We do a weekly Facebook LiveCast where we discuss various Caregiver related topics and answer questions received from Family Caregivers. Hands down, the biggest topic we are asked about on a weekly basis has to do with Family Caregiver Stress. While neither of us are therapists, as Elder Law Attorneys, we have visited with hundreds of families over the years who are experiencing extreme Caregiver stress AND we have walked this journey ourselves with our mothers. Based on our personal knowledge and experience, here are a few things we have observed that helps reduce Family Caregiver Stress.
Ways to Reduce Family Caregiver Stress
The obvious one that you would expect an Elder Law Attorney to cover, but it’s important, so let’s get this one out of the way first. When the “kids” (usually age 50 – 60) come into our office for assistance with a number of issues concerning how to pay for expense of care at home or for a long term care stay, it’s usually because Mom or Dad had no plan laid out as to how to cover this contingency. To say that it is stressful trying to plan for the parents you love is an extreme understatement. The kids “want to do right” by the parents, but with medical, legal and financial elements staring them in the face, the kids are often traumatized and don’t know what to do first. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to inaction or procrastination, which is rarely good.
In a perfect world, Mom & Dad were proactive and did their own planning many years prior to suffering a health crisis. After all, who knows what Mom & Dad wants better than Mom & Dad? (By the way, if you are Mom or Dad reading this, take it as a major clue and start your planning process today – you kids will thank you later!)
In our membership site at www.caregiversupportacademy.com, we cover a concept which we call Bridge of Life Planning. A few of the elements of a great Bridge of Life Plan are:
What does Mom or Dad want? If they decline, do they want to be at home or an Assisted Living Facility? Do they want to live with one of the kids or have one of the kids live with them? There are many decisions that are best discussed with the family, especially if the plan will require family involvement in the event of an incapacity.
Meet with your Financial Planner to make sure your plan is appropriate for this and future stages in life. Are finances (or government assistance) adequate to pay for what you want? If you are incurring additional care expenses, can the portfolio be “tweaked” to spin off additional income to help pay? Can one of the kids or other trusted person access the funds to pay for Mom or Dad’s medical or care expenses.
Visit an Elder Law or Estate Planning Attorney to review any documents you have, or if none, get the documents that you need in place while you have the capacity to do so. You should also tell the attorney your future preferences to see if additional documents or legal actions need to be taken to help you accomplish what you plan.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that Mom & Dad didn’t do their planning and you are one of the adult kids trying to pick up the pieces at the last minute. Just know that planning, even after something bad has happened, can yield good results and is much better than no planning at all. In general, it is less stressful to plan (even late in the game) than to not plan and “just see what happens”.
This may mean literally “pray”, but it is a broad category, so hang on.
Prayer can be a huge Caregiver stress release. Some of you reading this are not religious, so you have my permission to skip this sub-category and move to the next section. But if you believe in God or a higher power, you know that prayer can be therapeutic and healing. By praying, you focus on an entity outside of yourself, release your pent up emotions and energy and cleanse your mind. You realize that you are not in this alone – that a higher power is guiding your steps and actions.
Meditation is a great way to release Caregiver stress. This is a technique whereby you allow your mind to kick into neutral for a few minutes and just “be”. The healing and therapeutic effect, not to mention the increased productivity and focus that you will experience later in the day, are tremendous. It is tough to discipline yourself to take even 5 minutes to stop, meditate and reflect. There are many great books, web-site and even YouTube videos that give meditation tips. Pick one and try it for a few minutes a day. Give this a try and let me know whether it helped with your productivity, focus and reduced Caregiver stress.
Most Family Caregivers don’t have the luxury of time to go to a gym and spend an hour or two there doing a workout. However, we can all take a few minutes a day and do some type of exercise at home, such as walking, jogging, or weight bearing exercises. Even hobbies such as gardening can help free your mind of Caregiver stress and give you a short break.
Some relationships, especially some family relationships, are far from healing – unfortunately, some are just the opposite. Rather than relieving stress, they create stress. Some family members can create stress just by walking in the door. I’m not talking about these people. In this section, I’m talking about Healing Relationships – people that make you feel better just by being in their presence. You can’t always “dial these people in on demand” so the goal is to have several people like this in your life. Seek out these relationships by meeting these people (where do they hang out?), cultivating the relationship and maintaining contact, in person or by phone. Do whatever you can to be around these folks as often as possible. These people are great Caregiver stress reducers.
Therapists or other Mental Health Professionals
Sometimes Caregiver stress becomes so intense that it can take a toll on you – emotionally and physically. Try not to let it get to that point. When you need help, seek out the assistance of a mental health professional. Many can not only help you get through the immediate crisis, but can give you tips on how to structure your life so as to be able to handle the stressors of life as they come in the future.
It is critical that your declining Loved One see a Geriatric Physician, or other medical professional that specifically deals with issues suffered by Seniors, on a regular basis. Geriatric Physicians can work wonders by helping establish their routine, appropriate medications and home medical equipment and appropriate therapy.
However, one obvious “biggie” is what about YOU, the Family Caregiver? While you are at the Geriatric Physician’s office with your Loved One, set an appointment with your physician for your checkup. Preventive Care can do much to reduce your Caregiver stress and improve your health.
Best wishes with the implementation of your 3 “P’s”. For more information, go to our member site at www.caregiversupportacademy.com.