – nearly 60 percent, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP — are also working and juggling the demands of their own families.
Caregiving is a role most willingly take on, but the job is demanding — a non-stop flurry of activity that can compromise your own mental and physical health, if you’re not careful.

There are some simple things you can do to minimize the health risks and insure that you’ll be strong and healthy enough to help others. Plus, if you take on a few of these stress-busting tips you’re bound to enjoy life even more.

Five Caregiving Stress-Busters

1. Turn to technology. Several devices and apps can now make it easier and more efficient for you to schedule appointments, access services, and do the research you need to find the services, products and providers that can help you care for your loved one. Nearly a quarter of all caregivers say they’ve found benefit by using an electronic calendar or organizer that can help them streamline appointments, medication schedules, meetings. Social media, Internet and e-mail applications can help you stay connected to your friends and social support network, even though you have little time to visit. And technology that links you to home helper, elder care, and respite care resources or emergency response programs can ease your stress and worry. Also consider our resource center page – linked to the article you’re reading now – as a source of updates and information to support your caregiving efforts.

2. Take time for yourself. This can feel hard to do until you get into a habit of a taking a little “Me Time.”  Plan the daily schedule in a way that accommodates some personal downtime. Instead of cleaning the house while your loved one naps, curl up with a good book and take a break yourself. A couple of times each week, contract with a homecare services provider so you can meet a friend for coffee or go for a long walk.  Rediscover something you have always loved to do – knitting, writing, solving crossword puzzles, practicing yoga or oil painting – and build in time for it each day. Even a few minutes focused on something that you enjoy, will leave you feeling better and give you something to look forward to.

3. Get physical. Each day schedule some time for exercise.  Find creative, fun ways of getting it done. Take a brisk walk to the park while pushing the person you’re caring for in a wheelchair (the activity and fresh air will be good for both of you). Turn vacuuming into an aerobic activity by moving quickly without a break. Turn on some of your charge’s favorite music around the house and move it. Dancing for 20 to 30 minutes is a good way to strengthen your heart and music is a mood-booster for everyone who listens. If you do better working out at a gym, hire a respite care provider to relieve you for an hour each day so you can hit the treadmill, go for a swim or take on a yoga class.

4. Give thanks. When mired in the day-to-day responsibilities and mundane chores it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and mentally and physically exhausted. In this state, it’s hard to remain positive, especially if the health of the person we are caring for is declining. Life can at times feel hard, lonely, and unsatisfying. But, a regular practice of gratitude can reconnect you to the goodness that is there too. A few minutes before you drift off to sleep (or first thing in the morning) declare three things that you’re grateful for. Perhaps, you were able to venture out for a walk, or maybe you had only a short wait at the doctor’s office. Perhaps you’re grateful because someone brought by a home cooked meal or came for a visit. Maybe, you appreciated the sun streaming through the windows. Studies show a regular practice of gratitude eases stress, boosts immune function and promotes well-being.

5. Outsource when possible. You no longer have to do it all alone. Senior care experts or personal care services in Boulder can take over some of the tasks so that you get a moment to yourself or a chance to rest. Make a list of the homecare services that could be done by others, and seek out non-medical homecare providers to help ease the load a bit. It’s okay, necessary even, to ask for help and the time away will only make you a better caregiver. The expert caregivers at HomeCare of the Rockies, Inc. willingly take on non-medical homecare such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, even transportation to and from doctor’s appointments so you no longer have to do it all.

Part of being committed to caring for your loved one means you must also be committed to caring for yourself. Even just an hour off can leave you feeling revitalized and better able to take on caregiving tasks.

Three Ways to Stay Close While Caregiving

Disability and age impact more than just the physical body – they also alter the relationship between mother and daughter, husband and wife, father and son.

If you’re the primary caregiver for your loved one – or the one being cared for – the relationship between you and your family member becomes inherently more complicated once the familial roles change.

“Often, the person who has long been the leader and provider of the family is now the one needing help from the very people he used to care for,” says Sandi McCann, president of HomeCare of the Rockies, Inc, Boulder. “Or the mother, who has always nurtured her children, is now the one feeling vulnerable and needing to be cared for herself. It’s an adjustment for the entire family and it can complicate relationships.”

But, you can stay close, despite the family’s changing needs.  In fact, caregiving can even strengthen relationships if both of you make a commitment to respect each other and implement these three strategies.

1. Talk to each other, not over each other.

So often when roles change and one person takes on the primary caregiving responsibilities, people stop talking to each other.

Doctors, support staff, and senior care service personnel have a tendency to direct their inquiries about the person requiring care to the caregiver instead of the patient, even while the patient is in the room. Not only can this feel disrespectful, it can disempower family members and build resentment.

If you’re the one needing care it may become easy to criticize your caregiver to others. This can also strain family ties.

Instead of talking about each other or over each other, talk to each other. If you are the caregiver, ask the person being cared for her opinion, direct questions about her care to her, include her in dialogue. As a caregiver you may need to step in and offer information and support but you can include your loved one in this discussion no matter what level of care she requires.

If you are the one being cared for, have a heartfelt talk with your caregiver. Share your concerns respectfully and honestly without criticism. Work toward improvements together.

It’s important that each of you acknowledge the challenges you are facing. An open and respectful conversation can demonstrate how much you care about one another and enhance the quality of care and the relationship.

2. Leave time to be together.

When someone needs help and another is committed to being the helper, it’s easy to spend the day focused solely on care responsibilities rather than nurturing the relationship. Make sure you build in time for both.

You don’t always need to be doing something. Sometimes, the greatest form of care you can offer is simply to slow down and be together. You don’t have to solve problems, do chores, fix anything. When you can just sit and be with each other in the moment – no matter what that moment looks like – you’ll create a feeling of companionship and support that can ease stress.

If you do decide to take on an activity, do something that is comfortable for both of you, or take in an activity that prompts fond memories and invites story-telling.

For example, if you and your father once shared a love for baseball, enjoy a sunny day at a neighborhood Little League game and talk about the times you played the sport together. Not only will it bring you closer, but seniors, especially the elderly who are 85 and older, gain immense pleasure by sharing and remembering early life experiences and it’s also a good way to distract them from their pain or discomfort.

If your Mom was a teacher ask about her expertise, or tips for dealing with children, or talk about your favorite books. If you always enjoyed cooking together, pick out a new recipe and get cooking again, or turn on a cooking video. You could even go through the old family cookbook and share tips or favorite recipes. Jot what you learn in the margins as a remembrance when she’s gone.

Often it is the smallest, simplest moments that provide the biggest opportunity to connect and nurture relationships. Sharing a quiet moment or mutual interest with someone you love is a great way to start.

3. Preserve privacy and personal space.

It’s not a weakness to call on outside care providers for help; in fact it is critical when it comes to preserving your relationship with your loved ones. If your loved one is requiring more and more care and assistance with daily living tasks, such as grooming, toileting, and bathing support, it’s time to consider calling on a home care services provider for help.

This assistance will allow you to spend quality one-on-one time with your parent or spouse without sacrificing her dignity or personal privacy.

If you are the person being cared for, there is no shame in needing help with some of the daily personal tasks, but you may decide that a home care service provider can assist you more efficiently and comfortably. Caregivers from HomeCare of the Rockies,  are specifically trained to safely and appropriately help clients with a variety of personal tasks including bathing, personal care, dressing, feeding, toileting, medication reminders and protective oversight. With this kind of efficient and professional support from our trained caregivers, you’ll be able to maintain some personal privacy and have more time to connect with your family.

Check out the Benefits of Homecare  to determine whether a professional caregiver from HomeCare of the Rockies, Inc. can help ease some of the strain that comes when families change. A little extra support means you have more quality time to enjoy at home with your family.

How to keep in touch while caregiving

One of the biggest challenges unpaid caregivers face is how to maintain their own relationships and social connections even while caring for an elderly friend or loved one.

Though caring for an elderly family member is a job most willingly take on, the stress and strain of the job can lead to physical and mental illness and the risk is greater for those who relinquish their own friends and recreational activities to caregiving.

More than half of all caregivers say that the responsibility has taken significant time away from their social lives, according to a report by the National Alliance of Caregiving and AARP. Those who do sacrifice social time are nearly 50 percent more likely to experience high emotional stress, compared to those who do maintain their social network.

Staying in touch with friends, family members outside of your role as caregiver and staying involved with the activities you’re passionate about is essential not only so that you feel better, but so that you are better able to care for your loved one for the duration.

Here are some ways to do it:

Get respite care: You’ve got to make your own emotional health a priority and schedule time see friends and do fun things. Plan a time weekly or monthly to have a trusted friend, a professional caregiver or a volunteer come in so that you can get a respite.  The in-home respite care services of HomeCare of the Rockies can make it easy for you to reconnect with friends, without worry.  Additional resources and an excellent family respite program are also available from Boulder County.

Join a support group. Once you do get some time on your own, you’ve got to make a point to reach out to others. One way is to create connections with others who know what you’re going through. Join a support group for caregivers. There are many in the Boulder area that cater to seniors and caregivers as well as people coping with illness or grief.  You’ll find a helpful list of Boulder County Support Groups and Services through Seniors Blue Book online.

Get a massage. The healing power of touch has been well-documented and the benefits of massage go well beyond the relaxation of tight muscles. Massage can improve our moods, enhance our feelings of well-being and help you feel more connected to others.

This happens, when pressure receptors in our bodies are stimulated through appropriate touch prompting a physiological relaxation response, says Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School Of Medicine. Our heart rates slow, the amount of stress hormones we secrete decreases, causing us to feel more nurturing toward ourselves and others. Schedule your massage now. Elements Therapeutic Massage in Boulder is one place to go for this kind of healing touch.

Link up. Social media applications and online tools now allow you to be connected to others from the comfort of your own home. Enroll (most are free) in one that feels interesting to you and spend a little time each week learning how to navigate around the site. A quick visit to Facebook can be a good way to get in touch with long-time friends, post pictures of loved ones for long-distance family members, and connect with other caregivers and care resources. Connect with our own Facebook page to share experiences, ask questions and find new senior care information. Or create a support team with a free website such as http://www.whatfriendsdo.com.

Plan one activity a month. At least once a month plan to meet a special friend or family member for lunch or coffee — and keep the date. Friendships lower blood pressure and anxiety, and increase the quality and length of our life, says Irene S.Levine, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.

It isn’t easy, to keep up with important friendships and the activities you’re passionate about even while caregiving, but it is essential. Plan ahead, work out a support plan for your loved one, and then for a bit of time each week do one of the things mentioned above. Soon, you’ll be feeling better and that will make you an even better caregiver.

Tips for Caring for a Loved One from One Man Who Did It

At first, Nancy’s tennis game started to go. Then she struggled with controlling her hand. But when she became unsteady and fell a couple of times, Jerry McCann knew he needed to get help for his wife.

By 2008, Nancy’s disease, which was ultimately diagnosed as an incurable and rare neurological condition, had taken hold and her body was nearly incapacitated. Jerry knew he wanted to care for Nancy in their Sedona home for as long as possible. He also knew, that in order to do that, he’d need to take care of himself along the way.

With the support of friends and family, the aid of hospice and in-home care providers, and his own commitment and resolve, he was able to be with Nancy until she died in 2011.

In the process Jerry says he learned a lot about himself, but also learned information and strategies that he hopes will help other family caregivers along their journey.

Lessons Learned

“Play the hand you’re dealt.”
Nancy’s diagnosis came as a startling blow to the McCann’s, who’d been an active couple. But then Jerry said he was struck by an intense resolve that helped him live through the experience.

“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. You can’t wish things away,” Jerry says. “I decided that I wanted to play it the best that I could . . . to give Nancy the very best quality of life I could provide during the remaining time she had. I’m proud of how I did it.”

More importantly, that realization gave Jerry some peace as the disease progressed and he was challenged to make ongoing care decisions to help his wife. Accepting the situation allowed him to cope with it instead of becoming mired in grief. It also helped, when, during the last year he and his wife moved into an assisted living apartment so she could get the intense, round-the-clock medical care she needed near the end.

Ask for help

Jerry knew right away that the physical and emotional demands of caregiving could actually become all-consuming making it harder for him to care for his beloved. So, he called on friends and family to come in and periodically relieve him of the day-to-day responsibilities. During the break he went hiking, played tennis with friends and did other healthy things.

He also hired a professional in-home caregiving service to provide respite support during the week. Hospice also helped by providing medical care to Nancy in the home.

By leveraging all of these resources, Jerry was able to get frequent breaks which helped him stay physically strong and mentally healthy. That allowed him to care for Nancy longer at home.

Professionally trained caregivers, such as at HomeCare of the Rockies, are available to come into your home as often as you need each week. They can offer assistance and companionship for your loved one while you get a much needed respite. Jerry started with a professional caregiver a couple of days a week and increased the time as his wife’s condition changed.

“I never felt guilty about doing that. Nancy and I talked about it when she was still O.K. to talk and she knew that I had to take care of myself in order to take care of her.”

Be open with your emotions

Part of that self-care for Jerry included being open and honest and even emotional at times with friends. While there was a certain peace that came from helping Nancy at home, he also grieved the debilitating changes he witnessed in his wife.

“I was able to talk to my friends and to share with them what was happening. I learned over my lifetime that crying was O.K. and I did that with them too.”
The emotional honesty, Jerry says, helped relieve the stress.

Look for resources and information

Jerry says he’s always been a problem solver, and those skills helped him find resources and strategies that aided in Nancy’s care. By asking a lot of questions, talking with friends, using the Internet, reading books and brochures, and talking with doctors he discovered valuable resources.

Medicare’s Hospice Benefit is one of the programs that Jerry learned was there to help those who are living with a terminal illness. He urges people not to be complacent. Keep seeking solutions, he says, because you’re bound to identify a strategy or tip that will help.

Aside from research, Jerry also uses the Internet for on-line bill paying, shopping and other services that make life easier. He uses an iPhone to keep in touch with his grandchildren and even logs on to Facebook and other social media sites to stay connected to family.

Keep to the routine

When you are caring for a person who is disabled or otherwise incapacitated, it can feel like everything you know has been torn away. Sticking to some of the established routines can help ease the uncertainty and help family members feel more centered.

For Jerry and Nancy, dinnertime was a special way to continue their evening ritual. Jerry had always been the household cook and the couple would sit down to a candlelight dinner or a meal by the fireplace each night. When Nancy became ill, the routine continued.

The dinners were something they both looked forward to, Jerry says, and it insured that they were spending some quality time together and eating healthy, nourishing food. Since Nancy’s death, Jerry has continued the practice. Though he misses her at the table, Jerry says keeping up with the routine has helped him to eat more nourishing meals “and not just a hotdog at the counter” and provided a time when he can also reflect on all that they did share.
Even armed with the tips and strategies he talks about above, Jerry says, “it was still incredibly difficult watching my wife, this once powerful and strong woman deteriorate.”

But he is proud of how they handled it and happy that he could be with Nancy at home even as her illness progressed. By taking an honest look at the circumstances, asking for help to leverage the support you need, and keeping to a routine that still includes special moments, Jerry’s experience could help you manage your own.

The Power of Play – how leisure time can benefit caregivers

It’s easy to forget about fun when we are caught up in the demands of running a household, caring for an elder loved one, and taking care of job and financial responsibilities. But, because of our hectic lives it’s even more important that we take time out to play a little.

While, playing may be the last thing on your mind when you are juggling the caregiving responsibilities, fun isn’t frivolous. In fact play is even a secret weapon against stress, and heart disease, it promotes longevity and also improves relationships, says Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute of Play. It also helps you continue to be an effective, compassionate caregiver. When we are having fun, we feel good and then we do everything better.

What is play?

For adults play can be anything that excites us, inspires us or provides enjoyment. Play shows up as physical activity, creative endeavors, or engrossing challenges and activities that invoke our imaginations.

Whenever you are in the flow, immersed in a project that is both challenging and satisfying, that is a form of play. Play can also be a quiet moment reading a good book, working on a crossword puzzle, and for some, exercising in the gym. Whatever brings enjoyment, causes you to lose track of time, and feels good in your body is probably a form of play, Brown says.

TIP: One way to rediscover what you like to do is to reflect on what you used to enjoy. Did you like drawing as a kid? Well, pull out the art supplies and give it a try now. Were you into sports? Sign up for a local sports league and find out if that still feels fun. Create time to explore and try new things and you’ll rediscover the power of play in your own life.

The important thing, Brown says, is to step out of your regular habits, and add something new and novel to your day to discover what is fun for you. Once you know what you enjoy, you can do more of it.

Making time to play

To benefit fully, though, you need to schedule time in for play, as you would an appointment or household responsibility. Put it in your calendar, and make it part of routine by adding brief moments of play to each of your days. Take a five-minute break to read your book. Pull out a puzzle and add pieces to the jigsaw as you wander by. Or, make time to go outside and garden if that feels fun to you. Even a few minutes at a time will add some fun and good feeling to your life.

Then, as you rediscover what you like to do, the qualified caregivers at HomeCare of the Rockies Inc., can help you make it happen on a regular basis. Our caregivers are available for a few hours at a time, or full days. We can even stay overnight so you can have fun and come back refreshed and ready to care for your loved one again. Call us today at 720-204-6083 go online and we’ll help you find the time to play without the worry.

Not sure what to do next? Follow our suggestions below for creating a healthier, happier lifestyle by adding the fun back into your life.

Ways to play

The best way to Play can be any activity that you enjoy. Often, it’s most fun to mix it up a bit and have a variety of experiences that range from sitting quietly on the back porch to dancing, attending social gatherings or playing team sports. Here are some other ways to play.

  • Take a video game challenge. Wii Fit and other interactive video games can be fun and active, even when you can’t leave the house
  • Turn up your favorite music and dance a little or call in respite help and enroll in a ballroom dancing, Zumba or Zumba Gold class
  • Read that book on your nightstand
  • Pick up a new ingredient at the store and play with a new recipe
  • Connect with a fun friend who laughs a lot and meet her for lunch or another activity
  • Try out for a community theater production
  • Sing in the shower – or anywhere. Just belt out a favorite tune.
  • Doodle, or pick up the finger paints and color your world
  • Make funny faces and let yourself laugh, and relieve tension with Lion’s breath
  • Watch funny videos on You-Tube.
  • Daydream about a happy or funny childhood experience.
  • Set up a jigsaw puzzle
  • Pick up a new knitting pattern, build a birdhouse, or take on another project and make time to create
  • Learn an instrument

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