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Self Caring

Keeping the "I" in caring


Monday October 10, 2011 (Updated: Monday September 16, 2013)

How Closely Do You Track Your OWN Symptoms?

analyzing mirror self-recognition

It's a paradox of caregiving that we can know our loved ones more intimately than we know ourselves. By that I mean, we track and monitor the care receiver's every symptom and complaint, but this laser focus too often diverts our attention from our own bodies.

Which may be screaming at us.

That's what symptoms are -- your body's way of saying, "Psst! Red alert! Something's not quite right here!"

Cancer is the health concern uppermost on many minds in the wake of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' terribly untimely death in October 2011. (Not that Jobs did anything notably wrong about his health; pancreatic cancer is a particularly insidious killer.) Then a key government task force recommended against routine PSA blood test screenings for prostate cancer for healthy men without cancer symptoms.

Both headlines underscore the importance of Caring.com senior editor Melanie Haiken's series for

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6 Comments


Monday October 03, 2011 (Updated: Tuesday June 25, 2013)

The Question Every Caregiver Deserves "“ But Seldom Hears

3D Character and Question Mark

Quick: When's the last time somebody asked you, "How are you doing?"

Emphasis on the "you."

Not lately? Not surprising.

People don't get involved in caregiving for the glory or the thanks. We do it because it's a job that needs to be done. We don't even think of it as a "job." It's part and parcel of loving someone, of feeling duty-bound. The person needing our care is the star attraction, after all, the focus of attention.

But wouldn't it be nice if you, the caregiver, weren't completely invisible? Wouldn't be a relief if the rest of your family paused from going about their merry way to inquire about your health, your sleep, your well being?

There are many reasons friends and family fail to ask caregivers how they're doing. (I'm not saying they're good reasons, only that these are possible motivations for keeping mum). For example:

  • Lack of comprehension: They just don't fully un

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54 Comments


Monday September 26, 2011 (Updated: Sunday December 22, 2013)

Let's Talk

Nose to nose

It was a classic case of miscommunication. My sister-in-law -- a.k.a. the mother of all caregivers, with six school-age kids and, at one time, three live-in elders -- was under strict orders to call me at any hour she felt the need, for any reason. Her mother was on home hospice when the text arrived: "Can you talk?"

Eager to help, I texted back, for speed's sake, a simple "Y."

And then...she didn't call!

I waited awhile before texting back again, "Are you okay?"

Actually she was all right, had just been wanting to update me, until she got my message -- and that had made her a little miffed and hurt. She'd mis-read my "Y" as the word "Why?" As in, I was asking her why she needed to talk to me right then, as if I were screening her level of need. (No, no, I quickly clarified. My "Y" meant "Yes!")

Fortunately, our communication is normally much smoother. (For one thing, I'm much bette

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9 Comments


Sunday September 18, 2011 (Updated: Wednesday October 02, 2013)

Was Pat Robertson Right?

Ewige Liebe

Few situations strain caregivers like the longtime, debilitating illness of a spouse while you're still vital yourself.

And that's exactly the issue that got a bit lost amid last week's furor over fundamentalist Christian leader Pat Robertson's comments that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is morally feasible because the disease is "a kind of death." There was lots of talk but no frank discussion of the very real dilemmas of the unlived lives of longtime Alzheimer's caregivers.

On websites and at water coolers, commenters lambasted the very idea of breaking marital vows. Unclear, however, is how many of them were speaking from the shoes of an advanced Alzheimer's caregiver. Last year Caring.com's Family Advisor columnist Carol O'Dell ignited a similar furious debate when she urged the depressed wife of a disabled man to allow herself to live her own life in a post about the stress

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30 Comments


Monday September 12, 2011 (Updated: Wednesday August 14, 2013)

Critical Comments

Water Wings

How often have you heard the advice, "Just let it roll off your back"? Pretty often, if you've read much of my work here at Caring, because I seem to say it a lot as a de-stressing tactic, whether in quoting an outside expert in caregiving or psychology, or when offering my own ten cents. I said it just last week in my post about how to cope with relatives who heap extra stress on caregiving.

In the comments on that post, someone asked for help on just how to do that. Good question!

How do you let criticisms roll off your back? How do you ignore busybodies who create chaos, not help? How do you make yourself impervious to the stress?

Try these self-psyching ideas:

  1. Ask yourself, frankly, if there's any truth in the comment.

    Better to get this part out of the way first: Deep in your heart, do you know it's true that, say, you can't continue dealing with Mom's incontinence without h

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38 Comments


Monday September 05, 2011 (Updated: Wednesday June 19, 2013)

When a Caregiver's Biggest Pain Isn't the Care Receiver

2 : :rage:

"I Don't Know How She Does It" is the title of a new movie out later this month. It's about a working mom, but the line is an even better descriptor of caregivers, don't you think? Most caregivers (the "she's and "he's alike) juggle just as much, or more. And of all that a caregiver puts up with, sometimes the biggest stressor is an unexpected one: relationships with relatives.

I've been hearing frustrations galore lately about how it's not the care receiver, but another family member, who's driving caregivers nuts. Recognize any of these types in your life?

  • The long-distance second-guesser

A new report on long-distance caregivers says they're often more anxious, guilt-ridden, and disconnected than local caregivers, who can see what's happening with loved ones gradually. As a result, say researchers in the May, 2011 Oncology Nursing Forum, long-distance caregivers tend to swoop in

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21 Comments


Monday August 29, 2011 (Updated: Thursday February 07, 2013)

Pat Summitt's Son and Crossing Over to "Caregiving"

Aspirations!!!

Tyler Summitt is a caregiver-to-be. That's what I kept thinking as I saw him sitting in interviews beside his mother, the legendary University of Tennessee women's basketball head coach Pat Head Summitt, who announced last week that she'd been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at age 59. At some future date, this college student will cross the line from supportive son into caregiving son.

Here at Caring.com, we talk a lot about the "uh-oh moment," when you first realize undeniably that your parent, spouse, or other loved one has a life-changing -- or lives-changing -- problem. Tyler Summitt has been there already, wondering about his mother's memory problems even before her diagnosis by the Mayo Clinic. But he's sure to encounter another family-member milestone: Realizing that, wow, I've become a caregiver.

Caregiving is an identity that can sneak up on you. At first, you

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18 Comments


Monday August 22, 2011 (Updated: Monday October 03, 2011)

If It's Monday, It Must Be a Chance to Start Fresh

MON

Mondays have a bad rap: End of the weekend, beginning of the work grind, another long haul of appointments and leftover To-Do lists. But what if Monday were re-framed as a day to look forward to?

Yes, even by caregivers.

That's the goal of Caregiver Mondays, a new effort by the Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit organization founded in association with Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Syracuse universities. Their first health-inspiring effort, Meatless Mondays, has taken off in homes and in school cafeterias around the country (including my new-college-freshman's, I recently noted!)

The idea is to use Monday -- "the January of the week," they call it -- to course-correct what's not super-healthy or satisfying about your life. Research shows that most people already pick Monday to "start fresh" with health programs, like diets or quitting smoking. But you can start even smaller, with increment

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3 Comments


Monday August 15, 2011 (Updated: Sunday May 13, 2012)

A Loving Way to Combat the "Caregiver 10"

heart is in my hands

Caregiving and weight gain go together like cookies and milk -- or should I say, like worry and mindless munching, or like isolation and lack of exercise? Even sleep deprivation -- another common condition of caregiving -- can add pounds because it increases levels of a hunger hormone that normally makes you feel full. Sleep too little and you're apt to keep grazing, and gaining. No wonder so many caregivers complain about gaining 10 or 20 pounds or more, while tending relatives.

So I was pleasantly surprised to read about a study linking weight loss to a simple strategy -- and one that can benefit caregivers beyond the scale: Like yourself more.

It seems that improving your body image -- feeling appreciative of your body even when you're overweight -- is a key to speeding weight loss efforts.

The study:

A study reported in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physic

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9 Comments


Monday August 08, 2011 (Updated: Wednesday August 17, 2011)

A Surprising Source of Caregiving Tension

Buttin' heads

Quick: How well do you understand your loved one?

"Pretty darn well" is a logical answer, given the intensity of the relationship between most caregivers and their loved ones. But new research from Penn State and the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging says otherwise. It seems there's often a lack of basic understanding between caregivers and their care receivers who have mild or moderate dementia -- and this misunderstanding can add extra tension to the caregiving situation. (Most of the pairs studied were adult children and their parents.)

According to the researchers, caregivers tended to underestimate how important core values were to their loved ones, like:

  • Autonomy (such as being able to do things without help)
  • Control (such as being able to spend money as they choose)
  • Family (such as being able to take part in family celebrations)
  • Safety (such as making decisions about daily life
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4 Comments

About Self Caring

My mission: To help my 48 million fellow caregivers remember that the word "caring" has an "I" in it -- because it's too easy to focus on everything but yourself. I know this professionally (longtime health and family specialist and author) as well as personally (in the last two years, I've lost my mom to cancer and my dad to dementia and cancer). In Self Caring, I want to shine a little spotlight on you. What do caregiving's ups and downs mean for your health, household, work, spirit, and -- oh yes -- sanity?

You can reach me at paulaspencerscott@caring.com.