Ask Dr. Z
By Laura Zipris, Psy. D., LMHC
Dear Dr. Z-
About a year ago, my husband and I moved my mother into our home to live with us and our two children, ages 7 and 11. We made the decision at that time that she could no longer live at home because she was beginning to demonstrate some early signs of dementia. Over the course of the year her symptoms have worsened. The kids love their grandmother and have adjusted pretty well to having her in our home, as did my husband, but I find that I am really struggling. I feel so overwhelmed and stressed all the time. When I get home after school from my teaching job, I immediately enter my second job of caring for the home, my mother and the rest of my family. I find that I have a constant headache, I am always tired, and I’m overly emotional these days. I am quick to anger or cry and I feel irritable most of the time. I love my mother very much but I don’t know if I can keep this up. Help!!
It is clear that you have so much on your plate right now and that the emotional and physical strain is enormous. I commend you for being able to monitor your emotional reactions in the day to day and for having the where-with-all to know that your well being may be at risk. Clinically, from what you report, you are showing the tell tale signs of “Caregiver Burnout.” Stay mindful of all the messages your body is giving you (i.e. fatigue, headaches, irritability, etc.) and think of them as your “alarm system” telling you to shift your focus and take better care of yourself. Self-care is imperative for so many reasons, notwithstanding the obvious one which is that if you do not keep yourself healthy, you will be unable to care for those who need you.
Studies show that care- giving often results in chronic stress, which compromises a caregiver’s physical and psychological health. This is often further exacerbated when the person you need to be caring for has some form of dementia, like you report that your mother is displaying. With dementia, not only to you have to contend with the feelings of loss and grief associated with watching someone you love deteriorate, but you must also cope with the increased supervision demands that they may require. It can be daunting, frustrating, and despairing to say the least. It is no wonder that depression is one of the most common negative side effects for caregivers in your position.
All that being said, know that support services are available and that they can make a real difference in your day-to-day life. Do not try to play the martyr and do it all by yourself. You can start taking some responsibilities off your plate by letting other family members and friends know that you need their help. Try to get them to commit to contributing in whatever ways they can. You may also wish to make contact with a social worker connected to your local hospital, state agency or local religious/ charitable organizations. He or she may be able to connect you with useful agencies that can help you to navigate through the maze of issues involved in caring for an aging parent, such as financial planning assistance and help with tax and Medicare forms. Another useful resource is the Eldercare Locator (1800-677-1116). This is a nation-wide service to help families and friends find out information about community services for older people, such as adult day care, senior center programs, home health services, respite care and transportation services. Also, be sure to take advantage of available caregiver support groups that may be offered through these elder programs. Most importantly, carve out some much needed time for yourself so that you can restore your energy and renew your sense of self.
Research has shown that the combination of counseling, support groups, respite care, and the other aforementioned services have positive direct effects on the health and behavior practices of caregivers. They also have been shown to assist caregivers in remaining in their caregiver role longer, with less stress and greater satisfaction. Start taking care of yourself today but availing yourself of the help that exists so that you can begin to feel some of the positive side effects of caring for your loved ones.
Laura Zipris holds a doctorate in Psychology and is licensed to practice psychotherapy in New York, as well as in Florida. Laura is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, a transformational approach that has been used successfully with couples around the world to help them to strengthen their partnerships, deepen their connection and reignite their passion for one another. Laura sees individuals of all ages and sexual orientations, couples, families, and groups in her office located in Delray Beach. For more information about Laura, please visit her website at www.drlaurazipris.com or to set up an appointment, contact Laura directly at (561) 558-7815.
Questions for this column should be sent to “Dr. Z” at Drlaurazip@gmail.com.