Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beatitudes for Caregivers

Here are my Beatitudes for Caregivers. They bring to mind a vision of blessed happiness, showing how caregivers can be free of a sense of obligation, while they pursue an enlightened path to giving care. Psalm 41– "Blessed is she who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers her in times of trouble" – moved me to create this tribute to caregivers everywhere. May these words inspire you on your caregiving journey.

1. Blessed are those who take on the caregiving commitment, for they can love, accept and respect themselves.
2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3. Blessed are the humble, for they shall learn new skills and understanding.
4. Blessed are they who remain steadfast in giving care, for they shall have inner satisfaction.
5. Blessed are the compassionate, for they shall have a deeper connection with their loved one.
6. Blessed are they who give care with an open heart, for they shall be honored by all.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers who hold families together during distressful times, for they shall be supported.
8. Blessed are the caregivers who are criticized for their efforts, for they shall endure.
9. Rejoice, and be glad that caregivers are willing to carry their burdens lightly, for their example lights the way for others.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tips for Staying Healthy While Caregiving

The following therapeutic lifestyle changes (from Caregiving Our Loved Ones) can help keep you out of the darkness of depression and obsessive concern over your loved one...

Take 1,000 milligrams of Omega-3s, the fatty acid EPA each day. Andrew Weil says this is the most studied dose for combating depression, plus a multivitamin. Restoring your energy levels is a basic start for addressing the challenges of caregiving.

Aerobic Exercise
The next most basic thing after meeting your nutritional deficits is aerobic exercise. Weil emphasizes 30 minutes a day three times a week as a minimum. I recommend walking, biking, swimming, jogging or other vigorous exercise daily.

Light Exposure
For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, where rain and clouds dominate the landscape for months on end, we know the advantages for getting our sunshine when we can. Sunshine helps regulate the circadian rhythms that govern sleep,energy and hormone levels. Alternatively, sit in front of a special light box that simulates natural sunlight. Whatever you do, remember that sunshine is a must. Take your chores outside, if necessary, but let yourself soak in sunshine for a good 30 minutes. Avoid getting sunburn, though. Sunscreen helps here.

Social Connection
Social support is crucial for the caregiver to overcome the isolation of caregiving. It’s usually a good idea to schedule at least two social activities a week (even if you don’t feel like it when you do the scheduling). Leave behind or limit time with the people who bring you down. You have taken on enough responsibility with caregiving. Enjoy your free time with people who make you feel good.

Adequate Sleep
Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk for depression and for falling into the pattern of caring too much. Aim for seven or eight hours of rest a night. Weil recommends dimming lights about an hour before your bedtime, and go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This lifestyle change will probably be the hardest to achieve if you have night duty. If sleep shortages are unavoidable, take regular naps to refresh your energies.

Anti-Rumination Strategies
Rumination is a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts in a non-productive way. This is most likely to happen when you spend time alone, so avoid extended periods by yourself. If you find yourself ruminating, Weil reminds us to pick up the phone and call a friend or do something enjoyable.

I also suggest two more lifestyle changes...

Seek Professional Help
Consult a holistic physician or naturopath to work with you on any physical changes you may be experiencing. Menopause results in sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels, which can create mood changes. Thyroid depletion often occurs after menopause, and can contribute to a host of symptoms, including exhaustion. Blood sugar irregularities can signal more serious medical problems, such as diabetes.

Locate Respite Care
When you need a break—and you surely will—locate a nearby nursing home or assisted living facility that has respite care openings for your loved one. A few days or weeks may be all you need to recharge your batteries. Working with your medical provider and local nursing facilities makes complete sense, because you certainly cannot sustain long-term caregiving without maintaining your health and well-being.

The life you save may be your own!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Caregivers... Do You Know Someone That Cares Too Much?

Here's a quick checklist:
  • My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you, the care receiver, as well as other loved ones, friends and people at work.
  • My struggle affects my serenity.
  • My mental attention is focused on you, the care receiver.
  • My fear of your anger, disappointment and regret determines what I say or do.
  • My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you.
  • My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain.
  • My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests.
  • I am not aware of how I feel. I am only aware of how you feel.
  • I am not aware of what I want. I ask what you want.
  • The dreams I have for my future are linked to you.
  • The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours. 
Stay tuned for ideas to keep you, the caregiver, healthy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rethinking the End-of-Life

As caregivers, many of us feel we’ve attended to our loved one’s end-of-life matters when we’ve arranged for the Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, Durable Power of Attorney, Last Will & Testament and other legal and financial documents. Once Hospice has been contacted, we may even believe our job is done. Yet, there is much to be said about the social and spiritual preparations for death and dying that help to more gently and lovingly close this phase of our relationship.

Rethinking the end-of-life moves us from avoidance and fear to acceptance and love, and is both liberating and renewing. Our culture has it upside down. In our own lives, we expect to experience the departure of a loved one as an occasion for profound suffering and grief, perhaps taking us to the depths of despair. These feelings sow confusion and have us believe that nothing remains outside of pain and loss.

Such an outlook blinds us to the continuing role we play throughout the dying process, as well as recognizing the larger truth in the death process. We can begin at the beginning—once our loved one appears to be seriously declining—by having that conversation with medical providers about significant issues.

How much time is left for your loved one? What types of pain medications should be considered when the need arises? When should you invite Hospice into the treatment circle? What is your loved one’s preferred place for dying (home, relative or friend’s home, nursing home, hospital, Hospice facility)? If your loved one is unable to make this decision, the medical directive should include this information.

What kind of funeral arrangements have you or your loved one planned—full burial or cremation; church or funeral home or no memorial at all?  Writing that obituary can actually be done before the loved one passes. Completing these tasks can be remarkably consoling. It also frees you up for the spiritual connection you will continue to have with your loved one.

Truth is not to be found in the emptiness of separation. The truth is that there is no separation. And yet, it is the heart alone that can say it, and we must listen to the voice in silence. When your loved one leaves, his or her space remains empty—the father, the wife, the daughter, the grandparent. We can choose to leave it free, without giving in to worry, impatience and endless grief. Knowing that this same place is filled by your loved one’s presence is the most precious of treasures one can possess. For instance, no one can replace the beloved mother; the deeply cherished husband. Neither separations, nor time, nor even forgetfulness can still the heart that has chosen to love.