Posts Tagged ‘Caregiver’

Are you Burned Out?

If you can no longer remember what compelled you to become a caregiver, you just might have caregiver burnout! Remember, you cannot care for anyone if you do not first care for yourself. There is nothing wrong with asking for help from family, friends or agencies that can provide respite care. Be strong enough to take care of the caregiver.

If you answer yes to these questions, it may be time for you to take a break or re-evaluate your situation. Don’t smolder and burn until you explode.

  • Has it been more than two months since you’ve had a weekend to yourself to do whatever you wanted, even if that was to do nothing?
  • Have you cried for what seems to be “no reason at all” in the past week?
  • Have you neglected your own medical needs since you started caregiving?
  • Has it been more than a year since you visited your dentist or found a new one if you moved to start providing care?
  • Do you feel tired and listless most of the time?
  • Have you abandoned beloved hobbies due to lack of time or interest?
  • Are you more easily angered or upset than you used to be?
  • Is your fuse shorter than before you were a caregiver?
  • Has your patience decreased?
  • Do you think you will never have fun again?
  • Have you considered self-medication for depression or anxiety without consulting a physician?

Before any more time passes, seek help.

  • Ask a family member to visit more often and when they visit, if you can’t leave for long, take a walk outdoors. Enjoy the fresh air by yourself a few moments.
  • Invite one of your friends and one of your loved one’s friends over for lunch or dinner. Socialization is important for both of you.
  • If you have no local friends or family, check into agencies that provide respite care so you can take care of your own medical and dental needs.
  • Get a massage, pedicure, facial or manicure. If you can’t afford these, find a friend who will listen and give you a simple backrub.
  • Visit a nursing home, alone or with the one in your care, to gain perspective.
  • Practice gratitude. Think of one thing about your situation for which you are grateful. Every day, add to your list.

Question from a reader

My father has Parkinson’s and my brother was his caregiver for years but he said he’s burned out and I need to take over as Dad’s caregiver. How can I avoid burning out like my brother did?

You must remember that if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot care for your father. It is vital that you take some time every single day for yourself to prepare each morning and unwind in the evening. It’s not selfish. It’s part of healthy caregiving. Seek out other caregivers to talk to. Get into the habit of regular caregiver texts, phone calls and social meetings for lunch or coffee. Set up a schedule for time away each week, then reward yourself with a weekend away at least once a month. Take a daily walk, alone, if you can. Breathe deeply and purposefully. Nurture your hobby or start a new one. Stay connected to you friends and call on your brother for helpful advice. Find out what worked and what didn’t work for him and remember: this is not permanent.
Caution

Education is a Caregiver’s Friend

Library booksYou will repeatedly read about burned-out or stressed-out caregivers because stress is one of the most common features among those who provide care for their loved ones. The stress comes from many sources such as constantly worrying they aren’t doing enough or aren’t doing the right thing the right way. Also, it is the result of working long hours and feeling unappreciated. A prime cause of this stress is inadequate preparation prior to joining the ranks of family caregivers.

Caregivers must educate themselves on whatever medical conditions their loved ones have and learn as much as they can about nutrition, possible side-effects of prescriptions and how to motivate or engage people who may seem content to waste away. It’s vital for caregivers to discover all they can about local support groups and community resources as well as the challenges of aging and the demands on caregivers. It’s essential for caregivers to know their own physical and emotional limits. Burnout comes from many sources, so it’s important to know ahead of time, who will be available to help in an emergency and where to find daily comfort.

Hydrant

If you want to take a break without feeling guilty, enroll in a Red Cross CPR/first aid class. You’ll have a few hours to yourself, be able to socialize with others and learn or brush up on a useful skill. If there isn’t a local Red Cross office, call your fire department and request a class.

 

 

What is the cutoff point? Exactly when can you stop crying, stop caring and start getting your own life back?  There is no easy answer for this. Sometimes, the end of caregiving comes when the ones in our care recover enough to care for themselves, but more often, caregiving ends with the death of our loved ones. The fact that you are a caregiver means you can’t stop caring, even if you stop being a caregiver. You will never regain the life you had before, but when caregiving ends, your life will be richer for the experience. Years from now, you may long for just one more day, despite the sadness and anxiety you feel now. The key is to find ways to make your caregiving experience work for both of you. If you have a respite schedule set up, use it consistently. Step away. Seek help from family, friends or local agencies. You may need to make many phone calls or research online for hours, but help is available. Whatever decision you make, guilt should play no part. If you have to walk away from caregiving for a few hours, a few days or a few years there is no reason to feel guilty. You are doing the best you can and for that, you deserve to spend whatever time you need to take care of yourself.

Most often, caregivers are family members with little or no formal training on how to provide nursing care for their loved ones. They might feel guilty about illnesses or injuries that occur under their care. Education is an important element for caregivers. You don’t need to know everything about nursing or nutrition, just be open to learning about those who can provide the missing pieces of the puzzle. If you are a caregiver or contemplating becoming one, learn what options are available to you. Discover alternative sources for respite and get creative when you need guilt-free time away. Spend a few hours at the library researching respite agencies or schedule a visit with a nutritionist to discuss your loved one’s dietary needs. Take a day off to plan activities both you and your loved one can enjoy together by educating yourself to what’s available in your neighborhood. Check with your library and local hospitals for classes on health-related topics. Learn all you can, then relax and let the experts help you create a better life for your loved one.

Learn all you canKnowing that you don’t need to know everything is crucial to lowering your stress level. You can relax more if you simply coordinate experts who will care for your loved one’s special needs. There’s no need to hire a personal chef, but if you consult a nutritionist for menu ideas based on your loved one’s dietary needs, planning meals will be much easier. If your loved one needs physical therapy or has a regular hair appointment, you can use this time to take a short break, even if it’s a walk in the parking lot or a quick phone call to a friend. Sometimes, just putting space between you and the one you are caring for helps adjust your stress level.

Email your questions about caregiving to mary@marybrotherton.com

Who can be a Caregiver?

Caregivers come from all walks of life. They may be married or single, have a large family or no children at all. They may work full time, part time or be retired. Caregivers own homes and rent. Caregivers might provide care for parents, children, spouses, siblings and friends. Some are licensed by state agencies or other entities and for some, the only license needed is love.
Acute Care: Care that is generally provided for a short period of time to treat a certain illness or condition. This type of care can include short-term hospital stays, doctor’s visits, and surgery.
 Question of the Month:
How do I deal with the lack of feelings towards me from the one I provide care for every day? I sometimes think Dad would be better off in a home, without me.
First, realize that you are not alone. Secondly educate yourself about the particular condition that has caused the apathy. Does he have Alzheimer’s or other dementia? Has he been through a stroke or is he suffering from Parkinson’s Disease or something else? There is strength in knowledge. Reach out to other caregivers, online or in your community. Be honest with yourself. If you feel angry or frustrated, don’t take it out on your father, but express your emotions to others.
 This month’s Hot Topic – Advance Directives

old desk

Before the coulda, woulda, shoulda sets in, families need to have honest discussions about Advance Directives, those documents necessary to be sure life is lived according to individual wishes. Before it’s too late, talk about what you want to happen in case of an emergency.
Emergencies can happen at any age and to anyone. If you don’t have a family to support you through the end of life, you can appoint someone as your guardian, or the court might.
If you do not want to be revived after a heart attack, a tragic accident or other debilitation, you will want to be sure you have a Do Not Resuscitate order in place.
A Living Will spells out exactly what you do and do not want toward the end of your life. Ice cream for breakfast every day? Make it so! Feeding tube to prolong life? Make it happen. Love to eat and think a feeding tube is unnatural? Spell it out in your Living Will.
If you designate a Healthcare Proxy now, that person will make medical decisions for you – based on your conversations – in the event that you cannot speak for yourself.
A Durable Power of Attorney allows your designated person to make both financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf.
Talking about these issues will not create a need, but it will create peace of mind. Be sure everyone who may need to know your wishes, does know. Do not assume everyone will tell the others in your circle of family and friends.
Keep a copy of your Advance Directives in a folder, near you or in a designated location for first responders and other medical personnel.

 

Caregiving Ends but Giving Care Continues

End of days

Even though my immediate HANC tour has ended, my writing about caregiving has not. I’ve been writing a column for Senior Life called Caregiving Counts as a way to continue my tribute to my mother and to HANCs everywhere.

My first column was simple, yet important tips for caregivers that I pulled from the Internet. Here is where you can read the full  article.

You may also read here:

10 Tips for Family Caregivers from caregiveraction.org

  1. Seek support from other caregivers.  You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Each month I include a question of the month such as this one:

My father has Alzheimer’s Disease and some days, I just don’t think I can manage when he yells at me and tells me to go away. What should I do?

The best thing you can do is remember that everything ends. One day, you will wish your father was still around to yell at you. When he has tantrum moments, try to understand he isn’t trying to hurt you. The disease causes him to say things and act in ways he would never do, otherwise. This isn’t personal, but it does hurt. Be sure you have a strong support system you can call on at these times and as soon as you can, put some space between your father and yourself. If it’s safe to do so, take a walk when he demands you leave. By the time you return, he will likely have returned to his gentler self.

Some months I offer a definition.

Caregiver

Merriam Webster defines a caregiver as: a person who gives help and protection to someone such as a child, an old person, or someone who is sick.

If you have a specific question about caregiving, please contact me by leaving a comment through Facebook or email me: mary@marybrotherton.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Know your Signs

Everyone has some stress and each person deals with it differently.

Excited

As a caregiver, it is essential that you recognize the signs indicating a need to address your stress. The sooner you recognize and accept the signs of your own stress, the sooner you can do something to resolve the issue. If you are over-stressed, your ability to provide quality care is compromised.

Cautionshallow water

Do you experience headaches after a long, frustrating day? Perhaps your tension manifests through hives or hair loss. How has your blood pressure been since you started providing care for your loved one? Are you more easily irritated than you were before? How do you sleep at night? Have you become more restless or are you dealing with disturbing dreams?

Painful

Maybe you are a pacer or the kind of person who must have a spotless house when your anxiety takes over. Has your appetite changed or are you turning to alcohol more often? Don’t mistake a lower libido or lack of energy as a need to adjust to the demands of caregiving. It’s probably stress.

strange hair

When my mother struggled to raise her children with an alcoholic spouse, she coped with her stress by charging out of the house to stand on the grass, fists raised to the sky, and she screamed. We lived in a rural area with the closest neighbors more than a half mile away and she didn’t care if they heard her. Her stress didn’t have time to make a physical manifestation. The moment she felt overwhelmed, angry or afraid, her vocalized angst with no words alerted us to tread lightly.

Privacy

I’m not as clever as my mother. I tend to stuff my worries and concerns deep inside until, like a burst water balloon, they splash all over when I keep adding more. I suffered with migraines for years until traditional Chinese medicine helped me bring my body and mind into balance. Their frequency and intensity diminished until I became my mother’s housekeeper, activities director, nutritionist and companion. illness

More pervasive, however, was how my fingers dried out. They sometimes cracked and bled, but most often, they peeled off layer after layer until my fingers were raw and felt burned.

ouch

I sought the help of many medical experts and numerous home remedies – nothing helped until I took an extended break and visited my doctor who ordered me to relax. relax in hammock

“Stop doing. Just enjoy your life. Let your husband cook and clean and let your sisters care for your mother for a while. Take some time off to do only those things that bring you pleasure.”

Oh, to be carefree again! Don’t we all wish we could just flip a switch to take us back to our childhood, where the biggest worries we had were usually brothers and mosquito bites?

Flipped SwitchBouncing

“If you don’t, this level of stress will kill you,” he said.

What? Did my doctor just tell me that my stress will kill me? How could I provide care for my mother if I am not alive? I knew the importance of caring for the care giver. I’ve written about it, but I ignored my own advice. Not this time. It can happen to me. It did happen to me!

Get Serious

When I called my sisters to tell them I needed to extend my therapy break to two weeks, I discovered my mother, who had been ambulatory the day I left, was now bed ridden in excruciating pain. Three days later, she had been taken to hospice with stage four bone cancer that had not been evident at her last imaging three weeks earlier.

Go Left

After my mother’s memorial, I returned to my doctor who expressed amazement that my hands had healed so well despite the new emotions associated with grief.  I had been so committed to providing her with the best care and an improved quality of life, I ignored the signs of stress as they appeared on my fingers.

Be CarefulNo fishingLimited

One of the primary rules of caregivers is to care for the one providing care. Don’t wait to establish a healthy routine for yourself. Set up a regular schedule for relief. Your loved one will not suffer from a few hours a week, even a few days a month, without you. Most people work five days each week and take two days off so they can revive and recuperate. They typically take a week or two off each year for vacations. Whether or not travel is included, time away from work is essential.

Caregivers deserve no less – in fact, you deserve much more for the sacrifices you are making for your family.

Take a momentLimit

It’s time to take action. Call on brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and family friends. Before you have reached a critical stage of tension that may result in injury or illness, set up a schedule for your weekends and vacations, even if they are in the middle of the week and happen one day at a time over the course of the year. Just as important as the family finances, living will, power of attorney and medical needs for your loved one are, it is vital to be sure the caregiver takes time and makes time for breaks that take you away from the caregiving setting.

Past Calendar

Know and heed your signs. Take a few minutes to look at what has changed in your body since you started providing care and take steps to find your balance. Don’t let stress rob you of your own health and sanity.

Be kind enough to love yourself, too.

Ends

A Corner Office for a HANC

I’ve been promoted!

The new position didn’t come with a pay increase, but it did come with a corner office.

Office in the corner

Each morning, if I get to work early enough, I can sit at my desk and watch the sunrise. Since it’s on the ground floor, I’m able to observe birds in nearby trees, which can be a momentary respite for my eyes.

Small bird

            My new office also comes with surround sound, a fully stocked refrigerator and a snack drawer with all my favorite munchie-crunchies. Finally, I have a personal assistant who reminds me when it is time to eat or take stretch breaks. Perhaps one of the best perks of the job is how much freedom I have to be with family and the out-of-office scenic tours I’m expected to conduct.

bridge over untroubled water

            The truth is, nothing has changed but my perspective. I’ve been using my mother’s fifty-year-old kitchen table as a desk since I moved in with her. It’s still a kitchen table.

table

When I’m not at my computer or cooking or cleaning, I am with Momma, who may not appreciate being called my personal assistant.

Appointment checks

I realized I needed to adjust my point of view.

Sidewalk view

Rather than seeing her as a frail, elder demanding attention through pleas for constant snacks or drives to nowhere, I now see her as my private helper and partner in our grand adventure.

Road in Santee

            Whether I am blogging, editing, posting photos, writing or just goofing around with social media, it’s easy to lose track of time on the computer if someone does not distract me. When I go for walks, especially if I take my camera, I become lost in my own world. I tune everything else out.

Holding a camera

No boundaries and no timers or schedules are good for my art, but bad for the rest of my life.

Calendar

            My new outlook keeps me attuned to the truly important things – my relationships and my Self. My physical, emotional and spiritual self, with a capital S, deserves my focus. Rather than seeing my life through the dutiful eyes of a daughter who has given up much to provide support for a loved one, I now see myself as an executive HANC, with a side job that occasionally takes me away from fun excursions with Momma.

Female executive

            As her health and stamina slowly return to her, we’ve all noticed her personality is also making a comeback. Her wit and humor, long subdued by malnourishment, pain and dulled by medications, entertain anyone willing to spend enough time interacting with her.

Relationships

            Although it might be nice to have the hefty salary expected with a large, naturally lighted office, who needs that kind of stress?

Office building

Caregiver Dreams

I never dreamt I would become a caregiver and spend my life as a housekeeper, activities director, nutritionist and companion to my aging mother. Not one of my daydreams involved the minutiae of being a HANC.

Daydreams of Night

Like life lessons, some dreams recur until we learn from them. Others don’t need repetition to impress us. Dreams are powerful messengers that can take years to unravel.

When I was a child, I had a dream so frightening that I woke, as many children do, screaming and shaking.

Recurring dreams

My fairy-friends rested on my fingers and granted my requests until the day I sent them away with insults. Soon after, an enormous frog sat on me; only my hands, feet and head weren’t covered. I was terrified of frogs and thought I was going to die underneath this one. I called out to my fairies who reminded me that I’d said I no longer needed them in my life. I begged and pleaded, but they were adamant. They would do nothing for me. Once I apologized and promised to be a good girl, the frog vanished and I was free.

Pewter Fairy

In 2002, I learned about a television series that dealt with dream interpretation, so I contacted the producer to see if he was interested in the dream that had remained a vivid memory for more than thirty years.

Film Crew

The Dream Team didn’t last long as a show on the Sci-Fi channel, but the interpreter’s thoughts about my nightmare linger.

Terrible dream

The interpreter asked about my occupation and when I said I was a writer and editor, he told me I was in the wrong field. The dream – to him – clearly indicated that I should be in a healing profession such as nursing or massage therapy, since my hands played a vital role in the dream.

hand on tree

The frog indicated a potential for change or the unexpected.

Tree frog

He suggested that the fairies represented my relationships with others and with my spiritual self. He then encouraged me to do some soul-searching to determine if I should pursue a medical career.

fairy

I did not wish to change careers.

The interpreter said he thought that since I had remembered a dream I’d had three decades earlier, this was itself, a powerful omen. He urged me to put serious thought into what the dream foretold.

Blue dreams

I dismissed the encounter as a fanciful lark. My telephone interview didn’t air before the show cancelled and I continued as a writer/editor.

Pages of edited work

A few years later, a friend suggested I join her at a local paint-your-own-pottery studio for an afternoon of creative exploration. When I saw the fairy riding on the back of a frog, I knew it was the only piece for me. It was as if the dream, rather than recurring night after night, manifested itself to me every ten years or so.

Frog and Fairy

Some days, when things aren’t going as well as I’d like, I wonder if I knew, when I was in grade school, that one day I would be a caregiver to my mother. It doesn’t matter what I knew as a child or whether my dream was prescient. All that matters today is that I am able to make a difference in the quality of her life.

Halcyon

Reverse Kidnap

Caregiving

Some days, being a HANC is so damned difficult I don’t know what to do. Other days I think my duties are ridiculously commonplace. I have been a housekeeper and activities director since my first son was born. I’m aware of nutritional needs and don’t mind being my mother’s companion. Still, when we abandoned our former lives to care for my mother, I faced other difficult choices.

fire! Fire!

The possibility of a serious burnout scares the hell out of me. I resent being the only one who empties my mother’s potty. Yet I’m infuriated when I recall the foul odor that prompted us to put our careers and lifestyle on hold.

Time

I want to be inspiring and motivational, but when I’m frazzled and weary, it’s difficult to remain upbeat. At night, I often collapse into bed, exhausted physically, still reviewing things undone. After an hour or so, disturbing dreams or body aches begin, or I am awakened to attend to her needs.

Wine

Taking adequate restorative breaks requires advance planning and coordination. Gone are my days of spontaneity. I no longer come home from a hard day at work and announce, “Dinner’s on your own,” as I trudge toward a hot bath with a glass of wine and a book. Because of my mother’s condition, structure and routine are essential for a peaceful life.

Pituful man

Recently, I held my first serious pity party. After all, who knows how long this could go on? My siblings are confounded I have taken on this role, and trust me, today I was doubting my own good sense. When I felt my pending calamity, I called on five members of my large support system. My husband, two of four brothers, one of three sisters and a nephew listened and gave me their sense of understanding. One had an undertone of, glad I’m not in your shoes, and one promised to give me some relief – tomorrow.

What's in his hand?

When I mentioned my rising frustration to my nephew, I didn’t think he paid particular attention, but later, his dad approached me as I pruned a blueberry bush. He said he wanted to trade what was in my hand for what was in his, and he held out the keys to his car and a little cash.

He said, “I have half a tank of gas. Take it as far as you can and get a drink on me.”

Hand off

I accepted his gesture and his keys. No planning. No discussion. No procrastination and no collapse!

Walk through sanctuary

I told my husband we’d been reverse-kidnapped and we took my camera for a sunset walk through a nearby wildlife sanctuary, though the wildest thing we saw were some human snowbirds. As the moon rose, we ate burgers at a local favorite and then went for those drinks.

rose

Since then, I have renewed my promise to walk more, garden more and make more time for myself. The roses don’t have a chance. I plan to smell each one of them this year!

Mommasez

One of the best things about caregiving, or being a HANC—in addition to knowing you are providing much-needed Housekeeping skills, directing some new Activities, providing healthy Nutritional options and being a Companion—is having the honor of hearing stories and historical remembrances.

Even more so, are short stand-alone sentences, or what I call Mommasez.

Traveling with mom

Because I now live with my mother and spend time with her, going to doctors’ appointments, to have her hair styled, to visit family and out for meals, we talk on our way to these places. Naturally, we also talk at home.

large man in small chairMommasez things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

“When I am on my deathbed and they hook me up to whatever it is they hook people up to before they die, make sure to pour one last cup of coffee in a bag. I want to die with coffee in my veins.”

laughing woman

Mommasez things that make me laugh.

“People say ‘I’m pretty sure.’ Have you ever heard anybody say they were ugly sure?”

bowls of grapes

Often, current events spark memories from her childhood. One such memory came after I brought her a large bowl of grapes harvested from the scuppernong vine in her back yard.

“When I was a child, every fall, there was a man who would stop our bus driver and tell him, ‘Bring the children back tomorrow for grapes.’ The next day, our mothers would give us paper bags, because we didn’t have plastic in those days. Sometimes, the paper bags would have a wax lining, but not usually. So, after school, the bus would stop at his house and all the children got off and picked all the grapes we could take home. Our mothers made jelly and it didn’t cost anything. Well, they had to buy sugar and jars, but that’s how we did it in those days. We all helped one another.”

Momma says things

Mommasez things that make me wonder.

“No, I do not want to visit my cousin in the hospital. They might lock the door and never let me out.”

Mommasez things that would have shocked me years ago, but I have learned she often wants to see if I will have a witty remark.

shower

“Ooh, this shower is better than sex,” makes me reply, “Obviously you truly have lost all your memories, or you always slept with the wrong men.”

She and I both know she has had sex with a total of two men, each her husband; the second following a forty-year marriage to my father, more than twenty-five years after his death.

laughter

My goal is one belly laugh each day. Now that we’ve settled into our own rhythm, we sometimes achieve more than one good guffaw.

save the world

I have started to enjoy her simple needs without imposing my desires upon her. Relaxed in my instinct to take-over-the-reins-and-aright-the-world, I take pleasure in her happiness. I certainly share her frustrations.

parking permit

My mother is fiercely independent, even in a state of disability. Less than a decade ago, she maintained her own home and worked outside the home. Family members assisted with yard work under her supervision.

Sandberg's canes

She cooked, cleaned, handled her finances and was one of the healthiest people in the family. She recovered from her first serious fall well and managed with a cane.

Mommasez things that are profoundly sad, at times.

large family

“I can die now. I know I will never be this happy again,” she told me the night of her eightieth birthday, six years ago.

That was the first time in twelve years all eight of her children were together, most with our children and her great-grandchildren attending.

Walker

She fell again and broke much more than one bone, as in her first tumble. Still, her independent streak fights her limits. She uses a walker for every step she takes, yet there are times, she attempts chores by leaning on other things, some that are not sturdy or steady. When I offer to take over a task that seems too much for her, she scolds me.

“Let me do what I can, while I still can. Soon enough, you will have to do it all for me and you’ll wish I could do it, even if me have to fweep it twice.”

sweeper

“Fweep it twice,” is a reference to my youngest sister who longed to do anything she could to feel more grown up. When she was four years old, she started sweeping the kitchen and someone took the broom from her and told her she was too small to do a good job, as she had left some crumbs. My sister reclaimed the broom with the statement, “Me fweep it twice!”

Time is precious

Youngsters and oldsters need to feel useful and important. It’s the responsibility of those of us in the middle to help them in their quests. We, who are more experienced or healthier, may indeed do the job faster or better – but we can always sweep it twice. We must remember the important things are not the tasks we do for our loved ones, but the time we spend with them.

kitchen

Momma says she wants to be more helpful in the kitchen and I don’t mind. It’s my job to set her up for success and to enjoy the time we have together. If I’m lucky, I might even hear few more things Mommasez.

Follow Us