Author: Harriet Hodgson

Identify the Sources of Caregiver Stress

Being a family caregiver is stressful. Unless action is taken, stress will continue to build. Family members, even the loved one you’re caring for, may not understand your stress.  Some family members may think you’re exaggerating. What’s all the fuss about? “I’m not rushing you,” my husband declared. “Take your time.” My sweet husband can tell when I’m stressed. “I’m not rushing you,” he often said. “Take your time.” But I can’t take lots of time because there is so much to do, and I’m always behind. This makes me feel like I’m not a good caregiver. This is...

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Ten-Year Anniversary is a Life Marker

“The 10th anniversary of Helen’s death is coming up,” I told my husband. “I think we should do something significant—write a large check to the food bank or the public library.” John nodded his head in agreement. Helen died from the injuries she received in a car crash. There were audio books in the car and I was the one who returned them to the library, told the librarian Helen had died, and the books were overdue. “I owe you money,” I said. The librarian’s reply: “You owe us nothing.” As soon as I finished this story I began...

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A Partnership: Working with Paid Caregivers

You’re a family caregiver and need outside help. These days, most large and mid-size towns have caregiving agencies. Before you sign with an agency do your research. Keep in mind that it can you weeks to adapt to a paid caregiver. That’s because you are creating a partnership.     My husband’s legs are mostly paralyzed and I’m his primary caregiver. With help from therapists he learned to stand, stand and pivot, and walk 50 steps with the aid of a walker. Still, he needs lots of support. I’m on the job 24/7 and rely on paid caregivers. A caregiver...

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Enjoy A Nothing Day—Self-Care for Caregivers

Every morning a paid caregiver comes to our home to help get my disabled husband up for the day. Although caregivers can change, one caregiver comes most often, and we love her. “What are you doing today?” she asked as she walked in the door. “Nothing,” I answered. A puzzled expression came across her face. An experienced caregiver, she knows caregivers have never-ending task lists, and there’s always something to do. “I’ll do my caregiving tasks,” I continued, “and that’s it.” The idea of a Nothing Day came to me during the holidays when I was rushing around. Although...

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Art Can Help Loved Ones Heal and Find Hope

Have you ever sat in a waiting room, stared at a picture, and realized it drove you nuts? Our loved ones may feel the same way if they don’t like the artwork in their home or room. Some artwork is actually upsetting. We can make loved ones feel at home by paying attention to the art. In fact, many believe art can heal. That’s why hospitals display paintings, sculpture, place artwork in gardens, and have volunteers that distribute art. If the patient doesn’t like the artwork in their room he or she may choose a different picture from the...

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Ordinary Caregiving Days Add Up to Life

This is my 19th year of caregiving and I can hardly believe it. After a series of mini strokes my mother developed memory disease. I was her family caregiver for nine years. In 2007 my twin grandchildren’s parents died from the injuries they received in separate car crashes. The court appointed me, and my husband, John, as the twin’s guardians/caregivers. We did this for seven years. In 2013 John’s aorta dissected. He had three emergency operations and suffered a spinal cord injury during the last one, which paralyzed his legs. John was hospitalized for eight months and finally released...

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Self-Care Steps May Change with the Times

Take care of yourself. We’ve all heard this advice. A short walk may be one way you care of yourself. You may bake a batch of cookies. Going to bed a half hour earlier may also be self-care. Or if you’re like me, you may sit down and read for pleasure. But knowing you need self-care and practicing it are two different things. Knowing you need self-care and practicing it are different things Click To Tweet I know self-care is important, but it became more important after I fractured a bone in my right foot. I wish I could...

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One Family Caregiver’s Self-Kindness Steps

Savor at least 15 minutes of quiet a day. Continue to write articles, books, and speak to groups. Listen to music when driving around town. Always have blooming plants in our home. Feed the birds regularly and observe them. Wear clothes that feel good and make me happy. Try new foods, products and recipes. Be proud of my age and accomplishments. Read more articles and books for fun. Continue to learn. Live mindfully despite my busy schedule. Volunteer my time and talents. Say “I love you” every...

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The Self-Kindness Path: How Can You Get There?

Whether it’s called self-compassion or self-kindness, the premise is the same: Treat yourself as kindly as you would treat others. This concept is especially important for family caregivers, who can get so caught up in daily tasks that they neglect themselves. To let this happen puts the caregiver at risk for exhaustion, a case of “the blues,” symptoms of depression, or medical diagnosis of depression. You may be wondering how to cultivate self-kindness. What steps can you take?  Can you stay on this path? Self-kindness is related to self-esteem. Neel Burton, MD, cites 17 ways to develop self-esteem in...

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Balancing Act: Your Health and Your Loved One’s Health

Caregivers and care receivers may be about the same age. This is especially true if a wife is caring for her husband, or a husband is caring for his wife. While the caregiver is tending to the needs of another, she or he may develop their own health problems. You may have arthritis, or osteoporosis, or diabetes—chronic conditions that require monitoring and professional care. Before you know it, self-care and caregiving have become a balancing act. My husband is six months older than I am (I married an older man), and I recently discovered that I have osteoporosis in...

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Cooking for your loved one

Although I’m not a professional chef, I was a food writer for the original Rochester Magazine, (when it started years ago in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota), learned basic and advanced cooking techniques, and created many original recipes. I’ve made airy soufflés, gallons of soup, tossed a dizzying array of salads, baked French baguettes, turned our kitchen into a biscotti factory, produced thousands of cookies, made egg roll wrappers, flipped countless burgers, prepared a wedding dinner for seventy, roasted a Christmas prime rib as long as a log, entertained my physician husband’s patients, and made cookbooks for family members....

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I’ll be there in a minute

I am my husband’s primary caregiver. Although a paid caregiver comes each morning to get him up, I’m the person on the job day and night. A while ago my husband was hospitalized for pneumonia and he spent three and a half days in the hospital. Shortly after he came home he had two more bouts of pneumonia, and his recovery has been slow. I’ve been slow too. My husband needs more help than he used to, and often asks for help when I’m cooking a meal, writing at the computer, or doing laundry. “I’ll be there in a...

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Mentally Reversing Roles with a Loved One

In 2013 my husband John had severe chest pain. I drove him to the hospital emergency department. The diagnosis was aortic dissection. A retired physician, my husband made this diagnosis before he walked in the hospital door. He was bleeding to death and the health care team pumped blood into him as quickly as possible.  Team members couldn’t keep up with the blood loss, so my husband had two emergency operations. They didn’t work. John agreed to life-threatening surgery because he wanted to see our twin grandchildren graduate from college. It was a 13-hour operation with four surgeons. During...

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When Self-Care Becomes a Struggle

As a health writer and caregiver, I understand the importance of self-care. I’ve written articles about self-care and discussed it in book chapters. In recent days, however, I’ve been falling behind on self-care. There’s just too much to do. At bedtime I’m well aware that some tasks are undone. Self-care is one of these tasks. What happened? Sudden illness changed my caregiving role My disabled husband hadn’t been feeling well for several weeks. He became so weak that he couldn’t use a transfer board. Worse, he didn’t know what year it was or what day. I called 911 and...

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A Story of a Malfunctioning Smoke Alarm, Huge Fire Truck, and Five Firemen

My husband is disabled and I’m his primary caregiver. I can be gone for a short time, but limit that time to one and a half hours. While I’m gone I worry about my husband constantly. Is he warm enough? Did he change the position of his wheelchair every 30 minutes, as prescribed? Returning home is always a relief. The other day I went to get a haircut and color touch-up, a welcome break from caregiving. Before I left, I helped my husband transfer from wheelchair to hospital bed, positioned his over-the-bed table, and handed him a cell phone....

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Why is caregiving stressful?

Caregiving is stressful. I’ve been a caregiver for more than 18 years and, as time passed, became more aware of stress. My husband (the caregiving recipient) thinks some of my stress is self-induced, but I don’t agree with him. From my perspective, stress is built into the caregiving role. What are some causes of caregiver stress? Stress is built into the caregiving role Click To Tweet Lack of help By its very nature, caregiving tends to be an expanding role, especially if you’re caring for a loved one who has chronic illness. With help, you can accomplish daily tasks....

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Preventing compassion fatigue is up to you

Compassion fatigue is a weariness of body and spirit, caused by the never-ending demands of caregiving. This form of burnout can come on quickly, and before you know it, you feel like you’ve hit the wall. You may even wonder if you can continue to be a caregiver. There are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Your goal is to stop compassion fatigue before it stops you.   Assess the situation. Exhaustion may cloud your judgment and things may not be as bad as they seem. If you are unable to do this on...

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Activities for a loved one in a wheelchair

Two years ago my husband’s aorta dissected, and John had three emergency operations. During the last one he suffered a spinal stroke that paralyzed his legs. Dedicated therapists taught him to stand, stand and pivot, take a step, and go a short distance with the aid of a walker. After eight months of hospitalization, John was dismissed to my care. Today, with a walker, he can walk the width of our townhome—a true miracle. Still, John’s mobility is limited and, although we have a wheelchair van, getting places takes extra planning, lead-time, and patience. Sometimes my husband spends days...

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10 spiritual aspects of caregiving

Caregiving is love in action. Caregiving makes us practice patience. Caregiving causes us to look inward. Caregiving links us with the past, present, and future. Caregiving makes us aware of the joy of giving. Caregiving leads us in new directions. Caregiving is a learning experience. Caregiving brings out the best in us. Caregiving helps us see what is important. Caregiving honors the miracle of each and every...

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Holiday survival tips for caregivers

By itself, caregiving is a huge responsibility. Add the holiday rush and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Fatigue sets in and you wonder if you’ll make it through the season. These self-care steps will help you make it through the holidays and, most important, enjoy them. You may wish to print out this list and post it on the refrigerator.    Connect with other caregivers. You can do this by participating in a chat room, sending emails, and text messages. Have one meaningful conversation a day. This conversation may be with a family member, a trusted friend, or even...

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Caregiving isn’t for wimps

I’ve been a caregiver for more than 18 years: nine years as my mother’s caregiver, seven years as my twin grandchildren’s guardian/caregiver, and two years as my disabled husband’s caregiver. This experience has taught me that caregiving isn’t for wimps. We need physical strength and mental courage in order to be caregivers. Caregiving is challenging. Time question. Although you understand your loved one’s sudden or chronic illness, you aren’t a fortune teller, and don’t know how long she or he will live. Therefore, you don’t know how long you will be a caregiver.    Life on hold. Many family...

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Ambiguous losses come with caregiving

I was my mother’s caregiver for nine years, my twin grandchildren’s guardian/caregiver for seven years, and am my disabled husband’s caregiver now. I’ve had this role for two years and there are more years to come. As time passed, I became aware of the losses associated with caregiving. These are ambiguous losses—painful losses lacking clarity, closure, or the acknowledgement of others. Caregiving is love in action Click To Tweet Lack of privacy is an example of ambiguous loss. If your loved lives with you, the loss of privacy was immediate. I understand this loss. My mother had stroke-induced dementia...

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A caregiver’s blueprint

Family caregivers face many challenges. “I wish I had a caregiver’s blueprint,” a friend said. She isn’t alone. Many new and experienced caregivers wish they had a blueprint to follow. You may have wished for one too. Blueprints contain measurements and users also learn about the costs involved and estimated construction time. Unfortunately, none of this information is available to caregivers. You don’t know exactly how long you’ll be a caregiver, or how much health insurance will pay, how much you will pay out of pocket, or how to navigate the Medicare maze. Although family caregivers have common experiences,...

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Family caregivers have promises to keep

I’ve been a family caregiver for three generations of family members, and am my disabled husband’s caregiver now. My caregiving days begin early and often end late. It’s a grueling schedule. The other evening, when I was feeling spent, Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,” came to mind. I love this poem and am intrigued by the fact that Frost stated the last phrase twice to make his point. Just as Frost wrote it, I said the phrase out loud twice, and could almost feel his fatigue. When I became a family caregiver I joined...

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When there isn’t a new normal

The term “new normal” is so common it’s become part of everyday conversation. You may have waited for a new normal to develop after you became a caregiver. But even with a daily routine, you may not feel like you have a new normal, and wonder why. What are the problems? Routines can yield different results After we moved into our wheelchair-friendly townhome my husband settled into a routine quickly. With intensive therapy my husband’s paralyzed legs started to improve. He learned to stand, to pivot on one foot, and to take steps with the aid of a walker....

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