ColumnistsLong-term Care

‘How Are You?’

By Susan Suben

Most often, caregivers forget to take care of themselves because they are so consumed with caring for their loved one’s needs. This can cause stress. The consequence of stress can be frustration. Frustration can lead to burnout. Burnout can cause health issues for the caregiver.

The American Medical Association created a caregiver self-assessment questionnaire, “How Are You”, which is outlined below. Answer the yes/no questions and see how you are feeling.

During the past week or so, I have….

1. Had trouble keeping my mind on what I was doing

2. Felt that I couldn’t leave my relative alone

3. Had difficulty making decisions

4. Felt completely overwhelmed

5. Felt useful and needed

6. Felt lonely

7. Been upset that my relative has changed so much from his/her former self

8. Felt loss of privacy and/or personal time

9. Been edgy or irritable

10. Had sleep disturbed because of caring for my relative

11. Had crying spell(s)

12. Felt strained between work and family responsibilities

13. Had back pain

14. Felt ill

15. Been satisfied with the support my family has given me

16. Found my relative’s living situation to be inconvenient or a barrier to care

17. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “not stressful” to 10 being “extremely stressful”, please rate your current level of stress

18. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “very healthy” to 10 being “very ill”, please rate your current health compared to what it was this time last year.

“How are You?”

If you answered most questions “yes” (questions 5 and 15, if answered “no” are counted as a “yes”; a “yes” should be counted as a “no”), you may need to make some changes in your mindset and behavior to alleviate your stress.

Here are some tips that I found helpful when I was caring for both of my parents.

Ask for help! When someone offers to help you, do you say, “I’m fine”? The bravest thing you can do is ask for help. This may be difficult. Other family members may not be able to do what you expect them to do and this can lead to disappointment and resentment. Have a family meeting and determine what each family member is capable of handling. You may have to do the hands-on caregiving but maybe someone can do the laundry, go to the supermarket or pay the bills. If you communicate assertively and respectfully, not aggressively, to let other family members know what you are feeling and what you need from them, you will reduce your stress level. Learn to delegate and relinquish control.

Take a time out! Attempt to set aside time as often as possible to nurture yourself. Socialize with friends. Take a bubble bath. Go to a movie. Go to church or synagogue. Caregiving is an uncontrollable event. Don’t deprive yourself.

Thoughts modify behavior! The premise of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis, suggests that if we identify self-defeating thoughts and feelings, challenge the rationality of those feelings, and replace them with healthier, more productive beliefs, we will lead happier lives.

The three major “musts” of REBT that contribute to irrational behavior:

– I must do well under all circumstances and win the approval of others or else I am not worthy.

– Other people must do the right thing or they are not worthy and should be punished.

– Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience.

According to REBT, these three “musts” lead to frustration, anxiety, resentment, anger and inflexibility. The necessity of assuming the role of caregiver can happen at any time. How you respond to it will make all the difference in how you feel and act. You are not perfect, nor are the people around you, nor is life. Accept your circumstances, especially ones you cannot change. Accept your limitations and the limitations of those around you. Be kind to yourself. Thinking positively will ultimately change your behavior. It will help you accept your role of caregiver in a more productive, less critical way.

Take care of your health! See your doctor for annual physicals. Exercise, get enough sleep and eat nutritiously.

You are not alone! Join a support group. Sharing your experiences with other caregivers helps you make new friends and learn new strategies.

The caregiver mantra that you should repeat to yourself every day is: You are as meaningful as the person you care for…