Caring for the Caregiver: An Interview with Leeza Gibbons

Patient Expert
Leeza Gibbons

Leeza Gibbons is a busy woman. In addition to her Emmy-award-winning work as a TV host, she also is an author, speaker, and family woman. But these days, she is often mentioned in the same breath as the word “caregiving,” through her work with her nonprofit foundation Leeza’s Care Connection, which provides self-care and wellness resources for caregivers. I spoke to her about caring for the caregiver of someone who lives with chronic illness.

Family members and friends provide 37 billion hours of care a year, representing $470 billion, according to an AARP study. With all the money that unpaid caregivers save the country, Leeza points out that it’s important to take good care of them.

Dealing with guilt

Caregiving “is a really rewarding thing, but it is also a tough thing,” Leeza said. “I’ve never seen a caregiver who didn’t experience some resentment, some anger, some guilt.”

The sources of that guilt or resentment may be related to an imbalance. “It’s often because someone isn’t showing up enough or [is] showing up differently. I encourage people to let go of these things — we all have limits.”

She explained that when her mother was ill with Alzheimer’s, she and her siblings took on different roles. “My brother was able to handle the research aspect and the legal aspect… I was able to write checks and make phone calls and scrapbooks. My sister was able to move home.” Leeza strongly believes that guilt and resentment are “such traps and barriers to just getting on with it. You all have a seat at the table and a voice.”

Finding peace of mind

In addition to getting a handle on guilt, there are other elements to finding balance and peace of mind when you are taking care of someone else. One is the relationship between you and the person for whom you’re providing care. It’s important “not to take it personally when the care receiver, who is wound pretty tight on the pain scale, may snap at you. It’s the disease talking, not your loved one.”

Leeza also said that “one of the best things you can do is become aware of what support is out there, especially what kind of technological support.” One way is to plan ahead to protect your loved one in case of a fall. It’s not just seniors who fall — people who live with chronic illnesses that involve pain and mobility issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are also at a higher risk of falling.

She recommended a medical alert device, which saved her father’s life when he had a heart attack. It may be particularly useful to look at devices that have automatic fall detection and will organize help even if the individual is not able to push the fall button. Not only does it make family members feel better, it also enables the person who receives care to “feel safe and secure and independent.”

Asking for and accepting help

One of the most important things a caregiver can do is to learn to ask for help, to “give people the privilege of helping you.” If you find yourself not knowing what to say in the moment of being asked, Leeza suggested planning ahead. “Come up with a list, put it on a card. When people say can I help you, give them the list.”

Leeza also had some excellent advice for family or friends who want to help caregivers so they can continue to help the person who has a chronic illness. “Don’t wait for [caregivers] to ask you, because they probably won’t. Show up.” She suggested stopping by to see if everything’s okay. She shared a story about having several people on her speed dial when her mom was sick. She told them “when I call, please let me vent, just let me cry, you don’t even have to say anything.”

“It was really helpful for me to have someone receive that energy so I could let go of it,” Leeza said.

Writer’s note:

Thank you, Leeza Gibbons, for sharing your wisdom on caring for the caregiver with the audience.

See more helpful articles:

A Couple’s Honest Discussion on Chronic Illness and Caregiving

Relationship Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients and Caregivers

Caregiving with RA: This is What We Do Now