Monday, June 30, 2008

take the oxygen first: advice to stubborn caregivers

Caregivers seem to be naturally stubborn. Maybe it takes a hardhead to be able to focus on the day to day grind of meeting the needs of our loved ones. But while stubbornness can be a positive personality trait when it keeps us going month after month, year after year; it can also be a negative trait when it suppresses an open mind. Being hardheaded can prevent us from accepting new ideas, or opening up to new concepts. It 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. Remember, 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 “take the oxygen first”. What a marvelous concept! This is a perfect analogy to the average caregiver’s dilemma. And, it is the very concept that I have been advocating all along. Flight attendants, when giving preflight instructions, direct people traveling with children, that if cabin pressure is lost and the oxygen masks are deployed, that they should put their own oxygen mask on before helping their children with their mask. The reason is that there are only a few second before you lose consciousness, and in order to be effective and save others, the parent (caregiver) needs to see to their own needs first.
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.
part 2 next week

1 comment:

  1. I read with interest your comments about caregivers. I am a new caregiver since my husband is somewhat incapacited due to the weak muscles in his legs and arthritis in his hands. I do have a blog: and would like to list somewhere and get comments from other caregivers to help me with some issues. If you can help it would be greatly appreciated.


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