The Caregiver’s Journey: Caring for Others, Caring for Yourself

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For those of you experiencing both the joys and challenges of caring for elderly loved ones, this shout-out is for you. I honor you and encourage you in your compassionate mission. I also want to nudge you to make sure to take time to care for yourself. I’ve included some thoughts and resources below meant especially for you.   

mom and daughter in kitchen

In collaboration with SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving more than 200,000 members in California. #GatherAndShareWithSCAN

An Aging Reality

I don’t have to tell you we’re all aging. It’s a natural part of life, a human experience we all have in common. And, our population is also aging. That’s why caregivers are playing an even larger role in the lives of our communities. 

Many caregivers won’t appear on employment reports, and because of that they often go unnoticed. But we notice don’t we, dear readers? Because many of us count ourselves and our friends among them.

In many cases, we’re both doing our best to both raise our kids and care for aging parents, abuelos and abuelas, tíos and tías. And if we’re not yet, we likely will be soon.

But if there were any doubt about the huge number of caregivers out there, consider that in 2015, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the 12 months prior. That’s a whole lot of caregiving.

grandmas

In addition to all of that, consider, too, that often the caregiver and the person they care for are seniors, so both may be experiencing the many physical challenges associated with aging.

Awareness is the First Step to Understanding

I recently had an eye-opening experience. A sneak peek into an interactive senior sensitivity workshop called Trading Ages Virtual Reality that uses virtual reality technology to provide participants with a first-hand experience of the challenges associated with aging, including hearing loss, vision changes and loss of dexterity. I wrote about it here

lady with virtual reality visor

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many more for a virtual reality experience? I’ll answer that myself: Infinite. I won’t repeat everything from that earlier post, except to say the experience’s benefits went far beyond the advantages of seeing life from another’s shoes. If ever so briefly, it gave me a chance to feel some of the emotions, not only from an older person’s perspective, but from a caregiver’s perspective, too.

Another benefit of the Trading Ages workshop, one I hadn’t considered beforehand, was the chance to get a leg up on my own personal journey with aging. Seeing the world from the shoes of another gave me insight into my own future. It gave me a chance to know, a chance to prepare.

three ladies in the beach

With that, here are three simple tips for caregivers to remember.

Three Simple Tips for Caregivers

1. Small Adjustments, Big Differences

Small adjustments both around the house and when out and about can make a big difference for those in your care. Each person’s needs are different, but here are some ideas to get your own creative ideas flowing: 

  • Moving a throw rug out of a main pathway to avoid fall risks 
  • Changing a lamp to a brighter bulb
  • Printing labels for drawers 
  • Using larger font sizes on labels 
  • Carrying a magnifying glass and a flashlight 
  • Speaking in a slightly lower pitch 
  • Providing an extra-long shoe horn 
  • Sitting at a restaurant table where background noise is minimized 
  • Keeping extra straws handy 
  • Carrying facial tissues
  • Providing cordless headphones 
  • Keeping up on new adaptive living products  

2. Compassionate Communication

In Thoreau’s immortal words from Walden, “To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.” Sometimes even the most affable person can get grumpy, including caregivers and those in their care. 

We’re all human. As a caregiver, sometimes we must consciously reframe our responses to statements that originally sound like criticism.

For example, let’s say the person you are caring for says, “Why don’t you ever bring home my favorite bread from the corner bakery?” I might want to say, “I’ve told you a hundred times that bakery closed five years ago!” Instead, I might reframe the apparent criticism as an expression of loss and say something like this, “Oh, I know, I miss that bread, too. It is so delicious. I wish that bakery was still open.”

3. Self-Care

We have to take care of ourselves if we are going to take care of others. However, it’s easy to let this priority slip to the bottom of the to-do list. From my experience, I know how important it is for caregivers to be compassionate with ourselves. We need to treat self-care just as important as any other top priority. 

Ask friends and family to commit to help out with certain household responsibilities or to step in for a few hours per week. With the support of the community, you might make time for some respite, keep engaged in social activities and enjoy nutritious meals with loved ones.  Finally, be sure to get your sleep. And, breathe.

For more tips on self-care, check out more ideas here

Thank you for all you do.

About Trading Ages® 

SCAN developed Trading Ages® for its own employees, but quickly saw how other organizations—and the seniors they serve—could benefit. Trading Ages® encourages participants to develop insight and empathy through active encounters with the physical, social and emotional aspects of aging.

Trading Ages® is only available in Southern California. To request a Trading Ages® workshop for your organization, contact TradingAges@SCANHealthPlan.com.

SCAN health plan logo

Thanks to the great folks at SCAN Health Plan for making this post possible. Since its founding in 1977, SCAN has been a mission-driven organization dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. That’s a great thing.

Don’t forget to join the conversation at #SCANstages, #SCAN100over100 and #GatherAndShareWithSCAN hashtags on social media.

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Enriqueta E Lemoine

My dear Silvia, what a beautiful post. You are so compassionate and thoughtful. I love the picture of you and your mom and the other one of your mom at the beach. Love it!

Nina

this is a profession filled with generosity and human kindness I love the small changes you made!

Candace Hampton

What an amazing article! That is such a wonderful profession. I’ve always admired the dedication that takes to be a caregiver. The virtual reality experience sounds like something that everyone should do. After all, like you say, it’s all about awareness.

Chloé Arnold

These small adjustment suggestions are so helpful! Luckily, no one in my family is at the point of needing a caregiver, but these tips are helpful even for being intentional with those we love.

supermompicks

Trading ages virtual reality is really cool and should be used at any institution employing caregivers/nurses etc. That would be a good orientation tool.

Laura G

I love your list of small adjustments. They can make a crucial difference in the life of an elderly relative!

Natalia

Caring for oneself and for others is very important. Too bad that we are often too busy to have time for realizing that. The elderly people need some extra care, but they can also give us a lot by sharing their stories with us. 🙂

Scott Gombar

All the caregivers I know are very selfless people to a fault. They often don’t take the time for self-care. This is great and needs to be shared with anyone who works as a caregiver.

Jenn W

Self care is so important when you are a caregiver of any kind. I love how you embrace caretaking of seniors in this article. It seems that more and more people are just putting their older loved ones in retirement homes or other facilities, rather than taking care of them at home. For some it is a necessity, but others just don’t want their daily lives to be disrupted. I think the technology that Trading Ages offers could be a valuable tool in helping others to clearly see what life is like for their aging loved ones. It could be what makes the difference between home care and assisted living care for some. Thanks for sharing this!

Marie Phillips

I love at the end how it talks about having others help you so that you have the time and ability to do self care as well as help others. And that VR tool that allows you to see the world through the eyes of the elderly is amazing. I have to think it would be a little bit unnerving too. And I loved the suggestions for making life easier. Great post!

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