Posts Tagged ‘Family caregiver stress’

How Can Body Language Help Caregivers?

Picture a person who is feeling defeated.  How do they look?  What is their posture?

Chances are you imagined a person who was sort of “curled up,” with their shoulders bent and head down.  Maybe they even hold their arms crossed in front of them.

This is a very natural pose to take when we’re being attacked; it serves to protect our vital organs, and keeping our head down can protect our face and throat.

Now picture someone who is very strong and self-confident.  What do you see?

Are they standing tall, feet firmly planted?  Are their hands on their hips?  (Think Superman or Wonder Woman here).

Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy became very interested in body language and the ways people seem to express feeling powerful or powerless.  What she learned can help you with your caregiving.

Dr. Cuddy noticed that in nature, when an animal feels threatened, or even wants to intimidate another animal who’s too close to their home territory, they make themselves appear larger.  A fish might puff itself up to appear larger, a bird will spread its wings and get up on tip-toe, and a mammal tends to “ruff” the fur around its neck and may rear up to seem more capable of defending itself.

Conversely, many animals will make themselves small by curling up into a ball or trying to climb into a tiny space for safety.

In her lab, Dr. Cuddy learned that when humans “make themselves big” for as little as 2 minutes, their stress hormone, cortisol, gets lower.  Their testosterone, a hormone that can makes us strong and focused, was raised.  This brief change in posture altered how the brain and body responded, allowing the person to feel more calm and courageous.

People who assumed the smaller posture had hormonal changes, too, but in the opposite direction.  Those folks experienced an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and a decrease in testosterone.

Who is better prepared to deal with a problem, succeed in an interview, or stay calm in a time of trouble?

Dr. Cuddy advises that taking on a big posture, spreading our feet and arms, for 2 minutes before an important conversation can make us think more clearly and feel calm and more self-assured.

Notice your own posture at different times throughout the day.  When you notice yourself curling up, make an effort to spread out for a few minutes.  Even putting your feet up on a desk, leaning back, and putting your hands behind your head (with elbows out), is a way to make yourself appear larger that Dr. Cuddy calls “the CEO position.”

Is there a part of caregiving that “beats you up” or makes you feel powerless?  Try “being big” for a few minutes, and let us know through the comment board what you discover!

You can learn more about Dr. Cuddy’s research by watching her TedX talk at: http://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc

 

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Lisa Kendall is a social worker and clinical gerontologist with a private therapy and consulting practice.  Specializing in aging and Elder care, trauma recovery, and bereavement, Lisa also teaches at the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute and is an Educator for The Eden Alternative™.

Widening Circles of Support for Elders and their Care Partners

 

The rural community where my Mother grew up is saturated with extended family, and has been for several generations.  As a family history buff, I enjoy looking at the old Federal census forms and seeing the names of ancestors filling pages, neighbors living in houses strung along a country road or tucked into the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.

The big farmhouses of those times had a “sick room” off the kitchen, where an ill loved one could be looked after, close to the family’s heart and hearth.  With cousins, nieces and nephews, and sons and daughters all in the area, there was help to be had if and when it was needed.

Even so, it’s interesting to see that some Elders of very advanced years lived with unrelated folks as a “boarder.”

4fafe553-6123-4719-b6f9-00fdc24e92f1Nowadays our culture continues to see the “best” option for care of our Elders as that which is provided in their own homes, or living with close relatives.  Moving someone into a nursing home is seen by many as a personal and family failure.

This has always bothered me.  While we have a long way to go to change the institutional model of long term care, I do not agree that this represents failure.

I’ve seen many Elders blossom in nursing homes and assisted living.

One beautiful woman I knew came to live in the nursing home because arthritis had crippled her hands badly and left her unable to get around without a wheelchair.  Once she moved into the nursing home where I worked, she was able to explore her lifelong dream to be a painter.  The Activities staff provided her with supplies and a place to work, and she figured out a way to hold a brush in her gnarled fingers.  The art she made was glorious! (And she felt very happy to have finally liberated her inner artist!).

I’ve also known many Elders in their own or a family member’s home who nevertheless suffered from the three plagues of Loneliness, Helpless and Boredom, as defined by Dr. Bill Thomas and The Eden Alternative ™.

These families are likely to feel guilty when they “have to” place their loved one.

We’ve seen much change in recent years, with families moving far from the family home, medical technology extending life (but not necessarily well-being), and two-earner couples.  It’s no wonder family care partners feel overwhelmed!

I won’t rehash the demographics and statistics we all know so well, but I’d like to offer some thoughts from my years of experience working in long term care.

Don’t let “caretaking” overwhelm your relationship with the Elder.  There are lots of people who can mop the floors, wash the linens, assist with bathing, and help an Elder living with frailty get to the bathroom. No one can have the special family bond with the Elder that you do. You can look at family photos and reminisce about the milestone events and precious small moments that comprise your family’s unique culture and history.

If you are a spouse or partner, your loving presence is irreplaceable.

If you’re so overcome with the tasks of caring, to the point that the relationship is suffering, please reconsider. Build a care partner team for your Elder and for yourself that will honor your loved one’s preferences and still ensure their daily needs are met in a loving and respectful way.

Consider that the local nursing home is where our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, are now working.  Let them help with the care.  You’ll find that some of these strangers will come to love your Elder and develop their own distinctive relationships with them.

You’ll also find that those young, strong backs can take on what feels burdensome, leaving you with the energy and resources to be present for your Elder in the way that only you can be.

 

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Lisa Kendall is a social work psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist, and amateur genealogist!

Please let us know your thoughts about Aging and Elderhood, and share your stories of how you’ve been able to widen the circles of support for your loved one and for yourself!

News from The Crossroads

It’s been a while since I last wrote, but a lot has been going on with me and Crossroads Counseling and Consulting.

I’ve added a new service you will want to know about; Care Partner Coaching is now available worldwide for  a limited number of professional or family caregivers.

I have been busy with trainings for The Eden Alternative in upstate New York and Wisconsin, facilitating a “Certified Eden at Home Associate” training and “Dementia Beyond Drugs.”  I also appeared  as a panelist on a webinar for The Eden Alternative on “Facilitating Empowerment,”

I will be appearing on Chris MacLellan’s “Be a Healthy Caregiver” Blog Radio program on Tuesday, July 9th at 1 p.m. Eastern time.  Don’t worry if you miss it, this generous and committed care partner archives all of his programs!  Chris has also written a blog about the show, which you can read HERE.

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Private counseling services are still available at my Ithaca, NY, ADA-compliant office.  Availability is tight, so contact me soon if you are interested.  You can feel better!!

I trust things are going well with you, and hope to hear from you about how you’re doing on your care partner journey!

As always, you can reach me at crossroadscounseling@hotmail.com or (607) 351-1313.

 

Take care,

Lisa K.

Don’t wait! You can have a refreshing ‘Retreat’ today!

Mrs. Jenson is a full-time care partner for her husband, who has had a severe stroke. 

It’s very hard work, but she has some help in the home, as well as wonderfully supportive family, and she is able to get out for church and social activities.  Every so often, she takes trips with her community group, and there is an annual family vacation, too. 

Because she has health problems of her own and sleeps poorly, her children and grand-children encourage Mrs. J. to take even more time for herself, to take off for a weekend or more to really recharge, but Mrs. J. feels she just doesn’t want to do that and is uncomfortable with the pressure from her well-intended loved ones.

Part of my job is to encourage family care partners to get enough rest, so I want to hear more.

Mrs. Jenson teaches me something important when, together, we think through how she sees balancing her own need for rest and respite with her engagement as a care partner for her husband.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/baronsquirrel/106337895/sizes/m/in/photostream/

photo by baronsquirrel via flickr

What we come up with is a kind of formula that is already mostly in place in the Jenson household.  It looks like this:

  • Every day, take a brief, but pleasurable, respite (10 minutes)
  • In every week, schedule an hour or two away (special lunch with a friend, quiet time at a museum, a walk, etc.)
  • Every month, take a full day for yourself
  • In every quarter (every three months), set aside a truly special weekend for rest and renewal
  • Annually, be sure to schedule a week for vacation!

These guidelines will look different for everyone, but could work in some way or other for all of us, whether we are caring for an ill loved one, trying to manage work/life balance, or manage our own stress and wellness.

The main point Mrs. Jenson wanted to get across to her children was that she didn’t need to leave her home or take a long stretch of time to feel refreshed. 

I think this is a common myth, and one that keeps us from taking advantage of everyday opportunities to find a “little calm center” in our otherwise too-busy world.

I will be facilitating a workshop on how to create a mini-retreat on Monday, July 18th at Lifelong in Ithaca; I hope you’ll join us to learn more and to share your own wisdom about this!

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Finding Rest and Renewal:

How to Create a Mini-Retreat to Soothe Your Spirit, Ease Your Body, and Calm Your Mind

A Retreat has been defined as “an act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable;” or “a place of privacy or safety or refuge.”

Many of us know we need time away, but are unsure of where, how, or when to create effective Retreats.  In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn how to structure personal mini-Retreats that last from ten minutes to a full day, select meaningful activities, and comfortably transition out of the Retreat, taking powerful and lasting lessons into daily life.  Further resources for planning your Retreat are included.

This workshop is intended for both experienced and new retreatants, and is especially designed for those who are seeking better balance and well-being in their lives.

Register for (1823) Finding Rest and Renewal: How to Create a Mini-Retreat to Soothe… ($10 fee) at Lifelong

by clicking HERE or call Jillian Pendleton for more information at (607) 273-1511 

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Are you a member of Lifelong??  Join today!!

www.tclifelong.org

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Lisa Kendall has worked for over thirty years as a health and wellness educator and mental health counselor, and has led retreats for a variety of groups.  Lisa maintains a private therapy practice specializing in women’s health, aging & caregiving, chronic illness, stress, depression, work/life balance, and grief. 

When is a Crutch not a Crutch?

In our culture, we shrink from signs of weakness or disability, preferring to see ourselves and each other as strong and capable.

Often, the very tools that might keep us independent, such as a cane or walker, are refused because they seem to represent frailty.  In reality, these assistive devices can make walking safer and prevent falls, allowing the greatest possible independence!

I was thinking about how hard it is for many Elders to accept the need for a walker or cane, or even the use of a wheelchair for trips out and about, and how troubling it is that our society has such strong prejudices about the use of such devices.

Then I realized that I have held the same deep biases about self-care and doing the things I need to do to stay healthy and strong.

As a health care professional, I’ve learned the hard way that I have to practice what I preach about taking good care of my mind, body and spirit, or I won’t be able to care for my family, clients, and friends.

Photo by Nick J Webb via Flickr

  • Have you ever felt guilty about getting a massage, considering it a luxury rather than part of your stress management strategy?   
  • Do you take time to plan and enjoy healthy, nutritious meals?
  • Are you getting regular, enjoyable exercise?
  • Do you have hobbies outside of work or caregiving that delight and inspire you?

These things are not “crutches,” they are important tools to keep you healthy and strong and able to stay in service.  Give them the priority they (and you!) deserve, and schedule time for them in ink on your calendar.

We’ll continue to talk about this, because too many professional care partners and family caregivers are suffering from over-load and are vulnerable to stress-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Please write me a comment (below) to let me know what you will do to take care of your SELF this week!

Will Oprah Embrace Aging? Will you?

Have you ever thought about Aging as a good thing? 

We tend to think about Elderhood as a period of decline and loss, but Dr. Bill Thomas, co-founder of the “Eden Alternative” philosophy of care, has worked for years and all around the world to bring a new message about the gifts of Aging and Elderhood.

Elders and the people who care for them have a voice, but it is often not heard in a culture that values youth, productivity, and physical strength.

Listen to Dr. Thomas and his message for Oprah, then check out the beautiful videos that many ordinary people have posted to YouTube to honor the Elders in their lives! 

Let me know what you think — can we embrace Aging and change the culture of care together?

"It's Just Stress"

It’s time to look more deeply into the very real impact of prolonged or severe stress on our physical and emotional health. If you have been caring for an ill Elder or other loved one, you are especially vulnerable to caregiver stress, which studies show can lead to depression or make you more prone to a range of chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. Read the rest of this entry »

Mandalas for Elder Caregiver Stress?

by Felipe Venâncio via Flickr

A few years ago I was preparing for surgery, and a therapist colleague suggested I get some Mandala coloring books to color during my recovery.

Mandalas are circular designs, often associated with Hindu or Buddhist meditation, and the designs can be quite intricate.  Once I started looking, I realized that many cultures from around the world have beautiful circular designs connected with their spiritual practices.

I was especially drawn to the more complex designs, and found that I felt serene and my mind seemed to calm while I filled in the tiny spaces with colored pencils, and it was also an easy, no-mess project to set aside if I got tired.

Once back at my caregiver counseling job, I started suggesting the idea to family members who often struggled to find ways to relax during their stressful days.  Several were very intrigued with the idea and immediately recalled long-unused art supplies or neglected coloring books already on-hand.

If you are taking care of an older or ill loved one, or are just looking for a way to calm your mind in the midst of a hectic day, try coloring Mandalas.  You can find the books through your local bookseller, local arts & crafts store, or print some pages online for free at  http://www.coloringcastle.com/mandala_coloring_pages.html

Let me know if this works for you, too!

Stormy Weather

A lady at the garage told me there was a tornado warning in our area this morning, a rare thing in Ithaca.  I couldn’t confirm it, although we are expecting thunderstorms this afternoon.  It reminded me of another July day several years ago when a summer storm took down about a third of the huge, beautiful maple tree that graces our side yard, breaking our hearts, but thankfully, not our cars or our necks.

The same storm had blown over a favorite flowering tree in a neighbor’s farmyard.  She and her husband had lived on their property their entire married life, raising cows, pigs, children, and grandchildren.  Now Jean* was the full-time caregiver for Bob,* whose stroke left him in bed and unable to care for himself.

Whenever I visited, Jean lamented the loss of her tree, talking about how strong it had been, how tall, how sturdy.  She just couldn’t believe it was gone, uprooted by the summer wind.  Her grief for the tree continued; she mentioned it every time I called, and seemed unable to get over it.

Jean was a doting wife and meticulous care partner for Bob, and it was clear she was as madly in love with him as the day she met and married him.  Bob was often confused, but always liked to flirt with female visitors, and in his occasional confusion would tell me that he’d been out cutting wood that day, or tending to the pigs.  In his mind he was as strong and as busy as ever. 

One day I watched Bob lying in his bed and Jean hovering over him, adjusting his blankets and teasing him. 

It was in that moment that I realized I was looking at the Great Tree on the farm, the one that had been felled, and for whom Jean was grieving in the deepest, most hidden part of her heart.

*All names and identifying details in this story have been changed to protect privacy.  Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker who works with Elders and their Care Partners, and is an Eden at Home Educator.

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