As a longtime family caregiver who provided, and continues to provide, differing levels of care for loved ones with illnesses, I can attest to the fact that caregiving can be unimaginably stressful. For dementia caregivers, the stress is even more extreme.
Only lately have we seen the results of studies that have followed family caregivers. One of the most scientific, in that it uses hard physical evidence, was published last spring. The study, by Ohio State University in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging, showed that caregivers may have their life span shortened by four to eight years.
In my article Long-term Caregiving May Significantly Shorten Life Expectancy of Caregiver, I discuss this study further. I know, personally, that my faith, as well as the fact that I know people whom I love also love me, have carried me through. I pray that this foundation of faith that I have will continue to do so.
Findings published in the journal Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association show that a new treatment based on emphasizing spiritual, cultural and family support markedly reduces caregiver burden, shame and guilt. To me, that means that those who have the solid support of faith, culture and family enjoy an improvement in the quality of life compared to what they would experience otherwise. The study was done on people who provide care for loved ones who have schizophrenia—however, in my view it’s not much of a stretch to take this thought process into dementia caregiving.
In Faith and Alzheimer’s I interviewed Dr. Benjamin Mast, a licensed clinical psychologist, Associate Professor in Psychology & Brain Sciences and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville. Dr. Mast is the author of "Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease." Much of what Dr. Mast said resonated with me, however I particularly like these words:
“God’s comfort and promises aren’t always experienced as warm, fuzzy moments, especially in the midst of great difficulty like caregiving. Instead, we might experience God’s power as the strength to continue on and to trust that he will provide, even though things are still very hard.”
Where do we turn when nothing seems to change?
Caregiving can mean that nothing seems to change as we go about our daily routines, endlessly keeping tabs on all that must be done for our vulnerable loved ones, yet knowing that the next moment a life threatening, or at least quality of life threatening, incident can occur at any minute. This combination of unchanging daily routine all the while staying in a fight or flight mode because of a possible crisis situation can be exhausting.
The only way I have ever coped with these issues is through my faith—I am never alone. My deeply held sense of spirituality has given me relief from the endless routines of caregiving as well as life-changing crises. Somehow, my core belief has helped me as a caregiver.
I’ve seen faith bring people through cancer treatments, deaths of their children, the dementia of a spouse or parent.
People without faith in anything other than this life on earth can be wonderful caregivers. People who are unsure that there is any kind of God at all, or at least a loving God, also get through many challenges. For me my faith has been important. I’ve had support of family members, as well, so I’m doubly blessed.
I honor all who care for others. I simply know that I couldn’t have done what I did and couldn’t continue to do what I do without my own faith.
Perhaps many can substitute culture and/or family alone and get by well. We are all different. One of my main tenants of caregiving is to not criticize choices of other caregivers. I only wish them well. However, if I can pass on one of my most profound tips for reducing caregiver stress, it would be to build faith in someone or something bigger than yourself.
Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at _ www.mindingourelders.comand www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook: Minding Our Elders