Tag Archives: health and wellness

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue?

Worn out by Compassion Fatigue?

Worn out by Compassion Fatigue?

Caring for a child, a disabled sibling, an ailing spouse or an elderly parent can take a huge emotional toll on the caregiver.  Caregiving is an act of compassion that can lead one to an unsustainable level of selflessness; and in this selflessness, cause damaging, long-term effects on the caregiver.  Whether you believe asking for help is a sign of weakness or have convinced yourself that you are the only one capable of adequately providing the level of care you perceive is needed, you unwittingly set yourself up for experiencing the exhaustion, stress, frustration and isolation that it can create.

In medical circles, the ultimate fatigue and burnout that this situation can create is referred to as ‘Compassion Fatigue’.  This develops out of the demanding nature of showing ongoing compassion for somebody whose circumstances are likely not going to improve.  The caregiver may go through the motions of continuing to care for the loved one but, over time, the compassion diminishes.

In the worst case scenario, this can lead to neglect and/or abuse of the loved one requiring the care!

Some of the warning signs that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue are:  Abusing drugs, alcohol or food; anger; blaming; depression; hopelessness; emotional and/or physical exhaustion; GI complaints; frequent headaches; sleep disturbance; diminished sense of personal accomplishment; increase irritability and; less ability to feel joy.

Caregivers need, and deserve, a healthy personal life.  When a caregiver makes the effort to keep a balance between their empathy and their objectivity, they are able to realize the need for and to create a healthier self-care plan.

Set aside some time to nurture yourself.  When the caregiver is rested, energized and in a positive frame of mine, the caregiving load becomes a bit lighter.  Taking this time for yourself may feel selfish and unnatural at first, but commit to doing at least one thing each day that is focused on your enjoyment and benefits your sense of well-being.

Identify the things about caregiving that cause you the most stress.  Look for ways to eliminate them as much as possible or make sure that you create a routine that allows you to balance those activities with things that you may enjoy or at least find less stressful.  Don’t line up all of the stressful activities in a row; break them up and spread them out!

When you are feeling overwhelmed and are juggling too many balls in the air, know your limits.  That’s the time to take a moment to prioritize those ‘to-do’ items and determine what really must be done and what can wait awhile or be eliminated altogether.  Taking these few moments to do this may give you back a small feeling of control in the situation and help to eliminate some of the frustration.

Validate your commitment to providing good care to your loved one by reaching out for some help!  Preventing ‘compassion fatigue’ is going to allow you to provide the good care that you want to offer.  Far from being a weakness, asking for the help you require is a sign of strength in knowing what your own needs are.

So, do more than just survive the emotional grinder of caregiving.  Prevent compassion fatigue by keeping your own needs as part of the caregiver equation.  Both you and your loved one will reap the benefits!

On the journey with you…….Kathy

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The Magic Pill

The Magic Pill

The Magic Pill

Don’t we all wish there was a magic pill for what ails us at any particular time.  Something that didn’t have negative side effects, we didn’t have to remember to take 3 times a day and that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to get.

A pill that could lower our blood pressure, boost our immune system, relieve depression, manage our pain and keep our memory in good shape.  Now that would be a worthy medication, wouldn’t it?

For seniors, that prescription is socialization!

We humans are wired to depend on and crave, at some level, interaction with other humans.  Historically, being with others was the only way to survive and thrive.  But while we may have left behind some of the environmental challenges that were faced long ago, when the group had to hunt and forage for food and avoid dangerous animals, we still have the ingrained need for others.

Seniors are not exempt from this need but often find themselves in situations where their social circles are shrinking for a variety of reasons.  Others around them may be dying.  They may be limited in the ability to get out and about by medical complications.  Maybe they are unable to drive anymore.  Caregiving responsibilities for another may take all of their time and energy.    The life of a senior can become, socially, very small.

And while many have suspected that socialization plays a role in maintaining health and quality of life in the elderly, resent studies are now quantifying this theory and pinpointing the mechanisms behind the protective properties of human interaction!

There are studies that have confirmed the positive impact that socialization has on:  the immune system, blood pressure, brain health and memory, physical activity, depression, pain, nutrition and relationships.

So helping the senior in your life develop and maintain positive human interactions may do more for them than you realize.

I think of my mother who was caring for my father during the earlier stages of his dementia and physical decline.  Things had gotten to the point where she could not leave him for very long and the physical demands of his care were overwhelming her.  The mental and emotional toll was becoming pretty high as well.

Fast forward through several transitions…..  Mom has been settled into an independent living apartment in a Continuing Care Retirement Community for about 8 months.  And though my father passed away a couple of months ago, Mom is doing well.  She sees and greets others throughout her daily routine now.  She has meals with others.  She attends classes with others.

And we can all see the up-side for her.  She is more content than she has been in years.  Her life has once again expanded.

While socialization may not be the magic pill that gets a senior off of all of their medications, the proven benefits certainly make it worth the effort!

How might you help an aging loved one in your life reap these benefits?

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent.  She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.

People Who Need People

With my mother’s move to her independent living apartment in a wonderful Continuing Care Retirement Community about a month ago, it has been like watching her come out of a long hibernation and rediscover her life.

I always knew from my work with seniors that socialization was very important for them and my mother has proven to be no exception.  Living alone in a big house and having some physical limitation was creating, for her, what had become a very ‘small’ life.  While she had lovely neighbors who cared very deeply about her and friends that she kept up with, the opportunities for purely social interaction were limited.  She did not have social visits with others daily, ate meals alone and belonged to no outside groups (other than church on Sunday).

All of my growing up years we had family dinner, for many of those years eating rather late (7:30) so that my father could get home from his day at the University where he taught.  And after we all left home, my parents still ate together in the evenings as well as breakfast in the morning.  It gave a rhythm to their days and a purpose to fixing meals beyond just feeding yourself.

Meals can be such an important social part of a person’s day.  A family or group of friends gathered around a table sharing a meal, wine and stories can leave one feeling uplifted and engaged in life; laughter and discussion, explanations and debate, conversation that keeps the mind agile.  Life!

We humans are, generally, social creatures.  We live in groups and have high levels of social interaction with each other.  Social interactions keep us engaged and, it turns out, healthy!  Studies have shown that people who are isolated from others have an increased incidence of health problems.  The overall death rates of patients with heart disease in a study conducted in 1998 found that of those in the study that reported feeling very isolated, were not married and had nobody to confide in, 50% died within 5 years compared with only 17% of the group that reported having a spouse or confidant!  I’d say that this shows what great medicine friends can be!

In another study of seniors reported in the Annals of Family Medicine it was demonstrated that, for seniors suffering from symptoms of depression, social contact may be as effective as physical activity in improving their quality of life and mood.  Another plug for the benefits of social interaction….

Add to these findings the other benefits that have been linked to seniors who socialize, boosted immune system, lower blood pressure, reduced physical pain and improved nutrition, and it is hard to deny that ‘people who have people’ are healthier and happier.

Some of the things that can trigger depression in the elderly are:  Loneliness and isolation, health problems, reduced sense of purpose, recent bereavements, fears, and some medications.  If a senior in your life is experiencing any of these issues, keep your eyes open for signs of depression:  sad mood, preoccupation with failures and inadequacies, loss of self-esteem, feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, excessive guilt, slowed thinking, loss of interest in hobbies and people, social isolation, lethargy, agitation, changes in appetite and weight, over-sleeping or insomnia.  If you feel that there may be a problem, get them to the doctor for an evaluation.

But it is wonderful to be witness to the benefits of social interactions.  My mother is engaged in life once again now that her life holds so much more than worries about the house and visits to my father.  She goes to meals with others, attends exercise class and is frequently mentioning a concert that she attended or a lecture that is on her schedule.  Phone calls, that used to be focused on the worries, stresses and when I might come to visit next, are now filled with details of her new life.  I can only anticipate that over time, she will see an improvement in her overall health as well.  The hip, knee and ankle that have bothered her for so long may just improve with the exercise classes and the benefits of the social interactions on her perceptions of pain may play a role as well.

As the song goes, “People who need people” may be the “luckiest people in the world,” but it would seem that they are also the happiest and healthiest people as well.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Check out my Parent Care Bootcamp:  Caregiving 101 for the Working Professional~How to balance the demands of caregiving and career!

Home A-lone(ly)?

Checking in on an elderly parent (or other seniors that you may know) routinely is so very important.  It is a monitoring system to assure their safety and a way to evaluate their potential need for additional help.  (If you would like a list of 20 signs that your parent may need help, go to my website for a free download:  www.parentcarealliance.com)

My husband and I will be making the 3 hour trek south this weekend to stay overnight and check in on my mother, who is now living alone, and my father who is living in a long-term care facility close to home.

Our visits from a distance and my siblings more regular visits from closer by play different roles in aiding my parents.  Since my siblings live more locally and get by to check in on a more regular basis, their visits are wonderful for the day-to-day oversight and making sure that everybody is safe.

My visits play a different role.  Since I am not there as frequently, I am able to observe gradual changes with a different eye.  As we all know, something like the growth of a child that you live with, while often staggering, is not as obvious in the day-to-day as it is when you have not seen that child for several months.  This is also true for changes in an aging loved ones abilities at home.

Since we stay overnight and are around for more than several hours, this also gives my mother an opportunity to talk about things in a different way than she would on a pop-in-visit.  When we have time to just sit and chat, she is more likely to talk about things at a deeper level and I am able to pick-up on things that I don’t get in a quick chat.

On a recent visit to my home she mentioned that she was not sure how much longer she should stay in her home.  I’m not sure right now what’s behind that observation but it is something that we can explore in some of those deeper conversations.

She has help with cleaning the house and has contracted for someone to handle the yard this summer.  My parents added a first floor bedroom, bathroom and laundry onto the house a number of years ago, so she can be on one floor with ease.  She still seems able to cook to meet her needs, drives in the daytime and is able to get around (using a cane much of the time).  So I need to keep digging.

Mom has always been very independent and has stated over and over again her dislike of the thought of going to an assisted living community where they ‘load you on a bus for trips and make you play bingo’.  She has always been somebody that has filled parts of her life with somewhat solitary activities, sewing, baking, playing the organ, but has also enjoyed her activities with others as well, teaching piano, being a Girl Scout leader and directing the church choir.

Maybe she is missing some of those things now.  She doesn’t have as many people around to appreciate her baking, is finding it difficult to sew much (and what does she need anyway), gave up organ playing and teaching piano a while ago and my sister and I haven’t been Girl Scouts in a very long time.

She lost one of her best friends in the past year and I think is still feeling that hole in her life.  It was a friend that she could talk to in ways that maybe she could not with anybody else.

I need to explore.  We need to talk about how she is feeling about living alone and what the things are that she is missing.  We need to see if there is anything that we can help change for her to improve her quality of life if that is what is suffering.  Of course the other side of that coin is that she has to be willing.

So, we will visit.  We’ll have coffee and chat.  I’ll listen closely to see if I can hear what concerns her.  And then, we will go from there.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Calgon, Take Me Away…..

Caregivers need care too!  Anybody that has been a caregiver to an elderly parent or loved one knows that it can be an all-consuming task that leaves one weary and in need of renewal.  I’ve said before that caregivers are superheroes and I continue to believe that.

As I’ve mentioned before, my father was placed in a facility just after Christmas last year.  He had declined both physically and mentally enough that my mother, who is almost-80 herself, simply could not keep up with the supervision and care that he was requiring.  She had gotten to a place where she felt that she could not leave him alone and it was a struggle to deal with the 24 hour being-on-duty nature of his needs.

He not only needed her to help him physically at times, but depended on her totally for her company.  She could not interest him in watching anything on TV if she did not sit there and watch with him.  He had lost the capacity to sit and read due to his memory issues (could not keep up with the plot and the characters in a story) so that option was out; and he did not latch on to books-on-tape (maybe to new fangled for him, I don’t know).  Suffice it to say that she was his world and her world was shrinking because of his care needs.

Since my Dad has moved into the nursing facility, my mother has made it her mission to visit him twice daily and spend time with him having devotions in both the morning and the evening.  This is something very meaningful for him and she makes the effort to be there.  Fortunately, the facility is just up the block and takes her only about 5 minutes travel from door to door.

So even though my father is not living at home with my mother any longer and the day-to-day issues of supervision and physical assistance have been eliminated, she still seems to have much on her plate.  Not only the visits, but now she is fully in charge of having to take care of everything else as well.  The finances, cars, house, etc.

So in order to get away from it all for a few days, she came to our home for a 3 night visit.  My Dad was left in the good hands of the facility and planned visits from my sister and brother for those several days.

During her visit, Mom was able to have a leisurely morning just sitting, drinking coffee and reading her book.  She had a chance to have somebody else worry about meals.  She did not have to plan her day around 2 visits to my father.  She napped each afternoon, had cappuccino afterwards (thanks to my personal barista, my husband) and went to bed when she was tired.  We watched a movie together and laughed through an old sitcom that we both used to enjoy years ago.  We sat on the patio and watched the birds, trying to determine where we thought they would build their nest (not sure we got those guesses right…..still watching).

In other words, she relaxed!  And I like to think that when she left on Monday morning, she felt just a little bit rejuvenated for doing the daily things back home.  Having the time away would even give her new things to tell Dad about!

This need for escape and the opportunity to relax made me think of the old commercial for bath bubbles: ‘ Calgon, Take Me Away’…….We all have a need for our Calgon moments.  If you are a care giver and need a break, ask other family members to help you out.  If there is nobody that can help you nearby, seek out a facility that provides ‘respite’ care or contact local agencies that could provide 24 hour care for a few nights so that you can get away.  You’re worth it!!

Taking care of yourself is every bit as important as taking care of your loved one.  Without you, who would they have?  And if you are in a position to help a care giver get a break from the day-to-day, offer your help.  In fact, don’t just offer, set up a date for it to happen (or you and I both know it won’t).  Even if it is just providing companionship for several hours while the care giver gets out of the house you will have given them the sustaining break that they may need.

Remember, ‘You Deserve a Break Today’ (in staying with slogans)!  Do it for yourself.  Or, give the gift of a break to somebody you know who needs one.

On the journey with you…….Kathy