Being a Caregiver Is Not Easy – The Caring Generation®
The Caring Generation® – Episode 69 January 20, 2021. On this caregiving radio show, Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, shares why being a caregiver is not easy. Guest Dr. Christopher Lowry, Associate Professor of Integrative Physiology from the University of Boulder talks about Stress and the Immune System
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Being a Caregiver Is Not Easy
0:00:04.1 Announcer: Caregiving can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. Caregivers may be torn between taking care of loved ones and trying to maintain balance in life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Caring Generation with host Pamela D. Wilson is here to focus on the conversation of caring. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exactly the right place to share stories and learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones. So now, please welcome the host of The Caring Generation, Pamela D. Wilson.
0:00:38.8 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, speaker, and author; your host for The Caring Generation. The Caring Generation focuses on conversations about health, well-being, caring for ourselves and aging parents, all tied together with humor and laughter essential to being a caregiver. The topic for this caregiving program is, Being a Caregiver is Not Easy. I’ll share experiences from caregivers who say caregiving is hard—it’s more challenging than I ever imagined. Plus, on the other side of being a caregiver is not easy. We’ll talk about what happy people do every day. I’ll share things you can do every day to remain positive and optimistic. On the topic of staying healthy, our guest for the health and wellness segment of the show is Dr. Christopher Lowry, Associate Professor of Integrative Physiology from the University of Boulder in Colorado. Dr. Lowry will talk about how stress impacts the immune system. How many of you feel stressed? Do you get butterflies in your stomach or experience ongoing stomach aches, pains, and upsets? Dr. Lowry will talk about how stress, the immune system, and stomach problems go together for caregivers. Plus, he will offer tips to strengthen your immune system. As we know, caregivers, because of all of the stress of caregiving, can become more sick than the people that you take care of.
0:02:04.5 Pamela D. Wilson: Let’s begin with number one of being a caregiver is not easy. If you are a caregiver, you know that there are hard choices to make that you or an elderly parent, spouse, or the person for whom you care would rather not make. Now, the idea of hard choice is obviously relative to each situation. For some people, it might be giving up sweet foods that may be a hard choice to do. For others, giving up sweets might be an easy choice, if the consequences that you feel better and you have more energy when you give up sugary foods. What about the choice between watching television or going to exercise? Is that a difficult or an easy choice? What about the choice of trading time with your friends during the weekend or spending time at your parents in caregiving activities? That one may be a little difficult to look at the pros and cons.
0:02:56.0 Pamela D. Wilson: Let’s take this one step further. The choice between having an elderly parent come and live with you to receive care, or moving an elderly parent from their home to live in a care community Then the choice of pursuing chemotherapy or radiation for cancer treatments versus not receiving treatment and the alternative. Being a caregiver is not easy. Being the person who receives care is not easy. Making difficult or hard choices becomes a way of life if you are a caregiver or an aging adult. How do happy or more optimistic people look at having to make hard choices? For them, hard choices can be viewed as problems or challenges. In caregiving, many of the choices involved arise because of all of the unexpected situations—crazy days. As a caregiver or an aging adult, if you can improve your willingness and your ability to respond to the unexpected, then every new challenge that arises may not appear to be huge. You grow in problem-solving skills. How do we do this?
0:04:05.6 Pamela D. Wilson: Problem-solving involves working through issues while we remain optimistic that there is a solution. There’s a saying that every problem offers an opportunity. While this is true, being a caregiver is not easy when you deal with one problem after another. The recommendation that I have for caregiving families is to prepare for what-if situations and create multiple plans. For example, plan A, plan B, plan C, mainly because you want to have several options rather than only one way of responding to a situation. If you realize that a situation may not work out as you planned, and you have a back-up plan, then it’s less stressful, then you can say, “Well, I hope this would work out, I hope it would have turned out this way, but it didn’t. Now though I have options X, Y, and Z.”
0:05:00.3 Pamela D. Wilson: As a caregiver, it’s always helpful to talk to other caregivers. How many of you belong to a support group? My online group on Facebook is called The Caregiving Trap. My Facebook page is PamelaDWilsonCaregiving Expert. I invite you to join the group. Asking for advice and considering the views of other people—other caregivers—is another step to support problem-solving when being a caregiver isn’t easy. Sometimes to work through problems, we have to figure out what success or a solution looks like and then figure out how to get from A to Z. While being a caregiver isn’t easy, don’t give up. But note, a problem that happens over and over again truly is an opportunity to learn from that problem. When you think of this, consider how you or others respond. If you are responding the same way or experiencing the same problem that keeps happening time and time again, is it time to admit that maybe you don’t have the right information or the right skills to solve that problem? What do we do then? Well, we can start with asking the opinions of other people.
0:06:12.8 Pamela D. Wilson: We can also write down what we think is the problem, because sometimes what we think is the problem isn’t the problem. It may just be a symptom. So, let’s look at a real-life example of this. So, an example of this in a work situation might be employees who don’t stay, meaning high turnover. Now that could be happening because the company is hiring people who don’t really have the right skills or the right ability for that job. Or, on the other hand, it could be a training issue. But when you hear that, you think, Wow, of course, not enough training. Well, but what about employees who don’t want to be trained—who aren’t interested in learning? Who don’t participate? That is a problem that a lot of people don’t think about. Part of problem-solving is taking the time to identify the right problem so that you can figure out a solution. Another reason why being a caregiver is not easy. You might also be in a position where you have a problem to solve, and none of the options are ideal. They don’t work for you. That takes us back to making hard choices.
0:07:18.9 Pamela D. Wilson: Elderly parents, most of them, want to stay in their homes rather than move to a care community. We all know this. Sometimes staying home for elderly parents is possible. Other times it’s just not practical, when day-to-day care needs exceed what a caregiver can manage or exceed what the family can manage or exceed what the family can afford to pay for— then we have to have those difficult discussions about other what-ifs. And while those conversations are super uncomfortable, having that discussion is part of sitting with that problem and coming up with alternatives or next steps or other solutions.
0:08:02.2 Pamela D. Wilson: Up next, we’re going to talk about that queasy feeling that you might get in your stomach when you have to make hard caregiving decisions or when stress starts to affect your immune system. How many of you caregivers are experiencing more health issues now that you are a caregiver? How many of you were healthy before being a caregiver, and now you’re not getting enough sleep. Maybe your stomach hurts all the time. You might have high blood pressure. Maybe stress and anxiety are just off charts, and every time that phone rings, you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh, it’s going to be mom or dad calling, something is wrong, it’s a disaster. I’m having to rush to the hospital emergency room.” All of these caregiving stresses are significant on the immune systems of caregivers. Dr. Christopher Lowry, an Associate Professor of Integrative Physiology from the University of Boulder, is going to join us to talk about his research connecting stress, the immune system, and the gut. Helpful tips for caregivers and aging adults are in my Caring for Aging Parents Caregiving Blog. It’s on my website at www.PamelaDWilson.com. There, you can also find my free caregiver library. There is a library for family caregivers and also a library for professional caregivers, so caregivers who are like CNAs and care staff in care communities.
0:09:29.6 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson. You are with me on The Caring Generation. Stay with me. We will be right back.
0:10:00.6 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. You’re with me on The Caring Generation. Joining us is Dr. Christopher Lowry from the University of Boulder. Welcome Dr. Lowry.
0:10:10.4 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Thank you, Pamela. It’s wonderful to be here with you.
0:10:15.1 Pamela D. Wilson: So you do a lot of research on the immune system and the gut. What comes first? Does the immune system affect the gut, or is it vice versa?
0:10:26.1 Dr. Christopher Lowry: That’s a great question. It really is a chicken and egg question, and in fact, the communication between the gut and the immune system is bidirectional. In other words, the gut impacts the immune system, and in return, the immune system can impact the gut and the gut function. We might also extend that to talk about the contents of the gut, which includes the gut microbiome, and we’re also learning that this gut microbiome, which consist of bacteria, viruses, other microorganisms, can impact our gut function. Which then impacts our immune system function and can have impacts on our overall health.
0:11:11.1 Pamela D. Wilson: And so there was a study that I read of yours that talked about people who grew up in the country or a farm environment, and then people who grew up in the city and their immune systems and their—the words you used, the microbiome, they’re different. Why is that? Why does that happen?
0:11:28.5 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Yes, this is embedded in something that originated in the early 1990s called the hygiene hypothesis, and it was recognized then that if you have older siblings, you have a lower risk of developing allergic asthma and allergic disease. They postulated at that time that by having older siblings, the older siblings came home with infections, respiratory infections, etcetera, and that somehow these infections made your immune system stronger. What we’ve learned since then is that it’s not just these infectious microorganisms, but also organisms that we find in our environment, including in the soil, in natural environments, and farm environment, and indeed, growing up on a farm can protect you from developing allergic asthma later on in life. This effect is so highly replicated that it’s just called the “farm effect.” If you grew up in a farm, later on in life, you’re much less likely to have allergies and asthma.
0:12:37.1 Pamela D. Wilson: That’s fascinating, but I guess it makes sense because there’s a lot of farm animals, and you’ve got dirt and all the other stuff there. So for our immune systems, how do they know what they’re supposed to do for us? How do they know what they protect us against or what helps us?
0:12:57.3 Dr. Christopher Lowry: So there’s really two sides to that coin. One is, how does the immune system recognize bad bacteria, the bad guys? And we’re still learning a lot about how our immune systems recognize what we might call bad bacteria that have the potential to induce infections. And we have cells that line the gut that can produce very specific peptides that can target these bad bacteria and kill them. Those mechanisms clearly evolved over a very long period of time during the million evolution. On the other hand, our immune systems can also recognize good bacteria. My colleague, Graham Rook, who is from University College London in the UK, developed the idea of what he called the “old friends”, and these are bacteria that humans co-existed with throughout human evolution that have developed the capacity to keep our immune systems under control. In other words, to keep our immune system from overreacting and inducing inflammation that can then cause other problems, including inflammatory disease, some types of cancers, and also, we’re learning it can elevate the risk of stress-related psychiatric disorders like anxiety disorders, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
0:14:29.2 Pamela D. Wilson: I’m glad you brought that up because in one of your articles I was reading about the fact that depression and mental health disorders are related to early life stress, but then it also mentioned stress, the gut, and depression. Can you explain how those relate to each other?
0:14:46.9 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Absolutely. Early life stressors are one of the most important risk factors for future development of stress-related psychiatric disorders like depression. We don’t understand all the mechanisms involved. But an exaggerated inflammatory response to future stresses may play an important role in that increased risk of depression after experiencing adverse early life experiences. So the question is, How do stress, the gut, and depression relate to each other? We do know that stress can impact the gut and particularly has a dramatic effect on the gut microbiome, the bacteria that reside in our guts. And one of the impacts of stress on the gut microbiome is to decrease what’s called microbial diversity. And you can think of that in a very simple way. It’s just a number of different types of bacteria that are in the gut microbiome. And a number of studies have shown that when you experience stress, the diversity of that gut microbiome goes down, and then when that happens, that creates an opportunity for what we call opportunistic pathogens to get a foothold then expand and can actually increase inflammation both in the gut environment and also in the body and throughout the body, and even in the brain itself. And we know that this inflammation is, in turn, can be a risk factor for developing depression.
0:16:20.1 Pamela D. Wilson: So on those lines, you mentioned early life stress, so what would be an example of an early life stress that would cause this interaction in our gut? How much stress does it have to be, I guess?
0:16:32.9 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Well, this could be many different types of stressors, including traumatic stressors, being in a car accident, losing someone, going through a grieving process, significant loss. It can also be in the form of early childhood abuse, mental abuse, or neglect, and all of these types of early life stresses have major impacts on our immune system and subsequent mental health.
0:17:03.2 Pamela D. Wilson: And so on that subject, this is a little off the track, but a lot of people say, “Well, I have a cast-iron stomach, I can just eat anything.” Does that mean that they have a strong immune system? I know that might be difficult to answer.
0:17:17.7 Dr. Christopher Lowry: That’s an excellent question. I think people that have a cast-iron stomach really have healthy gut microbiomes. And that’s something we might call resilience, and what we’re learning is that the choice of foods that you eat can determine the health of the gut microbiome ecosystem. In particular, we’re learning, it’s important to consume a wide variety or diversity of plant-based foods, and the bottom line there is that plants are living organisms like humans. They have their own microbiomes. If we eat fresh plants, then we’re eating a ready-made and healthy microbiome.
0:18:03.0 Pamela D. Wilson: And Dr., I’m going to have you finish the answer to this question after the break, we’ve got to cut out to a break. This is Pamela D. Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
0:18:35.5 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. You’re with me on The Caring Generation. We’re back to continue our conversation with Dr. Christopher Lowry. So, Dr. Lowry, before the break, we were talking about people who have cast-iron stomachs, and you were mentioning the diversity of food and plant foods. Can you explain what exactly that is?
0:18:54.0 Dr. Christopher Lowry: So we’re learning the people that eat a very high diversity of plant species—in other words, many different types of plants—have the most diverse gut microbiomes, and we equate a highly diverse gut microbiome with the higher overall health. And so the idea here is that by eating many different types of plants with each plant having its own microbiome—by consuming different types of plants—you’re simply increasing the diversity of your gut microbiome, which is a much healthier and stress-resilient state.
0:19:32.8 Pamela D. Wilson: And this sounds like it’s really important to our health. Why don’t doctors tell us more about this and about eating more fruits and more vegetables so that our stomach stay healthy?
0:19:45.6 Dr. Christopher Lowry: That’s a great question. I lecture a meeting every summer called The Integrative Psychiatry in Boulder, Colorado, and one of the comments that always comes up among the psychiatrists is that during medical school, they only received essentially one hour in their four-year program on the relationship between diet and health. And so they’re—in our medical training—there’s inadequate training related to nutrition, diet, and overall health. And it’s also the case that our understanding of the gut microbiome and its impact on our overall health, both our immune health, metabolic health, mental health that’s also emerging relatively recently, and our understanding of those relationships is really progressing at breakneck speed. So in one sense, it’s hard to keep up with all of the new data that are emerging on this topic.
0:20:54.2 Pamela D. Wilson: And so if somebody wanted to monitor their immune system related to their stomach, how do you do that? How would I know if my immune system was not good because of what I was eating?
0:21:06.5 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Yes, the best marker biological signature that we have to monitor inflammation in the body is something called C-reactive protein or CRP. This is something that you can have measured at your doctor’s office. And what’s very useful about this particular protein—measuring this protein in a blood sample is that we have thresholds for concentrations of CRP that have been linked to overall cardiovascular health and inflammation. And so the American Heart Association has found that if you have CRP below one milligram per liter, that’s very low risk of cardiovascular disease. If you have CRP between one and three, you have moderate risk, and if you have CRP above 3 milligrams per liter, then you’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease, and extrapolating from that, if you’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease, you’re also at high risk for other diseases that have been associated with high levels of inflammation.
0:22:19.2 Pamela D. Wilson: So it kind of sounds like we have stress and we have stomach problems, and we have heart problems. So if we go to our doctor—this is like a special blood test that we have to request that—do we have to get the doctor to agree to do this, or how would we get them to run it?
0:22:35.9 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Yes, it depends on your particular family doctor. I know some employee health fairs offer C-reactive protein to measure C-reactive protein as part of their annual health fair and so if you’re concerned about that, you can simply ask, and it’s very likely that they would agree to measure CRP while they’re measuring your cholesterol and lipid profile in your annual health visit.
0:23:07.9 Pamela D. Wilson: That’s a great idea. So what can people do to improve their immune systems?
0:23:15.7 Dr. Christopher Lowry: So one way is exposure to a high diversity of microorganisms, and so one way to do that is to consume a high diversity of plant-based foods, which we’ve already talked about. There are other ways to expose yourself to a high diversity of microorganisms. That includes having pets in the house, being exposed to a healthy outdoor environment, so that could be green spaces, parks, natural spaces, loose spaces, near bodies of water, in the ocean. And we know that not only do we consume large numbers of bacteria and by large numbers, I mean we consume over one billion bacteria per day, either consuming the bacteria, breathing them in, and we can breathe in many bacteria simply by being in healthy environments, outdoor environments with healthy soils and healthy plants.
0:24:26.4 Pamela D. Wilson: And one of your articles mentioned probiotics, and there’s a lot of commercials on TV about that. Are probiotics good, and then I know people eat yogurt, too, what’s better? What works?
0:24:38.9 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Yes, generally speaking, probiotic foods are very good idea. As you know, there are many probiotic products on the market that are available, and the difficulty with probiotics is knowing which probiotics are effective and which may not be as effective for any particular indication. And there’s a very good organization that is trying to put together what’s called a Clinical Guide To Probiotic products available in the United States. The website is www.USprobioticguide.com, and they are making an effort to use evidence-based evaluation of probiotics for very specific conditions. So if you have a particular health condition, you can look up all the probiotic strains that have been studied in the context of that health condition and then choose a product for which there is some evidence that it may actually be beneficial for you.
0:25:47.0 Pamela D. Wilson: And so on that question, so let’s say—does it give food type probiotics, and then things that we would find over the counter in nutritron stores that give both or does it go either way?
0:26:03.2 Dr. Christopher Lowry: Yes, so the probiotic guide will cover those products by name. So it will include the actual name of the product that you would find in the store, and so it’s easier to match different probiotics to their potential health benefits using that guide.
0:26:20.6 Pamela D. Wilson: Wonderful. Dr. Lowry, I will put a link to your bio in the transcript for the show. I’ll also link to a couple of your articles, and I’ll put a link to that USprobioticguide.com. Thank you so much for joining us. This is Pamela D. Wilson. You’re with me on The Caring Generation. Stay with me. We’ll be right back after this break.
0:27:03.2 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker on The Caring Generation, focusing on the conversation of caring, giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, health, the patient experience, family relationships, and everything in between. Let’s return to the subject of being a caregiver isn’t easy. The number two caregiver concern about being a caregiver isn’t easy is embarrassment, fear, and being in uncomfortable care situations. Let’s talk about all three of these. Embarrassment relates to doing something for the first time. This could be that time when you help a parent change Depends, or you help a parent bathe or shower. Realize, though, that your parent may also be embarrassed. Talk about your feelings and try to bring a little laughter into that situation if possible. Fear is another aspect of why being a caregiver is not easy. A lot of caregivers express fear about having to do things for which you don’t have any experience. And honestly, if you’re a caregiver and you haven’t been one before, the whole caregiving experience could be scary.
0:28:08.2 Pamela D. Wilson: But when you think about this, if you can do your best to put that fear into perspective, think about all of the things that you have done in your lifetime, and you’ve succeeded. Then—and this is important—if that thing that you fear is something that someone can help you with or teach you to do, ask for help. Examples include taking blood pressure using a lancet and a blood sugar monitor. Maybe you have to change or clean a catheter bag. Feeding a parent through a feeding tube can be scary, plus a long list of other medical type skills that you can learn. Other fearful areas are interpersonal interactions and communication. Let’s say that you’re a burned-out caregiver, and you don’t feel that you can keep going at the current level of help that you are giving to a parent or a spouse. You want to talk to your family members, but you are afraid that they will say no or criticize you. It is possible to learn how to have these conversations. The way that you can do it—is join a caregiver support group or take a caregiving course. Other caregivers will be more than happy to share their experiences of how they talk to their family members and how they convinced their family members to help them.
0:29:22.0 Pamela D. Wilson: When you talk to other caregivers, the amount of information that you can learn is amazing, and you will start replacing that fear with confidence. The number three topic for why being a caregiver is not easy and what positive people do every day is having a growth mindset. So that means that you have a belief that you can succeed through putting in time, effort, and learning, and you look at challenges as opportunities. So if you have a growth mindset, you’re persistent. You don’t give up. You’re more likely to listen to suggestions and to other people and say yes, that might work. On the other hand, if you have that no mindset, you might give up easily. You might say things can’t be done, you might believe that accomplishing a task is impossible, and you might ignore people who want to help you. Well, while all have a bad day, we can’t totally stop things from going wrong. Caregivers are people who have that growth mindset—believe that situations can improve. They set goals, they take action rather than waiting for a solution to come to them. I always say that prayer is good. I pray, but prayer alone without action won’t solve problems. Life doesn’t work that way, or at least it doesn’t work that way for me.
0:30:33.2 Pamela D. Wilson: When you have a bad day, I’m curious, what goes through your mind? Does your mind focus on all the problems? Do you acknowledge the situation or the problem for what it is and then try to look for the bright spots? How many of you ask yourself what is good about this bad day that I’m having? What can I learn from the situation? Happy people do their best to find the bright spots in life. You’ve probably heard that old saying when you get lemons, make lemonade. Being a caregiver is not easy. What are the other things that happy people do every day to maintain a positive outlook? You might limit your news consumption or at least don’t watch the news except the weather to start off your day. If you have a pet, spend time with the pet. Take your dog for a walk. Pets are great mood boosters, and they offer unconditional love. Get an early start to your day. Watch the sunrise every morning. Eat breakfast. Having breakfast is a great way to start the day.
0:31:32.7 Pamela D. Wilson: It helps your immune system. If you listened to our interview with Dr. Lowry, it also kick-starts your metabolism and gives you that energy, both physical and mental, to get things done. You’ll find that if you eat breakfast, you have more energy. Eating breakfast also helps your immune system and your overall health. It can help prevent over-eating during the day. It can prevent blood sugar drops that can happen if you go too long without eating. Research from the American College of Cardiology from April 2019 confirms that people who eat breakfast are healthier. They are less likely to die prematurely from heart disease.
0:32:10.7 Pamela D. Wilson: Earlier, we talked with Dr. Lowry about the link between stress and your gut and heart disease. Nutrition is important for caregivers, and it’s even more important for older adults over the age of 60. Because malnutrition is common among the elderly, and it’s hard to notice if somebody is malnutritioned. When you find your elderly parent losing weight, if they’re becoming physically weaker, if they’re experiencing one health issue after another, they may have immune system problems, and they also may be malnutritioned.
0:32:45.0 Pamela D. Wilson: Gut problems in older adults are also more significant because the older body has a more difficult time absorbing all the nutrients and all the foods and processing all of the medications that the elderly take. Because older adults can certainly take a lot of medications. If you monitor what your elderly parents take, they’re probably on a long list of things, and also your elderly parents may say, “oh, I’m not hungry or I don’t have an appetite.” Well, that could be because they are inactive. They may not be hungry because they sit all day, and so what activities can your parents still do? Can you engage them in those activities? Also, if they are losing weight, if they say they’re not hungry, if they say that food doesn’t taste good, it could be because of medications that they’re taking, but also talk to the doctor. That weight loss could be a significant sign of depression, and if you remember, depression and the stomach relate to each other. If you’re interested in learning more of how to care for elderly parents, the A to Z of caregiving is in my online caregiver course. It’s called Stay at Home: Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home and Beyond. Information is on my website at www.PamelaDWilson.com.
0:33:58.8 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, consultant speaker. You’re with me on The Caring Generation. Stay with me. We’ll be right back.
0:34:33.0 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker on The Caring Generation. Share my website, www.PamelaDWilson.com. One in four people you know are caregivers, looking for help and support that can be found on my website and on The Caring Generation weekly show. Let’s return to the topic of being a caregiver is not easy. Number four on the list is time matters. As a caregiver, you might be grieving the time and parts of your life that you’ve traded to be a caregiver. Being a caregiver isn’t easy when you give up going to college, trade time with friends, maybe change or even give up a job. Caregivers, especially younger caregivers, say that being a caregiver is not easy because they feel like they’re putting their life on hold to care for grandparents or aging parents.
0:35:22.0 Pamela D. Wilson: When we’re young, time may seem to pass ever so slowly. But as we age, time can pass quickly, especially when we feel like we’re not accomplishing all of the things that we want because of unexpected life situations like being a caregiver. The other concern with time matters relates to self-care and caring for elderly parents. We all know that it’s difficult to find alone time or time to take care of yourself, including routine medical care. When you’re a caregiver who is so focused on taking care of everyone else, the risk of time matters is that when we learn about health by going to the doctor and asking questions, by reading or investigating health matters, we as a caregiver can be more proactive to prevent health issues. Instead of looking back, saying, “oh, I wish I knew then. I should have gone to the doctor.” With health, it’s always the questions we don’t ask, don’t know to ask, or questions we don’t think to be important—that stop us from turning back that clock to avoid high blood pressure, diabetes, or another condition that it might be too late to change because we didn’t make the time to take care of ourselves.
0:36:32.9 Pamela D. Wilson: Our body is the only one we have. Good health—or the lack of good health—affects our everyday life. Our ability to work, to take care of ourselves and our families. It’s not too late to begin a health routine. The actions that you take today can set an example for elderly parents or even your children. Your positive example can inspire other people. Be that light—that spark—in the life of another person. Another reason why being a caregiver isn’t easy is that that the same time matter situation applies to our elderly parents and the time that we spend committed to their care. The time that you commit to the health care of an elderly parent is comparable to the time that your elderly parent didn’t take to care for him or herself. Health issues begin early, sometimes 10 to 20 years before a diagnosis really happens. All of the things that doctors tell us that we should do, exercise, eat well, maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, all those things that we ignore can eventually catch up with us.
0:37:45.5 Pamela D. Wilson: If you’re a caregiver, what future are you creating for yourself and your children if you have them—or for that person that you hope will be there to care for you? Not taking care of yourself today will make it more likely that you will have health issues in the future. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. Neither is being that person who eventually needs care. What other habits do optimistic and healthy people have? Many happy and healthy people exercise regularly. Happy and healthy people get up early. They meditate, or they go through a morning routine that supports positive thinking and daily optimism. Happy people are more likely to express gratitude and be thankful for all of the little things in life.
0:38:32.9 Pamela D. Wilson: Number five in being a caregiver is not easy is not holding grudges. A grudge happens when somebody that we care hurts our feelings. We can feel anger, disappointment, resentment, and sometimes even some thoughts of revenge. How many of you remember something that your brother or sister did to you 20 or 30 years ago, or maybe an elderly parent who snapped at you last week and made you feel unappreciated for everything that you’re doing? If you still stew over these events, you might be holding a grudge. If we hold grudges, we can see ourselves as a victim or a wronged or mistreated person. When we let go of that grudge, when we let go of our belief that another person did something to us, we can take responsibility for making a plan to forgive and to move past that something, whatever it was.
0:39:29.2 Pamela D. Wilson: Number six for being a caregiver is not easy is getting enough sleep. That may sound like an easy one. But if you’re working full-time and caring for an elderly spouse or a parent, you might be sleep-deprived. A lack of sleep deprives your mental abilities. It can stress your immune system. It can make you sick. When you don’t get enough sleep, you might not be able to think clearly at work or in caring for a loved one. You might have difficulty concentrating—you might make poor decisions. You might be more emotional or moody and may feel depressed. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, caffeine won’t keep you going forever. Number seven for being a caregiver is not easy, and habits that optimistic people do daily include being proactive to maintain relationships that can become stretched. As a caregiver, it can become difficult to keep in touch with friends or even your family members if you are that primary caregiver. Studies about reducing social isolation and loneliness emphasize the importance of maintaining friendships and social connections. How do you do that when you are that busy caregiver? Call a friend while you’re in the car running an errand. Call a friend and talk while you’re cleaning house or making dinner, or doing some other type of chore into those small points of having conversations and of connecting with friends that support positive mental and physical health.
0:41:01.3 Pamela D. Wilson: And it helps us as caregivers feel less alone, and as a reminder, if you belong to an online support group, check in with your friends there. The friends that you’ve made in your group on a regular basis believe it or not, caregivers that you meet are probably wondering what’s going on in your life. I can say that at least the caregivers in my online support group do. You can go to my Facebook page, it is called PamelaDWilsonCaregivingExpert. My online caregiver support group for spouses, for caregivers, for adults who want to take care of themselves—it is called the Caregiving Trap. You can also find a lot of help on my website at www.PamelaDWilson.com. This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, consultant, and speaker. You are with me on The Caring Generation. Stay with me. We will be right back.
0:41:54.6 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker. I’m your host. This is The Caring Generation program for caregivers and aging adults. If your company isn’t offering caregiver support programs, maybe it’s time to ask your human resource department to support working caregivers. We’re back with number eight for why being a caregiver is not easy and some positive habits you can consider. Number eight is deliberate practice and creating a regular routine. We can relate number eight to all of the other seven topics for why being a caregiver isn’t easy. Let’s work backwards. Maintaining friendships and social connections. Make regular contact with friends. Set a sleep routine as a schedule. I have a friend that sets an alarm in his phone so that it goes off every night—so that he goes to bed at the same time every night.
0:43:19.3 Pamela D. Wilson: The next one is stop holding grudges. This one is like creating worry time. Pick a grudge. Agree on a date that you’ll work through your thoughts and forgive it and let it go. That can be emotionally freeing. It’s the thought of in 24 hours, I’m letting this go, and I’m never going to think about it again. Next is time matters. The time that you trade for caregiving. Find a way to put a little you time back into your caregiving schedule. If you find this to be an impossible thought, start with giving yourself 10 minutes a day. Then work up to an hour, and then two, three, or four hours. You’re doing this because you can’t get back time that you take away from good health habits. Time that you can’t get back from not going to the doctor, time spent with the spouse, or other important aspects of your life that you might feel guilty about. Being a caregiver isn’t easy, and time does matter. Next, embrace a growth mindset, a positive attitude. That is believing that through focus, time, and effort and learning parts of your life and your caregiving situation, will get easier, they will improve.
0:44:31.5 Pamela D. Wilson: When you begin to show all of these positive changes, you’ll be a lot more motivated to continue goal setting for yourself. That includes encouraging elderly parents, the spouse or the person for whom you care to do the same thing. Being open-minded can be contagious, and it can bring more happiness into your life. If you have hard choices to make today or in the future, begin what-if conversations today with elderly parents, a spouse, and other family members, so that you have as many options as possible when unexpected situations happen. Learn as much as possible from the experience of bad days and good days. Ask yourself what’s perfect about this bad day? What is perfect about the situation? Lessons are everywhere, just waiting for us if we’re open-minded, and last, if you have health concerns, pay attention to them. Stress, a weakened immune system, frequent illness, stomach problems, headaches, dizziness, being tired, all of those are warning signs that you may be doing too much as a caregiver. Being a caregiver isn’t easy and being a sick caregiver is even more difficult. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for an elderly parent or a spouse. Your elderly parents will thank you, and your children will thank you.
0:45:54.4 Pamela D. Wilson: I want to thank all the caregivers who continue to complete the caregiver stress assessment. It’s a survey on my website at www.PamelaDWilson.com. You get there by going to my website, click on the contact me button, and you can scroll down to find that survey. Sharing your stories and your life experiences helps me create articles and these shows for you. Invite your elderly parents, spouses, friends, and families to check out all the helpful information on my website and to listen to this show every week. It’s available on podcasts, on all of the major podcast sites. Also, if you’re having difficulty initiating caregiving conversations, you can add that podcast app to the cellphones of your elderly parents and link to the show, The Caring Generation. I’m Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, consultant, and speaker. God bless all of you caregivers. Sleep well tonight, have a fabulous day tomorrow and a great week until we are here together again.
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