When speaking in terms of self-care, it’s often said that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and that caring for yourself is a vital first step in caring for another person.
But sometimes, this advice falls by the wayside for those who find themselves caring for a loved one with disease or disability.
Tending to the demands of such a great responsibility often overshadows the basic mental, emotional and physical needs of the caregivers themselves, a road that quickly leads to exhaustion, depression and other health problems.
But learning and applying practical tips in managing caregiver stress, along with seeking community in a support group, can often be the step to a healthier role.
McCracken County Caregivers and Alzheimer’s Support Group leaders Angie Day and Cathy Burkhead have seen firsthand just how much of a difference community, support and education can make in the life of a caregiver.
The main difference between the Caregiver’s Support Group and Alzheimer’s Support Group, the two said, is that while the Alzheimer’s group is often conducted by trained facilitators and speakers, the Caregiver’s group is simply a space for an individual to share their concerns with a like-minded group.
“We get together and we use the group time to encourage each other, give comfort and advice, and listen to each other without judgement,” Day said of the Caregivers group. “Everyone here, whether they are caring for someone with cancer or someone with dementia, they understand each other and the feelings they have. That really makes a difference.”
Several group members, Day said, devote the majority of their lives to caregiving, which can leave them frustrated, ultimately leading to feelings of guilt.
“Even though they love that person, or they wouldn’t be caring for them, the load still gets heavy and you get tired,” Day said. “Frustration and stress is just part of it and that’s another good reason to share your feelings.”
Burkhead said she has seen cases where a caregiver has even died before the person for which they are providing care, simply because they neglected their own needs. “What we stress is to be strong for the person you’re caring for, you have to be strong yourself,” Day said.
This is a one thing that Shannah Poindexter, community relationship manager for Lourdes Homecare & Hospice and original organizer of both caregiver groups, kept in the forefront of her mind when caring for her family members.
The youngest of six kids, Poindexter said she and her family are currently caring for their mother, who began showing signs of dementia a few years ago. After Poindexter lost her oldest sister to cancer, she said their mother’s condition worsened, and her family has been working to care for her ever since.
“I think everyone maintains a sense of self-care differently,” Poindexter said. “One thing that I have learned to do, which has helped me more than anything else, is to acknowledge that there are some things I can’t control.”
Poindexter said she has found that giving up the need to lead the path for the person she is caring for, and following that path instead, has relieved some stress.
“We’re going to have bad days and we can’t help those,” she said. “You have to learn to roll with those days. But when you have the good days, it’s important to embrace that. I think sometimes, if you’re able to just safely step back, you can enjoy the person you are caring for again. You can embrace that relationship again.”
Poindexter said it’s important for caregivers to know when it’s time to step back.
“It really rejuvinates you to be able to go home to your own bed, away from it all,” she said. “It’s good for that person, too. It takes the strain off the relationship.”
Resources, she said, are instrumental in taking on a healthy caregiver role.
“When you’re around people your age or who have experienced something you have, it’s a relief because you do not feel alone in this,” Poindexter said.
The McCracken County Caregivers Support Group, which is for any non-professional caregiver to another person, meets on the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m. in the Franciscan Room of Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital on the first floor near the Coffee Beanery.
The McCracken County Alzheimer’s Support Group meets on the third Thursday of every month at 11 a.m. in the Franciscan Room at Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital on 1530 Lone Oak Road in Paducah.
For more information on either support group, call 270-415-3636. Although this month’s Caregivers Support Group meeting date has passed, the next Alzheimer’s Support Group meeting will be Thursday.