Chronic (long-term) stress kills, and caregivers suffer the negative effects of stress at double the rate of any other stressed out group of people! Fact.
People who are coping with high levels of stress are at much higher risk of Stroke, Heart Attack, Diabetes, Auto-Immune illness like Rheumatoid Arthritis, IBS, and even cancer. Fact.
Taking care of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is extremely stressful. Obvious
Treating stress is easy and inexpensive…but you have to commit to it.
Do you know that pre-flight instruction that you hear before every commercial flight you have ever taken? Remember that part where they tell people flying with small children that if the oxygen masks deploy they should put their own mask on before helping a child?
Sounds pretty weird doesn’t it? But do you know why they say that? Because if you pass-out from lack of oxygen (hypoxia) you will lose the ability to help your child. You need to take the oxygen first.
This a perfect analogy for caregivers to remember that they have to take care of themselves. Most caregivers are all alone without much help…if this sounds like you, then ask yourself, if something happens to me, who will take care of my loved-one?
But caregivers seem to be naturally stubborn. Maybe it takes stubbornness to be able to focus on the day to day grind of meeting the needs of our spouse or parent. But while stubbornness can be a positive personality trait when it keeps us going month after month; it can also be a negative trait when it suppresses an open mind and keeps you working yourself to exhaustion and burnout.
Open mind to what? To taking time off, treating yourself to a movie, dinner alone, a weekend away, a long bath. All these things will lower your blood pressure, and blood pressure is your stress thermometer.
Stubbornness narrows our field of vision, like blinders on a horse. It creates a closed-mind. I have seen it over and over again, maybe you have too. Too often I meet a caregiver that is wound up and ready to explode. It is obvious to everyone around them, but they cannot see it. They will tell you that everything is under control. “I’m fine”, they say. And, tragically, to the extent that they are “fine”, they are heading for a very big crash. Besides the toxic effects of stress on one’s health. They are closed off to the concept of surrender and the acknowledgement that they need help. But that is exactly what every caregiver needs…help. Did you know that, more than 50% of caregivers die before the person they are caring for.
Dr. Jamie Huysman, the co-founder of Leeza’s Place, gives a great talk. In his speeches you can often here him suggest that caregivers should “take the oxygen first”. What a marvelous concept! As I said in the beginning, this is a perfect analogy to the average caregiver’s dilemma. And, it is the very concept that I have been advocating all along. So I plead with my stubborn caregivers. Acknowledge that you need help, and be willing to hand the job over to others whenever you can, and see to your own needs. Remember that alarming statistic from earlier posts that over 50% of caregivers die before the person they are caring for. Well add to that another 10 – 20% that become incapacitated and no longer able to continue caregiving for their parent or spouse. The causes are many, it might be a major stroke, or a serious cancer, or a fractured pelvis. Unfortunately, I have seen too many a cases of older adults with profound Alzheimer’s whose caregiver is out of the picture.
Over the years I have spoken, one on one, with hundreds of caregivers. My overwhelming impression is their unwavering commitment to their loved one. They believe, that no one can care for their parent or spouse as good as they can. That no one can possibly know their loved one as well as them. I happen to agree with them. This is why I continue to recommend that they take action to preserve their health. Because if something happens to them, who will care for their loved one? So I encourage them to use adult day care, to find respite care options, to attend support groups. In support groups they can share their experience with other, newer caregivers, and they can also learn from other, more experienced caregivers. I also recommend board and care and assisted living. Usually, this is the option that caregivers are very specific about NOT doing. And there you have it, before you can finish your sentence; they are railing how they will never allow it. These stubborn caregivers have made up their mind, sometimes decades earlier, and they are not about to listen to anything that challenges their preconceived notions. If this sounds like someone you know, please talk with them. If this sounds like you, ask someone you know to help you think of ways that you can loosen your grip on the reins.
Please do it before nature does for you.