Monday, June 16, 2008

Stress Management for Caregivers of Alzheimer's using Guided Imagery

I start most of my talks with a question to the audience. What, I ask, is the number one killer of adults in this country? The answers I get back are: Cancer! Heart Attack! Stroke! Do you agree?
I propose that Stress is the #1 killer of adults by far, and I think there is overwhelming evidence to support this idea. Tons of research has shown that people suffering from long-term stress are twice as likely to suffer a stroke. They are at a much higher risk for heart attack. Additionally they are much more likely to develop cancer. Add those statistics up and we have a convincing argument. But it’s not just the top three killers, people under long-term stress are at greater risk of most all auto-immune diseases, diabetes, hypertension, depression, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and the list goes on and on.
The first thing we need see is that stress is not an emotion, even though we often think of it as one. We say we are sad or angry or frustrated. But stress is much more. It is a physiological process that we go through involving our hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal gland working in concert. Signals get sent, hormones get released, and things start happening. Blood vessels constrict, platelets get released, as do cortisol and adrenalin. The stress response of the body is meant to protect and support us when a physical or mental event threatens us. This process is often referred to as the “fight or flight response.” We prepare for physical action in order to confront or flee a threat. Imagine our ancestors out hunting and gathering. They turn a corner and come face to face with a saber-tooth tiger or a bear. Immediately they are faced with two options, they are going have dinner or be dinner. This is the “fight or flight” response, and this is what is happening to our body under stress.
Even though today’s threats are not life and death…at least not immediately, but the same physiological conditions are taking place. The problem is the fight or flight response is intended to be short acting. The same hormones and neurotransmitters that in short term can save our life, begin to tear us apart if it does not turn off.
How do we turn it off? Well on the face of it, it’s easy. We need outlets that take our minds off the stress provoking source. If work stresses you out, go to the movies, take a weekend off, join a gym, take a walk, read a book. If you are spiritually inclined you can utilize church, prayer, and meditation. But for the caregiver most of these outlets do not apply because caregiving is often a 24 hour a day, seven day a week commitment. Perhaps that explains the Alzheimer’s Association statistics that say 50% of caregivers die before the person they caring for. Stress? What else could it be?
Caregivers often use the excuse that they have no time. But there are indeed a few outlets available to them. Adult Day Care offers respite for caregivers. Dropping your loved one off at an ADHC (Adult Day Health Care) will give you precious hours to do with as you will: see to your own needs, visit friends, go to your own doctor or dentist, clean house, or just take a nap. Another tool for caregivers is support groups. Albeit they generally only meet once a month, it can be a relief to meet some other people going through similar issues as yourself. Perhaps there may be some useful information to be had from others that overcame problems that you are just now facing. The best stress management tool, however, is “guided imagery”. Guided Imagery is basically a mini vacation that you take in your mind. When done correctly it eliminates stress completely. It cost next to nothing to do, and once you learn it, it can be a utilized every day.
Not too long ago, the Los Angeles Caregiver Resources Center (LACRC) located on the campus of the University of Southern California at the Andrus Gerontology Center and the Los Angeles County Area on Aging commissioned me to produce a Stress Management CD utilizing Guided Imagery, specifically for caregivers. The result was a comprehensive state of art CD utilizing not only guided imagery, but neurolinguistic programming, Kapsian hypnosis, Eriksonian hypnosis and special entrainment music designed to promote a hypnotic and more relaxed state of mind. It had a six-page foldout insert explaining guided imagery, research documenting the effects of stress, and step by step formula for designing you own personalized guided imagery script. The CD itself has five 15-minute tracks. Four have progressively deeper and complex relaxation techniques. Each building on the other to not only creates deep relaxation in the moment, but to also program the subconscious to cope more effectively in the future. When the CD was released it was very popular and the EduCare committee, an affiliation of several non-profit organizations then distributed 2 thousand copies of the CD to caregivers for free. Alas, as far as I know, all 2000 copies have be given away. Fortunately I made some retail copies and have been selling them when I give talks and when people contact me online. If you are interested, drop me an email, send me a check and I will ship one off to you.
While my CDs are unique in that they were written and recorded specifically for caregivers, there are other stress management CDs on the market. I recommend that you get one. I think it is the single best stress management tool you can have in your arsenal. Unlike other things you can do. Guided Imagery cost nothing, you can do it without leaving the house, and it only takes a few minutes. If you are reading this you are already online…Google guided imagery. Find a CD, mine or someone else’s, and buy it. It’s a excellent investment in your health and your peace of mind.


  1. I will save this post and pass it on to caregivers. Stress management can be tough when there's so much to do, so much to worry about--and yet it does not good to be eaten up with stress and guilt.
    Thanks for your post.
    ~Carol O'Dell
    Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
    available on Amazon

  2. Great post... Many people don't realize there are grants available to help pay for respite (caregiver relief). This is yet another option for stress management.
    Thanks for the post...
    Matthew Maes
    Webmaster for VIDA Senior Resource

  3. Hello,
    On behalf of the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center we would like to invite you to be a part of our 9th Annual Caring for the Caregiver Conference. As you know, Family Caregivers have a tough job and are often in need of support, information and resources. This conference is designed to meet those needs, and more. We have a wonderful program scheduled which includes Educational Workshops, Information & Resource Fair, Keynote Speaker, and much more. I have included a flyer for you to view and pass along if you know of anyone else who may be interested in participating. This is a FREE event.

    If you are interested in participating at the conference as a vendor, please contact Emanuel Alvarez at (213) 740-9874. Thank you very much for your support. We look forward to seeing you at the 9th Annual Caring for the Caregiver Conference.

    9th Annual Caring for the Caregiver Conference
    Saturday, November 1, 2008
    8:00 AM - 3:30 PM
    Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral
    555 W. Temple Street
    Los Angeles CA 90089
    Presented by the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center and EduCare Consortium.
    (800) 540-4442

  4. Thanks for the detailed post about stress in life. Your work of stress management for the care givers is very much appreciable. I think your tool of stress management the guided imagery is truly helpful.


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