Playing Two Roles: Patient AND Caregiver

Leah Health Guide
  • Recently, I underwent a great degree of stress...I was surprised by its viciousness on my body and mind. Here's what happened to cause this anxiety:


    The next day after returning from a wonderfully relaxing cruise, my daughter and granddaughter came by to see us.  I was semi-prepared for their visit, having gathered the mementos we had bought for them while on the cruise.  I was NOT prepared for what I saw as I looked at my sixteen year old granddaughter; she was gaunt!  Her collarbones were sticking out.  Once a normally rounded knock-out, she appeared to be a member of a concentration camp. (Thinness has never run in either of the families.)  I knew that she had been having some eating issues, but had no idea that it has escalated to this extreme.  She looked anorexic, and I was devastated.

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    My stress level rose immediately.  The irritable bowel syndrome, which I had suffered with years ago, reared its ugly head.  I worried incessantly about my granddaughter's physical and mental health.   I suffered with negatively productive thoughts and IBS for three days...thinking, evaluating...knowing that there was little I could do to help.  Finally, I realized that there was something I could do.  Positive, productive thoughts provided ways to support my granddaughter... and, with that, I made an action plan; I would stay in constant contact with her through email and phone.  I would not concentrate on her weight and eating, but would let her lead me in the direction which would help her.  In the meantime, she has seen her physician again and has been referred to a psychiatrist who deals with eating disorders.  She has also been put temporarily on an anti-depressant.  She is sending me emails and talks to me at least once a day.  Her mother and I are optimistic about her future health. 


    Having just had this experience, I came across a set of articles on which dealt with cognitive restructuring. "Cognitive" means to "be aware".  So, cognitive restructuring is the procedure one follows knowingly to change the way one is thinking.   (Trying to come to terms with my granddaughter' health, I found that I had unknowingly followed most of the steps.) 


    Everyone has unwelcome thoughts at some time or other, such as "I'm not worthy of that", or "The job I did was not perfect" or "My husband just drops his socks on the floor to aggrevate me"...  Once these negative thoughts enter our minds, we have a choice as to how to handle them.  We can continue letting them eat at us, or we can take a moment to evaluate them and to decide to turn them into a positive, if possible.  Here are the steps the article suggests one does to handle those destructive thoughts which enter into our minds:


    1. STOP.  Take time to take a mental time out.


    2. BREATHE.  Taking a few deep breaths will help to release tension. (I didn't do this step, but will do it in the future.)


    3. REFLECT.  Ask yourself hard questions:  Is this thought or belief true?  What evidence is there? Am I blowing these thoughts or situation out of proportion?  Can I view the situation in another way?  What is the worst that could happen? 


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    4. CHOOSE.  Decide how to handle the stress.  Can you just let it go?  Try some mini-relaxation.  If the problem is real (as it was with my granddaughter), are there practical steps you can take to cope with it?


    Choosing to take a cognitive approach to my problems and stressful times is easy...DOING it is NOT.  It is difficult to focus my thoughts for any length of time as my mind seems to just run wild with thoughts.  I have to really concentrate on what I am doing to finish any task.  I have to think about what I am doing whether it is peeling potatoes or typing this blog... I have to fight constantly the urge to go off in another direction.  (Actually, I think using my Brain Age 2 game has really helped to extend the amount of time I can focus.)


    I can't imagine that a caregiver can empathize totally with someone with dementia.  No one can really understand how rampant our thoughts flow...but I have seen examples of wonderful caregivers who understand enough to know how to handle it, such as the way Carol Bursack Bradley played along with her father's mixture of mental ramblings. (see Minding Our Elders by Carol Bradley Bursack, pages 79-81).  I have also found tools caregivers might use in the book entitled When Your Loved One Has Dementia  by Glenner, Stehman, Davagnino, Galante, and Green (pages 42-50). 


    But, how does this knowledge, this cognitive angle, help me?  Maybe by comparing my mental state with that of others with dementia.  Maybe by making my mind focus and evaluate-exercising it.  Maybe by knowing that once I am no longer able to cognitively understand what is real and what is not, someone will help me using similar techniques...

Published On: May 14, 2008