Sunday, February 24, 2013

Caregiver Series II: Dealing with the stresses of being a caregiver.

The daily routine: Manage medication. Manage arrangements for doctor appointments. Manage the finances. Maintain a safe environment. Manage for adequate care when you’re away. Cook. Clean. Loads of laundry. Sound exhausting? It is.

You manage to get through your day and that of your loved one, but it is at a cost. “I feel smashed in the middle of being a mother and a caregiver,” said Christiana Alexander who lives in Nashville. Christiana says that she is often out of energy for her own family.  When she is caring for her mom, she often doesn’t feel the pleasure of her company.  The care of looking after her mother is compounded by the care needs of her mother’s second husband.  They live three hours away. 

Whether caring for your loved one downstairs, down the block or down state, primary caregivers can face the ongoing stress of sometimes performing critical and intricate tasks that once were done by experts or in a hospital. Dr. Steven H. Zarit, a Pennsylvania State University gerontologist states: “The tasks they shoulder have grown more demanding. Family caregivers now administer arsenals of medications and undertake procedures, from wound care to dialysis, that were once the province of medical professions.” Visiting nurses have noted that difficult tasks are left to older caretakers, who may have health issues of their own.

Supervising or giving the care can cause health problems for you. Pennsylvania’s Dr. Zarit and others list some common signs of caregiver stress:

Anger and resentment
Social isolation and loneliness
Anxiety and fear
Depression and dread
Irritability and short tempers
Sleep problems
Health complications 
Poor dietary habits

What can you do if you find yourself with any (or all!) of the signs of caregiver stress?

Psychologists emphasize healthy practices of “mindfulness”.  This is not just an art of focusing upon today.  It is a necessity when yesterday and tomorrow hold either too many unknowns, or the bleakness of stressful repetitions.  “Every day has a piece of relief tucked into it,” suggests Dr. Nancy Giles, a clinical psychologist in Boston.  “Your job is to see that lovely color or smell a comforting flower or listen to a beloved piece of music.”  Humor is essential. It actually promotes healing, inside and out.  Where do you find it in the sickroom or among hours of tending tasks?  Take ten minutes to try a book of short stories or cartoons. Exercise is a great help and can be fun to do with music.  Most of all, respect yourself.  Nothing can survive neglect.  If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot expect to have the strength and fortitude that is necessary to do the job for another.  When you have carved out the niche for yourself and your restoration, stop for one instant and reflect: “That one’s for me!”  Many communities have group meetings to share new ideas as well as the stresses.  

Here are some additional resources that you might find helpful:


Do you have ideas to help deal with the stress caregivers experience? We would love to hear from you! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Caregiver Series I: Is it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

When asked, most women are likely to know the answer to this question: “are you a summer or a winter?”  The inquiry typically refers to which colors are most flattering to you.  But, what does being a summer or winter person mean to you?  Surprisingly, the question has far greater reach than one’s self-perception; it also goes to your feelings and your energy levels during the different seasons of the year.  

If you are feeling down or irritable or a bit lazy on winter days, you are not alone.  Around 11 million Americans are feeling the same way as you. What we often call the “winter blues” has a clinical name, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The medical and mental health communities have defined medical symptoms associated with this mood disorder to describe these very personal feelings.

So, why may you feel blue in the winter? Your mood is influenced by hormones released while you sleep, and during your waking hours.  Those specific hormones are melatonin and serotonin.  Melatonin is the hormone that comes into play during sleep, and serotonin takes over while you are awake.  During the shorter daylight hours of winter months, our brain produces less serotonin, because it is responding to the darkness outside.   People who are sensitive to this shift feel it.  

The good news is that there are remedies the winter blues.  Here are some things you can try.
Light box/Phototherapy box.  Researchers say if a person is exposed to a light therapy box, which simulates bright outdoor light, for at least 30 minutes per day you may feel better.  They can be purchased on line through Walgreens, Amazon, or at Metro-Detroit Binson’s Home Health Care Centers. The cost of light boxes ranges from $39.00 on up, and are often covered by health insurance.
Dawn-simulating alarm clock.  This light therapy device works by increasing the illumination of your alarm clock in the time period before you awaken.  Dawn-simulating alarm clocks can be ordered on line with prices from $32.00 on up.
Exercise.  Walking outside has proven therapeutic effects. And it’s free! Walk with a friend or join a walking group to help inspire the discipline to keep walking.
Doctors in Finland believe your body can store up light in the summer to help combat the winter blues months later; important advice from a country that has long, dark winter days.  
Winter blues is not a new syndrome. In the second century, the philosopher Aretaeus wrote, “Lethargies are to be lain in the light, and exposed to rays of the sun.”
Do you have ideas to help ease the symptoms of SAD? We would love to hear from you!