Summers are often the ideal time for family to travel with elderly parents on vacations, to reunions, or on group outings with family and friends. When taking care of elderly parents, planning ahead will help ensure they stay safe and comfortable when traveling. About a month before traveling, be sure the senior consults with his/he
If you are taking care of elderly parents or others with a chronic illness 24/7 in your own home, you are under stress. The stress can go on for years! Typically, the interventions that help decrease caregiver stress include support groups, respite care, more education on the disease process, and counseling or psychotherapy. I want to tell you about another intervention that decreases caregiver stress, doesn’t cost anything, and can be accessed right in your own home. (Many times caregivers cannot find the time or someone to be with their loved one in order to attend a support group or educational class outside of their home.)
It is well known in the senior caregiving industry that over time caregivers report decline in physical health, more chronic illnesses, higher prevalence of physical symptoms, and poorer self-ratings of health as compared to non-caregivers, as well as poorer overall health when compared to non-caregivers. There is also a substantial body of literature documenting the negative psychological, physical, and social consequences associated with providing care to a relative with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
The University of Iowa School of Nursing, under the leadership of Howard Butcher, RN, PhD, conducted a Family Caregiver Writing Study to help determine whether or not writing improves the health of caregivers. As part of this study, researchers analyzed thirteen studies involving over 800 participants, and these studies found that emotional writing about stressful events produces benefits in healthy subjects. A few of the outcomes measured included fewer physician visits, increase in positive antibodies (t-lymphocytes, hepatitis B, natural killer cell activity), and decrease in negative antibodies (Epstein-Barr virus).
Specific writing instructions that yielded positive results included these:
*Write continuously with no regard to grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
*Writing needs to be confidential.
*Writing must be about your deepest emotional thoughts and feelings about caring for your loved one.
*Explore how this experience is linked to issues in your childhood and relationships with your parents, old friends, or others you have cared about.
*Tie your thoughts and feelings of being a caregiver to other family issues like finances or other traumatic experiences you have suffered.
*Ideally, focus on experiences, changes, thoughts, and feelings that you have not discussed in great detail with others.
*Write for 20 minutes. If you run out of things to say, just repeat what you have already written.
Other suggestions included writing in a place where they wouldn’t be interrupted, writing 3-4 times per week, and writing only for themselves (not for an audience). Caregivers were told there was no need to wait for inspiration, and there was no need for editing, re-reading what they had written, justifying, or explaining. They were to go wherever the pen led them, write in the order things occurred to them, and to allow everything in!
In addition to fewer physician visits and the positive change in antibodies, the research findings supported that writing:
- provided a catharsis for caregivers.
- decreased caregivers’ emotional pain.
- revealed to caregivers their deepest selves.
- provided perspective.
- integrated the caregivers’ life experiences.
- enhanced the meaning of their caregiving experiences.
These subjective health benefits can be critical for the mental and physical well-being of family caregivers and, as a result, can help those who are receiving the care.
Also documented in the study was the fact that many caregivers, even when enduring tremendous amounts of stress, find meaning and joy in caregiving, that they are making cherished memories with their loved ones, and that they feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to be a caregiver. Caregiving for a family member can be a special time, and that’s why it’s critical to protect that experience through proper self-care for caregivers.
Julie Ellingson, LSW
August 20, 2015
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