Self Caring

Keeping the "I" in caring

Do You Have a "Natural Caregiver" Personality?

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How much is your caregiving stress level affected by the personality you were born with? We all know people who seem to roll with caregiving more easily than others. Research shows that this is partly due to factors like the amount of support a caregiver has, the type of support, and the nature of his or her self care. And then there's the situation itself. (Dementia caregiving tends to be higher stress than, say, diabetes care.)

But could it also be that some people have more of a natural "caregiver personality" than others? And if so, how does that buffer their experience?

Just look at the reaction to my last post about caregiver resentment -- a.k.a. "the emotion nobody talks about." Some folks cherish the role; many more embrace it more dutifully or even with difficulty.

I'm not saying any personality type makes a better caregiver than another. Any type can get the job done. But w

10 Ways to Thank a Caregiver

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As if a national day of giving thanks weren't reason enough to express gratitude to those who care for relatives in need, it's also National Family Caregivers Month.

I know I'm preaching to the choir -- of course you realize you deserve a pat on the back! -- but maybe if you express gratitude to a fellow caregiver, it'll come back around to you. (And maybe your relatives or friends will read this with you in mind.)

Below are some ideas for both family and paid caregivers:

Thanking a Family Member

1. Mention caregivers by name before the Thanksgiving meal.

Many families, before they feast, take inventory of all they have to be grateful for. Be sure that those who are caregivers aren't left off the list.

2. Give the gift of a day off.

But don't just offer vaguely and wait for the caregiver to take you up on it. ("If you ever need help with Mom, Dad...") The person may feel unc

Let's Talk

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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

Critical Comments

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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

A Surprising Source of Caregiving Tension

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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

Speak Up or Sneak Around? Do You Tell An Employer About Your Eldercare Duties?

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Anyone who's caring for an ailing loved one needs all the help and support he or she can get, right? Yet many caregivers cut themselves off from a major source of potential stress relief by not talking about their caregiving role at the place where they spend most of their day: their workplace.

Why we don't talk about caregiving at work

Plenty of logical reasons motivate us to keep mum about helping mum (or dad, or a partner, or a grandparent). Not that they're necessarily in our best interest. Example reasons:

  • Denial: Not realizing at the outset how hairy caregiving usually gets, workers believe they can juggle everything just fine, thankyouverymuch, without anyone needing to know. Except for this: Caregiving almost always keeps getting hairier.

  • Fear of being perceived as not giving 100 percent. In these times, especially, you want to look like a workhorse without distractions. * E

Caregiver Frustration: When a Needy Loved One Won't Let You Help

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Caregiving is all about helping those who need it -- but what happens when those who need help insist they don't want it? It's hugely frustrating to see a need resisted, let alone to have your loved one rebuff you, ignore you, or label you a worrywart or a meddler.

Living with resistance hugely amps caregiver stress. It can make you feel like you're doing the "wrong" thing even when your impulses are totally right. That's compounded by the frustration over things taking twice as long to do, or not getting done at all. Clashes can ensue, between you and your loved one, and with other family members who obliviously ask, "Why can't you make him (or her) do x?"

As if overcoming resistance were so easy.

Many caregivers encounter this help-resisting phenomenon at the beginning of the care journey -- when a loved one refuses to see a doctor for concerning symptoms, for example. How do you ge

Caregivers' Pet Peeves

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Every caregiver has his or her personal list of pet peeves: those irritating situations, large or small, that get under your skin and make you craaaaazy.

For a friend, it's her dad's denial-fueled parsimony: He refuses to spend money on simple home modifictions or extra, private physical therapy for her mom, who's in a wheelchair after a stroke, but keeps buying (and canceling) plane tickets for imagined future vacations!

For me, it's always been doctors who don't communicate with one another. They have the medical degrees. They get our cash. Why are we expected to do their work, conveying what one expert says to the next one and making sure nothing falls through the cracks?

Which are your most annoying caregiving pet peeves?

  • Multi-part doctor visits?

Come today, back tomorrow, over there for blood work, now x-rays on the next floor, recheck next week"¦.

  • Would-be helpers who of

Are Guilt Trips the Only Trips You Get to Take?

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Summer vacation season is especially hard on homebound caregivers. There go your friends and, yes, families to beaches and camp-outs and far-flung places. And here you are: Taking care of business and (like the postcards say) wishing you were there.

As a reader shrewdly put it recently, "The only kind of trips I seem to take are guilt trips."

Here, a guided tour of the most popular caregiver guilt trip destinations -- and some more relaxing places to aim for:

Guilt over being mad at, annoyed by, or frustrated with your loved one.

A nicer trip: Forgiving yourself.

Realize that everybody gets mad, annoyed, and frustrated by many different things and people -- including those we care about most. If your feelings pop out, apologize, try harder, and let it go.

Guilt for wishing it were over.

A nicer trip: Acknowledging that mixed feelings are normal.

Wishing your life were no longer

5 Caregiving Rules You Can Break

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We all carry ideas in our heads about the way taking care of a loved one is "supposed to be." These images can begin anywhere from old Waltons episodes to the ways we saw our elders care for their elders.

Are some of these cultural "rules" making you crazy, unnecessarily? Here are five such ideas that are showing their age:

Old rule: Nobody can provide care as well as family.

New rule: Caregiving takes a village.

Certainly nobody knows the person in need as well as a family member. But plenty of others can do a pretty competent job. From those with specialty training to those with way more experience than you in dealing with older adults, to the kid down the street who reads to your loved one after school, "outsiders" bring expertise and insights that enrich care. And by spreading the burden, these helping hands allow the primary caregiver to care better, longer.

Thankfully, local r

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

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