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Ask the Expert: ​Self care for caregivers with Denise Brown

Being a caregiver is incredibly demanding in every sense of the word. It requires immense emotional and physical strength and stamina, and despite being highly rewarding, it can also be very draining. On Monday, caregiving expert Denise Brown joined our Ask the Expert webchat to explain to our users how they can better manage their own health while taking care of others. Denise launched in 1996, the first website to add online caregiving support groups, daily caregiving chats and blogs written by family caregivers. Through its blog posts, podcasts and video chats, holds one of the largest online libraries of caregiving stories.

Here are the highlights from our user webchat with Denise. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Taking better care of yourself

QUESTION — “My role as a caregiver is taking a massive toll on my sleep quality. I’m lethargic all the time, and my body aches. What can I do to get my energy levels back up and feel better overall?”

Denise Brown — “It can be so hard to sleep. You may be providing care at night or simply worrying. We often overlook the importance of relaxation. We can feel like we have too much to do and too many responsibilities to relax. It’s important that we give yourself a chance to relax, which can help with your energy level. Meditation can help, as can simple breathing exercises. I like to breathe in peace and breathe out worry, which can help me relax. In addition, give yourself an emotional break. You are doing everything you can and that is enough. You are enough.”

Coping with feelings of guilt

QUESTION — “How do you deal with the guilt of making time for yourself and your partner and leaving your person that you are caring for at home?”

Denise Brown — “Oh, the guilt! It’s hard to feel okay about living your life when your caree (the person needing your care) can’t live like he or she did. Live your life. It’s okay if your caree tries to put a guilt trip on you. It’s critical to your well-being that you make your relationship with your partner a priority. You are making a wise decision to invest time in yourself and in your relationships. It’s also okay if your caree doesn’t seem to approve. You approve and that’s what matters. Taking time for yourself ensures your coping strategies stay well.”

QUESTION — “I work full-time and I have three kids, plus I care for my aging mother who has Parkinson’s disease. With my limited time sometimes I need to choose between my kids and my mom, which makes me feel terribly guilty. How do I prioritize?”

Denise Brown — “It is so hard to be available for everyone! You can feel like you don’t have enough time and energy, which means you aren’t enough. Think about priorities as something you can change and adjust. And, think about priorities as being about quality, not quantity. You don’t have to make everyone equal, but you want to ensure everyone receives your time. Talk with your kids about being your priority. Ask them when it’s most important to them for you to be available. Let them know you keep them posted and communicate regularly about your priorities. You can keep everyone a priority by writing them notes, sending them text messages, sitting with them one-on-one for 5 minutes. And, be open to their feedback and then ask everyone to work with you toward a compromise.”

Difficult behavior

QUESTION — “I am caring for a parent who is verbally abusive to me. What can I do?”

Denise Brown — “I’m so sorry! That’s so difficult! Be sure you have boundaries and be sure you respect your boundaries. You can end the conversation, leave the room when the abuse begins. Check with your employer about any benefits for counseling, such as through an Employee Assistance Program. A therapist can help you set and respect the boundaries and help you figure out what’s right for you in this situation. Your well-being is a priority.”

QUESTION — “My dad has dementia and has started to swear and act child like as well. I have young kids. I hate to keep them from their grandpa, but I don’t want to scare them either. What should I do?”

Denise Brown — “It’s so hard! Dementia offers challenges on so many levels. Talk to your kids about the disease and how the disease impacts their grandfather. Ask them if they have questions. Check in with them about their comfort level in spending time with him. How do they feel when he swears? What scares them? An open dialogue may help you and the kids figure out next steps. For instance, maybe you all agree that once the swearing starts, you’ll stop the visit. You also can check with the Alzheimer’s Association or Alzheimer’s Society for ideas on how to redirect your father when the challenging behavior starts. You also can watch videos from Teepa Snow (you can search on You Tube for them). She offers great suggestions on managing difficult behavior. You can also watch Teepa at our National Caregiving Conference, which airs live on November 11. You can learn more here.”

Caregiving as a profession

QUESTION — “I’m new to the caregiving profession and it’s really wearing down on me emotionally, physically, etc. Does it get any easier? What can I do to love my job and feel good after my shifts?”

Denise Brown — “It does get easier. Be fully present during your job–focus on ensuring your clients have what they need from you. When your shift ends, trust that the client will continue to receive good care while you are gone. Because you trust, you can focus fully on these moments with your family or friends after work. Be mindful at work and at home to help you stay well both places.”

Sharing responsibilities

QUESTION — “For years now I’ve been the only one of my siblings to care for our aging parents. Both are in their 90s and require lots of help (getting dressed, driving to appointments, remembering to take medications, etc). As much as I love being there for them, I feel like my siblings should step in and help. How can I bring it up so that they start to pitch in without making it sound like Mom and Dad are a burden on me?”

Denise Brown — “It’s good to have help and it’s good for your siblings to be involved in helping. You can say, ‘I love caring for Mom and Dad. I’d love help from you guys, too. Let’s talk about some ways you can help. I’ve got some easy suggestions that will help all of us.’ Suggestions include: meal preparation, house maintenance, socialization, errand running, organizing meds. And, keep in mind, you can ask for help from them for yourself and for your parents.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Denise Brown, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in December 13 at noon EST to chat with workplace civility expert Catherine Mattice. She’ll be answering questions about dealing with difficult loved ones over the holidays. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a demo.