Surviving Caregiving

The D Factor: How Respect for Dignity Can Make Care Better

Last updated: February 19, 2014


Dignity is one of those things we don't think much about until it’s gone.

In the hospital, for instance: Ever hear the saying about hospitalizations, "Check your dignity at the door"? It refers to those gowns that barely cover your tush. The abrupt 3 a.m. wakeups to take vital signs. Strangers' group discussions of your most intimate bodily functions.

Being able to hang onto your sense of dignity directly affects quality of life, researchers say. And this is especially true in care settings of all types, including at home.

What is dignity, anyway?

Dignity is defined in different ways. Mainly, it refers to the state or quality of being worthy of honor and respect.

"Dignity is a basic human right," says Qiaohong Guo, a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who opened a panel of experts discussing dignity at the Geronological Society of America's recent annual meeti

Who's Most Likely to Feel Caregiver Stress?

Last updated: February 07, 2014


Every caregiver I've ever talked to reports some degree of stress. And why not? The compound challenges of worry, crunched time, losses, and all the rest can take a toll on even the most cheerful, resourceful, and healthy person.

But does caregiving actually cause stress? Some surprising new research says no, the real source of the stress lies within the person, not the situation.

After looking at more than 1,200 female caregiving twins, Peter Vitaliano, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington, concluded that how stressful caregiving is for you psychologically is more a matter of your genes and your upbringing. Caregiving itself does not cause stress, he says. This new study appears in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Who's most at risk, according to this research? People who:

  • Have a history of depression. "Like putting salt in a wound," says Vitalia

You Deserve Year-Round Recognition

Last updated: December 31, 2013


So the Season has ended -- by which I mean caregivers' moment in the national spotlight. November was National Family Caregivers Month and National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. At the same time, the holidays ushered in their annual news stories of how to help the aging and those who help them.

But what about after the flurry of on-topic articles wanes, after your turkey leftovers are gone and your cookie tins lay empty?

Imagine if the President were to fire up some new proclamations for 2014. Imagine us all celebrating the following year of caregiver-centric events:

January: Post-Holiday Blues Awareness Month and Caregiver Personal Health Preparedness Month

February: Hug a Caregiver Month (to be celebrated with chocolate and flowers)

March: March on Washington for Better Palliative Care Benefits

April: No Fooling Day (when families and friends stop making excuses for giv

Can You Be Too Careful?

Last updated: December 23, 2013


It's a natural impulse to want to protect those who are frail or have dementia. We want to keep our loved ones as safe and well as possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to older adults, keeping them safe isn't always the same as keeping them well.

You can be too careful, believes University of Edinburgh professor Charlotte Clarke. Head of the School of Social Science, she mounted a theater performance and workshop, based on almost 90 interviews with people who have dementia and their families, to illustrate how focusing on safety above all else can actually have hidden risks.

The problem comes in when you see the problem before the person. The person becomes their diagnosis ("Alzheimer's! Must keep safe!" "Stroke victim! Must keep safe!") Finding that fine line between protection and overprotection can be really hard.

As you try to find it, consider the potential costs of overprotect

5 Ways to Recover When You Lose Your Cool

Last updated: December 23, 2013


We all snap at the ones we love sometimes. It happens for a million different reasons -- or for what can seem like no reason at all.

Actually, when a snap seems to come "out of the blue," it's usually been percolating for hours or days, the accumulation of many little stressors that erupt at any point, any target -- and anything can be the tipping point. It's important to know that every caregiver loses his or her cool now and then.

What's the best recourse when you goof?

1. Apologize by blaming yourself. "I'm so sorry. I don't know where that came from! No, I do -- it was my stress talking! My fault, not yours."

2. Recover with a joke. "Whoa! Did I just morph into my evil twin? I'm back now."

3. Reassure that it's OK. Your loved one is apt to be shaken after an outburst. It's important that your body language also says, "I'm better now, it's OK." First, calm yourself -- leave the r

5 Inspiring Quotes About Caregiving

Last updated: December 23, 2013


I've been lucky to talk to many amazing, wise caregivers and experts in caregiving over the years. These five quotes have stuck with me. The reason, I think, is that each made me think about caregiving through a new lens. Each of these quotes came from interviews that appear in my book, Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical tips and soul-saving wisdom for caregivers.

Caregiving Idea: Change your perspective

"So many people get hung up on thinking, 'You're not the person I used to know.' But that objectifies the person and distances you. It's saying, 'You're a problem' instead of, 'We're in this new place together.'"

-- Bob DeMarco, founder and editor of Alzheimer's Reading Room, who cared for his late mother, Dorothy DeMarco, for eight years

Caregiving Idea: See "problems" in a new light "Behavior 'talks' to you. Instead of getting mad or frustrated because the person with dementia acts i

About Surviving Caregiving
  • How can you do your best by your loved one -- and yourself at the same time? That's the dilemma at the heart of looking after someone who's sick, frail, or has dementia. This blog collects the best thinking to help you solve that riddle, or, at least, get closer to it. I'm the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and a contributing editor. I helped care for my late parents.

    You can find me at or @PSpencerScott on Twitter.

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